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Is Mada’in Saleh Thamudic or Nabataean?

23 June, 2019
Q Assalamualaikum,I've been conducting some research regarding the people of Thamud and was unsettled with the discovery that the ancient carved ruins in Al-Hijr or Mada'in Saleh are not attributed to them but to the Nabataean Arabs. Supposedly the structures were not built by the people of Thamud during the Prophethood of Salih AS but by the Nabataeans. They were not built but during the first century BC and the first century CE and carbon dating, as per archeologists, confirms this. During this time the Nabataeans built structures out of rock throughout their kingdom. There are hadiths where the Prophet SAW and his companions ventured through the valley whilst on their way to Tabuk and they themselves believed that the ruins belonged to Thamud. He SAW even stated that the well where the she-camel of Allah SWT drank was also situated among the wells in the area. However, archeologists have stated that the Nabataeans were also experts in irrigation and agriculture and many wells in the region are attributed to them. Is it possible that the Nabataeans were the successors of the people of Thamud and that they took the land as an inheritance and accommodated their own culture and structures with preexisting ones? Can it be that they rebuilt the devastated homes of the Thamud? What can we say about the sahih hadiths which mention that the structures are attributed by both the Prophet SAW and his companions to the Thamud and not the Nabataeans? In those hadiths one companion which was Abdullah ibn Umar believed that the ruins belonged to the Thamud. Also how are we to interpret verses such as 27:52, 28:58-59, 29:37-38, 15:80, 22:45-46, 20:128 and 32:26? All of them mention the dwelling-places of ancient destroyed communities and nations existing during the time of the Prophet SAW. Verse 28:58 baffles me the most. Even if we were to accept that the land of Thamud was inherited by later nations, how come the verse spoke of it and other lands as not inhabited except passingly after the destruction of their former occupants? Past orientalists and Christian Missionaries have used this so-called discrepancy to put doubts on the Prophethood of Muhammad SAW. I really need help in this.Your brother in faith,


Short Answer: Mada’in Salih is not known in the Bible but the Biblical name for the area was Dedan. It is worth noting only in Mada’in Salih (Dedan) were tombs carved by the people of Thamud. No burial sites were found from the Nabataeans, only dwellings carved into the hills. Mada’in Salih became the Southern capital for the Nabataeans while Petra was the capital for the Northern Nabataean kingdom.


Many thanks for your question(s). They are not easy to answer as there has not been a complete archaeological survey of the area. The Saudi government has been reluctant to issue permits and the area has been cursed by God. On top of that, the names of some of the places have changed.

It is unfortunate that you don’t give a reference so I don’t know how recent your information is. My major source is a Ph.D. thesis by a resident from the area who was primarily interested in the irrigation systems. I did visit the site, and the Department of Antiquities is responsible for the site. They issue a Guidebook, but unfortunately, I could not locate my copy.

There was an important trade route (for the Sabaean and Minaean culture from the South to the North; from Sana through Najran, Makkah, Madina to al-‘Ula where the trade route branched to Babylon (Babil) through Taima’. The main route continued to Petra then Gaza, and one route led off to Syria and another to Egypt.  [Mustafa ‘Amir. The Ancient Trans-Peninsular Routes of Arabia, Congr. Int. George. (Cairo, 1925), Vol. V. Pp126-140]

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There are three main archaeological sites in the area and some of the names have changed with time. Mada’in Salih translates as: the Cities of Salih.

  • Dedan was the old name mentioned in the Bible. It is now known as Khuraibah.
    • Isaiah 21:13 mentions Dedanites
    • Jeremiah 25:23 mentions Dedan
    • Ezekiel 25:13, 27:15, 27:30 and 38:13 all mention Dedan

Reference the Holy Bible Revised Version

  • The ruins of al-Hijr known as al-Mahiyat or al-Mibyat, which was identified by Abdullah Adam Nasif as the ruins of Qurh (medieval city) in his Ph.D. thesis (these are Islamic sites).

Quoted by Abdallah Adam Nasif in: al-‘Ula An Historical and  Archaeological Survey with Special Reference to Its Irrigation

System, (The book is a thesis presented to the Victoria University of Manchester for a PhD.) I obtained my copy from the Library,

King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during my stay there.  

  • Wadi al-Qura (Dedan and Hijr) which replaced Dedan and al-Hijr as the main town in the area.
  • al-‘Ula (which has not been explored/excavated).  

There have been travelers and explorers in the area including Doughty 1876; Philby; British Expedition from the University of London in 1966; Institute of Archaeology, University of London 1968. But the most detailed study was by two French Priests who visited the area in 1907, 1908 and 1910. They collected a large number of Lihyanite, Minaean, Thamudic and Nabataean inscriptions. Their work forms the basis of further studies in the area,

Mada’in Salih is not known in the Bible but the Biblical name for the area was Dedan.

“Although Albright agrees with Grimm and Winnett in saying that the Dedanite inscriptions belong to the sixth century BCE, he

opines that the passages in the Old Testament  (Gen, 25:3, 10:7) take us back to a time prior to this period.”  F.V.  Winnett and W.I. Read. Ancient Records from North Arabia.    (Toronto, 1970, p.114)

Op. Cit. Quoted by Abdallah Adam Nasif in al-‘Ula

The people of Thamud were there from the 4th century BCE or possibly earlier. The Greeks and the Nabataeans came in the first century BCE The Romans displaced the Nabataeans in the year 106 CE. Most historians today, agree that Dedan was deserted when the Nabataeans achieved hegemony over the area. The Nabataeans moved the trade route 15 km East of Dedan resulting in the decline of Dedan, The Romans overthrew the Nabataeans in 106 CE and now the trade route was changed from land to sea, Mada’in has been dated 400BCE to 50-35BCE.

The Dedanites were succeeded by the Minaeans and Lihyanites.

Al-Bakri quotes from al-Kalbi about movements of populations in Wadi al-Qura, and he says that some of the tribes of Quda’ah, among whom were the tribes of ‘Udhiah had settled in Wadi al-Qura alongside the Jews who had inhabited the area following the fall of Thamud, and who recovered the springs and cultivated the surrounding area. This agrees with your comment that other people helped develop the irrigation system. The Ph.D. is mainly focussed on al-‘Ula and its irrigation system, and al-‘Ula is considered to be in the Wadi al-Qura (Mada’in Salih).

It is worth noting only in Mada’in Salih (Dedan) were tombs carved by the people of Thamud. No burial sites were found from the Nabataeans, only dwellings carved into the hills. Mada’in Salih became the Southern capital for the Nabataeans while Petra was the capital for the Northern Nabataean kingdom.

Note: If you are interested in pursuing this further, you might be able to obtain copies of the Guidebook to Mada’in Salih from the Department of Antiquities and Museums, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and also, a copy of the Book (thesis) by Nasif, from the Library, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Thank you for your question, you have made me search a little. In sha Allah it answers your question.

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

The She-Camel in the Quran

Lessons From the Story of Prophet Saleh

Saleh was an Arab Prophet – This is His Story



About Daud Matthews
Daud Matthews was born in 1938, he embraced Islam in 1970, and got married in Pakistan in 1973. Matthews studied physics and subsequently achieved Chartered Engineer, Fellow of both the British Computer Society and the Institute of Management.He was working initially in physics research labs, he then moved to computer management in 1971. He lived and worked in Saudi Arabia from 1974 to 1997 first with the University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran,and then with King Saud University in Riyadh. He's been involved in da'wah since 1986.