The Ashab al-Aykah denied the messengers when Shu’ayb said to them, “Won’t you have taqwa?”
Surah al-Shu’ara, Ayah 176-177
Ashab al-Aykah. Who are these people? In English, this literally translates to “Companions of the Wood.” These were the people of the city of Madyan according to the correct opinion. The city of Madyan is based in an area of modern day northern Saudi Arabia, however the civilization extended around the Sinai Peninsula and southern Jordan as well. The prophet who Allah (swt) sent to these people was Shu’ayb (as). The people he was sent to used to worship the aykah, which is a type of tree. Some people say it is a twisted type of tree which has an odd shape. The reason why Shu’ayb (as) is not referred to in the Qur’an as “their brother Shu’ayb” is because here they are being described in relation to their worship of the aykah (Ashab al-Aykah).
Because of their disbelief, Allah (swt) says, “The Ashab al-Aykah denied the messengers.” Allah (swt) did not say, “when their brother Shu’ayb said to them…”, but instead said, “when Shu’ayb said to them…“. So He cut off the relationship of brotherhood between Shu’ayb (as) and his people in the sense of them being referred to as “his people” even though he was in fact related to them as their brother.
Ibn Kathir relates that the people of Madyan were the first to impose fees and tolls on people and caravans passing by their land.
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.
Surah al-Araf, Ayah 86
They insisted on leading a life of robbery and injustice ignoring what Shu’ayb (as) was telling them. Many of them, the majority, turned to worshipping nature and trees (aykah). Shu’ayb (as) warned them that the punishment of Allah (swt) would be inflicted upon them if they did not change their ways. Shu’ayb (as) explained that Allah (swt) would see them become poor and destitute by taking away their wealth and riches.
“There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. 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.”
Surah al-Araf, Ayah 85
Prophet Shu’ayb (as) continued to warn his people that they would suffer similar fates to the people of Prophet Nuh, Hud, Saleh and Lut. The Qur’an says,
And O my people, let not (your) dissension from me cause you to be struck by that similar to what struck the people of Nuh or the people of Hud or the people of Saleh. And the people of Lut are not from you far away.
Surah Hud, Ayah 89
Ibn Kathir narrates that the last part of the ayah in reference to Prophet Lut (as) implies the similarities Shu’ayb (as) and Lut (as) had in their people. Shu’ayb’s (as) people were notorious for highway robbery just like the people of Lut (as) were. Another meaning is regarding how Prophet Shu’ayb (as) was close to the people of Lut (as) in time, place, and overall behavior.
The leaders in Madyan were growing tired of Shu’ayb (as) call to the truth and asked him to return to the religion of his forefathers, but he refused. The disbelievers went on with their arrogant and prideful lifestyles not realizing the wrath of Allah (swt) was very near. Allah (swt) made sure to save Shu’ayb (as) and his followers from the torture his people faced. In Surah Hud Allah (swt) says,
And when Our command came, We saved Shu’ayb and those who believed with him, by mercy from Us. And the shriek seized those who had wronged, and they became within their homes (corpses) fallen prone
Surah Hud, Ayah 94
In Surah al-Araf, Allah (swt) says,
So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home (corpses) fallen prone.
Surah al-Araf, Ayah 91
In Surah al-Shu’ara, Allah (swt) says,
And they denied him, so the punishment of the day of the black cloud seized them. Indeed, it was the punishment of a terrible day.
Surah al-Shu’ara, Ayah 189
Ibn Kathir elaborates and tells us that the people were exposed to the unbearable hot scorching sun for no less than 7 days. They tried everything to cool down by using water, but there was no relief. So they escaped into the desert and found what they believed to be a relief under a dark and gloomy cloud. At that point, Allah (swt) sent down drops of fire and the ground beneath them shook and caused them to perish. May Allah (swt) save us all from the torture and torment of this world and the next. Ameen, and Allah (swt) knows best.