Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the Owners
of the Elephant?
أَلَمْ يَجْعَلْ كَيْدَهُمْ فِي تَضْلِيلٍ
Did He not make their plot go astray?
وَأَرْسَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ طَيْرًا أَبَابِيلَ
And He sent against them birds, in flocks (Ababil).
تَرْمِيهِمْ بِحِجَارَةٍ مِنْ سِجِّيلٍ
Striking them with stones of Sijjil.
فَجَعَلَهُمْ كَعَصْفٍ مَأْكُولٍ
And He made them like `Asf, Ma'kul.
This is one of the favors
Allah did for the Quraysh. He saved them from the People of the Elephant who had
tried to tear down the Ka`bah and wipe out all traces of its existence. Allah
destroyed them, defeated them, thwarted their plans, made their efforts in vain
and sent them back routed.
They were people who were
Christians, and thus, their religion was closer to the True Religion (Islam)
than the idolatry of the Quraysh. However, this was a means of giving a sign and
preparing the way for the coming of the Messenger of Allah. For verily, he was
born during that same year according to the most popular opinion. So the tongue
of destiny was saying,
"We will not help you, O
people of Quraysh, because of any status you may have over the Ethiopians
(Abyssinians). We are only helping you in order to defend the Ancient House (the
Ka`bah), which We will honor, magnify, and venerate by sending the unlettered
Prophet, Muhammad , the Finality of all Prophets.''
A Summary of the Story of the People of the Elephant
This is the story of the
people of the Elephant, in brief, and summarized.
It has already been mentioned
in the story of the People of the Ditch that Dhu Nuas, the last king of Himyar,
a polytheist -- was the one who ordered killing the People of the Ditch. They
were Christians and their number was approximately twenty thousand. None of them
except a man named Daws Dhu Thalaban escaped. He fled to Ash-Sham where he
sought protection from Caesar, the emperor of Ash-Sham, who was also a
Caesar wrote to An-Najashi,
the king of Ethiopia (Abyssinia), who was closer to the home of the man. An-Najashi
sent two governors with him: Aryat and Abrahah bin As-Sabah Abu Yaksum, along
with a great army. The army entered Yemen and began searching the houses and
looting in search of the king of Himyar (Dhu Nuwas). Dhu Nuwas was eventually
killed by drowning in the sea.
Thus, the Ethiopians were free
to rule Yemen, with Aryat and Abrahah as its governors. However, they
continually disagreed about matters, attacked each other, fought each other and
warred against each other, until one of them said to the other,
"There is no need for our two
armies to fight. Instead let us fight each other (in a duel) and the one who
kills the other will be the ruler of Yemen.''
So the other accepted the
challenge and they held a duel. Behind each man was a channel of water (to keep
either from fleeing). Aryat gained the upper hand and struck Abrahah with his
sword, splitting his nose and mouth, and slashing his face. But Atawdah,
Abrahah's guard, attacked Aryat and killed him. Thus, Abrahah returned wounded
to Yemen where he was treated for his injuries and recovered. He thus became the
commander of the Abyssinian army in Yemen.
Then the king of Abyssinia,
An-Najashi wrote to him, blaming him for what had happened (between him and
Aryat) and threatened him, saying that he swore to tread on the soil of Yemen
and cut off his forelock. Therefore, Abrahah sent a messenger with gifts and
precious objects to An-Najashi to appease him and flatter him, and a sack
containing soil from Yemen and a piece of hair cut from his forelock. He said in
his letter to the king,
"Let the king walk upon this
soil and thus fulfill his oath, and this is my forelock hair that I send to
When An-Najashi received this,
he was pleased with Abrahah and gave him his approval.
Then Abrahah wrote to An-Najashi
saying that he would build a church for him in Yemen the like of which had never
been built before. Thus, he began to build a huge church in San`a', tall and
beautifully crafted and decorated on all sides. The Arabs called it Al-Qullays
because of its great height, and because if one looked at it, his cap would be
in danger of falling off as he tilted his head back.
