Allah the Almighty says:
“Have you (0 Muhammad (Peace be upon him)) not seen how your Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant? (The Elephant army which came from Yemen under the command of Abraha Al-Ashram intending to destroy the Kabah at Makkah.) Did He not make their plot go astray? And He sent against them Ababil (birds) in flocks. Striking them with stones of Sijjil (baked clay). And made them like green crops devoured (by cattle)” (Al-Fiil, 1-5)
At-Tabari said: The first one to tame elephants was Ifridun Ibn Athqiyan who killed Ad-Dahhaq. He was the first to use saddle for horses. But, the first one to tame and ride on horses was Tahmuris, the third king on earth. It is also said that Ismail Ibn Ibrahim (Peace be upon them) was the first to ride horses. It is probably that he was the first one to ride on them from among the Arabs, and Allah knows the best.
It is said: Though the elephant is so huge, he fears from cats. Thereupon, some warlords, during their fight against the Indians, brought some cats to the battlefield the matter that forced the elephants to bolt.
Ibn Ishaq said: the governor or viceroy, Abraha Al-Ashram built a huge and very lofty church, and wrote to the king of Abyssinia, Negus that “I have built you a church that is unprecedented, and I am intending to divert pilgrimage from Mecca to Abyssinia”.
Al-Suhaili said: Abraha Al-Ashram subjugated the Yemenites to build that mean church and forced them to taste several sorts of humiliation. He used to cut off the hand of the one who comes late for labor till the sun rises. He took many valuable things from the palace of Bilqis to add thereto. He took marbles, precious stones, and valuable luggage. Moreover, he erected gold and silver crosses, built ebony and ivory pulpits, and raised the church’s stature and expanded its width. Afterwards, when Abraha was killed, whosoever tried to take anything out of its body or ornaments, the Jinn were reluctant and hesitant to do him harm. For, it was built above the burial of two idols called Kuaib and his wife, the height of which was about sixty cubits. So, the Yemenites left it untouched till the era of Al-Saffah, the first Abbaside Caliph. He, Al-Saffah, sent a group of pious scholars of will firm who totally demolished it, and it was destroyed then till the present day.
Ibn Ishaq said: When the Arabs heard of the letter of Abraha sent to Negus, a man from Kinanah got angry. He set out till he reached the church where he urinated on its walls. No body noticed him, and upon that he returned home safely. The news reached Abraha who asked about the doer. He was answered: this was done by one of those Arabs who perform pilgrimage to the Kabah at Mecca when he heard of your declared intention that you would divert pilgrimage from their Sacred House to your (recently-built) church. He (the Arab) got angry and came to excrete therein declaring it to be unqualified (to the event). Upon hearing this, Abraha burst with rage and took oath that he would demolish the Kabah. Then, he ordered the Abyssinians (Christians) to get prepared for war. He led a big expedition against Mecca accompanying an elephant or elephants in his train. The Arabs heard of the news and they were terrified, but they decided to fight him when the news was affirmed that he intended to destroy the Sacred House. A man from among the noblemen of Yemen called Dhu Nafar set out for him accompanied with his own clan and those who answered his call to fight against Abraha. The two parties met, Dhu Nafar and his followers were defeated and he himself was taken as a prisoner of war. He was then brought before Abraha who was about to kill him, but Dhu Nafar said: “0 king! Don’t kill me, I may be of any use to you.” Abraha did not kill him and he kept him tied up in custody. Then Abraha went on intending what he set out for. He arrived at the land of Khatham where he encountered with Nufail Ibn Habib Al-Khathami who was leading his two tribes -Shahran and Nahis along with his followers from among the Arabs. Nufail was defeated and taken as a prisoner of war to be brought before Abraha. Abraha intended to kill him, but Nufail said: “0 king! Don’t kill me. I may guide you to the destination you desire. Here you are! My pledge of allegiance. Abraha set him free and took him as a guide. When they passed by Taif, there came to him Masud Ibn Mutab Ibn Malik Ibn Kab Ibn Amr Ibn Sad Ibn Auf Ibn Thaqif along with his followers who said: “0 king! We are nothing but your slaves, we listen and obey, no hostility is ever there between you and us, and our House is not that which you want i.e. Al-Lat – you only want the House in Mecca. Hence, we send with you someone who leads you thereto.
