THE PEOPLE OF SABA AND THE ARIM FLOOD
Many centuries ago, the community of Saba was one of the four biggest
civilisations which lived in South Arabia.
Ruins of the Temple of Ma’rib
Historical sources relating to Saba usually say that this was a
culture akin to that of the Phoenicians. It was particularly involved
in commercial activities. The Sabaeans are recognised by historians
as a civilised and cultured people. In the inscriptions of the rulers
of Saba, words such as "restore," "dedicate" and "construct" are
frequently used. The Ma'rib Dam, which is one of the most important
monuments of this people, is an important indication of the technological
level this people had reached.
The Sabaean state had one of the strongest armies in the region
and was able to adopt an expansionist policy thanks to its potent
army. With its advanced culture and army, the Sabaean state was
without question one of the "super powers" of the region at the
time. This extraordinarily strong army of the Sabaean state is also
described in the Qur'an. An expression of the commanders of the
Saba army related in the Qur'an, shows the extent of the confidence
this army had in itself. The commanders call out to the female ruler
(Queen) of the state:
"We possess strength and we possess great force.
But the matter is in your hands so consider what you command."
Because of the Ma'rib Dam which had been constructed, with the
help of quite advanced technology for that particular era, the people
of Saba possessed an enormous irrigation capacity. The fertile soil
they acquired by virtue of this technique and their control over
the trade route permitted them a splendid lifestyle, full of well-being.
However, instead of giving thanks to Allah for all this, the Qur'an
informs us that they actually "turned away from Him." Furthermore,
they refused to heed the warnings and reminders issued to them.
Because of these poor moral values, they merited punishment in the
sight of Allah and their dams collapsed and the flood of Arim ruined
all their lands.
The Ma’rib Dam (shown
in the pictures above and to the side) was one of the major
works of the people of Saba. The dam collapsed in the flood
of Arim, mentioned in the Qur’an, and the Sabaean state
was weakened economically and eventually collapsed.
The capital city of the Sabaean state was Ma'rib,
which was extremely wealthy thanks to its advantageous geographical
position. The capital city was very close to the River Adhanah.
The point where the river reached Jabal Balaq was very suitable
for the construction of a dam. Making use of this condition, the
Sabaean people constructed a dam at this location at the time when
their civilisation was first established, and they began irrigation.
As a result, they reached a very high level of economic prosperity.
The capital city, Ma'rib, was one of the most developed cities of
the time. The Greek writer Pliny, who had visited the region and
greatly praised it, also mentioned how green this region was.232
The height of the dam in Ma'rib was 16 metres,
its width was 60 metres and its length was 620 metres. According
to the calculations, the total area that could be irrigated by the
dam was 9,600 hectares, of which 5,300 hectares belonged to the
southern plain. The remaining part belonged to the northern plain.
These two plains were referred to as "Ma'rib and two plains" in
the Sabaean inscriptions.233
The expression in the Qur'an, "two gardens to the right
and to the left," points to the imposing gardens and vineyards
in these two valleys. Thanks to this dam and its irrigation systems,
the region became famous as the best irrigated and most fruitful
area of Yemen. The Frenchman J. Holevy and the Austrian Glaser proved
from written documents that the Ma'rib dam existed since ancient
times. In documents written in the Himer dialect, it is related
that this dam rendered the territory very productive and was the
heartbeat of the economy.
The dam that collapsed in 542 led to the flood of Arim and caused
enormous damage. The vineyards, orchards and fields cultivated for
hundreds of years by the people of Saba were completely destroyed.
Following the collapse of the dam, the people of Saba appear to
have entered a period of rapid contraction, at the end of which
the Sabaean state came to an end.
When we examine the Qur'an in the light of the historical data
above, we observe that there is very substantial agreement here.
Archaeological findings and the historical data both verify what
is recorded in the Qur'an. As mentioned in the verse, these people,
who did not listen to the exhortations of their Prophet and who
rejected faith, were in the end punished with a dreadful flood.
This flood is described in the Qur'an in the following verses:
There was, for Saba, aforetime, a Sign in their
home-land-two Gardens to the right and to the left. "Eat of the
Sustenance [provided] by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a
territory fair and happy, and a Lord Oft-Forgiving!" But they
turned away [from Allah], and We sent against them the Flood [released]
from the dams, and We converted their two garden [rows] into "gardens"
producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks, and some few [stunted]
Lote-trees. That was the Requital We gave them because they ungratefully
rejected Faith: And never do We give [such] requital except to
such as are ungrateful rejecters. (Qur'an, 34:15-17)
In the Qur'an, the punishment sent to the Sabaean people is named
as "Sayl al-Arim" which means the "flood of Arim." This
expression used in the Qur'an also tells us the manner in which
this disaster occurred. The word "Arim" means dam or barrier.
The expression "Sayl al-Arim" describes a flood that came
about with the collapse of this barrier. Islamic commentators have
resolved the issue of time and place being guided by the terms used
in the Qur'an about the flood of Arim. For example, Mawdudi writes
in his commentary:
As also used in the expression, Sayl al-Arim,
the word "arim" is derived from the word "arimen" used in the
Southern Arabic dialect, which means "dam, barrier." In the ruins
unearthed in the excavations made in Yemen, this word was seen
to be frequently used in this meaning. For example, in the inscriptions
which was ordered by Yemen's Habesh monarch, Ebrehe (Abraha),
after the restoration of the big Ma'rib wall in 542 and 543 AD,
this word was used to mean dam (barrier) time and again. So, the
expression of Sayl al- Arim means "a flood disaster which occurs
after the destruction of a dam." "
We converted their
two garden [rows] into gardens producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks,
and some few [stunted] Lote-trees" (Qur'an, 34:16). That
is, after the collapse of the dam-wall, all the country was inundated
by the flood. The canals that had been dug by the Sabaean people,
and the wall that had been constructed by building barriers between
the mountains, were destroyed and the irrigation system fell apart.
As a result, the territory, which was like a garden before, turned
into a jungle. There was no fruit left but the cherry-like fruit
of little stumpy trees.234
The Christian archaeologist Werner Keller, writer
of "Und Die Bible Hat Doch Recht" (The Holy Book Was Right),
accepted that the flood of Arim occurred according to the description
of the Qur'an and wrote that the existence of such a dam and the
destruction of the whole country by its collapse proves that the
example given in the Qur'an about the people of the garden was indeed
After the disaster of the Arim flood, the region started to turn
into a desert and the Sabaean people lost their most important source
of income. Their lands, which had been agricultural havens of prosperity
and financial strength, disappeared. The people, who had not heeded
the call of Allah to believe in Him and to be grateful to Him, were
in the end punished with this disaster.
232. Hommel, Explorations in Bible
Lands (Philadelphia: 1903), 739.
233. "Marib", Islam Ansiklopedisi: Islam Alemi, Tarihi,
Cografya, Etnografya ve Bibliyografya Lugati (Encyclopedia of Islam:
Dictionary of Islamic World, History, Geography, Ethnography, and
Bibliography,) 7, 323-339.
234. Mevdudi, Tefhimül Kuran (An Honoring of the Qur’an)
4, Insan Yayinlari (Istanbul), 517.
235. Keller, Und die Bibel hat doch recht, 230