Suheil Laher

ʿĀd, an ancient Semitic tribe, who according to classical scholars dwelt in Southern Arabia, amidst long, curved sand-dunes (aḥqāf, Q 46:21) between Oman and Yemen’s Hadramaut region. The former dwellings of ʿĀd were still known to the Arabs (cf. Q 29:38) at the time of the Prophet Muḥammad—Allah bless him and grant him peace. The tribe often found mention among pre-Islamic Jāhilī poets (e.g., Ṭarafa, Zuhayr). Classical Muslim historians consider ʿĀd as part of the ancient ethnic grouping of al-ʿArab al-bāʾida (the perished Arabs) or al-ʿArab al-ʿāriba (the indigenous Arabs) (see Arabic; Bedouins) (Ibn Ṣāʿid, Ṭabaqāt al-umam p. 41; Ibn Khaldūn, ʿIbar 2.1:34). The tribe is said to be named after an eponymous ancestor: ʿĀd, son of ʿAwṣ, son of Iram, son of Sām, son of Prophet Nūḥ. ʿĀd himself is said to have had numerous offspring and was succeeded by three of his sons. The Andalusian traveler Ibn Jubayr (d. 613/1217) mentions that some people believed Egyptian pyramids to be the tombs of ʿĀd and his sons (Riḥla p. 51). The adjective ʿādī, meaning “ancient” (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub ʿ-w-d) is derived from the tribe’s name.

Qurʾānic References

ʿĀd are mentioned twenty-three times in eighteen suras of the Qurʾān. Their story is presented in extended narrative dialogue form in four passages (Q 7:65ff; 11:50ff; 26:123ff; 46:21ff); the variance in detail reflects the Qurʾānic approach of mentioning only selected aspects of a story to fit a specific context and exhortatory thrust. Three shorter passages (Q 51:41-42; 54:18-20; 69:4 and 6) focus on the punishment they received for their rejection of Allah’s message. ʿĀd are often mentioned together with other perished nations, as an example from which the Qurʾānic audience (specifically those who reject or doubt the Prophet Muḥammad’s message) should take admonition (Q 9:70; 14:9; 22:42; 25:38; 29:38; 38:12; 40:31; 41:13; 50:13; 53:50; 89:6).

Q 23:31-41 describes an exchange between a prophet and his denying people, described only as a generation raised up after [Nūḥ]. Ibn ʿAbbās, Allah be well-pleased with him, and the majority of exegetes (Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-qadīr, sub Q 23:31) have understood this to refer to ʿĀd, since the tribe is described elsewhere as successors after the people of Nūḥ (Q 7:69), and because ʿĀd is often mentioned immediately after the people of Nūḥ in other verses and narrative sequences. Dissenters from this view would argue that the people described in Q 23:31-41 were annihilated by a ṣayḥa (shout), whereas the ʿĀd are known to have been annihilated by a wind (Ṭabarī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 53:50). Yet it is conceivable that the wind could have been accompanied by a ṣayḥa (Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya 1:128). However, it may be that Q 23:31-41 could refer to another prophet prior to Hūd (see Q 41:14; 46:21).

Iram, mentioned in conjunction with ʿĀd (Q 89:7), is taken by most exegetes to be the name of their city, while others understand the term to name their tent-poles or the tribe itself (Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 89:6-8). It is attributed to the Successor and former Rabbi Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (d. ca.32/653) that Iram was a lavish city built to imitate and rival Heaven by Shaddād, son of ʿĀd, who refused to believe in the Divine message and so was annihilated before he could set foot therein (e.g., Rāzī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs and Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 89:7). However, aside from the implausible nature of many details of this story, hadith experts have also judged its transmission to be inauthentic (see Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī on Bukhārī, Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Fajr). The myths that this city is still intact (some even claiming it moves around, or that lost wanderers have stumbled upon it) are certainly not to be given credence, as Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373), Ibn Khaldūn (d. 808/1406), and others have cautioned (see Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 89:8; Ibn Khaldūn, ʿIbar 2.1:34).

Synopsis of the Narrative

The tribe of ʿĀd was blessed with great physical stature and strength (Q 7:69). Reports attributed to some early exegetes (including Wahb, Qatāda, and Ibn ʿAbbās) as well as some historians mention incredible details of their characteristics, such as stature of 100 cubits, or the ability to break mountains by hand (see Body). Many exegetical works have quoted and even affirmed such descriptions (e.g., Suyūṭī, Durr and Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ al-Zuhūr p. 71). Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) and Ibn Kathīr are among those who omit most of these details, while al-Ālūsī (Rūḥ) observes that some people may find the reports difficult to believe. Ibn Khaldūn (ʿIbar 2.1:34), and more recently the Egyptian historian Muḥammad Bayyūmī Mahrān (Dirāsāt tārīkhiyya p. 249-250) observe that non-Qurʾānic, non-Prophetic narrations such as these are implausible exaggerations. In sum, such details are more likely the stuff of folklore and legends than historical or scriptural facts, although atypical manifestations of Divine power are occasionally encountered in this world.

