Surah Al-Fil (Elephant): Reminder of Allah’s Bounties

By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani

Surah Al-FilSurah Al-Fil was revealed in Makkah. You can read the story of the People of the Elephant in the books of Tafseer and Islamic history. In this article, we will focus only on some key points that define the terms and purpose of this surah.

Overall theme of Surah Al-Fil

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent to the Arabs and the whole world to guide them to the right path. Many people believed in him back then and many others have believed in him since then. However, many others have chosen not to believe in him or his divine message.

When Allah sent Prophet Muhammad the divine message, He revealed to him the story of the elephants, which is said to have taken place the same year the Prophet was born.

The story reminds the Qurayshites of one of the favors Allah had granted them as He protected them from the attack of the Abyssinians. Because of this, the Qurayshites remained safe in Makkah while others were being snatched away from their homes from all around them.

The Qur’an reminds Quraysh:

{Have they not seen that We made [Makkah] a safe sanctuary, while people are being taken away all around them? Then in falsehood do they believe, and in the favor of Allah they disbelieve?} (Al-`Ankabut 29: 67)

It has been recorded in Al-Bukhari and Muslim that on the Day of Fat-h Makkah (The Opening of Makkah), the Messenger of Allah said,

“Verily, Allah restrained the Elephant from Makkah, and He has given His Messenger and the believers authority over it. Indeed, its [Makkah’s] sacredness has returned just as it was sacred yesterday. So, let those who are present inform those who are absent.”

Unique terms within Surah Al-Fil

Birds Ababil

Birds Ababil were the birds Allah sent to destroy the approaching army led by Abraha. The word ababil tells us the birds were in groups or crowds. It may also mean that the flocks were coming from different places; coming one group after another; or coming  or in divisions, just as camels march in divisions within their herds.

It was said that they were tiny green birds that came from the seaside and they had heads like the heads of predatory animals.

Sijjil

Sijjil is defined as stones that were hard and solid. Some scholars say these stones were of sand and clay.

`Asf Ma’kul

`Asf Ma’kul is straw, or the leaves of wheat. Some scholars say it also means the leaves of vegetation and produce when eaten by cattle and defecated out as dung.

Reflections on Surah Al-Fil

  1. Abraha, the ruler of Yemen, wanted to demolish the Ka`bah in Makkah using his massive army. An army which was led by a massive elephant. This was an act of aggression, they had to be stopped.

However, because the Qurayshites back then were pagans, Allah did not want His Sacred House to be saved or defended by them.

So He sent some of His soldiers, the flocks of birds, to defend His House and rebel against the aggressors.

Haven’t you seen?

  1. Surah Al-Fil starts with “Haven’t you seen?” and this is amazing indeed. You see, Prophet Muhammad was not born or had just been born when the incident took place, he could not have seen any of this. But the Qur’an, through using this phrase, it says, though you haven’t seen the incident with your own eyes, what is related to you here in the Qur’an is the full truth and nothing but the truth. Believe it as if you have seen it with your eyes!

Similarly, anything that we are told in the Qur’an must be believed in as if we have seen it with our naked eyes and more!

Treacherous plan

  1. It’s important to reflect on when Allah says, “their treacherous plan”. I believe their plan was not only to demolish the Ka`bah, but also to kill every newly-born infant in Makkah as they knew of the Prophet’s birth and wanted to get rid of him while he was still in the cradle. Nevertheless, it was Allah Who protected both, His Sacred House as well as His Messenger.
  2. The Birds Ababil (or, flocks of birds) that were sent by Allah to destroy the army and its leader exerted their effort and did their best.

Narrations state that each tiny bird carried three stones, one in its beak and two in its two claws.

To me, this is all they could do. If they were able to carry another stone to defend Allah’s Sacred House, they would not have hesitated!

A reminder to all Muslims

Surah Al-Fil explains that it is Allah Who defended His Sacred House and never allowed the polytheists or pagans to protect it.

However, since Prophet Muhammad was sent with the final message, the issue of protecting the sanctuaries has transferred from the unknown soldiers of Allah to Muslims.

Muslims now have a duty to exert their effort to protect the sanctity of Allah’s faith and to ensure that its symbols are never violated by anyone.

As Allah the Almighty honored us with His faith, we should maintain this honor through doing our best to defend the faith of Allah.

Finally, the Surah should be understood as a reminder for us, as well. As Allah made us Muslims and granted us with safety, we should believe in Him and never turn our backs to Him or His way of life, Islam!

———

Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation Studies. He is an author, translator, and writer based in Canada. To date, Al-Halawani authored over 400 original articles on Islam and Muslims, most of which can be accessed on www.aboutislam.net and other famous websites. He has recently started to self-publish his articles and new books, which are available on Amazon and Kindle. You can reach him at [email protected].

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