The story of Saba’ is mentioned in the Sura Saba’ (34:15-19)
This story illustrates how people can lose all the blessings given to them by Allah when they turn away from Him and take others (the Creator’s creations), for worship.
According to scholars of genealogy, among them being Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, the name of Saba’ is `Abd Shams Ibn Yashjub Ibn Ya`rub Ibn Qahtan. He was the first to take captives and he was very generous to the people. As-Suhaili said: It is said that he was the first person to be crowned, and some scholars said he was Muslim and that he composed poetry in which he brought good news of the advent of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S.). This last saying was attributed to Ibn Didya in his book titled [At-Tanwir fi Maulid Al-Bashir An- Nadhir]
Imam Ahmed said: I have been told by Abu `Abdur Rahman, after `Abdullah Ibn Luhai` ah, after `Abdullah Ibn Da`lah: I heard `Abdullah Ibn Al-`Abbas saying: A man asked Allah’s Messenger (S.A.W.S.) about Saba’, whether it was a man, a woman, or a name of a land? He (S.A.W.S.) said:
“Verily, he was a man to whom ten sons were born. Six of them inhabited the Yemen and four Sham (Syria). Those in Yemen were: Madhhaj, Kindah, Al-Azd, Al-Ash `ariyun, Anmar and Himyar. And those who inhabited Syria were: Laghm, Judham, `Amilah and Ghassan." The Questioner was Farwah Ibn Musaik Al-Ghatifi.
This means that the term Saba’ covers all these tribes; among them also were At- Tababi `ah (Sing. Tubba) in the Yemen. Bilqis was from among the Himyar kings who ruled the Yemen. They lived in happiness and ease, with abundance of sustenance: fruits, plants, etc., and they were righteous people who followed the straight path, but when they denied the Grace of Allah they inevitably incurred upon themselves and their peoples destruction and devastation.
Muhammad Ibn Ishaq narrating from Wahb Ibn Munabah said: Allah the Almighty sent them thirteen Prophets. And, As-Sadi claimed that Allah the Almighty sent them twelve thousand Prophets. Allah knows best!
The main point is, they replaced guidance with misguidance and prostrated before the sun instead of Allah the Almighty. This practice was seen during the era of Bilqis and her ancestors and continued till Allah sent over them a flood released from the dam. Allah the Almighty says:
“But they turned away (from the obedience of Allah), so We sent against them Sail Al-`Arim (flood released from the dam), and We converted their two gardens into gardens producing bitter bad fruit, and tamarisks, and some few lote trees. Like this We requited them because they were ungrateful disbelievers. And never do We requite in such a way except those who are ungrateful (disbelievers)” (Saba’, 34:16,17).
Many scholars mentioned that the Dam of Ma’rab was built to keep water behind two great mountains, and when the water rose, the people began to plant orchards and fruit trees and many kinds of vegetables. It is said that the building of the dam was started by Saba’ Ibn Ya` rub but he died before completing it. So, the tribe of Himyar perfected it and it was of the space of one square league. People were living in happiness and abundance. Qatada and others said: “The woman (from among them) would go putting a basket on her head, and it would be filled with fresh, ripe fruits, and they said that the air they breathed was so clean and pure that neither flies, nor harmful germs were found in their land.” Allah the Almighty says:
“Indeed there was for Saba’ (Sheba) a sign in their dwelling place – two gardens on the right hand and on the left; and it was said to them: Eat of the provision of your Lord, and be grateful to Him. A fair land and an Oft-Forgiving Lord!” (Saba’,34:15).
“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed: If you give thanks (by accepting Faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My Blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily My punishment is indeed severe” (Ibrahim, 14:7).
They worshipped other than Allah the Almighty and dealt with His Grace arrogantly. Allah had made the stages of their journey easy and they used to travel safely by night and day, but they asked Allah to make the stages between their journeys longer and severer. Thus, they asked for the good to be turned into what is bad like the Children of Israel who asked Allah the Almighty to turn Manna and quails into herbs, cucumbers, Fum (wheat or garlic), lentils and onions. They were deprived of that great blessing and comprehensive grace; their land was destroyed and they themselves were scattered all over the globe. Allah the Almighty says:
“But they turned away (from the obedience of Allah), so We sent against them Sail Al-`Arim (flood released from the dam)” (Saba’, 34:16).
Many scholars said that Allah the Almighty sent mice or rats on the bases of the dam, and though they tried to get rid of the rats by bringing cats to eat them up, it was in vain. The bases became very weak and finally the dam collapsed and the water drowned everything. Their good fruit trees turned into – as explained by Allah the Almighty – bad ones: “And We converted their two gardens into gardens producing bitter bad fruit, and tamarisks and some few lote-trees.”
Allah the All Mighty sends His severe punishment to only those who disbelieve in Him and belie His Messengers, disobey His Orders, and violate His Boundaries. Allah says:
“So We made them as tales (in the land), and We dispersed them all totally” (Saba, 34:19).
