In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
لَقَدۡ كَانَ لِسَبَإٍ۬ فِى مَسۡكَنِهِمۡ ءَايَةٌ۬ ۖ جَنَّتَانِ عَن يَمِينٍ۬ وَشِمَالٍ۬ۖ كُلُواْ مِن رِّزۡقِ رَبِّكُمۡ وَٱشۡكُرُواْ لَهُۚ ۥ بَلۡدَةٌ۬ طَيِّبَةٌ۬ وَرَبٌّ غَفُورٌ۬
فَأَعۡرَضُواْ فَأَرۡسَلۡنَا عَلَيۡہِمۡ سَيۡلَ ٱلۡعَرِمِ وَبَدَّلۡنَـٰهُم بِجَنَّتَيۡہِمۡ جَنَّتَيۡنِ ذَوَاتَىۡ أُڪُلٍ خَمۡطٍ۬ وَأَثۡلٍ۬ وَشَىۡءٍ۬ مِّن سِدۡرٍ۬ قَلِيلٍ۬
ذَٲلِكَ جَزَيۡنَـٰهُم بِمَا كَفَرُواْۖ وَهَلۡ نُجَـٰزِىٓ إِلَّا ٱلۡكَفُورَ
وَجَعَلۡنَا بَيۡنَہُمۡ وَبَيۡنَ ٱلۡقُرَى ٱلَّتِى بَـٰرَڪۡنَا فِيہَا قُرً۬ى ظَـٰهِرَةً۬ وَقَدَّرۡنَا فِيہَا ٱلسَّيۡرَۖ سِيرُواْ فِيہَا لَيَالِىَ وَأَيَّامًا ءَامِنِينَ
فَقَالُواْ رَبَّنَا بَـٰعِدۡ بَيۡنَ أَسۡفَارِنَا وَظَلَمُوٓاْ أَنفُسَہُمۡ فَجَعَلۡنَـٰهُمۡ أَحَادِيثَ وَمَزَّقۡنَـٰهُمۡ كُلَّ مُمَزَّقٍۚ إِنَّ فِى ذَٲلِكَ لَأَيَـٰتٍ۬ لِّكُلِّ صَبَّارٍ۬ شَكُورٍ۬
Indeed there was for Saba’ a sign in their dwelling place, – two gardens on the right hand and on the left (and it was said to them) “Eat of the provision of your Lord, and be grateful to Him, a fair land and an Oft-Forgiving Lord. But they turned away (from the obedience of Allah), so We sent against them Sail Al-‘Arim (flood released from the dam), and We converted their two gardens into gardens producing bitter bad fruit, and tamarisks, and some few lote-trees. Like this We requited them because they were ungrateful disbelievers. And never do We requite in such a way except those who are ungrateful, (disbelievers). And We placed between them and the towns which We had blessed, towns easy to be seen, and We made the stages (of journey) between them easy (saying): “Travel in them safely both by night and day.” But they said: “Our Lord! Make the stages between our journey longer,” and they wronged themselves, so We made them as tales (in the land), and We dispersed them all, totally. Verily, in this are indeed signs for every steadfast grateful (person).
Imaam As-Sa’di [rahimahullaah] said: Saba was a well-known tribe close to Yemen and their dwelling place was a township called Ma’rib. And one of blessings Allaah has bestowed upon the people – in general- and His kindness to them, and to the Arabs in particular, is that Allaah narrated – in the Qur’aan – the news regarding those who were destroyed and punished, who lived close to the Arabs and they saw its Aathaar [i.e. the signs left behind in the land to indicate their evil end]; and the people transmitted its news, so that it became easier to [believe and affirm] its truthfulness and closer [to the hearts and minds] as an admonition.
Allaah said: [لَقَدۡ كَانَ لِسَبَإٍ۬ فِى مَسۡكَنِهِمۡ ءَايَةٌ۬ – Indeed there was for Saba’ a sign in their dwelling place]- Meaning: The place they lived. [The term ‘Sign’ in this statement] are the blessings Allah bestowed upon them and averted calamities from them, which necessitated that they worship Allah alone and thank Him. Then Allaah [clarified and explained what] this sign was, saying: [جَنَّتَانِ عَن يَمِينٍ۬ وَشِمَالٍ۬ – two gardens on the right hand and on the left]- Meaning: They used to have a huge valley to which came abundant rainfall. They built a robust dam that gathered the water and the rainfall used to come to it. It gathered abundant water over there, so they distributed it to their orchards, which were situated on the right and left of that valley. The two big gardens brought forth for them Thimaar [i.e. fruits and other produce from trees, plants] that was sufficient for them, which brought about – for them- a state of bliss and happiness. So, Allaah commanded them to thank Him for bestowing upon them His blessings which He facilitated for them in numerous ways as follows:
However, they turned away from the One [i.e. their Lord Allaah] Who bestowed those blessings upon them- turned away from worshipping Him alone, thankless for the blessings bestowed upon them and became unconcerned about them, until they asked and wished that the distance of their journeys between those towns [which was very easy] should be longer.
