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The Destruction of Ma'rib Dam

The Destruction of Ma'rib Dam

Due to the spread of corruption among the southerners and because of the internal turmoil, the star of Yemenite civilization gradually declined and the Yemenis and their kings could not repair the Ma'rib Dam which was in terrible need of repair, and then through the destruction of this dam, a devastating flood inundated all the villages and the farms and drought prevailed in the surrounding regions, destroying agriculture. This led people to emigrate from their land[1].

The Holy Qur'¡n refers to the nation of Saba' in two occasions: once, on the occasion of mentioning the Queen of Saba' (Sheba) and Solomon's letter to her:

And he tarried not long, and then said: I comprehend that which you do not comprehend and I have brought to you sure information from Sheba. Surely, I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given abundance and she has a mighty throne. (27:22-23)”

On another occasion the Qur'¡n refers to Sheba in connection with the destruction of the Ma'rib Dam and the flow of a devastating flood due to the corruption of that tribe:

Certainly, there was a sign for Saba' in their abode; two gardens on the right and the left; eat of the sustenance of your Lord and give thanks to Him: A good land and a Forgiving lord! But they turned aside, so We sent upon them a torrent of which the rush could not be withstood and in place of their two gardens We gave to them, two gardens yielding bitter fruit and growing tamarisk and a few lute-trees. This We requited them with because they disbelieved; and We do not punish any but the ungrateful. And We made between them and the town which We had blessed other towns to be easily seen, and We apportioned the journey therein: Travel through them nights and days, secure. And they said: O our lord! Make spaces to be longer between our journeys; and they were unjust to themselves; so We made them stories and scattered them with an utter scattering; most surely there are signs in this for every patient, grateful one. (34:15-19)

The destruction of this dam is reported by °amzah I¥fah¡n¢ to have taken place in 400 before Islam.[2] According to Ab£-Ray¦¡n al-Bayr£n¢, it took place 500 years prior to the advent of Islam.[3] And Y¡q£t al-°amaw¢ mentions the destruction of this dam to be the result of Abyssinian domination. Some historians consider it to have occurred between the years 542 and 570 AH because the Abyssinian's domination was highest during the middle of the sixth century.[4] But the destruction of the dam must have been gradual: it fell apart after several repairs. In the Holy Qur'¡n, reference is made to the nation of Tubba` and their final days on two occasions:

Are they better or the people of Tubba`[5] and those before them? We destroyed them, for surely they were guilty. (44:37)

Others before them rejected prophets: the people of Noah and the dwellers of al-Rass and Tham£d, and `ªd and Pharaoh and Lut's brethren and the dwellers of the grove and the people of Tubba`; all rejected the apostles; so, My threat came to pass. (50:12-14)

The Effects of the Fall of the Southern Civilization on Arabia

The fall of states in the southern sections, the decline of the civilization in this part of the Arabian Peninsula, and the destruction of the Ma'rib dam—all had their effects on the social changes in this region, because the southern section of the Arabian Peninsula lost its glamour and the fields died away due to drought and a group of the dwellers on the vicinity of this dam had to emigrate from their land.

Due to these dispersions, the Tan£kh branch of the Yemenite tribe, called Azd, emigrated to °¢rah (Iraq) and established the government of Lakhmian there. The branch called ªl-Jafnah went to Damascus and established a government at a place to the east of Jordan. They called themselves the Ghass¡nians.[6] The tribe Aws and Khazraj emigrated to Yathrib (Medina), and Khuz¡`ah went to Mecca and its suburbs; the tribes Bujaylah and Khath`am and some other groups went to the region of Saraw¡t and dwelt there,[7] each initiating a series of events.

The Conditions of the Northern Section of the Arabian Peninsula (°ij¡z)

°ij¡z is a dry land, receiving only sporadic rains and except for the mountainous terrain and the narrow shore-areas, it has extremely hot weather. These climatic conditions have had tremendous effects over the life-pattern of its dwellers. This is because the Arab residents of this region, contrary to the southerners, due to small numbers of pastures could not keep cattle except for tiny animals and camels which are tolerant beings. They prepared their food and clothing mainly from camels. Because this cattle raising and husbandry was based on wandering life-patterns, the establishment of a stable political institution seemed to be impossible. For this reason, contrary to the southerners who were city-dwellers and farmers, the dwellers of the north of the Peninsula lacked civilization and were mainly nomadic wanderers, and the cities there (except for Mecca which, for reasons we will present later, was a little advanced at the advent of Islam) did not carry any significance.

Due to these natural hardships and communication problems, the people of °ij¡z did not communicate with the civilized world at those days. These natural and geographical hardships caused this land to remain immune against the aggressions of conquerors. This fact attested the lack of interest on the part of Ramses II in the 14th century BC, Alexander of Macedonia in the 4th century BC, and Gallous at the time of August, the Roman Emperor, in the first century AD, to conquer this land nor did the Iranian kings show any interest to conquer this region. For this very reason, the people of °ij¡z continued their nomadic life without any external interference.[8] Concerning this, a historian writes:

When Demetrius, the Greek army-general (after Alexander) arrived at Petra to conquer it, the Arab desert-dwellers said to him, “O great Prince, why have you come to fight us? We are living on a desert with no comfort of life whatsoever. We have chosen life here to remain our own masters, not to receive orders from anybody. Now accept our gifts and return home from where you have come. If you do so, we shall remain your most devoted friends. However, if you decide to fight us and refuse to accept our peace proposal, you have to destroy your life-comforts. You cannot change our life-modes to which we have grown accustomed since our childhood. You would not benefit, either, to take some of us as prisoners-of-war. This is because those captured ones shall never become your slaves.”

