The Story of the Saturday People

Praise be to Allaah, the Lord of the Worlds, to Him belong the endowments and proper commendations. May Allaah increase the honor of Prophet Muhammad, sallallaahu ^alayhi wa sallam, raise his rank, and protect his nation from what he fears for it.

Thereafter, it was said:

The village of Aylah was by the Red Sea and the story of its people was cited in the honorable Qur’an. Some people in that village committed a major sin and as a punishment, God turned them into monkeys and pigs. These people were called Ashabus-Sabt, the Saturday People.

Before Prophet Muhammad received Revelation about this event, the Jews concealed this story. They did not want people to know that God had turned some of the Children of Israel, who were before them, into pigs and monkeys, and then destroyed them. God however, exposed them in the Qur’an when He revealed this story to Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him.

This story was revealed, warning the Jews not to be arrogant and stubborn. They should have accepted the truth and believed in Prophet Muhammad. The Revelation of this story was to remind those Jews of what had happened to those who were before them, from the village of Aylah.

During the time of Prophet David, the Muslim Children of Israel were prohibited from working, trading, crafting goods, or fishing on Saturdays, because this was a day of rest for them. This was a test from God; making evident to the people who would follow the orders of God and who would disobey Him.

Each Saturday fish and whales would come close to the shore, to the point that one could catch them by hand. This was because the fish and whales had an instinct that they would not be harmed that day. The fish would come to the shore in great numbers, gathering there and no one would frighten them. During the rest of the week, the fish would remain in the depths of the ocean and the Children of Israel would not see them until the following Saturday.

It is easy however for the devil to lead the wicked soul to wrongdoing and sinning. One of the people of the village craved some of the fish that came on Saturday. The devil made the fish seem so tempting, that the man made a plan to get what he desired.

One Saturday, he came to the shore and saw a big fish swimming close to it. He took the fish’s tail and tied it with a rope. Then he tied the other side of the rope to a stake and anchored it into the sand. At the end of the day (with Saturday passing at sunset), he came back to the shore, took the fish, went home, cleaned it, and barbecued it. The smell of fish surrounded his house; so his neighbors came asking about the smell.

The man denied having fish. After they insisted on an answer, he said, “It is the skin of a fish that I found, so I brought it home and barbecued it.” The next Saturday he did the same thing, and again the neighbors came by asking him about the smell of barbecued fish. This time, however he said, “If you want, you can do as I am doing.” “What are you doing?”, they asked. He told them what he was doing and they imitated him.

Then, they became inventive in their ways to catch the fish. On Fridays they would make small pools which were easy to block and were connected to the ocean through small tunnels. The fish would enter these tunnels on Saturday and get stuck in the pools.

Some went even further and they would ride their boats out to the open sea and force the big fish back towards the shore until these fish got stuck in the tunnels. They would then close the openings to the pools and the fish would be stuck there unable to get out until it was Sunday, when the Children of Israel came and took what they had caught. Many people did this. Eventually, it reached the point where people were openly fishing on Saturdays; then selling what they caught in the market. This, of course, was a weighty disregard for the orders of God.

When the major sinners sinned publicly, the scholars among the Children of Israel forbade them from doing this. The scholars told them to fear God, reminding them of the torture that was awaiting them if they did not repent. The major sinners, however, did not listen. As a result, the scholars built a wall in the village that separated them from the major sinners.

During the night, God punished those sinners by turning the younger ones into monkeys and the older ones into pigs. In the morning, the good people among the Children of Israel (who had ordered with the good and forbade the wrong) went to their jobs, mosques, and other places in the community, but they did not see any of the major sinners. They were shocked and surprised at this and wondered about what happened to them. One of them put a ladder on the wall to take a look. When he looked over to the other side he was astonished to find monkeys jumping over each other and pigs making ugly noises.

They opened the doors of the wall and entered into the side of the major sinners. The monkeys came close to the humans, smelt their clothes and cried. The humans would say, “Didn’t we forbid you from doing that sin?” The monkeys nodded their heads indicating, “Yes, you forbade us.” It is said that 70,000 were changed into monkeys and pigs. Twelve thousand people forbade them from doing that sin.

Before the sinners were changed into monkeys and pigs, the people in that village were of three groups. One group sinned and fished; they were around 70,000. They were changed into animals. Another group were the ones who did not fish and forbade the others from fishing. They were around 12,000. The last group neither fished nor did they forbid others from fishing. This group used to say to the group who forbade fishing, “Why do you forbid these people who are sinners while God will destroy and punish them?” They expected God to punish those sinners, relying on stories of past nations who had sinned and consequently, had been punished and destroyed by God. The ones who forbade the sinners said, “We are forbidding them as a reminder to them of the sin they are doing. Perhaps they will fear God and stop.” God saved the group who forbade the sinners and the group who did not sin but did not forbid the sinners. The only group that turned into monkeys and pigs was the one who fished on Saturday.

Those people who were changed into animals were only alive for three days. During that time they did not eat, drink, or produce any offspring. Their story became a great lesson for the people who had known them and knew what happened to them. Similarly, their tale was a great lesson for the nations that came after them, who did not see them but only heard about them.

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