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Chapter 105:
Al-Fil — The Elephant:

Revealed at Makkah: 5 verses

English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali


Introduction:

This chapter is entitled Al-Fil or The Elephant, on account of the presence of one or more elephants in the army which invaded Makkah with the object of destroying the Ka‘bah. This happened in the year in which the Prophet was born. This army met with a crushing disaster, and was annihilated — thus did the Crushing Disaster of the last chapter overtake an iniquitous people. It is one of the earliest revelations.

Translation:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

105:1 Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant?a

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?a

Commentary:

1a. The reference is to the memorable invasion of Makkah by Abrahah, the Christian viceroy 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 San‘a, where he had built a magnificent cathedral for the purpose. This army is known in Arabia as the ashab al-Fil, 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 the year 570 of the Christian era, and coinciding with the year of the Holy Prophet’s birth. Unable to defend the Holy House against the huge army, ‘Abd al-Muttalib thus prayed aloud, leaning upon the door of the Ka‘bah: “Defend, O Lord, Thine own House! and suffer not the Cross to triumph over the Ka‘bah” (Zurqani). Then the whole population of Makkah repaired to the hills around the Holy City. Meanwhile a virulent form of smallpox, 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 (Muir’s Life of Muhammad, Introduction, p. c.). 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 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?

5a. Feeding against hunger and granting security against fear were the two special favours conferred on the Quraish through the sacredness of the Ka‘bah, because the pilgrimage gave a special impetus to their trade and the necessaries of life were brought to their very doors, while they were totally secure from all fear of attack, to which the other Arab tribes were constantly exposed.

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