The Qur'an speaks several times of the people of Midian, assuming that the listeners in Medina were acquainted with at least the background of these people who roamed the Arabian deserts one thousand eight hundred years earlier. Today, after fourteen hundred more years, the memory of Midian has been almost forgotten. But Mu?ammads audience still remembered the people of Midian because they had once been a great people. Under their leadership Arabia was again united and the Arabian tribes poured out of the desert to challenge the surrounding civilizations. So, just as with the people of Ad, we must turn to history to try and understand who the Midianites were, and how large their influence was at its greatest extent.
The origins of the Midianites
Once again we must turn to the Founding of the Nations chart to learn about Midianite origins. This chart uses information taken from Genesis chapters 10 and 25 and I Chronicles 1 where we can easily see that Midian was a son of Abraham. This means that Ishmael and his descendants, Isaac and his descendants and Midian and his descendants were all brother tribes and originally spoke the same language and had the same culture and religion, including the worship of one God.
While Midian had five sons, Isaac had only two. Isaacs grandsons all moved to Egypt and were shepherds there in the land of Goshen for several hundred years. They did not play a role in Arabian politics until Moses led them out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan. As we outlined in the previous section, during this time the Edomites (sons of Esau) led the family alliance and united their brother tribes (plus others) into an alliance that burst out of Arabia and raided from Yemen to the Euphrates and finally into Egypt. After Pharaoh Ahmose I crushed these shepherd kings, the tribal alliance under the Edomites broke up (1750 BC) and the tribes returned to their various homeland areas to graze sheep or conduct trade across the desert. It wasnt until four hundred years later (1350 BC) that the Midianites once again united the tribes of Arabia. (Gibson, 2011, pg 31)
Midian in the Bible
In the map below we note the Exodus route where the Children
of Israel tried to enter Edom and travel up the Kings Highway.
In the map above we note the Exodus route where the Children of Israel tried to enter Edom and travel up the Kings Highway. They were refused and traveled back to the Red Sea (via Aqaba) in order to enter Wadi Arabah. From there they moved north to the south end of the Dead Sea where they crossed into the land of Moab near the city of Ar (Kerak). (Numbers 20:1-21:20) They ended up camping on the eastern side of Moab at a place called Ijeabarim. (Numbers 21:11) And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ijeabarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sun rising. From here they skirted Moab and entered the land of the Ammonites, defeating the kings of Bashan and Heshbon. At this point they are poised, ready to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. However, first they decide to attack to the east and defeat the Midianites. This would have to be Wadi Sir?an which was directly to their east.
During this time they are allied with the Amalekites and the children of the east. The number of people in this alliance was so large that they managed to penetrate as far as Gaza, raiding crops and livestock. This raiding of settled people by desert Bedouin has long been practiced and was common up until the 1930s. While living in the Bedouin villages in the south of Jordan, the old Bedouin men would tell stories of historic raiding and taking goods from settled people. They would wait until the harvests were ripe and then ride in on their horses and camels, demanding a share. If they were refused they would simply take what they liked. If the owners of the fields resisted, they were killed. The Bedouin would shrug and say that they never killed anyone unless they met with resistance. Bedouin viewed themselves as superior to the settled people and simply came to take what was their due. It was part of the age-long struggle between the nomads of Arabia and the settled people at the edge of the desert. Glueck notes this in his book The River Jordan:
Eventually the Israelites grew tired of this oppression and
fought back. This resistance was organized by Jerubbaal, also
known as Gideon. (Judges 7:1)
In the end, over 120,000 Midianites and their allies were
killed in the fighting and Midian returned to its former state
of being a small tribe in Arabia.
It is interesting to note that the Bible tells us when Gideon killed Zebah and Zalmunna, two Midianite leaders, he took away crescent shaped ornaments that were on their camels necks. (Judges 8:21) As far as I know this is the earliest reference we have to the crescent shape in Arabia.
