Maulaana ‘Ali (AS), just three days before his martyrdom, answered a question asked by a man which was related to the tribe of Rass. Addressing to the mumineen, Maulaana ‘Ali (AS) said, no one has asked this question to me before this and even after my death, no one will be able to answer this question. If at all anyone will claim of knowing the answer, he will relate it to me. Do remember that I know the Tafseer–Taweel-Tanzeel (commentary - esoteric meaning - revelation) of each ayat of the Qur'an, of where it was revealed; on the mountain or land, when it was revealed; in the day or night. Pointing to his chest, Maulaana ‘Ali (AS) proclaimed, ‘there is lot of knowledge here' but there are very few to acquire it. ‘You all will repent after my death.'
O man, listen to me. The people of this tribe used to live in the eastern countries (probably near Azerbaijan or Armenia). The tribe used to live in groups in twelve different villages near a river called Rass. The names of twelve villages are Abaan, Aazar, Dee, Behman, Isfandar, Faroordeen, Urdbahisht, Khurdar, Muzdar, Neeru, Mehr and Shehryur. The King of the tribe was Tarqooz bin Ghaabor Kin'ani who used to stay in Isfandar – biggest of all villages. These people used to worship a tree called ‘Sanobar' (a species of pine) which was originally planted by Yaafas bin Nooh (AS) near a water spring called Rooshaab in the village of Isfandar. The same tree was grown in each village. The water of the spring was very sacred for them as they thought that it was ‘Water of Life'. It was forbidden to drink water of the spring and anyone who violated this rule was awarded death sentence.
People celebrated their festivals in a distinct way. They used to wrap the trunk of Sanobar with silk cloth and sacrifice goats and cows in front of the tree. Then they would position a bonfire near the tree and as the smoke rose over the sky, they used to bow down and cry loudly. This was then followed by the appearance of Shaitaan in the tree who said, ‘I am very happy with your sacrifices'. Then the people would rejoice with excitement and zeal. The party would continue for the whole night with the consumption of alcohol.
To educate and guide these people, Allaah sent His Nabi (prophet) to them who belonged to the descendants of Ya'qoob (AS). He tried his best to stop the people from worshipping the tree. He taught them about the blessings and bounties of Allaah and warned them not to perform such rituals. However, in spite of lessons of Nabiullaah (Allaah's prophet), they continued to worship the tree. On the day of their festival, Nabiullaah watched them sadly with disappointment. To prove the truthfulness of his words, Nabiullaah prayed Allaah to dry up the tree so that the people may realize the absurdity of their worship.
The prayer was granted by Allaah and within minutes, the tree started to dry up and wither in front of their eyes. However, instead of learning a lesson, they decided that their god was annoyed at the interference of Nabiullaah and resolved to sacrifice him to appease their god. They seized Nabiullaah and threw him into a large pit. Thereafter, they covered the pit and buried him alive. Nabiullaah prayed to Allaah to descend the sufferings on the people just as he underwent. For some time the cries of Nabiullaah were heard but then there was silence as his soul departed this world. The people turned to their tree to see if it had recovered. Instead, they noticed the signs of Divine Punishment.
Suddenly, the Wrath of Allaah broke over the whole tribe. There was a huge blast and the red winds swept across the localities of people. The whole tribe was destroyed within no time. The Qur'an mentions them in the following verses:
‘And the (tribes of) ‘Aad and Samood and the inhabitants of Rass and generations between them in a great number. And each of them, We gave examples (lessons, warnings) and We destroyed every one (of them) with an utter extermination.'
‘… The people of Nooh and the dwellers of Rass, Samood, ‘Aad, Fir'aun and the brethren of Loot and the dwellers of the Forest and the people of Subba' had all rejected the Prophets. Thus My promise (of their doom) was proved true.'