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Monday, 8 July 2013


There’s A Lesson In Petra (Jordan):

They Carved Out Houses In Mountains,
And Built Castles In The Plains
But Eventually Met Their Doom
Because They Defied Lord

(By: M. Javed Naseem)

Petra (or Patra or Batra) is an ancient historical site in Jordan. According to an Arab tradition, Petra is the place where Prophet Musa (Moses) struck a rock with his staff and water came forth. This is also the place where Musa’s brother Harun (Aaron) is buried, at Mount Hor, known today as “Jabal Haroun” or Mount Aaron. The ‘Wadi Musa’ (the Valley of Moses) or ‘Wadi of Moses’ is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petra is situated. On the mountaintop, there was a shrine, said to be of Musa’s sister Miriam. It was still shown to pilgrims at the time of Jerome in the 4th century, but its location has not been identified since.

Anything that goes up, comes down. That’s the law of nature. Similarly, nations also rise and fall. They rise when they work hard, uphold great principles and strive with sincere passion to rise. But they fall when they take things for granted and let the corruption, abuse of power, manipulation, extortion, injustice and exploitation set in. Our planet earth is full of ruins that tell the stories of successes and failures of earlier nations. Most of these famous historical sites are located in the Middle East where, as per our limited knowledge, numerous prophets and messengers of Allah appeared.

According to the Quranic stories, Prophet Saleh was sent to the nation of Thamud. The area was Palestine (today’s Jordan, Lebanon, Israel & Syria). Prophet Saleh delivered the similar message of ‘Tawheed’ to his people as did Noah and Aad. The Thamud were very intelligent and competent people. They constructed big castles and palaces in the plains; and carved mountains to build houses. They built dams to manage water for irrigation and to counter draught. They achieved great feats in architecture. But they were arrogant oppressors of the poor.

 Mountain carved into a dwelling

Water was scarce at that time and the privileged class tried to prevent the poor and their cattle having access to water-springs and green pastures. The poor suffered at the hands of the rich. The story is narrated briefly in the Holy Quran.

وَإِلَىٰ ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَالِحاً قَالَ يَاقَوْمِ
ٱعْبُدُواْ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُمْ مِّنْ إِلَـٰهٍ غَيْرُهُ قَدْ جَآءَتْكُمْ
بَيِّنَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ هَـٰذِهِ نَاقَةُ ٱللَّهِ لَكُمْ آيَةً
فَذَرُوهَا تَأْكُلْ فِيۤ أَرْضِ ٱللَّهِ وَلاَ تَمَسُّوهَا
بِسُوۤءٍ فَيَأْخُذَكُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
‘To the Thamud people (We sent)
Saleh, one of their own brethren.
He said: O my people! Worship
Allah; ye have no other god but Him.
Now hath come unto you a clear
(Sign) from your Lord! This she-camel
of Allah is a Sign unto you. So leave
her to graze in Allah’s earth, and let
her come to no harm, or ye shall be
seized with a grievous punishment.’
(al-Quran 7:73)

The tribal leaders laughed at Saleh and advised others not to pay attention to him. People followed their tribal elders. Nobody wanted to quit idol-worship as it was being practiced there for generations. Saleh reminded people of One God Who had blessed them with bounties but they were not convinced. When man enjoys success and power, he thinks that he merits it, and has achieved it by his own talent and hard-work. It’s true to some extent but all talent and hard-work is vain if God’s blessing and guidance is not there. Man can claim success by grace of God alone because it is the Almighty God Who creates the circumstances leading to our success.
Saleh did not give up his mission and continued to remind Thamud people of Allah’s blessings:

وَٱذْكُرُوۤاْ إِذْ جَعَلَكُمْ خُلَفَآءَ مِن بَعْدِ عَادٍ
وَبَوَّأَكُمْ فِى ٱلأَرْضِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِن سُهُولِهَا
قُصُوراً وَتَنْحِتُونَ ٱلْجِبَالَ بُيُوتاً فَٱذْكُرُوۤاْ
آلآءَ ٱللَّهِ وَلاَ تَعْثَوْا فِى ٱلأَرْضِ مُفْسِدِينَ
"And remember how He made you inheritors after
the Aad people and gave you habitations in the land.
You build for yourselves palaces and castles in
(open) plains, and hew out houses in the mountains.
So bring to remembrance the benefits (you have received)
from Allah, and refrain from evil and mischief on the earth."
(Quran 7:74)

Thamud people were the successors to the ancient tribe (or nation) of Aad for whom God sent His messenger Hud. And Hud came to pass after the era of Noah. It is said that Thamud were the offspring of Eber, the great-grandson of Noah. Allah knows best! Some scholars have described their region in the north-west of Arabia, between Madinah and Syria. As per tradition, centuries later, when Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) led his expedition to Tabuk against the Romans, on a reported Roman invasion from Syria, the Prophet (s.a.w.) and his companions came across the remains of Thamud.

