ON THE LAST SECTION QUR`AN
Chapter 105: Surat Al-Fīl
the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful
This chapter refers to
the event that took place, as far as we know, in the year of the
birth of the Prophet. Although the story was well-known and much
talked of at the time, very few actual details of the event have
survived. We know that other people were very jealous of the
residents of Mecca and of the Quraysh, who, as guardians of the
House of God held a position of great honor among the Arabs. One
of their rivals was the Emperor of Abyssinia. Through his viceroy
Abraha in the Yemen, he built what he believed was another
Ka'bah, this time in San'a, to compete with the one in Mecca.
This second ka'bah did not attract pilgrims in the numbers
the Emperor had hoped for, and so he sent a huge army, headed by
elephants, to destroy the Ka'bah in Mecca. He believed that
San'a could thus become the most important center of pilgrimage in
that part of the world.
Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the possessors
of the elephant?
What is of relevance
here is the confrontation between strength and power of great
magnitude, and its direct opposite. The lesson is that real power
is not measurable by ordinary means. The destruction of the army
which had been sent to destroy the Ka'bah was not a miracle
but, rather, a natural phenomenon which heralded the birth of the
Prophet – announcing the shining forth of that great Light in the
midst of darkness.
To understand the
significance of the elephant we must realize that what weapons
people possessed at that time were flimsy and scarce. In a land
where warriors had, at most, a few slim spears and bent swords,
the possession of an elephant meant that its possessor was
regarded almost as an emperor.
Did He not cause
their strategy to end in confusion?
means 'an artful plot', or 'scheme'. Did Allah
not make their plot go awry?
And send down
flocks of flying creatures onto them,
means 'flocks', and it does not necessarily refer only to birds
but also to large, overwhelming numbers.
Pelting them with
stones of baked clay.
means 'stones like lumps of dry clay'. It is related to the verb
sajala, which means 'to record, write down', or 'document'.
There are many interpretations of this verse. We do not know what
this phenomenon was, whether an actual storm brought a swarm of
tiny creatures, such as birds, which inflicted this large army
with stones (sijjīl) that penetrated their flesh, or
whether a disease suddenly swept over them (many illnesses such as
measles and small pox were not identified in those days), perhaps
brought by birds and insects. Despite the fact that this
occurrence was widely known and discussed, we still do not know
the true nature of the attack because at that time people's
understanding of natural phenomenon was not as clear as ours is
today. We know only that this mighty army was suddenly and totally
devastated, just as it was approaching the Ka'bah.
So He made them
as devoured straw.
The result of the
attack was that this enormous army became like the leftover
stubble of grain or grass after having been mowed to the ground.
In some of the numerous descriptions it is said that after this
destruction the ground appeared as if a flat sheet made up of
thousands of the enemy army's men and their elephants had been
laid down on it.
End of the Surah