A closer look at the details in Quranic verses and traditions on the story of water sharing between Samood tribe and Salih's camel indicates that even after the emergence of the camel out of the mountain they had plenty of water. What made this tribe to finally disobey God and slay the camel [against God's command to safeguard it] was not owing to the pressure of water shortage caused by sharing the water with the camel but the primary reason was their obstinacy that made it intolerable for them to see the whole water in their land be assigned for the camel every other day while they did not have any privilege to use the water even though their daily water requirements were fulfilled and compensated by the camel's milk. The term “al-maa'” [water] used in the verse 28 of chapter 54 of the Holy Quran instead of "springs" in the verse 147 of chapter 26 refers to water resources of this land and it does in no way indicate water shortage; however it expresses two different applications in the Arabic language; the former refers to the waters of that land as a single cohesive unit and the latter refers to the waters in detail describing their characteristics.
Samood tribe was a people who, exploiting numerous natural bounties, managed to build an affluent life. Thanks to plentiful water supplies in their land they had a prosperous agriculture. The Quran depicts their plentiful water resources quoting Salih as saying "Will you be left secure in what is here; in gardens and springs, and cornfields and palm-trees having fine spadices?"[i]
Rationing the water in Samood tribe's land
When God sent Salih to Samood as His messenger and he called people to God they expressed their doubt about his call[ii]. After they ignored Salih's call and defied his assertions they stated they would not believe in him unless he brought them a camel out of the hard rocks[iii]. With God's power a camel emerged out of the mountain to be Salih's miracle. To make people understand that it was a miracle from God, he addressed his people "And, O my people! this will be (as) Allah's she-camel for you, a sign; therefore leave her to pasture on Allah's earth and do not touch her with evil, for then a near chastisement will overtake you."[iv] Then God revealed to His messenger "And inform them that the water is shared between them; every share of the water shall be regulated"[v] so people figured out that the water would be rationed between people and the camel.
Concordance of the verses stating the rationing of the water and the verses stating its abundance
To evade Salih's frequent calls – supposing he would not be able to fulfill their strange demand- Samood tribe asked Salih to ask his God to bring a camel out of the hard rocks. To show His messenger's sincerity, God granted him this miracle. However, He assigned specific conditions for this camel because of their stubbornness and testiness. The holy Quran says: "Surely We are going to send the she-camel as a trial for them; therefore watch them and have patience"[vi] After delivering God's message, Salih introduced the camel as a sign from God and ordered them to leave the camel free to graze as she wishes and not harm her; since it will result in an excruciating chastisement[vii]. Therefore Samood's test was the freedom of the camel and the restriction that God imposed upon them by rationing their water between them and the camel. Therefore the rationing of water was never for water shortage but as divine test.
Answer to the claims of incongruity among these two groups of verses
It may be said that the verse about water rationing[viii] implies water shortage in this land; otherwise why should it have been rationed?!
Unlike the verse speaking of abundant water springs in Samood tribe’s land[ix], this verse does not speak of water springs but instead, their water resources are referred to as "al-maa" or "the water"[x]. Therefore it should be admitted that these two groups of verses are met with a verbal or apparent contradiction to be resolved. To resolve this verbal contradiction, details of this story are needed. The verses containing this story do not reveal much information about it except one which states that the camel had a share of the water[xi]. What can be inferred from this verse is that water sharing was based on time and that people could use water on specific days but to find out how it was rationed we need to consult the traditions of the Ahlul-Bayt (AS).
Based on a tradition from Imam Sadiq (AS), God revealed to his messenger Salih to inform his people that God had designated one day of water use for the camel for one day of their water use. Thus on those days that it was the camel's turn to use the water they had no right to use water and instead they milked the camel and her milk was enough for all the people of that land. Similarly when it was people's turn to use the water the camel did not approach the water and did not use it[xii]. So traditions from Imams (AS) do not mention a water shortage which had resulted in public dissatisfaction; rather their discontent was for their deprivation of water for every other day which was not owing to water shortage since the camel's milk could meet all their needs.
But using the term "springs" in the verse 147 of chapter 26 of the Quran and the term "al-maa" (the water) in verse 28 of chapter 54 of the Quran is in fact the application of different rhetorical techniques; that is water resources of this land have at times been mentioned with their characteristics as springs and at other times they have been referred to generally as "water". In other words, while water means water in the literal sense, it can also include numerous springs, so there would be no problem if the water mentioned in the verse 28 of chapter 54 refers to the same springs mentioned in the verse 147 of chapter 26. This is affirmed by verse 12 of chapter al-Qamar of the Quran where both "springs" and "water" are used in a single verse. It says: " وَ فَجَّرْنَا الْأَرْضَ عُيُونًا فَالْتَقَى الْمَاءُ عَلىَ أَمْرٍ قَدْ قُدِر" "And We made water to flow forth in the land in springs, so the water gathered together according to a measure already ordained". In this verse the term "al-maa" is used to refer to both springs and precipitations. Therefore the use of this word to describe Samood's land should not be considered as a sign of water shortage and contradictory to other verses which indicate the existence of numerous springs in their land.
[i] Quran 26:146-147
[ii] Quran 11:61-62
[iii] Kulaini, Muhammad, Al-Kafi, vol.8, p.187, no.214, Darul Kutub Al-Islamiya, Tehran , 1987
[iv] ًQuran 11:64
[v] Quran 54:28
[vi] Quran 54:27
[vii] Quran 7:73; Quran 11:64; Quran 26:156
[viii] Quran 54:28
[ix] Quran 26:147
[x] Quran 54:28 "And inform them that the water is shared between them"
[xi] Quran 26:155
[xii] Kafi, vol.8, p.187, no.214