Then Abrahah Al-Ashram decided
to force the Arabs to make their pilgrimage to this magnificent church, just as
they had performed pilgrimage to the Ka`bah
in Makkah. He announced this in his kingdom (Yemen), but it was rejected by the
Arab tribes of Adnan and Qahtan.
The Quraysh were infuriated by
it, so much so that one of them journeyed to the church and entered it one
night. He then relieved himself in the church and ran away (escaping the
people). When its custodians saw what he had done, they reported it to their
king, Abrahah, saying;
"One of the Quraysh has done
this in anger over their House in whose place you have appointed this church.''
Upon hearing this, Abrahah
swore to march to the House of Makkah (the Ka`bah)
and destroy it stone by stone.
Muqatil bin Sulayman mentioned
that a group of young men from the Quraysh entered the church and started a fire
in it on an extremely windy day. So the church caught on fire and collapsed to
the ground. Due to this Abrahah prepared himself and set out with a huge and
powerful army so that none might prevent him from carrying out his mission.
He took along a great,
powerful elephant that had a huge body the like of which had never been seen
before. This elephant was called Mahmud and it was sent to Abrahah from An-Najashi,
the king of Abyssinia, particularly for this expedition.
It has also been said that he
had eight other elephants with him; their number was also reported to be twelve,
plus the large one, Mahmud -- and Allah knows best.
Their intention was to use
this big elephant to demolish the Ka`bah.
They planned to do this by fastening chains to the pillars of the Ka`bah and
placing the other ends around the neck of the elephant. Then they would make the
elephant pull on them in order to tear down the walls of the
Ka`bah all at one time.
When the Arabs heard of
Abrahah's expedition, they considered it an extremely grave matter. They held it
to be an obligation upon them to defend the Sacred House and repel whoever
intended a plot against it. Thus, the noblest man of the people of Yemen and the
greatest of their chiefs set out to face him (Abrahah). His name was Dhu Nafr.
He called his people, and
whoever would respond to his call among the Arabs, to go to war against Abrahah
and fight in defense of the Sacred House. He called the people to stop Abrahah's
plan to demolish and tear down the Ka`bah.
So the people responded to him and they entered into battle with Abrahah, but he
This was due to Allah's will
and His intent to honor and venerate the Ka`bah.
The army continued on its way
until it came to the land of Khatham where it was confronted by Nufayl bin Habib
Al-Kath`ami along with his people, the Shahran and Nahis tribes. They fought
Abrahah but he defeated them and captured Nufayl bin Habib. Initially he wanted
to kill him, but he forgave him and took him as his guide to show him the way to
When they approached the area
of At-Ta'if, its people -- the people of Thaqif -- went out to Abrahah. They
wanted to appease him because they were fearful for their place of worship,
which they called Al-Lat. Abrahah was kind to them and they sent a man named Abu
Righal with him as a guide.
When they reached a place
known as Al-Mughammas, which is near Makkah, they settled there. Then he sent
his troops on a foray to capture the camels and other grazing animals of the
Makkans, which they did, including about two hundred camels belonging to
Abdul-Muttalib. The leader of this
particular expedition was a man named Al-Aswad bin Mafsud.
According to what Ibn Ishaq
mentioned, some of the Arabs used to satirize him (because of the part he played
in this historical incident). Then Abrahah sent an emissary
named Hanatah Al-Himyari to enter Makkah, commanding him to bring the head of
the Quraysh to him. He also commanded him to inform him that the king will not
fight the people of Makkah unless they try to prevent him from the destruction
of the Ka`bah.
Hanatah went to the city and
he was directed to Abdul-Muttalib bin Hashim,
to whom he relayed Abrahah's message. Abdul-Muttalib
"By Allah! We have no wish to
fight him, nor are we in any position to do so. This is the Sacred House of
Allah, and the house of His Khalil, Ibrahim,
and if He wishes to prevent him (Abrahah) from (destroying) it, it is His House
and His Sacred Place (to do so). And if He lets him approach it, by Allah, We
have no means to defend it from him.''
So Hanatah told him, "Come
with me to him (Abrahah).'' And so Abdul-Muttalib
went with him.
