The year of the Elephant
Abdul Mutallib had ten sons, the youngest of whom was Abdullah. From all his sons, Abdul Mutallib loved Abdullah very much. When Abdullah was old enough to get married, he was married to Amina, daughter of Wahab bin ‘Abd Munaf, the chief of Bani Zuhrah. She was a noble and respected lady from a good family.
After a few months of marriage, Abdul Muttalib sent Abdullah on a trade journey to Syria. On his return journey from Syria, Abdullah became very ill and passed away. He was buried near Yathrib. This was a particularly sad occasion for Abdul Mutallib because he loved Abdullah very much and Allah had taken his life at such a young age of twenty five. Amina was also extremely sad at the death of her husband with whom she had spent such little time. Amina thought about Abdullah’s child, who wasn’t born yet and had already been orphaned.
However, to add to this burden, another storm was brewing in the form of an army of sixty thousand soldiers. They were coming from Yemen with the intent of destroying the Ka'bah. The Arabs had never seen such a big army before and knew deep down that they would never be able to fight such a force. This army was fully equipped and trained for war. It was commanded by the Yemeni King, Abraha and was led by a number of powerful elephants.
The army was gradually moving towards Makkah and was only a matter of time before it had arrived. The people of Makkah, had no intention of defending the Ka'bahand fighting this huge army. They had already decided in their hearts that they would retreat to the mountains until the army had left.
The Surah al-feel talks about this incident. The Surah is translated below and followed by some commentary on the surah.
Al-Feel (the Elephant)
Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the people of the Elephant?
Did he not render their treacherous plan futile?
He let loose against them flights of birds
Which pelted them with stone of Baked clay
Thus he made them like chewed dry Grass.
This is Surah number 105 in the Holy Qu'ran. The Qu'ran has a total of 114 surahs which are of different lengths. Allah revealed the Qu'ran over a period of 23 years. The surahs have been put under two headings - the Makki Surahs and the Madni Surahs. The Makki Surah were revealed before the Hijra (the migration from Makkah to Madina by the prophet). The Madni Surah were revealed after the Hijra. All the scholars agree that Surah al-feel is a Makki Surah.
This Surah is addressing the Arabs at the time of the prophet and remind them of the great favours Allah has done for them. It reminds them of an incidents which they had witnessed with their own eyes. It talks about the mighty army of Abraha which was too powerful for all Arabia to fight. Allah has destroyed the entire army swiftly when it attacked the Ka'bah.
The Ka'bahhad become a place of pilgrimage drawing people from all over the Arabian Peninsula. It became very busy and a lot of trade and business took place there. Some other countries saw this success and tried to create their own building, which could be used to attract people and let them make pilgrimage. Allah, however, did not grant any of them success.
Abraha, the king of Yemen, was an Abyssinian Christian who built a magnificent cathedral in the capital of Yemen, Sanah. After building this Cathedral and decorating it with gold, he wrote to the Negus saying he would not rest until he had diverted the Arab's pilgrimage to it. He publicly announced this in Yemen so that everyone new about this.
He was trying to provoke the Arabs into some form of retaliation, giving him an excuse to attack Makkah and destroy the Ka'bah. An enraged Arab defiles the Cathedral and a group of Quraysh set fire to it. This was all the excuse Abraha was looking for, so in 571 AD he took his army and set march towards Makkah. His army included sixty thousand troops and thirteen elephants.
Yemen was a super power in its time. No way could anyone fight against such a vast and powerful army - most had never seen such a big army in their lives! On the way, Abraha had some minor retaliation from the tribes but gradually headed towards Makkah. He also got some guides on the way to give him the best and safest route.
Near the outskirts of Makkah, Abraha captured two hundred camels that belonged to Abdul-Muttalib. He then sent an envoy of his to Makkah to tell them that he had no intention to fight the Arabs but to destroy the Ka'bah. If they offered no resistance then there would be no cause for bloodshed. He also instructed them that if they wanted to negotiate with him then they should return with their chief. The chief of Makkah at that time was Abdul-Muttalib.
Abdul Muttalib was taken to Abraha, who asked him what he wanted. Abdul Muttalib replied that he wanted the camels that Abraha had taken to be returned to him. Abraha returns the camels and said that you only demand your camels but you say nothing about this house which is your sanctuary and the sanctuary of your forefathers.
Abdul Muttalib replied that I am the owner of the camels and as for the house it has its own owner and he will defend it. With this Abdul Muttalib left and went back to Makkah.
Abdul Muttalib told the people to take their families and go to the mountains on the outskirts of Makkah. Abdul Muttalib went to the Ka'bahand prayed to Allah to protect his house. He did not pray to any of the idols that were in the Ka'bahbut to Allah himself. After this Abdul-Muttalib and his companions left and headed for the mountains to join the rest of the Makkans.
The next morning Abraha prepared to enter Makkah with his special elephant, Mahmood, leading the army. Mahmood stopped and knelt down refusing to move. It was coaxed and then beaten with iron bats trying to get it to move forward. When it was made to face any other direction, it would immediately start off but when they made it face Makkah it would again stop.
Suddenly swarms of birds appeared with stones in their beaks and claws and showered the army with them. Whoever the stones hit would start to disintegrate until the whole army was destroyed. In the confusion they tried to retreat to Yemen but the whole army was destroyed. This incident became famous and the story reached all corners of Arabia. After this the Makkans started to worship Allah for a few years then they returned to worshiping idols.
This year became known as the year of the elephant. It was in this year, 571CE, that an even greater event took place which would change the course of world history. A special child was born in Makkah to the lady Amina and her husband Abdullah, who had recently passed away. The birth of this child was celebrated in the heavens above and foretold in books of history and religion throughout the world. He would bring justice and the knowledge of the almighty creator to the Earth. He would enlighten the world, removing the shackles of ignorance and subservience. This child was born to an ignorant and decedent society which would be transformed into the most knowledgeable and just society.
This child would grow and become a role model for many billions of humans from all parts of the world. His words and actions would be spoken about and studied for thousands of years afterwards. This child would grow to become Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the rest of the seerah lessons are dedicated to his life, inshallah.