According to the Quran, Allah sent two prophets to this particular community.When the people of the city refused to hear their words, God sent a third prophet to strengthen them. The prophets told the people: “Truly we have been sent on a mission to you”.The community mocked the message of the prophets and said “Ye are only men like ourselves; and the Most Gracious sends no sort of revelation: ye do nothing but lie.” The prophets, in reply, rebuked the community, saying: “Our Lord doth know that we have been sent on a mission to you: “And our duty is only to proclaim the clear Message.”
The Quran goes onto say that the prophets were threatened with stoning and torture but they refused to give in and continued to warn the people to end their sinful ways. Then, from the farthest part of the city, there came running a man who exhorted the people to believe the message and told them: “O my people! Obey the messengers: “Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves), and who have themselves received Guidance. The following verses, which describe the man’s entrance in to “the garden” (Jannah), which refers to Heaven, has been interpreted by some scholars to mean that the believing man was martyred for his faith.
Accounts in exegesis
Classical commentators on the Quran popularly identified the “People of the City” with the city of Antioch.Those scholars who identified the city with Antioch, however, were divided over the date of the event. One group believed that this event took place after Jesus and explained that the Quran’s use of the word “Messenger” in this context refers not to three prophets but to three of Jesus’s disciples who were sent to Antioch to proclaim the message. The name of this martyr is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in Qur’an or Hadith, though he is known as The Believer of YaSin.Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir (Commentary) on Quran 36 references a rumor that identifies the three disciples sent were Sham`un (Peter), Yuhanna (John) and the name of the third was Bulus (Paul). Other commentators who believe that the city does refers to Antioch, explained that this is the narrative of a far older incident, and that the three “messengers” mentioned were indeed prophets, namely Saduq, Masduq and Shalum.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali did link the narrative of the story with the preaching of Paul and Barnabas as described in Acts of the Apostles. As with Antioch, the city of Jerusalem is also not directly mentioned by name in the Qur’an, nor is it mentioned by its Arabic translation (Al Quds).
These nations were destroyed before the time of Moosa (peace be upon him). This can be clearly seen in the verse:
“And We gave Moosa the Book after We had destroyed the former generations.” (Qur’an 28:43)
Ibn Jareer and Ibn Abi Hâtim reported that Abu Sa’eed al-Kudri said: “Allah did not destroy any nation by a punishment from the heaven or from the earth after the Torah was revealed, except the town of the people who were turned into monkeys.” Then he recited the verse, “And We gave Moosa the Book after We had destroyed the former generations.” (Qur’an 28:43)
Among the people who were destroyed by Allah are the people of Yâseen. Allah said about them:
“And set for them a similitude of the people of the town; when the Messengers came to it. And We sent to them two but they disbelieved in them. So We strengthened them with a third. They said, ‘Verily, we are Messengers to you.’ They said, ‘You are only humans like us and the Most Gracious has not sent anything down. You are not except lying.’ They said, ‘Our Lord knows that we have been sent to you and nothing is upon us except to convey.’ They said, ‘We see an evil omen from you. So if you do not desist, we will surely stone you and a painful torment will afflict you from us.’ They [the Messengers] said, ‘Your evil omens are with yourselves. [Do you call it] evil omen because you are admonished? Nay, you are a transgressing people.’ And there a man came running from the furthest part of the town. He said, ‘O my people, obey the Messengers. Obey those who do not take any wages of you and who are rightly guided. And why should I not worship Him [Allah] Who created me and Whom you shall be returned. Shall I take besides Him gods? If the Most Gracious intends any harm to me, their intercessions will not avail me nor can save me? Then verily, I should be in open error. Verily, I believed in your Lord, so listen to me.’
It was said [to him when the disbelievers killed him], ‘Enter Paradise.’ He said, ‘Would that my people knew, that my Lord has forgiven me and made me of the honoured ones. And We sent not against his people after him a host from the heaven, nor was it needful for Us to send [such a thing]. It was but a single mighty blast, and they all were silent and still [i.e. dead]. (Qur’an 36:13-29)
Many scholars, past and present, opine that this town was Antâkiya (Antioch). It had a king, by the name Anteekhas ibn Anteekhas, who used to worship idols. So Allah sent to them three Prophets, who were Sâdiq, Masdooq and Shaloom. But the people rejected all of them. It was quite apparent that they all were Prophets from Allah.
