The Elephant (Part 1)

Chapter 105 of the Holy Quran

by Humaira Ahmad

The Light (UK), November 2016 Issue (pp. 7–8)

اَلَمۡ تَرَ کَیۡفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّکَ بِاَصۡحٰبِ الۡفِیۡلِ ؕ﴿۱﴾ اَلَمۡ یَجۡعَلۡ کَیۡدَہُمۡ فِیۡ تَضۡلِیۡلٍ ۙ﴿۲﴾ وَّ اَرۡسَلَ عَلَیۡہِمۡ طَیۡرًا اَبَابِیۡلَ ۙ﴿۳﴾ تَرۡمِیۡہِمۡ بِحِجَارَۃٍ مِّنۡ سِجِّیۡلٍ ۪ۙ﴿۴﴾ فَجَعَلَہُمۡ کَعَصۡفٍ مَّاۡکُوۡلٍ ٪﴿۵﴾

“Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant? Did He not cause their war to end in confusion? And send against them birds in flocks? Casting at them decreed stones — So, He rendered them like straw eaten up?” [The Holy Quran, Chapter 105 (The Elephant — Al-Fil)]

In the chapter that comes before this one, Al-Humazah (The Slanderer), Allah had threatened destruction to those who found fault with others and looked down on them and regarded their own wealth as evidence of superiority. In this chapter, a warning is contained for those haughty ones to whom wealth and might were the source of greatness. They were told that before their very eyes stood the Kabah which they believed to be the House of Allah and that they should remember the time when Abrahah, the King of Yemen, went with his army, in which was an elephant, to demolish the Kabah but the army suffered destruction.

The time when the People of the Elephant went to destroy the Kabah is an important date in the history of the Arabs. Abrahah, the Christian King of Yemen (a province of Ethiopia), had built a famous church in Sana, the capital of Yemen. His plan was that the people of Arabia should visit his church as the focal point of gathering, rather than to Makkah, and that eventually they would all be converted to Christianity. But as the Arabs paid no heed to this church, he decided to destroy the Kabah so that when this central gathering point was pulled down, people would of their own accord throng to his church. All historians agree that this event occurred in the year in which the Holy Prophet (sas) was born and so this year is called the Year of the Elephant.  The army of Abrahah came to be known as the Possessors of the Elephant because there was an elephant in the army. Some people are of the opinion that there were several elephants in it.

When the invading forces approached the surroundings of Makkah, they seized some 200 camels belonging to Abdul Muttalib, the Pro­phet’s paternal grandfather. Abdul Muttalib sought out Abrahah and asked him to return the camels, whereupon Abrahah, in great astonishment, remarked to him:

“You are asking for your camels and you make no mention of the Kabah which I have come to demolish!”

To this, Abdul Muttalib replied:

“I am the owner of the camels so I have come in search of them. The Kabah has a Lord and Master, Who will take care of it Himself.”

And so it came to pass.

On seeing the large army with their pompous parade of elephants, Abdul Muttalib realized that his people will not be able to confront them. So he asked his people to evacuate the city and to seek refuge in the neighbouring mountains. Before leaving, he held on to the latch of the door of the Kabah and addressed the Almighty:

“We have no fear whatsoever. Man protects his home, so do Thou, O Lord, preserve Thy Own House. Their cross and their might can never triumph over Thy power.”

Before Abrahah could reach the Kabah, an epidemic spread through his army and destroyed it. The commentators of the Holy Quran all agree that this came about through the agency of flocks of birds. These birds all carried a pebble in their beaks and two in their claws and on whomsoever a pebble fell he was destroyed.

However, Ikrimah says that those on whom the stones fell were struck down by small-pox (Tafsir Razi). Abrahah, too, was afflicted by this disease and when he returned to Yemen he died a miserable death, and the elephant, too, perished. Most probably what happened was that the birds had alighted on a swampy area that was filled with germs and had then flown away. Dried up pieces of dirt stuck to their claws and when they fell on Abrahah’s army an outburst of small-pox resulted.

If Allah, Most High, could bring about the destruction of a whole big army through a flock of little birds, why could He not make the powerful group of unbelievers at Makkah taste defeat at the hands of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and his insignificant band of followers? Of course, He could, and later events fulfilled this prophecy to the letter, for one can clearly see how the powerful armies of the Makkan unbelievers were overcome by a weak band of the Prophet’s companions.

Plain as daylight, too, was the manner in which Allah, Most High, protected the Kabah, the House of Islam, from destruction, and also the other houses of Allah, that is, the hearts of the believers, in each of whom the Holy Prophet had built a house of Allah and which he had purified of idols as he did to the physical Kabah itself.

There is a great warning in this: If any nation should try to demolish the house built by the Holy Prophet (sas), that is, Islam, and to destroy Muslims in whose hearts the Oneness of Allah and love for Islam have found root, then Allah will spring to their rescue just as He did in the time of the People of the Elephant. This is the sentiment that Dr. Iqbal expresses in this beautiful couplet:

توحید کی امانت سینوں میں ہے ہمارے
آسان نہیں مِٹانا نام و نشان ہمارا

“The trusteeship of Islam resides in our hearts;
Not easy is it to wipe us out of existence.”

Specially targeted here are the Christian missionaries who, like their counterpart, the Christian King of Yemen, are determined to destroy Islam and defile the belief in the Oneness of Allah all for the sake of enhancing the glory of their churches and increasing their political dominion. Allah, Most High, will give assistance to Islam through the weak hands of Muslims in whose hearts Allah lives, just as He did in the time of the People of the Elephant. Surely, He, Himself, is the Guardian not only of this House (of Islam) but also of the belief that Allah is One. He can make use of any instrument however feeble it may appear.

Today the elephants are represented by all kinds of criticisms aimed at the teachings of Islam and the hearts of Muslims in the attempt to create doubts about Islam and to erase the love of Allah from their hearts. The Christian Fathers are trying to replace the Kabah and all it symbolizes for Muslims with something else — the love of this worldly life — as is borne out by this statement of a well-known Indian Father, Imaad-ud-Din:

“If we cannot succeed in converting Muslims to Christianity, we shall shake the foundation of their faith by a flood of objections.”