ʿĀd would build towers (as monuments or signposts) on every rīʿ (“high place,” in the preference of most exegetes; otherwise “road” or “valley”), needlessly, or for mere play, or in order to verbally or financially harass passing travelers (Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 26:129). They sought immortality through their maṣāniʿ (“buildings” or “reservoirs”) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 26:129-130). As a result of their power, which also allowed them to subjugate and oppress other peoples, they became arrogant and fixated on this material world. Thus they typify two dangerous human tendencies: to flaunt worldly power and strength in frivolous and cruel ways, and to unbridle creativity from spiritual and ethical footings, which led them, in a sense, to challenge the Creator. Hence their prophet criticized them for their construction activities, which would normally be permissible or even praiseworthy if done for the pleasure of Allah with genuine purpose and noble intentions (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 26:128). ʿĀd also enjoyed the bounties of livestock, gardens, and springs (Q 26:132-133).

The Qurʾān makes it clear that ʿĀd were polytheists, and Ṭabarī (Tārīkh 1:110) details that they had three gods named Ṣadā, Ṣamūd, and Habā/Hattār; one modern researcher has suggested that these may be identical with the Thamūdite triad of Ṣalm-Hubal-Raḍū (ʿAlī, Tārīkh al-ʿArab 1:243). According to some historians, ʿĀd worshipped the five idols (Q 71:23) of Nūḥ’s people (Sevhārvī, Qiṣaṣ al-Qurʾān 1:104).

Hūd, their brother and a trustworthy messenger (Q 7:65 and 68; 11:50; 26:124) is generally held to have been a descendant of the eponymous ʿĀd (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 1:216), although some maintain that he was not ʿĀdite but merely their “brother” in humanity (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:65). Hūd, peace be upon him, continued the tradition of earlier prophets by calling his people to the timeless message of monotheism, seeking no worldly reward for his mission. With reference to ʿĀd’s worldly power, he warned them to stop oppressing others (Q 26:130). He reminded them of the great favors of Allah upon them (Q 7:69) and, appealing to their natural sense of gratitude, implored them to seek forgiveness and repent, promising that Allah would then send them rain and increase them in strength (Q 11:52). Although some ʿĀdite chiefs apparently believed (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:66), most of the tribe rejected the message of Hūd, peace be upon him, accusing him of foolishness and of being possessed (Q 7:66; 11:51, 54; 26:127) and mockingly demanding that the Divine punishment be hastened upon them (Q 7:70; 46:22). He, in turn, faced their hostility and insults with mildness and patience, while firmly standing his ground on the urgency and importance of his message.

ʿĀd were destroyed by a barren, screaming, violently cold (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 41:16; 51:41; 69:6), westerly wind (Bukhārī, Badʾ al-Khalq, mā jāʾ fī qawl Allāh wa-Huwa alladhī arsala al-riyāḥ; Muslim, Istisqāʾ, fī rīḥ al-ṣabā wal-dabūr). Being in need of water, they initially rejoiced when they saw a cloud approaching, imagining it to be rain-bearing. In reality, it was a wind of chastisement that plagued them for seven nights and eight days, leaving everything in ruins (Q 51:42), extracting people from their homes, and leaving them fallen like uprooted or hollow palm-trunks (Q 54:20; 69:7). The Prophet Muḥammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, would remember the punishment of ʿĀd whenever there was a strong wind and when he saw clouds gathering, anxious lest it be a herald of Divine chastisement. Muslim scholars have explained this in light of the Prophet being a model for the rest of believers: though Allah had promised him that Allah would not punish them while you [O Muḥammad] are amongst them (Q 8:33), he nonetheless exemplified for his followers how one should never be complacent about one’s spiritual state or feel self-assured—and, moreover, how one should be reverently aware of the Creator’s signs in natural phenomena (see The Qurʾān and the Natural World) (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, fa-lammā raʾawhu ʿāriḍan and Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Fajr; Muslim, Istisqāʾ, al-taʿawwudh ʿind ruʾyat al-ghaym wal-maṭar; Abū Dāwūd, Adab, mā yuqālu idhā hājat al-rīḥ; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī).