Thamud had achieved great success and were considered the ‘most advanced’ in their material civilization. Their achievements made them arrogant and highly materialistic; and at the same time ‘godless’. They coined their own gods and worshipped idols.

Saleh told them that he was a messenger of God and they should listen to him. They should believe in the Oneness of God (Tawheed) and should worship none but Him. They should mend their sinful ways and repent otherwise God will punish them. But they ridiculed him and ask him to produce a proof or a miracle to support his claim.
Saleh told them that Allah had sent a sign in the form of a she-camel and that was a test for them. They should let the camel graze without any let or hindrance. If they ever tried to harm it, the wrath of Allah would fall upon them. But they rejected Saleh’s message and rebuked him. The chiefs of the tribes jeered at Saleh. They asked people not to believe what Saleh said. They challenged Saleh and as a token of defiance they hamstrung the camel.

فَعَقَرُواْ ٱلنَّاقَةَ وَعَتَوْاْ عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ وَقَالُواْ
يَاصَالِحُ ٱئْتِنَا بِمَا تَعِدُنَآ إِن كُنتَ مِنَ ٱلْمُرْسَلِينَ
فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ ٱلرَّجْفَةُ فَأَصْبَحُواْ فِى دَارِهِمْ جَاثِمِينَ
“Then they hamstrung the she-camel,
and insolently defied the order of
their Lord, saying: O Saleh! Bring
about your threats, if you are a
messenger (of Allah)! So, the
earthquake took them unaware,
and they lay prostrate in their
homes in the morning!”
(Quran 7:77-78)

According to the tradition, after slaying the camel, the people of Thamud were given three more days to turn to God in repentance but they asked for no repentance. Then on the night of the third day, a mighty blast occurred in the sky and a dreadful earthquake struck the town. The explosion struck the people of Thamud, and in a matter of minutes, they were buried in the ruins of their own homes. Majority of the people perished but Prophet Saleh and his followers (believers) were guided to safety, being just and righteous people. That was the sad end of Thamud.
ثُمَّ نُنَجِّى رُسُلَنَا وَٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ
كَذٰلِكَ حَقّاً عَلَيْنَا نُنجِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“In the end We deliver Our messengers
and those who believe; thus is it
fitting on Our part that We should
deliver those who believe!”
(Quran 10:103)

When you have strong faith in Allah, you have peace of mind and satisfaction. You know that any harm which is not meant for you, cannot touch you. A true believer (Muslim) knows that everything, beneficial or harmful, comes from God as a test of faith; and he needs to stay on the right path. Therefore, he has neither fear nor grief.

أَلاۤ إِنَّ أَوْلِيَآءَ ٱللَّهِ لاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ 
“Behold! Verily on the friends of Allah
there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
(al-Quran 10:62)

Allah created Heavens and this earth in Truth and He governs the universe in Truth. He has certain principles and He never changes those principles for anybody, for anything and under any circumstances. He rewards us for all the good things we do in this life and He warns us of severe punishment of all the injustices and transgressions we commit. Success is only guaranteed to the true and sincere believers.

ٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَكَانُواْ يَتَّقُونَ
لَهُمُ ٱلْبُشْرَىٰ فِى ٱلْحَياةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَفِى ٱلآخِرَةِ
لاَ تَبْدِيلَ لِكَلِمَاتِ ٱللَّهِ ذٰلِكَ هُوَ ٱلْفَوْزُ ٱلْعَظِيمُ
“Those who believe and (constantly) guard against evil, 
for them are glad tidings, in the life of the present and in
the Hereafter. No change can there be in the words of Allah.
This is indeed the supreme triumph.”
(al-Quran 10:63-64)

As an intelligent being, when we should look at things in a positive way; and to satisfy our curiosity, we should try to find the answers to ‘how’ and ‘why’. This is the first step toward knowledge and research. All these great monuments of the ancient times tell us fascinating stories. But before we start digging, we have to scratch the surface gently and nicely. And the door to knowledge starts opening slowly.