Having considered this, Demetrius accepted their gifts and returned home, refusing to partake in a war which did not offer anything except for hardships and nuisances.[9]

A scientist has observed:

“The Arab Island is a complete example of dependence of man over land. Inside countries such as India, Greece, Italy, England, and the United States, we have always seen some adventurous conquerors who have ventured to defeat the native dwellers and to make them obedient. There has never occurred in the history of Arabia any conqueror who has decided to occupy this land.[10]


Since the major sections of the northern territory of the Arabian Peninsula (°ij¡z) consists of deserts, most Arabs were desert-dwellers and nomads prior to the advent of Islam. The nomads, being deprived of assets of life due to the severe conditions under which they lived, continued to live mainly on animal husbandry on a very limited scale. They used to live under tents woven out of goat's hair and camel's wool; they would inhabit anywhere they could locate some water or pastures; and they would move to other regions as soon as they were out of provisions. The nomadic Arabs could not raise cattle, except for small herds and a few camels at most, due to the shortage of pastures and plants. There is a maxim to the effect that “in a desert, the nomadic power, camels and dates rule.” If we added the power of sands to these three powers, we would get four main factors which play a significant role in desert life. Shortage of water, extreme heat, difficult roads, and scarcity of foods and supplies, which are man's great enemies under normal conditions, would turn into man's closest friends at times of war. Thus, when we observe that an Arab and his desert have never bowed to the enemy's power, we would not be amazed that the continuous dryness of the desert had had its permanent effect on the Arab's body and mental abilities. Nomadic Arabs considered it beyond their dignity to be involved in either agriculture or other crafts and industries.[11] They would belittle the civilized states and their regulations; they used to prefer desert life to city life.[12]

The desert Arab was the son of nature and the infinite and borderless desert. No building could ever interfere with the clean air of his environment; the sun's everlasting rays fell over him without the hindrance of the clouds. He had erected no dam against rain or torrents. Everything was kept in the form it was created by God. Thus, the desert’s son was as free as his environment. Neither farming nor engagement in any industry could deter him from his freedom; nor could the city crowds bother him in any way. He cared for freedom because he had lived in it. No rules or regulations could mar his freedom. He used to fight with anybody who tried to deprive him of his freedom. He was bound by two things only: the principles of idolatry and its ceremonies on the one hand and his tribal customs on the other. However, his commitment towards his tribal customs had deep roots.[13]

La Mense, the Belgian Orientalist, writes:

The Arab was an example of democracy and freedom, but an extreme form which had no limits. The Arab rebellion against any power which intended to limit his freedom (even when this limit was in his favor) reveals the roots of the crimes which fill most of Arab history.[14]

[1] °asan Ibr¡h¢m °asan, The Political History of Islam 1:32.

[2] °amzah I¥fah¡n¢, T¡r¢kh Mul£k al-Ar¤ wa’l-Anbiy¡' (the History of the Prophets and the Kings), pp. 120 & 132.

[3] Ab£-Ray¦¡n al-Bayr£n¢: Al-ªth¡r al-B¡qiyah, pp. 181.

[4] Mu`jam al-Buld¡n 7:355.

[5] Tubba` (plural of which is Tab¡bi`ah) was the title of the °imyarite Kings in Yemen. These were two classes: the first class included the kings of Saba and R¢d¡n who rules from 115 BC to 275 AD. The second class included the kings of Saba, R¢d¡n, °a¤ramawt and Sha¦r who ruled from 275 to 533 AD: A¦mad °usayn Sharaf al-D¢n, Al-Yaman `Ibr al-T¡r¢kh, pp. 90-97.

[6] °amzah I¥fah¡n¢, The History of the Prophets and Kings, pp. 99, 119; °asan Ibr¡h¢m °asan, the Political History of Islam, pp. 44; Ab£-Ray¦¡n al-Bayr£n¢, al-ªth¡r al-B¡qiyah, pp. 181,183.

[7] Carl Brockleman, the History of Nations and Islamic States, pp. 5.

[8] Georgie Zayd¡n, History Of The Islamic Civilization 1:15.

[9] Gustav Le Bon, History Of The Islamic Civilization 1:88.

[10] Phillip °itt¢, History of the Arabs, pp. 14.

[11] Phillip °itt¢, History of the Arabs, pp. 33-35.

[12] Gustav Le Bon, History Of The Islamic Civilization 1:65; Will Durant, The Story Of Civilization; The Age of Faith 4:201.

[13] A¦mad Am¢n, Fajr al-Isl¡m, pp. 46.

[14] Ibid, pp. 33-34. al-Nu`m¡n ibn al-Mundhir, king of al-°¢rah, in reply to Khosrow the Persian king who asked him why the Arab nation does not live under a unified governmental system, answered, “Other nations who feel weak and fear the enemy's attacks submit their control under one family, submitting to them their affairs. But all the Arabs want to be kings and hate paying taxes or tributes.” See al-ªl£s¢, Bul£gh al-Irab… 1:150.

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