Jabir (radi Allahu anhu) narrated that when the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) passed by what used to be the dwellings, al-Hijr, of Thamud, he said: “Do not ask for signs. The people of Salih had asked for that. (So they were given the sign of a she-camel which) used to come out from this way (and he pointed to an opening) and returned from that. They transgressed the command of their Lord and hamstrung her. (The procedure was that) she drank water from the well one day and they drank her milk the next day. (They did not value this favour) but hamstrung her and so were seized by the blast which Allah the Glorious sent to them from the sky – all except one of them who was in the Haram.”
He was asked who that person was, and he said: “He was Abu Righal. When he came out of the Haram, he too suffered the same punishment that had befallen his people.” [Musnad Ahmed]
This is the story of the nation to which Prophet Salih (alaihis salam) was sent. They are called the Thamud and are also known as Aad the Second. The Thamud asked Salih (alaihis salam) to show them a sign to prove that he was a prophet of Allah. They asked him to bring forth a pregnant camel from solid rock, and if he were able to, then they would believe him to be a prophet of Allah.
Salih (alaihis salam) prayed to Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) and with His permission was able to perform this miracle. But instead of keeping their word, the Thamud became more intransigent.
This camel was a miracle from Allah (subhana wa ta’ala), born without father or mother. She was also of an exceptional built, tall and fleshy. The other animals ran away on seeing her. When she came to the well to drink, she emptied it. The people could not tolerate this and schemed to eliminate her. Through Salih (alaihis salam), Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) had commanded them to esteem her and not harm her. But they ignored Allah’s commands, and the worst of them, Qidar bin Salif, cut off her shins and she died. Then the Thamud conspired to kill Salih (alaihis salam). Salih (alaihis salam) warned them that because of their rebellion the punishment of Allah would strike them in three days. They still did not repent. So on the third day a terrible shriek rent their ears and they died of shock.
Some lessons to be extracted from this Quranic story are:
1. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) told his Sahabha (radi Allahu anhum) this story when they were on their way to Tabuk and were passing by a place called al-Hijr in the Quran. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was the best reformer, the best guide, and the best teacher mankind will ever have. Thus, he was also the best psychologist mankind will ever produce, for reformers and teachers must be well aware of the temperament of the people they wish to influence.
The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) understood the natural curiosity that was present in the minds of those who saw the ruins and he used the opportunity to tell them about the people who used to live there in a way that gave them practical advice for their own lives.
2. Signs and miracles must not be demanded. If a sign is shown on demand and those asking for it don’t mend their ways after seeing it, then they are not given respite if they persist in their disbelief.
3. The Haram (the Kabah and its surrounding area) is the fountain of mercy and man is even safe from divine chastisement there. “And whoever enters it, is secure.” [Quran, Aal-e-Imran: 97] So no one may be punished there. Even if a murderer takes shelter in it, he is not to be punished inside it but compelled to come out.