When Abrahah saw him, he was
impressed by him, because Abdul-Muttalib was
a large and handsome man. So Abrahah descended from his seat and sat with him on
a carpet on the ground. Then he asked his translator to say to him, "What do you
Abdul-Muttalib replied to the translator, "I want the king to return
my camels which he has taken from me which are two hundred in number.''
Abrahah then told his
translator to tell him,
"I was impressed by you when I
first saw you, but now I withdraw from you after you have spoken to me. You are
asking me about two hundred camels which I have taken from you and you leave the
matter of a house which is (the foundation of) religion and the religion of your
fathers, which I have come to destroy and you do not speak to me about it''
Abdul-Muttalib said to him,
"Verily, I am the lord of the
camels. As for the House, it has its Lord Who will defend it.''
Abrahah said, "I cannot be
prevented (from destroying it).''
Abdul-Muttalib answered, "Then do so.''
It is said that a number of
the chiefs of the Arabs accompanied Abdul-Muttalib
and offered Abrahah a third of the wealth of the tribe of Tihamah if he would
withdraw from the House, but he refused and returned
Abdul-Muttalib's camels to him.
Abdul-Muttalib then returned to his people and ordered them to leave
Makkah and seek shelter at the top of the mountains, fearful of the excesses
which might be committed by the army against them. Then he took hold of the
metal ring of the door of the Ka`bah, and
along with a number of Quraysh, he called upon Allah to give them victory over
Abrahah and his army. Abdul-Muttalib said,
while hanging on to the ring of the Ka`bah's door,
"There is no matter more
important to any man right now than the defense of his livestock and property.
So, O my Lord! Defend Your property. Their cross and their cunning will not be
victorious over your cunning by the time morning comes.''
According to Ibn Ishaq, then
Abdul-Muttalib let go of the metal ring of
the door of the Ka`bah, and they left Makkah and ascended to the mountains tops.
Muqatil bin Sulayman mentioned
that they left one hundred animals (camels) tied near the Ka`bah hoping that
some of the army would take some of them without a right to do so, and thus
bring about the vengeance of Allah upon themselves.
When morning came, Abrahah
prepared to enter the sacred city of Makkah. He prepared the elephant named
Mahmud. He mobilized his army, and they turned the elephant towards the
Ka`bah. At that moment Nufayl bin Habib
approached it and stood next to it, and taking it by its ear, he said,
"Kneel, Mahmud! Then turn
around and return directly to whence you came. For verily, you are in the Sacred
City of Allah.''
Then he released the
elephant's ear and it knelt, after which Nufayl bin Habib left and hastened to
Abrahah's men beat the
elephant in an attempt to make it rise, but it refused. They beat it on its head
with axes and used hooked staffs to pull it out of its resistance and make it
stand, but it refused. So they turned him towards Yemen, and he rose and walked
quickly. Then they turned him towards Ash-Sham and he did likewise. Then they
turned him towards the east and he did the same thing. Then they turned him
towards Makkah and he knelt down again.
Then Allah sent against them
the birds from the sea, like swallows and herons. Each bird carried three stones
the size of chickpeas and lentils, one in each claw and one in its beak.
Everyone who was hit by them was destroyed, though not all of them were hit.
They fled in panic along the road asking about the whereabouts of Nufayl that he
might point out to them the way home. Nufayl, however, was at the top of the
mountain with the Quraysh and the Arabs of the Hijaz observing the wrath which
Allah had caused to descend on the people of the elephant. Nufayl then began to
"Where will they flee when the
One True God is the Pursuer For Al-Ashram is defeated and not the victor."
Ibn Ishaq reported that Nufayl
said these lines of poetry at that time,
"Didn't you live with
continued support We favored you all with a revolving eye in the morning (i.e.,
a guide along the way).
If you saw, but you did not
see it at the side of the rock covered mountain that which we saw.
Then you will excuse me and
praise my affair, and do not grieve over what is lost between us.
I praised Allah when I saw the
birds, and I feared that the stones might be thrown down upon us.
