English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Chapter 105: Al-Fil — The Elephant (Revealed at Makkah: 5 verses)
This chapter is entitled The Elephant due to the presence of one or more elephants in the army of the King of Yaman which invaded Makkah, in the year of the birth of the Holy Prophet, with the object of destroying the Ka‘bah. The army met with a crushing disaster, of the kind mentioned in the last chapter. It is one of the earliest revelations.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
105:1 Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant?1
105:2 Did He not cause their war to end in confusion?
105:3 And send against them birds in flocks,
105:4 casting at them decreed stones,
105:5 so He rendered them like straw eaten up?2
- The reference is to the memorable invasion of Makkah by Abrahah, the Christian governor in Yaman of the King of Abyssinia. Abrahah’s object was to destroy the Ka‘bah so as to divert Arab religious enthusiasm and Arab trade to Sana, where he had built a magnificent cathedral for the purpose. This army is known in Arabia as the aṣḥāb al-Fīl, or the possessors of the Elephant, because of the presence in it of one or more elephants. The year in which the invasion took place is known as the year of the Elephant, being 570 C.E., the year also of the Holy Prophet’s birth. Unable to defend the Holy House against the huge army, Abdul Muttalib, the Holy Prophet’s grandfather, thus prayed aloud, leaning upon the door of the Ka‘bah: “Defend, O Lord, Your own House! and let not the Cross to triumph over the Ka‘bah”. Then the whole population of Makkah took to the hills around the Holy City. Meanwhile a virulent form of small-pox, or some other pestilence, broke out in Abrahah’s army with such severity that the army retreated in confusion and dismay, many of them, being unable to find their way back, perishing in the valleys, while a part was swept away by floods. There seems to be also an allusion to the circumstance that, in protecting the Ka‘bah against an enemy, though idols were worshipped there at the time, Almighty God had shown a purpose in its preservation. The coincidence of this year with the year of the Holy Prophet’s birth no doubt furnishes the key to that purpose, because the Arabs not only knew that the Sacred House had Abraham’s blessing, but also that Abraham had prayed for the appearance of a prophet from among them who should purify the House. The mention of the incident thus conveyed a warning to the Quraish that, if the Lord had destroyed an army on account of its intention to demolish His Sacred House, would He leave those alone who wanted to destroy His Prophet? ↩
- There is no authentic hadith as to how Abrahah’s army was destroyed. There are reports that everyone at whom a stone was flung was affected with smallpox. Thus it was a virulent smallpox that broke out in the invading army while yet a little distance from Makkah, and the result was that Abrahah himself being affected with the pestilence, the whole army fled in a state of confusion, leaving the corpses of the dead for the birds to feast on. The words of v. 4 may mean the birds cast at them stones or flung them against stones, the reference in the latter case being to the birds tearing off flesh from their bodies. For birds as indicating the destruction of an enemy, see 16:79 footnote. ↩