It is argued that the Qur’an and the Prophet (ﷺ) made an error in history and facts. Here is how their argument goes:
The Quran describes prophet called Salih (عليه السلام), who lived in the Thamud tribe. The Thamud did not worship God, and were disobedient. God sent Salih to warn them, then after they ignored him and murdered a she-camel that God sent, He killed them and left only Salih and those who followed him alive. The Qur’an states regarding them:
وَإِلَى ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَـلِحًا قَالَ يَـقَوْمِ اعْبُدُواْ اللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَـهٍ غَيْرُهُ قَدْ جَآءَتْكُم بَيِّنَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ هَـذِهِ نَاقَةُ اللَّهِ لَكُمْ ءَايَةً فَذَرُوهَا تَأْكُلْ فِى أَرْضِ اللَّهِ وَلاَ تَمَسُّوهَا بِسُوءٍ فَيَأْخُذَكُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ – وَاذْكُرُواْ إِذْ جَعَلَكُمْ خُلَفَآءَ مِن بَعْدِ عَادٍ وَبَوَّأَكُمْ فِى الأَرْضِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِن سُهُولِهَا قُصُورًا وَتَنْحِتُونَ الْجِبَالَ بُيُوتًا فَاذْكُرُواْ ءَالآءَ اللَّهِ وَلاَ تَعْثَوْاْ فِى الاٌّرْضِ مُفْسِدِينَ
And to the Thamūd [We sent] their brother Salih. He said, “O my people, worship Allah; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. This is the she-camel of Allah [sent] to you as a sign. So leave her to eat within Allah’s land and do not touch her with harm, lest there seize you a painful punishment. And remember when He made you successors after the ‘Aad and settled you in the land, [and] you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve from the mountains, homes. Then remember the favors of Allah and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” [7:73. 74]
وَلَقَدْ كَذَّبَ أَصْحَـبُ الحِجْرِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ – وَءَاتَيْنَـهُمْ ءَايَـتِنَا فَكَانُواْ عَنْهَا مُعْرِضِينَ – وَكَانُواْ يَنْحِتُونَ مِنَ الْجِبَالِ بُيُوتًا ءَامِنِينَ – فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّيْحَةُ مُصْبِحِينَ – فَمَآ أَغْنَى عَنْهُمْ مَّا كَانُواْ يَكْسِبُونَ
And certainly did the companions of Thamūd deny the messengers. And We gave them Our signs, but from them they were turning away. And they used to carve from the mountains, houses, feeling secure. But the shriek seized them at early morning. So nothing availed them [from] what they used to earn. [15:80-84]
We find a Hadith as follows:
أَنَّ عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بْنَ عُمَرَ، أَخْبَرَهُ أَنَّ النَّاسَ نَزَلُوا مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَلَى الْحِجْرِ أَرْضِ ثَمُودَ فَاسْتَقَوْا مِنْ آبَارِهَا وَعَجَنُوا بِهِ الْعَجِينَ فَأَمَرَهُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ يُهَرِيقُوا مَا اسْتَقَوْا وَيَعْلِفُوا الإِبِلَ الْعَجِينَ وَأَمَرَهُمْ أَنْ يَسْتَقُوا مِنَ الْبِئْرِ الَّتِي كَانَتْ تَرِدُهَا النَّاقَةُ
Abdullah b. ‘Umar reported that the people encamped along with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) in the valley of Hijr, the habitations of Thamud, and they quenched their thirst from the wells thereof and kneaded the flour with it. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) commanded that the water collected for drinking should be spilt and the flour should be given to the camels and commanded them that the water for drinking should be taken from that well where the she-camel used to come. [Sahih Muslim, Book 55, Hadith 49]
The arguments against the Qur’an and Hadith are as follows:
- The structures were not built by the Thamud but by the Nabateans. They were built not before the time of Musa (عليه السلام), but during the first century BC and the first century CE. During this time, the Nabateans built structures out of rock throughout their Kingdom
- The buildings are not homes but are actually tombs
The argument is summarised as follows:
Most of the monuments and inscriptions of the archaeological site of Al-Hijr date from the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE. But the inscriptions in Lihyanite script and some recently discovered archaeological vestiges are evidence for human settlement as early as the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.
One-third of the tombs, which are amongst the largest, are clearly dated to between 0-75 CE.