After the destruction of their gardens, properties and land, they needed to move away. Thus, they got scattered in different parts of the land as some of them moved to the Hejaz, and Khuza’ah moved to Mecca. Some of them also moved to Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah, and they were the first to inhabit it. Then, they were followed by three tribes from the Jews: the Banu Qainuqa’, Banu Quraizah, and Banu An-Nadir. The Jews made coalitions with the Aus and Khazraj and lived there (till the time of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S)). Some of them moved to Sham (Syria) and afterwards they converted to Christianity. These were Ghassan, Amilah, Bahra’, Lukham, Judham, Tanukh, Taghlub, and others.
Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, in his The Prophet’s Biography [Kitab As-Sirah], said that the first to quit Yemen before the Sail Al-’Arim (the flood released from the dam) was Amr Ibn ‘Amir Al-Lukhami. Lukhami was the son of ‘Adyi Ibn Al-Harith Ibn Murrah Ibn Azd Ibn Zaid Ibn Muha’ Ibn ‘Amr Ibn ‘Uraib Ibn Yashjub Ibn Zaid Ibn Kahlan Ibn Saba’.
Ibn Ishaq said that he was told by Abu Zaid Al-Ansari that Amr Ibn ‘Amir Al-Lukhami saw a rat digging beneath the dam of Ma’rab and realized that the dam would not stand long. However, he tricked his people by ordering his youngest son to slap him on the face before the people. The son did as he was ordered and ‘Amr said: “I will never live in a place where my youngest son slapped me on the face.” And he offered to sell his property. The noblemen of Yemen seized the opportunity of ‘Amr’s rage and bought all his property. Hence, he moved along with his children and their offspring. The Azd said: “We will not leave ‘Amr Ibn ‘Amir,” so they sold their properties and accompanied him in his fleeing (without knowing his real intentions). They arrived at the land of `Ak who fought against them. Finally, they departed from the land of ‘Ak and dispersed in the lands. Ibn Jafnah Ibn ‘Amr Ibn ‘Amir went to Sham (Syria), Al-Aus and Al-Khazraj went to Yathrib (Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah), Khuza’ah went to Marran, Azd As-Sarah went to As-Sarah, and Azd ‘Amman went to ‘Amman. Then Allah the Almighty sent the flood against the dam and it collapsed. The Glorious Qur’an bears witness to this incident.
As narrated by As-Sadi and later stated by Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, ‘Amr Ibn `Amir was a priest. Others said that his wife was Tarifah Bint Al-Khair Al-Himyariyah and that she was a priestess. It was she who foretold the destruction of their country as they saw an indication in the rat, and hence they moved away. Allah knows best! His whole story was mentioned in the Exegesis on the authority of `Ikriamh after Ibn Abu Hatim. However, not all the people of Saba’ moved from Yemen after the collapsing of the dam, but the majority stayed there. Only the people of the Dam (Ma’rab) went away and dispersed in the land. It is stated in the Hadith, that was narrated by `Abdullah Ibn `Abbas, that the majority of the Yemenites did not move from Yemen. Only four tribes quitted but six tribes stayed. They continued to live there and kept their rule – for about seventy years – till they were deprived of their own self-rule by the army sent by the Negus under the command of Abraha and Aryat. Then, it was regained by Saif Ibn Dhi Yazan AI-Himyari shortly before Prophet Muhammad’s birth. Then, Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon him) sent to Yemen `Ali Ibn Abu Talib and Khalid Ibn Al-Walid, then Abu Musa Al- Ash`ari and Mu`adh Ibn Jabal to invite the people to embrace Islam. Al- Aswad Al-`Ansi seized the Yemen and drove out the deputies of Allah’s Messenger (S.A.W.S). During the era of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, Al-Aswad Al-`Ansi was killed and the Muslims had the upper hand in Yemen.
Quranic Verses related to the STORY OF SABA’ [Quran: Surah Saba' (34:15-19)]
· Indeed there was for Saba’ (Sheba) a sign in their dwelling-place – two gardens on the right hand and on the left; (and it was said to them:) "Eat of the provision of your Lord, and be grateful to Him." A fair land and an Oft-Forgiving Lord!
· But they turned away (from the obedience of Allah), so We sent against them Sail Al-’Arim (flood released from the dam), and We converted their two gardens into gardens producing bitter bad fruit, and tamarisks, and some few lote-trees.
· Like this We requited them because they were ungrateful disbelievers. And never do We requite in such a way except those who are ungrateful (disbelievers).
· And We placed, between them and the towns which We had blessed, towns easy to be seen, and We made the stages (of journey) between them easy (saying): "Travel in them safely both by night and day."
· But they said: "Our Lord! Make the stages between our journey longer," and they wronged themselves; so We made them as tales (in the land), and We dispersed them all totally. Verily, in this are indeed signs for every steadfast, grateful (person).
Taken from the e-book “Summarized Stories of the Quran