So all the people are asking
about the whereabouts of Nufayl, as if I have some debt that I owe the
Ata' bin Yasar and others have
said that all of them were not struck by the torment at this hour of
retribution. Rather some of them were destroyed immediately, while others were
gradually broken down limb by limb while trying to escape. Abrahah was of those
who was broken down limb by limb until he eventually died in the land of
Ibn Ishaq said that they left
(Makkah) being struck down and destroyed along every path and at every water
Abrahah's body was afflicted
by the pestilence of the stones and his army carried him away with them as he
was falling apart piece by piece, until they arrived back in San`a'. When they
arrived there he was but like the baby chick of a bird. And he did not die until
his heart fell out of his chest. So they claim.
Ibn Ishaq said that when Allah
sent Muhammad with the Prophethood, among the things that he used to recount to
the Quraysh as blessings that Allah had favored them with of His bounties, was
His defending them from the attack of the Abyssinians. Due to this they (the
Quraysh) were allowed to remain (safely in Makkah) for a period of time. Thus,
Who has fed them against
hunger, and has made them safe from fear. (106:1-4)
meaning, that Allah would not
alter their situation because Allah wanted good for them if they accepted Him.
Ibn Hisham said,
are the groups, as the Arabs do not speak of just one (bird).''
He also said,
As-Sijjil, Yunus An-Nahwi and Abu Ubaydah have informed me that according to the Arabs, it means
something hard and solid.''
He then said,
"Some of the commentators have
mentioned that it is actually two Persian words that the Arabs have made into
one word. The two words are Sanj and
Jil, Sanj meaning stones, and
Jil meaning clay. The rocks are of these two
types: stone and clay.''
He continued saying,
are the leaves of the crops that are not gathered. One of them is called
"When Allah wanted to destroy
the People of the Elephant, he sent birds upon them that came from sea swallows.
Each of the birds was carrying three small stones -- two stones with its feet
and one stone in its beak. They came until they gathered in rows over their
heads. Then they gave a loud cry and threw what was in their claws and beaks.
Thus, no stone fell upon the head of any man except that it came out of his
behind (i.e., it went through him), and it did not fall on any part of his body
except that it came out from the opposite side.
Then Allah sent a severe wind
that struck the stones and increased them in force. Thus, they were all
"This means straw, which the
common people call Habbur.''
In a report from Sa`id he
said, "The leaves of wheat.''
He also said,
is straw, and Al-Ma'kul refers to the fodder
that is cut for animals.''
Al-Hasan Al-Basri said the
Ibn `Abbas said,
is the shell of the grain, just like the covering of wheat.''
Ibn Zayd said,
are the leaves of vegetation and produce. When the cattle eat it they defecate
it out and it becomes dung.''
The meaning of this is that
Allah destroyed them, annihilated them and repelled them in their plan and their
anger. They did not achieve any good. He made a mass destruction of them, and
not one of them returned (to their land) to relate what happened except that he
was wounded. This is just like what happened to their king, Abrahah. For indeed
he was split open, exposing his heart when he reached his land of San`a'. He informed the people of what
happened to them and then he died.
His son Yaksum became the king
after him, and then Yaksum's brother, Masruq bin Abrahah succeeded him. Then
Sayf bin Dhi Yazan Al-Himyari went to Kisra (the king of Persia) and sought his
help against the Abyssinians. Therefore, Kisra dispatched some of his army with
Sayf Al-Himyari to fight with him against the Abyssinians. Thus, Allah returned
their kingdom to them (i.e., the Arabs of Yemen) along with all the sovereignty
their fathers possessed. Then large delegations of Arabs came to him (Sayf Al-Himyari)
to congratulate him for their victory.
We have mentioned previously
in the Tafsir of Surah Al-Fath that when the
Messenger of Allah approached the mountain pass that would lead him to the
Quraysh on the Day of Al-Hudaybiyyah, his she-camel knelt down. Then the people
attempted to make her get up but she refused. So, the people said,
Verily, Allah restrained the
Elephant from Makkah, and He has given His Messenger and the believers authority
over it. And indeed its sacredness has returned just as it was sacred yesterday.
So, let those who are present inform those who are absent.
This is the end of the Tafsir
of Surah Al-Fil, and all praise and thanks are due to Allah.