ʿĀd, the first (Q 53:50), is understood by most exegetes merely as a reference to ʿĀd being one of the earliest nations (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar) but others have posited a second ʿĀd distinct from people of Prophet Hūd: Thamūd, or the people of Iram, or tyrants in general, or a subset of ʿĀd who were living in Makka and escaped annihilation (see Ṭabarī, Tafsīr and Ālūsī, Rūḥ). The last is suggested by a narration linked with the passage in Sūrat al-Aḥqāf stating that ʿĀd sent representatives to Makka to pray for rain to end their drought (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 1:110ff). The delegation was distracted for a month listening to songstresses (“the Two Jarādas”), and when they eventually prayed, they were shown the cloud of chastisement headed for the valley of ʿĀd—but some of the delegation survived, among other ʿĀdites resident in Makka. A similar account is reported to have been narrated by a Companion in the presence of the Prophet Muḥammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace (Aḥmad, Musnad al-Makkiyyīn, al-Ḥārith b. Ḥassān al-Bakrī §15953; Tirmidhī, Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Dhāriyāt; and others).

Ibn Hajar (d. 852/1449) points out that the Prophet’s words, “A people was chastised by wind, and a people saw the punishment and said, ‘This is a cloud bringing us rain,’” might suggest two distinct peoples, although Q 46:24 indicates otherwise (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī on Bukhārī, Tafsīr, fa-lammā raʾawhu ʿāriḍan and Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Fajr). Ibn Kathīr (Bidāya 1:128-130) observes that the ʿĀd mentioned in the story of the Jarādas (if authentic) could be the Second ʿĀd, for Makka was only built after Ibrāhīm, peace be upon him , whereas Hūd, peace be upon him, was a pre-Abrahamic prophet. Yet both Ibn Ḥajar and Ibn Kathīr are ambivalent about the proposition of two ʿĀds. Qurʾānic accounts often omit historical details that are not central to the deeper messages being conveyed; exegetes, as well as writers in the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (“Stories of the Prophets”) genre, often attempted to supply such additional background information from historical sources, it being understood that the proof of such details remained tentative. Some, such as Ibn Kathīr, made a point of critiquing extra-Qurʾānic narrations where deemed necessary. It was in a similar spirit of rigor that Ibn Sallām al-Jumaḥī (d. 231/845) earlier complained about adulteration of the corpus of Arabic poetry through the uncritical acceptance of Arabic poetry purportedly dating back to ancient, extinct peoples such as ʿĀd (Ṭabaqāt fuḥūl al-shuʿarāʾ 1:7-9).

Modern and Heterodox Views

Within the last century, some Muslim academics and scholars have drawn on modern archaeological data to re-evaluate and seek to elucidate the identity, location, and chronology of ʿĀd, positing that they were an Aramaic people who dwelt in Ḥismā, Northwest Arabia, near the site of Thamūd, in the second millennium BCE (Sevhārvī, Qiṣaṣ; Mahrān, Dirāsāt tārīkhiyya 1:249; ʿAlī, Tārīkh al-ʿArab 1:230-234; Mawdūdī, Meaning, sub Q 7:65). It has been suggested that the ancient city of Ubar, whose 9 meter towers were unearthed in the Omani desert in 1993, is the ʿĀdite hub of Iram (Nādiya Ṭayyāra, Mawsūʿat al-iʿjāz al-Qurʾānī 2:382); the same has also been said of other sites elsewhere.

The early twentieth-century Turkish historian Muḥammad ʿAlī Bishīḥālūq, in a radical historical meta-narrative, posits that humanity and civilization began in Caucasia, and thence were spread worldwide by the Circassians, also known as Adiga, which became “ʿĀd” in Arabic. He hypothesizes that Ādam, peace upon him, was a prophet sent to ʿĀd in Caucasia, and that the worldwide migrations began after Ādam’s eating from the tree. ʿAlī Sakīf, in his curious narrative of early history which suggests that Nūḥ (peace be upon him) left the Earth and carried out cloning after the Flood, claims that ʿĀd first inhabited caves and mountains before being forced to emigrate by natural calamities. Khālid Nabahān, although he has collected much interesting data, also makes several revisionist claims that cannot be taken seriously, among them that Hūd (peace be upon him) is the ancestor of the Jews, who expunged his name from the Bible to hide their Yemeni origins, and that the Egyptian pyramids are the Qurʾānic Iram. Considering the dubiousness of these modern theories, it is clear that they have little or no bearing on the Qurʾānic kernel of the story and its enduring lessons for the human condition.


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See also

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