THE CITY OF IRAM
At the beginning of 1990, press-releases in the well-known newspapers of the world declared “Fabled Lost Arabian city found,” “Arabian city of Legend found” and “The Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar.” What rendered this archaeological find particularly intriguing was the fact that this city is mentioned in the Qur’an. Many people had previously suggested ‘Ad was a legend or that the location in question could never be found. Such people could not conceal their astonishment at this phenomenal discovery.
It was Nicholas Clapp, a noted documentary filmmaker and a lecturer on archaeology, who found this legendary city mentioned in the Qur’an.225 Being an Arabophile and a winning documentary film maker, Clapp had come across a very interesting book during his research on Arabian history. This book was Arabia Felix, written by the English researcher Bertram Thomas in 1932. Arabia Felix was the Roman designation for the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula which today includes Yemen and much of Oman. The Greeks called this area “Eudaimon Arabia” and medieval Arab scholars called it “Al-Yaman as-Saeed.”226 All of these names mean “Happy Yemen,” because the people living in that region used to serve as middlemen in the lucrative spice trade between India and places north of the Arabian Peninsula. In addition, the people living in this region produced and distributed “frankincense,” an aromatic resin from rare trees.
The English researcher Thomas described these tribes at length and claimed that he found the traces of an ancient city founded by one of these tribes.227 This was the city known as “Ubar” by the Bedouins. In one of the trips he made to the region, the Bedouins living in the desert had shown him well-worn tracks and stated that these tracks led toward the ancient city of Ubar. Thomas, who showed great interest in the subject, died before being able to complete his research.
|Whole societies have passed away before your time, so travel about the earth and see the final fate of the deniers.|
Clapp, who examined what the English researcher Thomas wrote, was convinced of the existence of the lost city described in the book. He quickly started his research, attempting to carry on from where Thomas had left the project. Clapp took two different approaches in his mission to prove the existence of Ubar. First, he found the tracks which the Bedouins said existed and in order to aid his work, he applied to NASA to provide the satellite images of the area. After a long struggle, he succeeded in persuading the authorities to take the pictures of the region he so craved.228
The above satellite photographs show a section of Oman in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. In the photographs of the city of Ubar, viewed from space by NASA in 1992, were identified traces of ancient desert tracks. The people of ‘Ad, revealed 1,400 years ago in the Qur’an, emerged as one of the miracles of the Qur’an through modern-day technology.
Clapp went on to study the ancient manuscripts and maps in the Huntington library in California. Here, he quickly found a map covering the region he was studying so intensely. He found a map drawn by the Greek-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy in 200, which showed the location of an old city found in the region and the paths which actually led up to this city.
Meanwhile, his research received a further boost when he received the news that satellite photographs had been taken by members of NASA. In the pictures, caravan trails, which were virtually invisible to the naked eye, caught Clapp’s attention. They could only be seen as a whole from the sky. Comparing these pictures with the old map he had in hand, Clapp immediately realised that the trails in the old map corresponded with the trails in the pictures taken from the satellite. The final destination of these trails was a broad site understood to have once been a city.
Finally, thanks to the work of Clapp and Thomas before him-along with a helping hand from NASA researchers-the location of this legendary city, which had been subject of the stories told orally by the Bedouins, was discovered. After a short while, excavations began and remains of an old city were brought to light. This lost city was dubbed “Ubar, the Atlantis of the Sands.”
But let us ask: What was it that proved this to be the city of the people of ‘Ad mentioned in the Qur’an?
From the very beginning of the study of the site, it was understood that this ruined city belonged to ‘Ad. Researchers discovered Iram’s pillars, which were specifically mentioned in the Qur’an, in the form of towers in the land of the people of ‘Ad. Dr. Juris Zarins, a member of the research team leading the excavation, said that since the towers were alleged to be the distinctive feature of Ubar and since Iram was mentioned as having towers or pillars, this then was the strongest proof so far that the site they had unearthed was Iram, the city of ‘Ad described in the Qur’an:
Do you not see what your Lord did with ‘Ad-Iram of the Columns whose like was not created in any land? (Qur’an, 89:6-8)
As seen, that the information provided by the Qur’an about the events of the past is in total agreement with historical information is another evidence of the fact that the Qur’an is the Word of Allah.
225. Thomas H. Maugh II, “Ubar, Fabled Lost City, Found by LA Team,” The Los Angeles Times, 5 February 1992.
226. Kamal Salibi, A History of Arabia (Caravan Books: 1980).
227. Bertram Thomas, Arabia Felix: Across the “Empty Quarter” of Arabia, (New York: Schrieber’s Sons: 1932), 161.
228. Charlene Crabb, “Frankincense”, Discover, January 1993.