Iram of the Pillars

Iram of the Pillars (Arabic: إرَم ذَات ٱلْعِمَاد, Iram dhāt al-ʿimād; an alternative translation is Iram of the tentpoles), also called "Irum", "Irem", "Erum", "Ubar", or the "City of the pillars", is a lost city, region or tribe mentioned in the Quran.[1][2]

The legend of Iram

The Quran mentions Iram in connection with ‘imad (pillars):[2]

6: Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with ‘Aad –
7: [With] Iram – who had lofty pillars,
8: The likes of whom had never been created in the lands
9: And [with] Thamud, who carved out the rocks in the valley?
10: And [with] Pharaoh, owner of the stakes? –
11: [All of] whom oppressed within the lands
12: And increased therein the corruption.
13: So your Lord poured upon them a scourge of punishment.
14: Indeed, your Lord is in observation.

There are several explanations for the reference to "Iram – who had lofty pillars". Some see this as a geographic location, either a city or an area, others as the name of a tribe. Those identifying it as a city have made various suggestions as to where or what city it was, ranging from Alexandria or Damascus to a city which actually moved or a city called Ubar.[3] As an area, it has been identified with the biblical region known as Aram.[4] It has also been identified as a tribe, possibly the tribe of ʿĀd, with the pillars referring to tent pillars.[1]

"The identification of Wadi Rum with Iram and the tribe of ʿĀd, mentioned in the Quran, has been proposed by scholars who have translated Thamudic and Nabataean inscriptions referring to both the place Iram and the tribes of ʿĀd and Thamud by name."[5]

According to some Islamic beliefs, King Shaddad was the king of the Iram of the Pillars who defied the warnings of the prophet Hud, whereupon Allah smote the city, driving it into the sands, never to be seen again. The ruins of the city are thought to lie buried somewhere in the sands of Rub' al Khali (The Empty Quarter). Iram became known to Western literature with the translation of the story "The City of Many-Columned Iram and Abdullah Son of Abi Kilabah"[6] in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Archeological research

In November 1991, a settlement was discovered in southern Oman and hypothesized for the legendary lost city[7] claimed to have been destroyed by God. In 1992 Ranulph Fiennes wrote a book called Atlantis of the Sands about the expedition.[8]

Archaeologist Juris Zarins discussed Ubar in a 1996 NOVA interview:[9]

There's a lot of confusion about that word. If you look at the classical texts and the Arab historical sources, Ubar refers to a region and a group of people, not to a specific town. People always overlook that. It's very clear on Ptolemy's second century map of the area. It says in big letters "Iobaritae". And in his text that accompanied the maps, he's very clear about that. It was only the late medieval version of One Thousand and One Nights, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that romanticised Ubar and turned it into a city, rather than a region or a people."

By 2007, following further research and excavation, a study authored in part by Zarins could be summarised as follows:[10]

  • As far as the legend of Ubar was concerned, there was no evidence that the city had perished in a sandstorm. Much of the fortress had collapsed into a sinkhole that hosted the well, perhaps undermined by ground water being taken to irrigate the surrounding oasis.
  • Rather than being a city, interpretation of the evidence suggested that "Ubar" was more likely to have been a region—the “Land of the Iobaritae” identified by Ptolemy. The decline of the region was probably due to a reduction in the frankincense trade caused by the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, which did not require incense in the same quantities for its rituals. Also, it became difficult to find local labour to collect the resin.[11] Climatic changes led to desiccation of the area, and sea transport became a more reliable way of transporting goods.

In Ahadith

There are many Hadiths about Iram, with one being the story of 'Abdullah bin Qalabah, who lost his camel and found Iram of the Pillars while searching for his camel. The story has been rejected by some Islamic scholars who said that the story is an Isra'iliyyat Hadith and that is because Ka’b al-Ahbar was Jewish before he converted to Islam and he was accused by some scholars of narrating Isra'iliyyat stories.[12][13]

In fiction

Video games


See also


  1. Glassé, Cyril; Smith, Huston (2003). "ʿĀd". The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Rowman Altamira. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7591-0190-6.
  2. Quran 89:6–14 (Translated by Pickthall)
  3. Noegel, Scott B.; Wheeler, Brannon M. (2010). "Iram". The A to Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. Scarecrow Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-8108-7603-3.
  4. Bosworth, C.E., ed. (1999). The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume V: The Sāsānids, the Byzantines, the Lakhmids, and Yemen. SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-7914-4355-2.
  5. "Wadi Rum (Jordan). ICOMOS Advisory Body Evaluation" (PDF). 2011.
  6. Burton, Richard Francis (1885). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. p. 135  via Wikisource.
  7. Wilford, John Noble (1992-02-05). "On the Trail From the Sky: Roads Point to a Lost City". New York Times. Retrieved 2019-11-17.
  8. Fiennes, Ranulph (1993). Atlantis of the sands: The Search for the Lost City of Ubar. Harmondsworth: Signet Books. ISBN 0-451-17577-8. OL 17393459M.
  9. Zarins, Juris (September 1996). "Interview with Dr. Juris Zarins". PBS Nova Online (Interview). Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  10. Blom, Ronald G.; Crippen, Robert; Elachi, Charles; Clapp, Nicholas; Hedges, George R.; Zarins, Juris (2006). Wiseman, James; El-Baz, Farouk (eds.). "Southern Arabian Desert Trade Routes, Frankincense, Myrrh, and the Ubar Legend". Remote Sensing in Archaeology. Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology. New York: Springer: 71–87. doi:10.1007/0-387-44455-6_3. ISBN 978-0-387-44455-0.
  11. Lawton, John (May–June 1983). "Oman: Frankincense". Saudi Aramco World. Vol. 34 no. 3. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  12. "Chapter 54: Shaddad and his Paradise, those who had very long life-spans". Retrieved 2018-07-28.
  13. Ibn Khaldun (1958). The Muqaddimah: an introduction to history. 1. Princeton University Press. p. 17. ISBN 0691017549.
  14. "The Nameless City". Mythos Tomes. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  15. Taylor, Bayard. "The garden of Irem". Poetry nook.

Further reading

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