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 considered a lost city, region or tribe mentioned in the Quran.[1][2]

Iram in the Quran

The Quran mentions Iram in connection with ‘imad (pillars): Surah al-Fajr (6-14)[2]

89:6 Did you not see how your Lord dealt with ʿĀd
89:7 ˹the people˺ of Iram—with ˹their˺ great stature,
89:8 unmatched in any other land;
89:9 and Thamûd who carved ˹their homes into˺ the rocks in the ˹Stone˺ Valley;
89:10 and the Pharaoh of mighty structures?
89:11 They all transgressed throughout the land,
89:12 spreading much corruption there.
89:13 So your Lord unleashed on them a scourge of punishment.
89:14 ˹For˺ your Lord is truly vigilant.

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. The Nabataeans were one of the many nomadic Bedouin tribes who roamed the Arabian Desert and took their herds to where they could find grassland and water. They became familiar with their area as the seasons passed, and they struggled to survive during bad years when seasonal rainfall decreased. Although the Nabataeans were initially embedded in the Aramean culture, theories that they have Aramean roots are rejected by modern scholars. Instead, archaeological, religious and linguistic evidence confirms that they are a North Arabian tribe.[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]

The mystic ad-Dabbagh has suggested that these verses refer to ʿĀd's tents with pillars, both of which are gold-plated. He claims that coins made of this gold remain buried and that Iram is the name of a tribe of ʿĀd and not a location.[6]

Iram became widely known to Western literature with the translation of the story "The City of Many-Columned Iram and Abdullah Son of Abi Kilabah"[7] in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Archaeological research

The oldest mention of the city of Iram was found in the Ebla tablets, dated from c. 2500 BCE to c. 2250 BCE. In November 1991, the remains of a settlement were discovered in southern Oman which was hypothesized to be the legendary lost city destroyed by God.[8] In 1992 Ranulph Fiennes wrote a book called Atlantis of the Sands about the expedition.[9] The term Atlantis of the Sands had originally been coined by T. E. Lawrence.[10]

Archaeologist Juris Zarins discussed Ubar in a 1996 NOVA interview:[11]

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:[12]

In fiction



See also


  1. ^ a b Glassé, Cyril; Smith, Huston (2003). "ʿĀd". The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Rowman Altamira. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7591-0190-6.
  2. ^ a b Quran 89:6-14
  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. ^ Sijilmāsī, Aḥmad ibn al-Mubārak (2007). Pure gold from the words of Sayyidī ʻAbd al-ʻAzīz al-Dabbāgh = al-Dhabab al-Ibrīz min kalām Sayyidī ʻAbd al-ʻAzīz al-Dabbāgh. John O'Kane, Bernd Radtke. Leiden, the Netherlands. ISBN 978-90-474-3248-7. OCLC 310402464.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ Burton, Richard Francis (1885). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. p. 135  – via Wikisource.
  8. ^ Wilford, John Noble (5 February 1992). "On the Trail From the Sky: Roads Point to a Lost City". New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b "The Atlantis of the Sands: the real myth behind Uncharted 3". PlayStation Universe.
  11. ^ Zarins, Juris (September 1996). "Interview with Dr. Juris Zarins". PBS Nova Online (Interview). Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Lawton, John (May–June 1983). "Oman: Frankincense". Saudi Aramco World. Vol. 34, no. 3. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  15. ^ "The Nameless City". Mythos Tomes. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  16. ^ Lovecraft, H.P. (2018). H.P. Lovecraft Selected Stories. London: William Collins. p. 117. ISBN 9780008284954.
  17. ^ Taylor, Bayard. "The garden of Irem". Poetry nook.
  18. ^ "ROUNDERHOUSE's Gold Proposal". The SCP Foundation.

Further reading