The Event of the Elephant

It was soon before the birth of the Sun of the Universe (PBUH). People were flooding into the Kaba during Hajj season from all over the region.

The fact that the Kaba was filled with plenty of people disturbed some people. One of those resenting it was Abraha Ashram, the governor of Yemen of the Abyssinian ruler at the time.

In order to prevent the rush of people into the Kaba, Abraha had a church built called Qulleys in the city of San’a with the aid of Byzantium emperor. He went to all the expense of decorating inside with gold and silver. The outer side of it was decked out with extremely precious jewels that he had brought from various places. It was so much so that the church he had built had no match anywhere else!

Abraha was planning to attract people’s attention into here with all this ornament and embellishment. So, in the end, he was thinking of breaking the favor people hugely had with Kaba.

After the building of the church was completed, Abraha wrote a letter to the Abyssinian ruler to gain his approval further. In the letter, he wrote:

“I have had a church built for you such that neither Arabs nor Farsis have ever made something alike. I shall never halt unless I make here a place for Arabs’ pilgrimage.” (1)

However, all the expenses and efforts of Abraha came to nothing. Many people came to see the unique embellishment and gorgeous structure of the church. They came but only to see its beauty. The number of people visiting the Kaba did not diminish but increased.

The Fouling of Qulleys and Abraha’s Decision

That Abraha had a magnificent church built to alienate people from the Kaba was heard by the Arabs as well. In the meanwhile, someone named Nawfal from the Qinana tribe had made up his mind to foil this church. At one midnight, he went to the church foiling inside and outside of it and then turning back where he came from.

This incident exasperated Abraha further, who already flew into a rage with the fact that people still favored the Kaba. On learning that the one who foiled the church was an Arab, he swore with fury by saying; “Arabs did it since I made some of them turn away from their Kaba. So I shall raze it to the ground.” (2) Then he prepared to advance towards Mecca with the intention of tearing the Kaba down. He asked the Negus of Abyssinia for the famous elephant, Mahmoud, to be given to him. The Negus met the demand of the Negus and sent him the elephant, which was then matchless in terms of size and power in the world. (3)

Abraha prepared his army and set off toward Makkah.

He started to proceed to Makkah with the elephant called Mahmud in front of the army.

Meanwhile some Arab tribes opposed that big army but they could not succeed in stopping them; they were defeated by Abraha.

When Abraha came somewhere named Mogammish near Mecca, he sent a group of cavalry to spearhead the attack.

Cavalrymen made their way into Mecca and extorted the herds of the Quraishians and Tikhamese, including two hundred camels of Abdulmuttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). (4)

At that time Abdulmuttalib was the head of the Quraish tribe.

Abraha and Abdulmuttalib

Abraha sent an envoy to the Quraishians to deliver his message:

“I am not here to fight you, but to tear the Kaba down. If you do not resist me, I shall not shed your blood. Let the chief of the Quraish tribe come to me if he does not want me to fight against him.” (5)

Abdulmuttalib’s answer to the envoy was as follows:

“We swear by God that we do not want to fight him. We are not capable of that anyway. The Kaba is not ours but it is God Almighty’s. Only God Almighty can protect it from being ruined. If He shall not protect His holy home, we have no power to dissuade Abraha from his attack.” (6)

After this talk, Abdulmuttalib and the envoy went to Abraha.

Abdulmuttalib had an imposing appearance. Abraha felt an involuntary respect toward him. He treated him as an honorable guest and asked him what his wish was.

Abdulmuttalib stated his wish: “Your men took my two hundred camels. My wish is that they be returned to me.”

Abraha did not like it and spoke mockingly; “When I saw you, I thought you of being an important man; I soon realized that you are not so when you started to speak! I am here to demolish the Kaba which is your and your forefathers’ temple. You are not talking about that but you are thinking of your two hundred camels.”

Abdulmuttalib spoke recklessly; “I possess my own camels; the Kaba has its owner and protector. He is sure to protect it.”

“Nobody can protect it!” Abraha shouted.

