Am al-Fil

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The Ababil birds attacking the army of Abraha - from the film "Muhammad" by Majid Majidi

ʿĀm al-Fīl (Arabic: عام الفيل) (literally: year of the Elephant), is the year in which Abraha, the king of Yemen, started a huge military expedition toward Mecca in order to destroy Ka'ba. As he had an army with war elephants, the year turned to be known as the year of the Elephant. This event has been addressed in the Qur'an 105. Based on a famous historical account, this year is the birth year of the Prophet Muhammad (s). Historians believe the year of the Elephant was about 570 CE in the Julian calendar.

Military Expedition

After assuming the full control over Yemen, Abraha built a church in San'a and called it: Qulays. He wrote to the Ethiopian king: I have built a church similar to which none had existed before. Upon finishing its project, I will attract the pilgrims of Mecca to my church.[1]

When Arabs knew about this letter, a member of Bani Faqim polluted the building with his feces. Upon such an outrageous act, Abraha who had long been waiting for a chance to destroy Ka'ba, prepared a great army with fourteen war elephants and started his military expedition toward Mecca.[2]

Resistance against Abraha

Two of Yemeni elite, namely Dhu nafar and Nufayl b. Habib al-Khath'ami stood against Abraha but they were defeated and captured by him.[3]

Message to 'Abd al-Muttalib

Before reaching Mecca, Abraha sent a message to 'Abd al-Muttalib, then the head of Quraysh, saying: I have not come to kill people but only to destroy Ka'ba.[4]

'Abd al-Muttalib went to him and asked him to give back his 200 camels which were plundered by Abraha's army.

Abraha said in amazement: with all nobility that I see in your character, I don't undrestand why you make such a humble request, while I have come to destroy Ka'ba which is [the center of] your religion and the religion of your ancestors.

'Abd al-Muttalib replied: I am the lord of the camels and The House (Ka'ba) has a Lord who will protect it.[5]

"Nobody can stop me from my goal." Abraha said with conceit and ordered his men to give back the camels to 'Abd al-Muttalib.[6]

Quraysh Evacuating Mecca

'Abd al-Muttalib told Quraysh to evacuate Mecca and take refuge in surrounding mountainous areas.[7]

Attack of Ababil

Once the army of Abraha marched close to Ka'ba, Allah commanded flocks of birds, known as Ababil, to attack and destroy the Army of Abraha by throwing stones from their beaks.[8]

The Holy Qur'an tells this story in the Qur'an 105. After 'Am al-Fil, Quraysh gained a special position and respect among other Arab tribes.[9]


  1. Ibn al-Kalbī, al-Aṣnām, p. 142.
  2. Dīnawarī, al-Akhbār al-ṭiwāl, p. 92.
  3. Maqrizī, Imtāʿ al-asmāʾ, vol. 4, p. 74.
  4. See: Subḥānī, Furūgh-i abadīyyat, p. 125.
  5. Maqdisī, al-Bidaʾ wa l-tārīkh, vol. 3, p. 187.
  6. Subḥānī, Furūgh-i abadīyyat, p. 126.
  7. Subḥānī, Furūgh-i abadīyyat, p. 126.
  8. Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 1, p. 53.
  9. Subḥānī, Furūgh-i abadīyyat, p. 134.


  • Dīnawarī, Aḥmad b. Dāwūd al-. Al-Akhbār al-ṭiwāl. Translated to Farsi by Maḥmūd Mahdawī Dāmghānī. Fourth edition. Tehran: Nashr-i Niy, 1371 Sh.
  • Ibn al-Kalbī, Hishām b. Muḥammad. Al-Aṣnām. Edited by Aḥmad Zakī Bāshā. Second edition. Terhan: Nashr-i Nu, 1364 Sh.
  • Ibn Hishām. al-Sīra al-nabawīyya. Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, [n.d].
  • Maqdisī, Muṭahhar b. Ṭāhir al-. Al-Bidaʾ wa l-tārīkh. Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Thiqāfa al-Dīnīyya, [n.d].
  • Maqrizī, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-. Imtāʿ al-asmāʾ bi-mā li-l-nabīyy min al-aḥwāl wa l-amwāl wa l-ḥafdat wa l-matāʿ. Edited by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Namīsī. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyya, 1420 AH.
  • Subḥānī, Jaʿfar. Furūgh-i abadīyyat. Twenty first edition. Qom: Būstān-i Kitāb, 1385 Sh.