Later on, Prophet ‘Eesa (peace be upon him) sent three of his disciples to Antâkiya and subsequently it became the first town to believe in him at that time. Because of this, Antâkiya was one of the four cities from where the Christians Patriarchs were chosen. These cities are Antâkiya, Quds, Iskandariyah (Alexandria) and Rome and later Qustuntiniyah (Constantinople).
The inhabitants of Antâkiya (Antioch) to whom the three Messengers of Allah were sent long before were destroyed after the murder of the person who openly believed in the messengers.
This is mentioned in the Qur’an as, “It was no more than a single mighty blast and they were silent and still [i.e. dead].” Those three Messengers were sent to the town of Antâkiya long back and when they rejected the truth, Allah destroyed them. Then after that, that place was re-inhabited and when ‘Eesa (Jesus, peace be upon him) sent to them his disciples, they believed in him. And Allah knows best.
Allah said, “And set for them a similitude of the people of the town.” This is an address to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to inform his people about the story of those people. “When the Messengers came to it, and We sent to them two [Messengers] but they disbelieved in them, so We strengthened them with a third.” The people rebutted the Messengers by saying that they were none other than mere humans like themselves. This is the same argument posed by the nations who passed before them to their respective Messengers. They responded to the people’s arguments by saying that verily Allah knows that they are Messengers and if they were liars, then Allah would certainly take them to account severely. They also said that their job is only to deliver the message and it was Allah Who guides whoever He wants and misguides who He wants. “They [the people of the town] said, ‘For us, we see an evil omen from you. So if you do not desist, we will stone you, and a painful torment will touch you from us.’” It was said that they threatened them with severe consequences with words and with actions.
The Messengers replied, “Your evil omens are with yourselves. Do you threaten us because we admonish you? Truly, you are a transgressing people.” What they meant is that do you threaten us because we call you to His worship and remind you of His religion? You are a people who do not accept the truth and in fact also do not want the truth.
“A man came running from the farthest part of the town” (Qur’an 36:20) means that a person came to support the Messengers and to show that he had believed in them also. “He said, ‘O’ my people, obey the Messengers. Obey those who do not ask any reward of you and who are guided.’” That is, they invite you to the clear truth without seeking any wages or rewards from you.
He then invited them to the worship of Allah Alone, Who does not have any partner. He also forbade them from worshipping others beside Him, one who cannot benefit anything in this world and in the Hereafter. “Then verily I will be in plain error.” What he meant by this is that I will be in error if I leave the worship of Allah and instead worship others besides Him.
He then said to the Messengers, “Verily I have believed in your Lord, so listen to me.” There are a number of interpretations as to what this means. The first is that he said to the Messengers to listen to what he says and be witnesses in front of Allah that he has believed. The second opinion is that he said to his people to listen to him accepting the Messenger’s call openly. At that point, his people killed him. It is said that they killed him either with a stick, or by stoning him to death or by treading on him till he died. It was said that the name of the man declaring his belief in the messenger’s call was Habeeb an-Najjâr.
‘Abdullah ibn Abbâs (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Habeeb an-Najjâr was afflicted with leprosy. He was a very charitable man but his people killed him. For this reason, Allah said to him, ‘Enter Paradise.’ Allah entered him into Paradise the moment his people had killed him and then when he saw what Allah had provided for him therein of pleasures, ‘He said, ‘I wish that my people knew that my Lord has forgiven me, and placed me among the honoured.’’ He meant that I wish my people knew that Allah had forgiven me and that they believe in what I have believed, thus obtaining the same reward.”
Ibn Abi Hâtim reported that ibn Abbâs (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the man had admonished his people twice: “Once in his life when he said, ‘O’ my people, obey the Messengers.’ And the second time, after his death when he said, ‘I wish that my people knew that my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honoured.’”
Qatâdah said that you will not find a believer except that he will be a sincere adviser and you will not find him a cheat.
Allah said, “And We set not against his people after him a host from the heaven nor was it needful for Us to send [such a thing].” Meaning, there was no need to send angels from the heavens to punish these people, rather a single blast destroyed them. “It was no more than single mighty blast and they were silent and still [i.e.dead].
The scholars who explained the Qur’an (Mufassireen) said that Allah sent the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to them. He uprooted the main gate of their town and let out a cry that destroyed them.
All these facts, along with others, are clear proofs that this town was not the town of Antâkiya (Antioch) because they were destroyed due to their rejection of Allah’s Messengers. On the other hand, the people of Antâkiya believed and followed the disciples of Prophet ‘Eesa (peace be upon him). That is why it is said regarding the town of Antâkiya that it was the first to believe in ‘Eesa.