As a sign of showing anger and mockery.
Ibn Ishaq said: Al-Lat was a ‘sacred’ House in Taif, it was to them just as the Kabah was to the rest of the Arabs. They sent a man called Abu Rughal to show him (Abraha) the way to Mecca. They went on till they arrived at a place called Al-Maghmas where Abu Rughal died. Abu Rughal was buried there and afterwards, the Arabs used to stone his grave. However, It was mentioned on the Story of Thamud that Abu Rughal was among the train of Abraha and that he sheltered himself with the Sacred House (Kabah) and when he came out, a stone hit him and he was dead. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) told his Companions: “As a sign on this, he was buried with two branches of gold”. They dug and verily, they found them. To compromise between this and the narration of Ibn Ishaq It is said: the later Abu Rughal had the same name as his higher ancestor whose grave used to be stoned by the Arabs. Moreover, the people used to stone his grave as they stone that of the former.
Ibn Ishaq said: When Abraha arrived at Al-Maghmas, he sent a man called Al-Aswad Ibn Maqsud with a cavalry dispatch. Al-Aswad seized some of the Arab’s property which included two hundred camels that belonged to Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle, who was, then, the principal man among the nobility. Upon this, Quraish, Kinanah and Hudhail decided to fight against Abraha, but they comprehended that they cannot afford that and thus quitted the idea. Then, Abraha sent Hanatah Al-Himiari to Mecca ordering him to ask about the chief of the people and tell him: “I (the king) did not come to fight against you, I only came to destroy the Sacred House. If you do not stand in our way, we will not harm any of you all. Abraha added to his messenger: ‘And if he showed his desire not to fight, bring him to me.’ When Hanatah entered Mecca, he asked about its chief and master. He was told: it is Abdul Muttalib Ibn Hashim. He saw him and thus delivered the message. Abdul Muttalib said: “By Allah! We do not intend to fight. Really we cannot afford it. This is the Sacred House of Allah and His Khalil (friend) Ibrahim (Peace be upon him), only Him Alone can protect it if He wills to.” Upon hearing this, Hanatah said: “Come with me to meet with him (Abraha), he ordered me to do so.” Abdul Muttalib set out for him accompanied with some of his sons till they approached the camp. He asked about Dhu Nafar who was a friend of his. He entered upon him in his prison and said: “0 Dhu Nafar! Can’t you do anything for us in this plight of ours?” Dhu Nafar said: “What can a prisoner do while waiting for death to come either in the morning of at night? All that I can do is to send to the stableman of the elephant, Anis, who is a friend of mine to recommend you, say a good word of you, intercede for you before him, and to seek permission for you to meet with Abraha.” Abdul Muttalib said: “That’s enough with me.” Dhu Nafar sent to Anis saying: Verily, Abdul Muttalib is the chief of the Quraishites, he is generous to both humans and animals and the king (Abraha) seized two hundred camels that belong to him. So, seek permission for him to meet Abraha and do whatever you see useful for him. Anis said: Surely, 1 will do. Anis presented himself before Abraha and then said: 0 king! The chief of Quraish is here and wants to present himself before you, so give him permission to, please! Abraha gave his consent. Abdul Muttalib was very handsome and grand and when seen by Abraha, Abraha showed great respect and was highly impressed. So, he refused to make him sit lowly in front of him, and also disliked to let the Abyssinians see him allowing him to sit on his own chair (throne). Consequently, he descended from above his chair and sat besides him on the rich carpet. Then, he said to his interpreter: Ask him what does he want? However, Abraha was surprised to hear from Abdul Muttalib through the interpreter that all he wanted was a compensation for his two hundred camels, but did not ask him to leave the Kabah alone. When Abraha expressed surprise, Abdul Muttalib answered: “I am the master of the camels, whereas the Kabah house of worship – has its lord to defend it”. Abraha said: No one can defend it from me. Abdul Muttalib said: You are on your own! Finally, Abraha gave him the camels back.