 Rock-cut houses of Petra
Centuries later, some tribes, believed to be the later generations of Thamud people, made history by achieving material success. Notable among them were Edomites and then Nabataeans. Petra was declared ‘capital’ by the Nabataeans. They worshipped idols, just like the pre-Islamic Arab tribes. As a matter of fact, the Arab tribes were worshipping the same gods and goddesses at the advent of Islam when Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) declared his prophecy. King Obodas-I was given the status of god after his death; Dushara was the main male god accompanied by his female trinity: al-Uzza, al-Laat and Manaat. Many statues carved in the rocks of Petra depict these gods and goddesses. At the dawn of Islam, these statues were found even in the Holy Kaabah.
Interestingly, according to the researchers, Nabataean inscriptions in Sinai and other places display widespread references to names including Allah, El and Allaat (god and goddess), with regional references to al-Uzza, Baal and Manutu (Manaat). Al-Laat is also found in Sinai in south-Arabian language. Allah occurs particularly as Garm-allahi (Greek Garamelos) and Aush-allahi (Greek Ausallos). We find both Shalm-lahi (Allah is peace), and Shalm-allat (peace of the goddess). You can also find Amat-allahi (she-servant of god) and Halaf-Ilahi (the successor of Allah). adds:
Saleh, Sahlay or Șāliḥ (Arabic: صالح); meaning Pious, was an Arabic prophet of ancient Arabia mentioned in the Quran, who prophesied to the tribe of Thamud – a wicked community who, because of their sins, were ultimately destroyed. Saleh is sometimes equated with the Salah (biblical figure) of the Hebrew Bible. The preaching and prophecy of Saleh is linked to the famous Islamic story of the She-Camel, which was the gift given by God to the people of Thamud when they desired a miracle to confirm the truth of the message Saleh was preaching. Chronologically, scholars believe Saleh's prophesying to have been post-Antediluvian but pre-Abrahamic.
Thamud cannot be equated with the Edomites (the predecessors of Nabataeans) at Petra. Saleh was born before Abraham and the Edomites were a Semitic race. Historic Petra had several places of worship, and the main mountain at the site - Jebel al-Madhbah - is topped by two stone obelisks, suggesting the worship of deities via stone-phallic symbols. The narrow gorge leading to the site - known as the Siq - can sometimes channel the wind to produce a loud trumpet-like sound, and it is known by local Bedouin as the trumpet of God. The name of Saleh may originate in the name of the city, as it was historically known as Sela, a word deriving from the Hebrew term Se'lah, meaning rock; the Greek name Petra has the same meaning.
The prophet Saleh is not mentioned in any other Abrahamic scripture or contemporary historical text, and his account is only found in the Quran. However, the account of Thamud's destruction was well known in Pre-Islamic Arabia and among the Arabic tribes and their poets that they mentioned them (and the people of Aad) in some of their poetry, as a moral lesson and a bad end. Arab Jews knew about the stories of Thamūd and Aad from the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, but mostly as an Arabian tradition, and not as a matter of belief and faith.  
Petra (Arabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ) is a historical and archaeological city in the southern Jordanian governorate of Ma'an, that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Another name for Petra is the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved. It lies on the slope of Jebel al-Madhbah (identified by some as the biblical Mount Hor) in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as "a rose-red city half as old as time" in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage. Petra was chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the "28 Places to See Before You Die”.
Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.
Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south on a track leading across the plain of Petra, around Jabal Haroun ("Aaron's Mountain"), where the Tomb of Aaron, said to be the burial-place of Aaron, brother of Moses, is located, or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m (9.8–13 ft) wide) called the Siq ("the shaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (popularly known as "the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

Al-Khazneh (The Treasury)
Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550–1292 BCE). It is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times. Although Petra is usually identified with Sela which means a rock, the Biblical references refer to it as "the cleft in the rock", referring to its entrance.
The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
Because the structures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves, and many treasures were stolen.

T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia):

In October 1917, Lawrence, as part of a general effort to divert Turkish military resources away from the British advance before the Third Battle of Gaza, led a small force of Syrians and Arabians in defending Petra against a much larger combined force of Turks and Germans. The Bedouin women living in the vicinity of Petra and under the leadership of Sheik Khallil's wife were recruited to fight in the defense of the city. The defenders were able to completely devastate the Turkish and German forces.
Petra was the main topic in John William Burgon's Poem Petra. Referring to it as the inaccessible city which he had heard described but had never seen. The Poem was awarded the Newdigate Prize in 1845:
It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.


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