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People of the Sabbath

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People of the Sabbath (Arabic: أَصْحَابَ السَّبْت) were a group of Banu Israel whom, according to the Qur'an, were afflicted with divine punishment because of disobeying God and fishing on Saturdays. Most narrations have mentioned the story of the people of Sabbath to have happened at the time of Prophet David (a) in the city of Ayla.


The word "Sabath" means "to abandon work and resting". To Hebrews, this word also meant as "Saturday". Sabbath is among religious days of Jews and is very sacred to them. In the Old Testament and Talmud, engaging in non-religious activities such as business, fishing and hunting birds are forbidden on this day.

According to some narrations, God, through Prophet Moses (a), asked Jews to celebrate Friday and do not engage in any non-religious activities on Fridays; but, Jews preferred Saturday. God forbade hunting for them on Saturdays. A group of Banu Israel began fishing on Saturdays and were transformed into monkeys as a divine punishment. The Qur'an refers to these people as "the People of Sabbath".


According to hadiths interpreting the verses of the Qur'an, some people lived by the sea who received an order from God that they should avoid fishing and eating fish on Saturdays. They followed the order of God for a while. By the will of God, fishes came up on the water on Saturdays and tempted fishers, but on other days, fishes went down to the depth and became difficult to be caught. Some of those people devised a strategy and dug pits in the shore of the sea, so that fishes entered them by the waves on Saturdays and fishers caught them on Sundays. According to some other reports, they went fishing on Saturdays and ate them on other days. So, they would say that, "we are prohibited to eat fish on Saturdays, not fishing." Against them, other people were divided into two groups: a group who remained indifferent to such actions, and others who prohibited them from doing this. But, they did not care and continued those strategies. Those who prohibited them separated and kept away from them because they knew that divine punishment will afflict them.

Transformation of the People of Sabbath

Eventually, the people of Sabbath were afflicted with divine punishment and were transformed, "We said to them, 'Be you spurned apes." (Qur'an 2:65) According to some hadiths, those transformed people perished after three days.

Some exegetes referred to some verses regarding the people of Sabbath and said that only those who prohibited them from evil survived the punishment; but, the other two groups (wrongdoers and silent ones) were afflicted with divine punishment.

Allegory or Actual Transformation

Main article: Allegory

It is narrated from few exegetes such as Mujahid and Muhammad 'Abduh that transformation of the people of Sabbath was an allegory and only their hearts were transformed. They rejected apparent and physical transformation of those people. This belief has been criticized by many exegetes: al-Tabrisi considered this view against the appearance of the verses and the opinion of most exegetes.

Time and Place

According to verses of the Qur'an, people of Sabbath lived by the sea. Some sources considered Ayla as their place. In a hadith from Imam al-Baqir (a), Ayla is mentioned as the city of the people of Sabbath. According to 'Allama Tabataba'i, Madyan and Tabariyya have also been mentioned as the place where people of Sabbath lived.

Most hadiths have mentioned that the people of Sabbath lived at the time of Prophet David (a).


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from اصحاب سبت in Farsi WikiShia.