Saturday, 24 February 2018

Tubba, Himyar, Sheba and the Marib Dam



Allah Most High mentions a figure called ‘Tubba’ twice in the Holy Quran (Surah 44:37; 50:14) but always in reference to the qawm (people) associated with him, and does not say anything regarding Tubba directly. Regarding this Tubba, the Prophet Muhammad said:

مَا أَدْرِي أَتُبَّعٌ كَانَ لَعِينًا أَمْ لا

“I do not know if Tubba was cursed or not”

And in another narration:

مَا أَدْرِي أَتُبَّعُ كَانَ نَبِيًّا أَمْ لَا

“I do not know if Tubba was a prophet or not”

The closest indication that this figure ‘Tubba’ was an Apostle of God is the Verse:

وَأَصْحَابُ الْأَيْكَةِ وَقَوْمُ تُبَّعٍ ۚ كُلٌّ كَذَّبَ الرُّسُلَ فَحَقَّ وَعِيدِ

And the Companions of the Wood and the People of Tubba all denied the Messengers, so was fulfilled My threat.

(Surah 50:14)

The People of Tubba denying the Messengers perhaps means that Tubba was among the Messengers sent, and his people denied him, but Allah knows best.

Actually, Tubba was the title given to the king that ruled over Himyar in ancient Yemen. Many exegetes identify Tubba mentioned in the Holy Quran with As’ad Abu Karab, a 5th century CE Himyarite king who reportedly converted to Judaism. But another famous Tubba was the last Himyarite king Dhu Nuwas (Yusuf bin Sharhabil) of the early 6th century. He also converted to Judaism and zealously persecuted the Christians of Najran. Some Quranic exegetes identify Dhu Nuwas as the evil king of the AsHab-ul-Ukhdud (Companions of the Pit), and the Believers who were burnt to death therein as being the Christians of Najran whom he persecuted. It was apparently this unjust persecution of the Christians by Dhu Nuwas which motivated the Byzantine emperor Justin I (450-527) to ask the Aksumites to invade Yemen and topple its Jewish kingdom. This they did in the year 525. But the Aksumites were no good either. Led by a man named Abraha, a Christian fanatic just as Dhu Nuwas was a Jewish fanatic, he launched the famous attack on Mecca in the Year of the Elephant (570), in which the Prophet Muhammad was born, with the aim of converting the sacred Kaaba into a church. Allah Most High mentions this event in the 105th chapter of the Holy Quran. Soon thereafter, the Sassanids forced the Aksumites from Yemen and established a vassal there, Sayf bin Dhi Yazan (516-578).

Now whoever the Tubba mentioned in the Holy Quran might have been, this much is certain that the People of Tubba were the Himyarites in Yemen who were ruled by kings that went by the title of Tubba. And Allah says that His threat of punishment was fulfilled against them (Surah 50:14) and that He “destroyed them” (Surah 44:37). Now what does this destruction refer to? Was it the loss of their political independence through the Aksumite invasion and defeat of Dhu Nuwas? That is quite possible. But the Holy Quran mentions Allah’s divine punishment upon Sheba in the form of a flood from the breach of the Marib Dam (Surah 34:16). Historically, the Marib Dam, or the Dam of Arim, was constructed by the Shebans in the 8th century BCE. There were several breaches to this dam which caused major flooding and destruction. The present dam is also a continuous source of flooding and negatively affects the agriculture downstream.

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