Shu^ayb is one of the Prophets of God who is cited ten times in the Qur’an. Aspects of the story of Shu^ayb are stated in verses 85-93 of Suratul-‘A^raf and verses 84-95 of Surah Hud. He was an Arab. Some scholars said that he was the son of Prophet Lot’s daughter. Others said that he was among the offspring of Prophet Abraham. One lineage given for Shu^ayb is the following: He is the son of Mikil, the son of Yashjar, the son of Madyan, the son of Abraham.
God sent him to the people of Madyan. He lived among these people who knew him well. Despite living among them, Prophet Shu^ayb never participated in the evil practices that his people were committing. Then God gave him Revelation, and Prophet Shu^ayb called the people to Islam.
Prophet Shu^ayb is Sent to Tree-Worshippers
We know from the Qur’an that the people of Shu^ayb were called “ashabul-aykah,” which means “the people of the thick, heavy trees.” Out of extreme ignorance and blasphemy, they worshipped one big tree, which was in a grove of other trees. These people were very renowned traders. They spoke Arabic. They lived in Madyan, a city of the Hijaz, to the north of Madinah, close to the Gulf of ^Aqabah. This city of Madyan was close to the lake of the people of Prophet Lot. It is mentioned in the Qur’an in Surah Hud, verse 89, that the people of Lot were not far from the people of Madyan.
As we said, according to a narration, the man Madyan (that the city is named after) was the son of Prophet Abraham. Madyan and his people were Muslim, worshipping God. Yet, after some time, the people of the region started to blaspheme and become evil. They got wealthy and gave up worshipping God.
Their trading was extensive. They would go to Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. They built up a lot of wealth, through unfair dealings. When they made an agreement to sell an amount to another, they would give less than what they agreed. When they made an agreement to buy a certain amount, they would take more than agreed. In addition, they terrorized the travelers by waiting for a caravan to pass, then raiding it, taking the goods unrightfully.
God made them rich, with this money taken unrightfully, and put them to the test. God made Shu^ayb, a person of their own people, a Prophet. Prophet Shu^ayb told them to stop worshipping that tree, and be Muslim, worshipping their Creator only. As well, Prophet Shu^ayb ordered them to give up gaining money in an unlawful way. Verse 84 in Surat Hud indicates that Prophet Shu^ayb advised his people to worship God only, and not to fall short in weighing while transacting. He confirmed that they lived well off and he feared a great torture would befall them. Very few people accepted the message of Prophet Shu^ayb and became Muslim.
Prophet Shu^ayb Spoke Beautifully
Prophet Shu^ayb advised his people, as stated in the Qur’an. Prophet Shu^ayb spoke and advised in such a good way that he was known as the ‘orator of the Prophets’. He was articulate, elegant, and rich in his speech. Shu^ayb would say a short statement, yet it was full of meaning and impact.
However, his people did not accept this richness, and indulged in injustice. Most of them walked away from belief, and exaggerated in injustice. They did not think that Shu^ayb had a powerful influence, due to the small number of people following him.
In Surat Hud, verse 91, there is an indication that those people addressed Prophet Shu^ayb, telling him, “We find you weak among us; few people followed you in your Religion. If it were not for your tribe, we would have stoned you. You are a man that we do not regard as dear to us.” This verse neither means that they found him physically weak in a manner that people would humiliate him, nor that he had a defect or a handicap like blindness, etc., by which people would consider him weak as a result.
The scholars of interpretation explained that it is not befitting to attribute physical weakness to the Prophets, as Abu Hayyan explained in his book ‘Al-Bahr al-Muhit’. Hence, the meaning of the word “da^ifan” in this verse of the Qur’an, which means “weak”, is that only a few people followed Shu^ayb in his Religion. Hence, the people called him “weak”.
They told him, “If it was not for your tribe, we would have pelted you until death, because we do not hold ourselves from killing you personally. Rather, it is for the sake of your tribe that we did not kill you.”
Consequently, they did not respond to him positively, although his words to them were among the most articulate of words, and the highest in meanings. His clarity and articulation was so strong, that even a dull person who lacked intelligence, as well as the intelligent people, could understand the meanings of his words. Still, his people would not listen to him.
Verse 89 of Suratul-‘A^raf says that Prophet Shu^ayb told his people, “If we (he and his followers) were to embrace your (false) religion, then this would be injustice. May God save us from that”. Prophet Shu^ayb never followed the false religion of worshipping a tree. Prophet Shu^ayb was Muslim all his life, just like all the other Prophets.
God Punishes Those Who Did not Follow Prophet Shu^ayb
God hit them with an extreme heat that hindered their breathing. They went into their houses to escape the heat, but the heat followed them into their houses. They left their houses escaping towards the open woods. God sent a cloud that shaded them from the sun. They experienced coolness, and they felt relaxed. They called one another, until all of them gathered under that cloud. When they all gathered underneath it, God brought out of it a flaming fire that fell on them. Then Angel Gabriel screamed at them. All of them were destroyed. God protected Shu^ayb and those who were with him.
This is the torture of “yawmudh-dhullah,” (the day of the shade) which is cited in the Qur’an in the verse 189 of Suratush-Shu^ara’.
We ask God, that we hear the good speech of Prophet Shu^ayb in the Hereafter.