The End of Saba
Many verses mention that Saba had a strong army. We are told that its commanders left the final decision to the queen, as the following verse indicates:
"We possess strength and great force. But the matter is in your hands, so consider what you command." (Qur'an, 27:33)
But Saba's strong army turned out to be of no use, for despite the prophet's warnings, the Sabaeans's continued ungratefulness for God's blessings caused them to be punished generations later with a disastrous flood. The Qur'an describes the places in which the Sabaeans lived:
There was also a sign for Saba in their dwelling place: two gardens—one to the right and one to the left. [We said to them:] "Eat of your Lord's provision and give thanks to Him: a bountiful land and a forgiving Lord." (Qur'an, 34:15)
The Sabaeans lived in a land of striking beauty and of fruitful vines and gardens. Located on trade roads, they lived lives of considerable comfort and had built one of the finest cities of that time. Given their high standard of living and beautiful environment, it was their duty to eat of their Lord's provision and give thanks to Him.
But they did not do this, for they were ungrateful:
But they turned away. So, We unleashed against them the flood from the great dam and exchanged their two gardens for two others containing bitter-tasting plants, tamarisk, and a few lote trees. That is how We repaid them for their ingratitude. Are any but the ungrateful repaid like this? (Qur'an, 34:16-17)
The Sabaeans thought that their success and wealth came from their own effort. As these verses say, God willed His retribution, in the form of a great flood, to fall upon them and destroy them. Those who are ungrateful for God's blessings, who do not follow the way shown by the prophets, and who ignore the revealed Books that He has sent down will receive their reward for their actions both in this world and in the world to come.
Saba Destroyed by the 'Arim Flood
According to historical sources, Saba was one of the four great civilizations of southern Arabia. Its inhabitants were a sophisticated people who had reached a high level of technology, as we can tell from the Ma'rib dam, one of their most important achievements. As the Sabaeans were establishing their civilization, they built this dam and began to irrigate the surrounding land, and develop a very comfortable lifestyle.
The Ma'rib dam was 16 meters (52 feet) high, 60 meters (196 feet) wide, and 620 meters (2,034 feet) in length. Scholars estimate that it irrigated 9,600 hectares of land: 5,300 hectares on the southern plain and 4,300 hectares on the northern plain. Sabaean inscriptions sometimes refer to these two plains as "Ma'rib and the two plains."11 So, the Qur'anic expression of "two gardens—one to the right and one to the left" probably means these vines and gardens that stretched across two valleys. This dam, as well as the irrigation water it supplied to the surrounding land, made the area famous as the best irrigated and most productive land in southern Arabia.
The extensive repairs made during the fifth and sixth centuries CE did not prevent its collapse in 542. The ensuing flood, which the Qur'an calls the Arim flood, destroyed the Sabaeans' vineyards, gardens, and farms that they had cultivated for centuries.The Saba kingdom then entered a period of rapid decline and gradually disappeared.
Archeological finds and historical sources corroborate this event. The Qur'an speaks of the Sayl al-'Arim (i.e., the 'Arim flood). The word 'arim can mean dam or barricade. So, Sayl al-'Arim indicates that the flood happened because the dam collapsed.
German archeologist Werner Keller, author of Und die Bible Hat Doch Recht (The Holy Book Was Right), accepted the Qur'anic account of this flood and wrote that the existence of such a dam and the destruction of the whole kingdom by its collapse proves that the Qur'an's example of the people of the garden was indeed realized. 12
The Ma'rib dam, which now has become a desolate ruin, is a lesson for all people who, like the Sabaeans, are ungrateful for God's blessings and so deserve His punishment. In a moment, all of their wealth was gone. (For a detailed discussion, see Harun Yahya, The Perished Nations [Ta Ha Publishers, Ltd.: 2002].)