Army of the Elephant

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From wikishia

Army of Elephants or Aṣḥāb al-Fil (Arabic: اصحاب الفیل) was an army led by Abraha moved from Yemen to destroy the Ka'ba and God annihilated them by sending flocks of birds.Qur'an 105 narrates this story. They say that after that year, all the people of Arabia found a strong belief in the Ka'ba.


Ashaf al-Fil (army of the elephants) refers to Abraha b. Sabbah b. Ashram, the king of Yemen and his army who moved toward Mecca to destroy the Ka'ba.[1] Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i quoted from Waqidi that Abraha was the grandfather of Najashi, king of Yemen at the time of the Prophet (s)[2] and some considered Abraha, the minister of the king of Yemen, not the king himself.[3] After this event, that year became famous among Arabs as the Year of Elephant ('Am al-Fil)[4] and was considered the beginning point for Arab's calendar in the Age of Ignorance.[5] The birth of Prophet Muhammad (s) was shortly after this event.[6]

Ashab al-Fil in the Qur'an

A panel of Army of Elephants by Isfandyar Ahmadiya

Sura al-Fil has mentioned this event and refers to them as Ashab al-Fil:

  • Have you not regarded how your Lord dealt with the army of the elephants?
  • Did He not make their stratagems go awry?
  • and send against them flocks of birds.
  • pelting them with stones of shale.
  • thus making them like chewed-up straw? [7]

Ashab al-Fil in Hadiths

Books of hadiths, has mentioned this event in chapters such as: the miracles of the Prophet (s)[8], Imamate of Mahdi (a),[9] issues about the situation of the world[10] and superiority of the Ka'ba.[11]

Event of Moving an Army to Mecca by Abraha

al-Tabrisi and some exegetes have mentioned this issue that Abraha built a building like the Ka'ba in Yemen and ordered people to circumambulate it like in hajj rituals; but, they did not follow it and meanwhile, a man from Banu Kinana went to Yemen and polluted that place. Abraha became angry of that and said, "I swear by my Christian faith that I will destroy that house, so that no one goes there for visiting and hajj". Then, he ordered to gather elephants and prepared to move there with a group of people. In the middle of the way, Abraha sent a person to Banu Salim to call people to visit the building he had built like the Ka'ba, but he was killed and this made Abraha more resentful to move more quickly toward Mecca.[12]

Reaction of the People of Mecca against the Army of Abraha

It is said that when the army arrived in Ta'if, Abraha asked the people of Ta'if to send someone with him to guide them and a man from hudhayl accompanied them. When the army arrived near Mecca, people of Quraysh climbed up the mountains in groups and when they saw the army of Abraha, said, "we would never be able to stand against them." Except 'Abd al-Muttalib and Shayba b. 'Uthman, no one stayed in Mecca.[13] 'Abd al-Muttalib gripped the sides of the door of the Ka'ba and said,

"O God! Anyone defends his property, so, You defend your house that is the symbol of Your glory and do not allow them to disrespect Your Ka'ba with their Cross and fake Ka'ba. Do not let them enter the sacred city! This is what I think, but what You will, will happen."[14]

Encounter of 'Abd al-Muttalib with Abraha

The army of Abraha saw some camels of Quraysh near Mecca and took them as booty. Two hundred of those camels belonged to 'Abd al-Muttalib. When 'Abd al-Muttalib received the news of taking the camels, he exited the city and went toward the camp of Abraha. Abraha was surprised and said, "I have come to destroy the house of glory, honor and merits of you Arabs and your religious house you worship and crush it, but you did not speak about your religious house and do not defend it and just speak about your own camels and defend your personal property!"[15] 'Abd al-Muttalib replied, "O king! I talk to you about my own property I am rightful about and bound to guard. This house has an Owner for itself, He will defend; and guarding it is not upon me." They say that this speech frightened Abraha so much that he immediately ordered to give him back his camels.[16]

Attack of Flocks of Birds and Defeat of the Army of Abraha

Exegetes such as al-Tabrisi and Tabataba'i narrated that upon the sunrise, the army of Abraha tried hard to move the elephant leading the caravan toward Mecca, but it did not move, until "flocks of birds" appeared on the horizon while they carried small pebbles and dropped them over the army of Abraha and every single stone pierced what it hit.[17] Abraha who received some of those stones hitting his body, decided to escape and run away until he arrived in Yemen. When he arrived there, he died and none of his companions could arrive in Yemen.[18]

After the Defeat of Army of the Elephants

In al-Mizan, Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i reports that some exegetes have considered Qur'an 105 and Qur'an 106 one sura and accordingly said that about Ashab al-Fil, God said, "If We did not treat Ashab al-Fil that way, We had indeed granted a blessing upon Quraysh and Ashab al-Fil were afflicted with this, so that Quraysh who had escaped from the city could return to it and live there and this made them love Mecca and the Ka'ba more than before."[19] About the independence or unity of the two suras, exegetes have extensively discussed.[20]


According to some sources, after 'Am al-Fil all Arabia found a great faith in the Ka'ba. Quraysh took this event a favor upon themselves.[21]

Ayatollah Motahhari pointed that after that event, Quraysh found an unusual arrogance and the people of Arabia showed obedience toward them. The market of Mecca flourished. They ordered people and people obeyed them due to the psychological and ideological liking they had found in the Ka'ba.[22]

See Also


  1. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 10, p. 822; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 362.
  2. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 362.
  3. Majlisī, Mirʾāt al-ʿuqūl, vol. 5, p. 240.
  4. 'Abduh, Risālat al-tawḥīd, p. 97.
  5. Khātamī, Farhang-i ʿilm-i kalām, p. 156.
  6. Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil al-nubuwwa, vol. 1, p. 73.
  7. Qurʾān, 105: 1-5.
  8. Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī, al-Kharāʾij wa l-jarāʾiḥ, p. 86.
  9. Majlisī, Shīa dar pīshgāh-i Qurʾān, p. 65.
  10. Majlisī, Āsimān wa jahān, vol. 8, p. 4.
  11. Majlisī, Lawāmiʿ Ṣaḥibqarānī, vol. 7, p. 244.
  12. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 362; Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 10, p. 822.
  13. Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil al-nubuwwa, vol. 1, p. 73.
  14. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 10, p. 822; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 363.
  15. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 363.
  16. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 10, p. 823; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 363.
  17. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 10, p. 823; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 363.
  18. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 10, p. 822; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 362.
  19. Ṭabāṭabāyī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 630.
  20. Ṭabāṭabāyī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 630.
  21. Motahhari, Majmūʿa āthār, vol. 4, p. 892.
  22. Motahhari, Majmūʿa āthār, vol. 4, p. 892.


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