[وَظَلَمُوٓاْ أَنفُسَہُمۡ – And they wronged themselves]- Meaning: Due to their disbelief in Allaah and being ungrateful to Him for the blessings He bestowed on them, Allaah punished them as a result of their transgression, took it away from them [i.e. the blessings] and sent them Sail Al-Arim [a wild flood], which destroyed their dam, destroyed their gardens and orchards. So, those gardens that had amazing verdant plots and trees that bore fruits were substituted with trees that had no benefit. And due to this Allah said: [وَبَدَّلۡنَـٰهُم بِجَنَّتَيۡہِمۡ جَنَّتَيۡنِ ذَوَاتَىۡ أُڪُلٍ خَمۡطٍ۬ وَأَثۡلٍ۬ وَشَىۡءٍ۬ مِّن سِدۡرٍ۬ قَلِيلٍ۬ – and We converted their two gardens into gardens producing bitter bad fruit, and tamarisks, and some few lote-trees]- Meaning: Brought little food that was not enough to suffice them. All these trees are well known and was a just recompense for their evil deeds. [Ref 1]
Story of The Dam of Ma’rib
The story of the dam is about the water which used to come to them from between two mountains, combined with water from rain falls and their valleys. Their kings built a huge, strong dam and the water reached a high level between the two mountains. Then they planted trees and got the best fruits that could ever be harvested, plentiful and beautiful. A number of the Salaf, including Qataadah [rahimahumullaah] mentioned that a woman would walk beneath the trees, carrying a basket or vessel – such as is used to gather fruit – on her head, and that fruit would fall from the trees and fill the basket without any need for her to make the effort to pick the fruit, because it was so plentiful and ripe. This was the dam of Marib, a land between which and San’a was a journey of three days. Others said that in their land there were no flies, mosquitos or fleas, or any kind of vermin. This was because the weather was good and the people were healthy, and Allaah took care of them so they that they worship Him alone.
Some including Ibn Abbaas [radiyallaahu-anhumaa], Wahb Bin Munabbih, Qataadah and Ad-Dahhaak [rahimahumullaah] said that when Allaah wanted to punish them by sending the flood upon them, he sent animals from the earth to the dam, large rats which made a hole in it. [Ref 2]
Wahb bin Munabbih [rahimahullaah] said, “They found written in their scriptures that the dam would be destroyed because of these large rats. So they brought cats for a while, but when the decree came to pass, the rats overran the cats and went into the dam, making a hole in it, and it collapsed”. [Ref 3]
Qataadah [rahimahullaah] and others said, “The large rat is the desert rat. They gnawed at the bottom of the dam until it became weak, then the time of the floods came and the waters rushed through the bottom of the valley and destroyed everything in their path- buildings, trees etc!” [Ref 4]
And just as they substituted beautiful thankfulness with that ugly ingratitude, those blessings were substituted with the things that have been mentioned. And due to this Allaah said: [ذَٲلِكَ جَزَيۡنَـٰهُم بِمَا كَفَرُواْۖ وَهَلۡ نُجَـٰزِىٓ إِلَّا ٱلۡكَفُورَ- Like this We requited them because they were ungrateful disbelievers. And never do We requite in such a way except those who are ungrateful, (disbelievers)]- Meaning: We do not recompense with this punishment, except to those who disbelieve in Allaah and are thankless for His blessings.
After that which befell them befell them, they scattered and split, even though aforetime they were together. Allah made them a story by way of which others spoke about them – stories people narrated at night, and people used to mention them in the parable [i.e. when talking about others], “They scattered like Saba”. Everyone used to speak about that which happened to them.
However, none learns a lesson regarding their affair, except those about whom Allaah said: [إِنَّ فِى ذَٲلِكَ لَأَيَـٰتٍ۬ لِّكُلِّ صَبَّارٍ۬ شَكُورٍ۬ – Verily, in this are indeed signs for every steadfast grateful (person)]- Meaning: Those who are patient when facing hardship and extreme difficulties, who persevere for the Sake of Allaah, grateful to Allaah for His blessings, affirm and acknowledge such blessings, praise the One who bestowed it upon them [i.e. Allaah] and utilise them in obedience to Allaah. When this type of person hears their story [i.e. the people of Sabah]- their behaviour and what happened to them, he knows that the punishment was a recompense for their ungratefulness, and that whoever commits the likes of that which they did will be treated in the same way. And that being grateful to Allaah for His blessings is a safeguard for those blessing and repels punishment; and that Allaah’s Messengers spoke the truth regarding that which they informed the people and that recompense is true, as its examples are seen in this worldly abode. [Ref 5]
[Ref 1: An Excerpt from Tafseer As-Sadi. Slightly paraphrased]. [Ref 2: At-tabari 20/378-380]. [Ref 3: At-tabari 20/381]. [Ref 4: At-tabari 20/381]. [Ref 5: An Excerpt from Tafseer As-Sadi. Slightly paraphrased]