Ibn Ishaq said: It is said that when Abdul Muttalib entered upon Abraha he was accompanied with Yamur Ibn Nafaah Ibn Adiy Ibn Ad-Dail Ibn Bakr Ibn Abd Manah Ibn Kinanah the chief of the Banu Bakr tribe and Khuwailid Ibn Wailah the chief of the Hudhail tribe who offered Abraha one-third of the properties of Tihamah district in return for his going back and leaving the Kabah alone. But, Abraha refused their offer. Ibn Ishaq added: “I am not certain about the authenticity of this!”
When Abdul Muttalib returned home he told the Quraishites about what happened between him and Abraha and ordered them to evacuate Mecca and move to the mountains. Then, he accompanied with some men stood holding the ring of the Kabah’s door invoking Allah and seeking His Aid against Abraha and his troops.
Ibn Ishaq said: then, Abdul Muttalib let the door’s ring and set out with his companions to the mountains seeking shelter and awaiting for what would happen next. In the morning, Abraha got prepared to enter Mecca, and got his elephant and troops prepared. The elephant’s name was Mahmoud. When he was directed towards Mecca, Nufail Ibn Habib came near him and whispered in his ear: Kneel down Mahmoud and go back home safe, you are in Allah’s Sacred Town. He let go his ear and the elephant kneeled down.
As-Suhaili said: this means that the elephant fell to the ground, as elephants do not kneel down. It is said: that some elephants might kneel down just as camels. And, Allah Knows Best.
Nufail Ibn Habib went away and climbed up the mount till he was far and safe. The Abyssinians beat the elephant forcing him to stand up to his feet, but he refused. They hit his head with axe-like weapons, but he refused. They tried their best to force him to stand up to his feet, but they could not. They directed his face back towards the Yemen and he stood up and ran thereto. They directed him towards the Sham (Syria) and then towards the east and he stood up to his feet and ran thereto. They again directed him towards Mecca, but he refused. Thereupon, Allah the Almighty sent upon them birds from the seaside resembling hawks. Each bird held three stones: one in his beak and two in his two legs. The stones were like chick-peas and lentils, and none from among the Abyssinians was hit by a stone, but he was killed. Moreover, the birds did not hit them all. The rest of them fled away seeking the way they first came from and asking about Nufail Ibn Habib to guide them back to Yemen.
Ibn Ishaq said: the Abyssinians fled away while death pursuing them on every path and in every way and Abraha was hit with a stone as well. They carried him and his body began to tear up part after part till they reached Sanaa. After a short while, his chest cracked (as claimed by historians) and he died.
Ibn Ishaq said: I have been told by Yaqub Ibn Utbah that that year was the first in which measles, small-box, and bitter trees such as colocynth and African Rue appeared in the Arab Peninsula.
Ibn Ishaq said: When Allah the Almighty sent His Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), He reminded the Quraishites with His Grace and Favor bestowed on them through defeating the Abyssinians and defying them saying: “Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant? (The Elephant army which came from Yemen under the command of Abraha Al-Ashram intending to destroy the Kabah at Makkah). Did He not make their plot go astray? And He sent against them Ababil (birds) in flocks. Striking them with stones of Sijjil (baked clay). And made them like green crops devoured (by cattle)” (Al-Fiil, 1-5)
Then, Ibn Hisham and Ibn Ishaq started to interpret this Surah and the next stated as follows: Ibn Hisham said: The word “Ababil” means “in flocks”, though the Arabs never used that word before the Revelation of the Glorious Quran. But as for the word “Sijjil”, I was told by Yunus An-Nahwi and Abu Ubaidah that it was used by the Arabs to mean: solid and strong. Moreover, some interpreters claimed that this word was originally two in Persian, but the Arabs rendered them a single word that is “Sinj” and “lil”. ‘Sinj’ means stone and lil’ stands for clay and hard stones consist of these two materials, stone and clay. He added, “‘Assf’ stands for leaves. AI-Kasai said: I have heard some grammarians saying: “The singular form of ‘Ababil’ (flock) is ‘Abil’. Besides, many of our early scholars said: ‘Ababil’ are flocks of birds gathering group after group from here and there.
Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them): Their beaks were like those of the birds and their legs were like those of the dogs. In addition, Ikrimah transmitted: their heads were like those of the lions and they came from the seaside and their color was green. Also, Ubaid Ibn Umair said: they were marine black birds, holding stones in their beaks and legs. Abdullah Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) said also: they looked like the Phoenix, and the smallest stone they carried was equal to the head of a human being and other stones were equal to camels. The same view was held by Yunus Ibn Bakir after Ibn Ishaq. Some interpreters said: The stones were too small. Allah knows best!
Ibn Abu Hatim said: Abu Zarah told us on the authority of Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Ibn Abu Shaibah after Muawiyah after Al-Amash after Abu Sufyan after Ubaid Ibn Umair saying: When Allah the Almighty wanted to destroy the owners of the elephant He sent against them birds in flocks from the seaside resembling hawks, each one of them carried three stones: one in his beak and two in his two legs. They flew over till they were directly above the army, then they screamed and let go of the stones. The stones used to cut off or crack whom they hit from his head to his toes. In addition, Allah the Almighty sent a severe wind that hit the stones and added to their speed and strength, the matter that caused the majority of the army to perish.
Ibn Ishaq said as stated earlier that not all of them were hit by the stones. Rather, some of them managed to return to the Yemen and related to their people what had happened to them and to the whole army. And Abraha himself was hit with the stones and was carried till he reached the Yemen where he died, may Allah the Almighty damn him!
Narrated Ibn Ishaq saying: I was told by Abdullah Ibn Abu Bakr after Samurah after Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) that she said: “I have seen the rider and stableman of the elephant at Mecca blind, crippled and asking the people to feed them up.” However, it was mentioned earlier that the stableman was called Anis, but the rider was unidentified. Allah knows best! In his Tafsir (interpretation), An-Naqqash mentioned that the flood carried away their dead bodies and threw them into the sea. At the same year of this great incident, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was born. Some scholars say that it took place two years’ prior to his (Peace be upon him) birth.
Then, Ibn Ishaq cited the poetry the Arabs composed pertaining to that great incident in which Allah the Almighty made victorious His Sacred House which He wanted to grant honor, dignity, purification and respect through sending His Messenger Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Legislation He sends with him. One of the fundamental pillars of this Legislation is the Prayer whose Qiblah direction would be made to the honorable Kabah. That which Allah the Almighty did to the owners of the elephant was never for the sake of the Quraishites themselves. As the Christians who were represented in the Abyssinians were really nearer to the Kabah than the polytheists of Quraish, but the victory was granted to the Sacred House itself in preparation for the advent of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
Added Ibn Ishaq and others: After the death of Abraha, the Abyssinians were ruled by his son, Yaksum, then by his brother, Masruq Ibn Abraha who was their last king.
The incident of the elephant took place in Al-Muharram, 882 according to the Roman Calendar. Following the death of Abraha and his succeeding two sons, the Abyssinian rule over the Yemen came to an end, the church built by Abraha was deserted. No one could even approach it for it was built over the burial place of two idols – that of Kuaib and his wife. The two idols were made of wood, their height was about sixty cubits and they were touched with the jinn. For this very reason, no one could take the risk to come near the church or to take anything of its building or ornaments fearing the evils of the jinn. It stayed deserted till the time of the first Abbaside Caliph, As-Saffah whom the news of the riches found inside the church reached. He sent his ruler over the Yemen, Al-Abbas Ibn Ar-Rabi to destroy it and bring him all the precious objects he might find there.
Finally, one should raise his hands to Allah the Almighty and supplicate, saying: “0 Allah! All the Praises are for You; You are the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. And all the Praises are for You; You are the Keeper of the Heavens and the Earth. All the Praises are for You; You are the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth and whatever is therein. You are the Truth, and Your Promise is the Truth, and Your Speech is the Truth, and meeting You is the Truth, and Paradise is the Truth and Hell (Fire) is the Truth and all the prophets are the Truth and the Hour (Qayamat) is the Truth. 0 Allah! I surrender to You, and believe in You, and depend upon You, and repent to You, and in Your cause I fight and with Your orders I rule. So please forgive my past and future sins and those sins which I did in secret or in public. It is You Whom I worship, None has the right to be worshipped except You.”
Allah the Almighty says: