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The Story of Prophet Shu'aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ)

The Mission of Prophet Shu'aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ)

Prophet Saleh Calligraphy

Shu'aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) is a Prophet in Islam and is believed to be Jethro, according to Judeo-Christian tradition. However, this belief is not unanimously agreed upon and is disputed.

The story of Prophet Shu'aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) unfolds in a region named Madyan, which is within greater Syria today.

This area was surrounded by dense forests and was home to a community of traders. Although they were prosperous in their trade, the people of Madyan were fraudulent in their business dealings.

They frequently deceived customers by selling defective or short-measured goods. As a hub for merchants, Madyanites were feared for ambushing caravans and demanding fees for safe passage through their town.

The Madyanites were not only dishonest in trade but also disbelievers, rejecting the existence of Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) and reportedly worshipping the woodlands and nature Gods.

They are mentioned in Surah Qaf ayah 14 as Ashab al-Aykah or "Companions of the Wood." In response to their corruption and disbelief, Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) bestowed His mercy by sending guidance by appointing a prophet from their own community. He selected a man named Shu'aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) for the important task.

Companions of the Wood

prophet Shuaib AS

Ushering a corrupt and haughty community to abandon their past beliefs and embrace a new way of life is undoubtedly not an easy task.

Especially given how their unethical business had long benefited them and would require significant sacrifice. But, Prophet Suhaib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) was resolute in carrying out this mission of Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) and bringing others into the fold of Islam.

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The disbeliever's denials

Prophet Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) addressed his people, urging them to renounce their false gods and turn to worship Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) alone.

O my people, worship Allah; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord.” He proclaimed.
(Surah Al-A’raf, ayah 85).

Prophet Shu'aib & merchant

Prophet Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) urged his people to be fair and just in their business dealings and to earn their living honestly.

He reminded them of all the blessings that Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) had showered on them and cautioned them of the severe punishment should they persist in their rebellion against His guidance.

So fulfill the measure and weight and do not deprive people of their due and cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. That is better for you, if you should be believers.

And do not sit on every path, threatening and averting from the way of Allah those who believe in Him, seeking to make it [seem] deviant. And remember when you were few and He increased you. And see how was the end of the corrupters.

And if there should be a group among you who has believed in that with which I have been sent and a group that has not believed, then be patient until Allah judges between us. And He is the best of judges.

(Surah Al-A’raf, ayat 85-87)

Weigh scale

In Surah Ash-Shua'ra, verses 177-184, Prophet Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) shares a similar plea for the righteousness of his people and emphasizes the importance of fearing Allah.

He challenges them, asking,

"Have you no fear?" I am a trustworthy Messenger to you.

So fear Allah and obey me. I ask of you no reward for this. My reward is with none but the Lord of the Universe. Fill up the measure and do not diminish the goods of people, weigh with an even balance and do not deliver short, and do not go about creating mischief in the land, and have fear of Him Who created you and the earlier generations.”

Angry merchant

The disbelievers, unwilling to change and filled with greed, mocked Prophet Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) they replied in sarcasm,

O Shu’ayb! Does your Prayer enjoin upon you that we should forsake the deities whom our forefathers worshipped, or that we should give up using our wealth as we please? Do you fancy that you, and only you, are forbearing and right-directed?
(Surah Al-Hud, ayah 87)

Prophet Shu’aib replied:

“My people, can you not see? What if I am acting on clear evidence from my Lord? He has given me good provision: I do not want to do what I am forbidding you to do; I only want to put things right as far as I can. I cannot succeed without God’s help: I trust in Him and always turn to Him.”
(Surah Al-Hud, ayah 88)

Prophet Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) was a man of wisdom and reason. He tried to show them he had no interest in taking their wealth, but the deep-seated corruption in their hearts blinded them to his honest intentions. Their suspicions and self-centeredness clouded their judgment, preventing them from recognizing the truth.

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So, in an effort to awaken their conscience, he reminded them of the end that befell the people of Prophet Nuh (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), Hud (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), and Salih (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) and beseeched them to seek Allah’s (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) sincere forgiveness.

“My people! Let not your opposition to me lead you to guilt that would bring upon you the chastisement that struck earlier the people of Noah, and the people of Hud, and the people of Salih. And the land of the people of Lot is not far from you! Seek the forgiveness of your Lord and turn to Him in repentance. Surely my Lord is Ever Merciful, Most Loving."
(Surah Al-Hud 89-90)

So, in an effort to awaken their conscience, he reminded them of the end that befell the people of Prophet Nuh (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), Hud (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), and Salih (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) and beseeched them to seek Allah’s (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) sincere forgiveness.

