Q&A Video #32 This is a general transcript of a Dan Gibson video.
Hello, I am Dan Gibson, and this is another Question and Answer Video. Recently, Salman wrote to us: How do you explain Prophet Muhammad preaching in Ta’if when he was in Mecca if that was in Petra and not today’s location in Saudi? Ta’if is closer to Mecca than Petra. Do you have any explanations for that? Please let me know. Thanks. Sal.
OK Sal, this is something I have mulled over for several years. In my research, I have checked out early descriptions and accounts of Ta’if mentioned in the early writings of Tabari, Ibn IsHaq, and Ibn Hisham, Bukhari, and others. There are several important descriptions here.
First, the location of Ta’if had a temple to goddess Allat. This creates a problem, because Allat was worshiped in northern Arabia and especially southern Jordan. It is in Jordan and even Syria where we find other temples to Allat, and where there are inscriptions and graffiti that mention Allat. But there is nothing in Medina and certainly not as far south as Mecca. Allat was unknown there.
The problem we have is that there is already a region of Arabia known as Ta’if. It is about 100 km south-east of Mecca, and it is an agricultural area. But is there a temple to Alat in Ta’if? No. The archeologists have never uncovered one.
Then there is a second issue. In the accounts of Tabari and others, Ta’if had a town wall. It may not have been a high wall, but it had a wall, and archers are described as hiding behind the town wall. Does Ta’if in Saudi Arabia have a wall? No. There are no stones left from any defensive wall. Not even a foundation.
Third, the name Ta’if means surrounded or encompassed. Is there anything that would make us think that Ta’if in Saudi Arabia was surrounded by something? There are only agricultural areas… villages and so forth. But no ancient city, no city walls, and no temple of Allat, and besides, Allat was unknown in the area. So what about near Petra?
This perfectly describes a location near Petra, known today as Wadi Rum. The Name Rum comes from the early name of Iram, or Aram. It is an ancient place associated with the people of ‘Ad in the distant past. And right in the middle of it, archeologists have found a temple to Allat; and a spring of water inside the city area.
As for city walls, and being surrounded, have a look at this satellite photo. Today there is a modern town outside the ancient area, but the ancient town stands here surrounded by steep mountain cliffs. All of this area is mountain, with tremendously high cliffs.
It appears that there was a short low wall across the opening, so that people were protected behind in the city, and the surrounding cliffs were around them, giving the place the name “encircled” or Ta’if. When the original road was constructed, they used the stones to make a solid road bed. That is why the road turns and goes right down this spot, from one cliff edge to the other because it follows the stones there.
So going by the description of the place, I would like to suggest to you that Iram in Jordan was also known as Rum is ancient Ta’if, the encompassed town.
It is about an hour’s drive south of Petra, and on the road to Medina, which would help fit other descriptions of how people traveled to and from Ta’if.
It is my belief that after Masjid al Haraam was built in Mecca in 78 AH, that people began to look around for the other locations in Saudi that were associated with the old stories. Eventually the well in Mecca became known as ZamZam, since the first ZamZam well was reported as lost at that time. I also think that they identified Ta’if, as well as Aqaba, Mount Arafat, Mina and other places. So in the end, the entire story was transferred from Petra to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, including all of the surrounding place names.
I hate relocating places, but all of the places that were located close to Mecca, like Al Bayda, Aqaba, Mina, and others would have been near Petra. In the book Early Islamic Qiblas I have tried to identify some of those locations.
I hope this answers your question. I am Dan Gibson and this has been another Question and Answer Video.