Irem is, or was, a fabulous city, now lost, which is said to have been located in the dusty waste of the vast Rub al-Khali, in the land of Ubar; it is mentioned in the Koran, in the Arabian Nights, and in the excellent blasphemies of Omar Khayyám. In the first of these august sources it appears in a list of the cities destroyed by Allah for corruption; the extended story tells that the king of Irem, being one Shaddad, refused a prophet sent to him by the God of the Book; that god, whose taste for vengeance is well documented in that book, smote the city of the prideful king with a rain of fire from heaven. Thus Irem is in more than one way a city of the Arabic plain.
Nevertheless, and unlike its Biblical counterparts, Irem may have some historical basis, for the name has been found in the trade records of another city of great antiquity; moreover, in the region now known as Wabar, black glass rocks are scattered of a rare sort, believed to be the product of a meteorite impact. It has been claimed that this field of strange rocks is the source of that holy black stone, kept in the Ka'aba in Mecca, which the Faithful circumambulate and seek to kiss, as did the Prophet — in other words, that the holiest relic of Islam is also the wreckage of a monumental profanity. This shows us that the past is not only a puzzle but a serpent eating its own tail; a tale which must surely have earned the name incredible if wrought by any but the hand of Man, or perhaps of God, whose image that animal is.