Abdulmuttalib replied calmly; “I am not interested in that; this is between you and Him!” (7)

After this conversation, Abraha gave Abdulmuttalib’s camels back. Later on Abdulmuttalib left there and came back home in Mecca and told the Quraishians all about what had happened. Besides, he put on a mark on his two hundred camels to be sacrificed to God.

Mecca is evacuated

Abdulmuttalib recommended the folks to evacuate Mecca to protect themselves from the cruelty and oppression of Abraha and his army. He went to the Kaba with a couple of people with himself. He clung on to the door handle of the Kaba and prayed; “O my Lord! Even your servants protect their homes. You protect your own home too so that this army may not come out victorious.” (8)

Mecca was evacuated. The natives began to take shelter on mountain hills and solitary places and to wait what Abraha and his army will do.

Everyone was worried about what was going to happen.

The Army is Ready, But…

It was the morning of the following day.

All the preparations were completed in the army of Abraha that was about to destroy the Kaba. The army was waiting for the order of “March!”

The year was 571, seventeenth of the month of Muharram, on Sunday.

At the moment the army was to move, a man named Nufail Bin Habib, who then acted as a guide to Abraha, bent down to whisper into the ears of the great elephant Mahmoud:

“Mahmoud! Kneel down! Turn back where you come from without being hurt. You are in a place where God Almighty deems holy.” (9)

After he whispered those words into the ears of Mahmoud, he ran away to take shelter in a mountain.

After Nufail’s words, the huge elephant suddenly knelt down.

They resorted to any ways to make it get up, but all was in vain. When they directed it to Yemen, to Damascus, or to the eastern side, he was running; but when they direct it to Mecca, it kept kneeling down as if it had no power to run. (10)

At the moment when everybody was astonished at this sight, God Almighty sent the birds against the Abraha army called Ababel (goatsucker) from the other side of the sea.

Each of those birds was leaving from above three small stones as big as chickpea to the army. Every soldier to whom those stones hit immediately was severely wounded and died. (11)

The soldiers who met with the bombardment of stones were petrified with fear. The area was filled with men and animals lying around dead or wounded. Those who were hit with no stones started to flee around. Abraha was among them. But he, too, soon died because of a wound made to his body by a stone. (12)

Mahmoud, the elephant, survived due to its refusal to march into Mecca.

Having perished the army of Abraha with stone-carrying birds, God Almighty cleaned the area with rain, which later dragged the bodies into the sea. (13)

God Almighty informs of this event in the Holy Qur’an.

Have you considered how your Lord dealt with the people of the Elephant? Did He not bring their evil scheme to nothing? He sent down upon them flocks of birds (unknown in the land), Shooting them with bullet-like stones of baked clay (an emblem of the punishment due to them), And so He rendered them like a field of grain devoured and trampled. (Al-Fil Surah, 105:1-5) (14)

This event was a proof to Muhammad’s (PBUH) prophethood. (15) Because, God Almighty saved his future homeland and the place he was to turn his face towards from Abraha’s army before he was born.

The mercy and wisdom of God Almighty would not and did not let the Abraha’s army destroy this honorable place out of His love to His Beloved Prophet (PBUH).


[1] Ibn Hisham, Sirah, v. 1, p. 45; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p. 91; Tabari, Tarikh, v. 2, p. 109.

[2] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 47; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p.  91; Tabari, Tarikh, v. 2, p. 110.

[3] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p.  91.

[4] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 50; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p.   91; Tabari, Tarikh, v. 2, p. 111.

[5] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 50.

[6] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 50.

[7] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 51; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p. 92.

[8] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 53; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p. 92.

[9] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 54.

[10] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 54; Tabari, Tarikh, v. 2, p. 113.

[11] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 54-55; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p. 92.

[12] Ibn Hisham, ibid, v. 1, p. 56.

[13] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, v. 1, p. 92.

[14] Surah Al-fil

[15] The events that took place before the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born are called “Irkhasat”. Those events are proofs to his prophethood. A majority of scholars agree that “the event of elephant” is among irkhasats.

Salih Suruç
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