Islam, of course, recognizes all former Prophets, believing that God Almighty (Allah) sent them throughout the history of mankind to every nation to speak His message.
Indeed! We sent a messenger to every nation. (Quran 16:36)
Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the very last in a long line of such messengers. His message was for all people and for all time.
The Quran tells us about some Prophets who are not mentioned in the Bible.
One of these is Prophet Saleh (peace be upon him). His story is interesting because God does not just tell it once in the Quran, but many times.
Prophet Saleh lived in the region of Al-Hajr, which was located along the trade route from southern Arabia to Syria. The city of “Madain Saleh” lies several hundred kilometers north of Madinah in modern-day Saudi Arabia, is named after him.
The rock dwellings in which the people lived are still to be seen there to this day. Saleh was called to preach a message to the people of Thamud.
According to the Quran, these people cultivated very rich fertile land, and they had become very vain because of their wealth. They also worshiped many gods, oppressed the poor in their midst and lived lives which were far from the kind of lives Allah wanted them to lead.
Saleh’s message was very simple: He told his people to turn away from the bad behavior and to turn, instead, to the One God, Allah, who gave them all the good things they enjoyed.
Now that doesn’t seem a very difficult message to grasp, does it? Yet the people of Thamud were very stubborn in their ways, and refused to accept the message which Saleh was bringing them.
God works in very strange ways, sometimes quite beyond our comprehension. The way God chose to speak to the people of Thamud was through the story of a camel!
This is, perhaps, the first thing we should note about the story of Saleh as it is told in the Quran. God can choose any way to convey His message to us.
Saleh was an Arab Prophet – This is His Story
We are often slow to understand, but He can speak to us through people and events, or He can even speak to us through the example of a camel. The fact that He tells us the story not once, but many times, is a sure sign that its message is important.
The story as told in the Quran goes like this. The people of Thamud were very vain and they refused to accept that Saleh was a messenger sent from God, so they asked him for a sign to prove his credentials. (11:62)
They asked him, in fact, not just for any sign, but something quite specific. They pointed at a huge rock that was standing by itself, and proposed to him that he ask his God to create a she-camel out of it.
Despite their obstinacy, Saleh did this, on the condition that they would believe in God if he produced the she-camel from the rock, and to this they agreed.
Saleh then fervently prayed to God to answer their request. The huge rock moved and split, and from it came a wonderful she-camel, which was pregnant and soon to give birth. God provided the Thamud people with this miracle to test them, to see if they would obey His orders. Saleh told them:
O my people! This she-camel of Allah is a sign to you. Leave her to feed on Allah’s earth, and inflict no harm on her, or a swift punishment will seize you! (11:64)
The camel lived among people of Thamud, and soon gave birth to a calf. Some of the people accepted to believe in God because of what they had seen, and because of what they had promised.
Others, however, did not, and they began to hate the camel, as it reminded them of Saleh and of the promise they had made to him. It used to graze among their herds and drink from their water.
In fact, one day it would drink, and the next day the other animals would drink. Saleh told them to let it drink from the water of the well for one day, and leave it to them the second day as Allah ordered:
She has a right to drink (water), and you have a right to drink water, each on a day appointed. (54:28)
Instead of convincing them to be kind to the animal, they actually chose to harm it. (7:75-7)
As if their disbelief was not enough, they also challenged Saleh to bring down the punishment of God upon them if he was, indeed, a Prophet.
Nine men amongst them, known for their mischief and prompted on by some of the women, went to the camel and its calf at night time, and they killed them both.
Saleh was angry at what they had done. The camel had surely done them no harm, he said.
Enjoy yourselves in your homes for three days. This is a promise that will not be belied. (11:65)
Despite their scoffing and scorn for his message, the people were destroyed. (11:67-8)
Saleh and the people who were left moved from that place, never to return.
Lessons From the Story
The message of Saleh must be important or God would not have repeated it so often in the Quran. So what does it tell us today? How can this episode of a camel teach modern men and women how to live?
Well, first of all it teaches us that we should not put God to the test, asking for signs and proofs from Him, when the whole of creation is surely one great sign of His goodness to the world. He has repeatedly sent His messengers to us, but we are very slow to believe.
It teaches us, also, not to disobey God, but to listen to His Prophets and messengers and be prompt to do what they say.
The story of Saleh teaches us an important fact about ourselves. We agree with God when things are going good for us, but then we go back on what we have promised to Him, turning back to our previous ways.
Think of how many times we have pleaded for such and such a thing, promising to do all manner of good things in return. When we get what we want, we tend to forget our promises very quickly.
Finally, the message of Saleh is a salutary one for today’s world. It teaches us that God will not be mocked. He, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in between, is in charge of all things.
Sometimes humans think they can fool Him and act against His will, but all things are within His grasp. He can put an end to our stubbornness at any moment if He chooses to.
We think we are so important and so clever, with our nuclear weapons and our ability to send people into outer space, while at the same time, like the people of Thamud, we oppress the poor, and deny even simple people their rights.
Prophet Saleh (peace be upon him) teaches us something very important: that doing God’s Will is a reward in itself. We need neither signs nor proofs nor congratulations for doing it. (26:145)
You can find the story of Prophet Saleh told in full in these places in the Quran: the seventh chapter, called Al-A`raf, verses 73-78, the 11th chapter, called Hud, verses 61-68, the 26th chapter, called Ash-Shu`araa’, verses 141-159, and the 27th chapter, called An-Naml, verses 45-53.
It can teach us all to be better people.