So they threatened him:
"They said: ‘O Shu’ayb! We do not understand much of what you say. Indeed we see you weak in our midst. Were it not for your kinsmen, we would surely have stoned you for you have no strength to overpower us."
(Surah Al-Hud, ayah 91)

Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) was patient as he replied:
“‘My people! Are my kinsmen mightier with you than Allah that you (hold the kinsmen in awe while) you cast Allah behind your back? Surely my Lord encompasses all what you do. My people! Go on working according to your way and I will keep working (according to mine). Soon you will come to know who will be afflicted by a humiliating chastisement, and who is proved a liar. And watch, I shall also watch with you.”
(Surah Al-Hud 92-93)

They replied,
"You are no more than one of those who have been bewitched, you are only a mortal like us. Indeed we believe that you are an utter liar. So cause a piece of the sky to fall upon us if you are truthful.”
(Surah Ash-Shu’ara, ayat 185-187)

Shu’aib responded,
"My Lord knows well all what you do.”
(Surah Ash-Shu’ara, ayah 188)

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Undeterred by threats, Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) continued to renounce the religion of their ancestors and preached the religion of Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ). His persistence infuriated the chiefs of Madyan as they saw no respite from Shu'aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ).

The chiefs, fearing a loss of their prestige and authority within the clan, understood the risks of allowing Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) and his followers to propagate their beliefs unchallenged.

Chief leader

As recounted in Surah Al-A’raf, ayah 88, they confronted him with a stern ultimatum:
“O Shu’ayb! We shall certainly banish you and your companions-in-faith from our town, or else you shall return to our faith”

The Prophet (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) replied:
“‘What! Even though we abhor [your faith]? If we return to your faith after Allah has delivered us from it we would be fabricating a lie against Allah. nor can we return to it again unless it be by, the will of Allah, our Lord. Our Lord has knowledge of all things, and in Allah we put our trust. Our Lord! Judge rightly between us and our people, for You are the best of those who judge.’"
(Surah Al-A’raf, ayah 88-89)

The leaders also targeted the followers of Shu’aib (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) and threatened:
“Should you follow Shu’ayb, you will be utter losers.”
(Surah Al-A’raf, ayah 90)

Fearing that many more would join Shu’aib , the chiefs withheld Shu’aib’s belongings and those of his followers and drove them out of Madyan. So the Prophet prayed to his Lord and pleaded for His assistance.

A mass dark cloud
A scorching heat enveloped the region of Madyan, causing great discomfort for the disbelievers. Soon, dark clouds approached the skies above Madyan. The people stepped out of their homes, rejoicing that their gods had finally ended their suffering and were blessing them with rain.

Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) says in the Quran:

“But they denied him, so there came on them the retribution of the day of gloom. Lo! it was the retribution of an awful day.”
(Surah Ash-Shu’ara, ayah 189)

This day is known as the "torment of the canopy" and is not explicitly detailed in the Qur'an or any authentic traditions. But we are told it was a day of divine retribution against those who defied Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) guidance. Some commentators write about a continuous storm, with violent thunderbolts that brought about their destruction.

In the Tafseer Ma'ariful Qur'an, a vivid depiction is presented,
"Allah Ta’ ala sent down such an extreme heat on a people that they could not find comfort either inside the houses or outside. Then He sent down a mass of dark cloud over a nearby forest, under which there was a cool breeze. As the entire people were distressed due to excessive heat, they ran to take shelter under the cloud.

Fire rain
When all of them assembled under the cover of the cloud, it rained fire instead of water. The true nature of these events is known only to Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ), but it is certain that those who rejected Prophet Shu'aib's persistent calls were among the losers.

In Surah Al-A'raf verses 91-92,
"Thereupon a shocking catastrophe seized them, and they remained prostrate in their dwellings. Those who had charged Shu’ayb with lying became as though-they had never lived there; it is they who became utter losers."

Having witnessed the destruction of his people, Prophet Shu’aib turned away from them and said: "‘O my people! Surely I conveyed to you the message of my Lord, and gave you sincere advice. How, then, can I mourn for a people who refuse to accept the truth?’
(Surah Al-A’raf, ayah 93)

Allah (سُبْحَٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ) also says in the Qur'an:

“Those who rejected Shu’aib were wiped out as if they had never lived there. Those who rejected Shu’aib were the true losers.
(Surah Al-A’raf, ayah 92)

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