Midian in the Quran
And a man came from the uttermost part of the city, running. He said: O Moses! Lo! the chiefs take counsel against thee to slay thee; therefor escape. Lo! I am of those who give thee good advice. So he (Moses) escaped from thence, fearing, vigilant. He said: My Lord ! Deliver me from the wrongdoing folk. And when he turned his face toward Midian, he said: Peradventure my Lord will guide me in the right road. And when he came unto the water of Midian he found there a whole tribe of men, watering. And he found apart from them two women keeping back (their flocks). He said: What aileth you? The two said: We cannot give (our flocks) to drink till the shepherds return from the water; and our father is a very old man. So he watered (their flock) for them. Then he turned aside into the shade, and said: My Lord! I am needy of whatever good thou sendest down for me. Then there came unto him one of the two women, walking shyly. She said: Lo! my father biddeth thee, that he may reward thee with a payment for that thou didst water (the flock) for us. Then, when he came unto him and told him the (whole) story, he said: Fear not! Thou hast escaped from the wrongdoing folk. One of the two women said: O my father! Hire him! For the best (man) that thou canst hire is the strong, the trustworthy. He said: Lo! I fain would marry thee to one of these two daughters of mine on condition that thou hirest thyself to me for (the term of) eight pilgrimages. Then if thou completest ten it will be of thine own accord, for I would not make it hard for thee. Allah willing, thou wilt find me of the righteous. He said: That (is settled) between thee and me. Whichever of the two terms I fulfil, there will be no injustice to me, and Allah is Surety over what we say. Quran 28:20-8 (Pickthall)
Hath not the fame of those before them reached them the folk of Noah, Aad, Thamud, the folk of Abraham, the dwellers of Midian and the disasters (which befell them)? Their messengers (from Allah) came unto them with proofs (of Allahs sovereignty). So Allah surely wronged them not, but they did wrong themselves. And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise. Quran 9:70-71 (Pickthall)
And unto Midian (We sent) their brother Shueyb. He said: O my people! Serve Allah. Ye have no other God save Him! And give not short measure and short weight. Lo! I see you well to do, and lo! I fear for you the doom of a besetting Day. O my people! Give full measure and full weight in justice, and wrong not people in respect of their goods. And do not evil in the earth, causing corruption. That which Allah leaveth with you is better for you if ye are believers; and I am not a keeper over you. They said: O Shueyb! Doth thy way of prayer command thee that we should forsake that which our fathers (used to) worship, or that we (should leave off) doing what we will with our own property. Lo! thou are the mild, the guide to right behavior. He said: O my people! Bethink you: if I am (acting) on a clear proof from my Lord and He sustaineth me with fair sustenance from Him (how can I concede ought to you)? I desire not to do behind your backs that which I ask you not to do. I desire naught save reform so far as I am able. My welfare is only in Allah. In Him I trust and unto Him I turn (repentant). And, O my people! Let not the schism with me cause you to sin so that there befall you that which befell the folk of Noah and the folk of Hud, and the folk of Salih; and the folk of Lot are not far off from you. Ask pardon of your Lord and then turn unto Him (repentant). Lo! my Lord is, Merciful, Loving. They said: O Shueyb! We understand not much of that thou tellest, and lo! we do behold thee weak among us. But for thy family, we should have stoned thee, for thou art not strong against us. He said: O my people! Is my family more to be honored by you than Allah? And ye put Him behind you, neglected! Lo! my Lord surroundeth what ye do. And, O my people! Act according to your power, lo, I (too) am acting. Ye will soon know on whom there cometh a doom that will abase him, and who it is that lieth. And watch! Lo! I am watcher with you. And when Our commandment came to pass we saved Shueyb and those who believed with Him by a mercy from Us; and the (Awful) Cry seized those who did injustice, and morning found them prostrate in their dwellings. As though they had not dwelt there. A far removal for Midian, even as Thamud had been removed afar! Quran 11:84 95 (Pickthall)
If they deny thee (Muhammad), even so the folk of Noah, and (the tribes of) Aad and Thamud, before thee, denied (Our messengers); And the folk of Abraham and the folk of Lot; (And) the dwellers in Midian. And Moses was denied; but I indulged the disbelievers a long while, then I seized them, and how (terrible) was My abhorrence! How many a township have We destroyed while it was sinful, so that it lieth (to this day) in, and (how many) a deserted well and lofty tower! Quran 22:42-45 (Pickthall)
He said: That (is settled) between thee and me. Whichever of the two terms I fulfil, there will be no injustice to me, and Allah is Surety over what we say. And thou (Muhammad) wast not on the western side (of the Mount) when We expounded unto Moses the commandment, and thou wast not among those present; But We brought forth generations, and their lives dragged on for them. And thou wast not a dweller in Midian, reciting unto them Our revelations, but We kept sending (messengers to men). And thou wast not beside the Mount when We did call; but (the knowledge of it is) a mercy from thy Lord that thou mayest warn a folk unto whom no warner came before thee, that haply they may give heed. Otherwise, if disaster should afflict them because of that which their own hands have sent before (them), they might say: Our Lord! Why sentest Thou no messenger unto us, that we might have followed Thy revelations and been of the believers? Quran 28:43-47 (Pickthall)
And unto Midian We sent Shueyb, their brother. He said O my people! Serve Allah, and look forward to the Last Day, and do not evil, making mischief, in the earth. But they denied him, and the dreadful earthquake took them, and morning found them prostrate in their dwelling place. Quran 29:36 (Pickthall)
The Quran also speaks of the People of Tubba 50:14 who
should not to be confused with a king of Himyar of the same name
(see Quran 44:37 and the corresponding note in Al Alim:
The Dwellers of the Wooded Dales are the people of
Madyan, (Midian) as is evident from 26:176. The story is found
in the Quran in several places, for the most detailed version
He further argues that since Shuaib was involved in
preaching in the settled towns of the Midianites, this was a
later period of the Midianites, when they had settled after nomadic
life. Later an earthquake destroyed their settlements. (see Quran
Archeology and the Midianites
Above: Tomb of Shoaib