Mostafa Badawi, in his book Ancient Prophets of Arabia says that the people of Thamūd lived in the 8th century BCE in the al-Hijr region and were destroyed. However, not all of them were destroyed; Salih and his followers continued to live on. We do not know where they went, but they carried on the practice of stone carvings in the mountains. The Nabateans who made the carvings in Mada’in Saleh and Petra, as well as other Arab groups like the Dedanites/Lihyanites, are their successors. This implies that the carvings in Mada’in Saleh (which in fact date to the first century CE) are not from the Thamudians, but rather their successors many centuries later in the same area. Badawi writes:
[Ṣāliḥ] and his followers left the doomed area just before God’s punishment befell them. We have no firm textual evidence as to where they went, but their pattern of rock carving survived for millennia among their successors in the area such as the Nabateans, the Dedanites, the Lihyanites who supplanted the Dedanites in Dedan in the last century BCE and 1st century CE and others. [pp. 62-63]
Al-Ḥijr is now a vast plain, interspersed with hills into which what looks from the outside like houses or tombs have been carved. This bears enough similarity to the description of the Thamūd dwellings in the Qur’ān to induce certain authors to claim that they are the houses of the Thamūd. The Qur’ān says and remember how he made you succeed ʿĀd and lodged you in the land. You built mansions on the plains and hewed the hills into houses [7:74].
The Prophet (ﷺ)’s custom was always to point out to his Companions the geographical locations and landmarks connected with previous Divine Envoys. Had the Prophet (ﷺ) thought that the rock carved structures in al-Hijr were those of Thamūd, he would have pointed them out. The fact that he showed them the well of the she-camel and confirmed the area as geographically related to Thamūd but made no comment on the tombs shows that he knew they were unrelated to any previous Prophet.
What the visitor sees there today are hewn hills; no mansions remain on the plain. The facades vary in height and in the richness of their decorations. However, inside most of them is only a small room about three to four square meters in size. Some have shelves carved into the rock; one has a large room, possibly big enough to house a council. Nothing but solid rock underlies the rest of the facades. There is no possibility that these were houses. In fact, they are no recognised as Nabatean tombs, resembling the earlier more primitive ones among those to be seen at Petra in present day Jordan, not the late elaborately carved Greco-Roman facades. They are related to Thamūd only in being much later structures sharing the same geographical location. However, there survived long after that, people who still called themselves Thamūd.
Nigel Groom said that Sargon II recorded his subjugations of the tribe of Tamud in 715 BCE, that Agatharchides refers to the “land of the Thamoudenian Arabs”, Diodorus Sicilus refers to the Thamudeni, Pliny speaks of the “Tamudaei”, Ptolemy mentioned the “Thamudiatea” and also the Thamydeni and a Nabatean inscription dated to 166-169 CE refers to the “nation or “federation” of the Thamudeans.
Syed Suleman Nadvi discusses this in Tarikh Ard al-Qur’an vol.2. Here is the summary of his opinion:
- The inscriptions in al-Hijr are not those made by Thamud “as generally believed.” (2/434)
- At 26 instances in the Qur’an Thamud are mentioned by name and in none of those contexts they have been called “People of al-Hijr”
- Where the carvings done by Thamud are mentioned the place of it is also mentioned, Qur’an 89:9 where the places is mentioned as al-Wad which means “Wad l’Qura”
- The carvings made by the people of al-Hijr are mentioned in 15:82 and the “people of al-Hijr” is a title of the Nabateans. (2/380-381)
- The inscriptions of al-Hijr are the remnants of the Nabateans. (2/434)
- As for the related Hadith reports related to the incident during the Tabuk expedition they either do not mention Thamud by name or say
(أن الناس نزلوا مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أرض ثمود الحجر) which only proves that al-Hijr was also the land of the Thamud which is not a problem.
Summary: The cravings that Qur’an says were done by Thamud were in Wad l-Qura. Whereas the people who did cravings in al-Hijr were Nabateans. The title “People of al-Hijr” was, therefore, that of Nabateans who came much late in history and their period overlapped with Thamud-II, the remnants of Thamud-I, the subject of Qur’an.
Indeed, Allah knows the best.
References and Footnotes:
 The Qur’an endorses this fact; they were not outright destroyed and the believers survived:
فَإِذَا هُمْ فَرِيقَانِ يَخْتَصِمُونَ
Then look! They became two parties quarreling with each other. [Qur’an 27:45]
 Nigel Groom, Frankincense and Myrrh, A Study of the Arabian Incense Trade, Longman, London and New York; Librairie du Liban, Beirut, 1981, p. 189, pg. 63-65.