Central Theme, Arrangement and Relation with Previous
The special feature in the topics of the Sūrahs Quraysh to
Humaza is that it has been pointed out to the Quraysh that they have remained so
possessed with the love of wealth and children that they have grossly failed to
fulfil the rights of Allah as well as their own fellow beings. Inspite of this,
they still claim to be the heirs of Abraham and Ismeal and the custodians of the
Baitullaah built by them. Now in this Sūrah and it dual counter part, Sūrah
Quraysh, which succeeds it, they are being cautioned that they have been blessed
with peace and sustenance not because of their own efforts or that they were
entitled to them, rather it is because of the Prophet Abraham’s invocation and
the blessings of the House which he built that they have been bestowed with
these favours. Therefore, instead of showing vanity, it is their obligation to
worship the Lord of this House, who fed them in hunger and secured them against
every kind of danger, as has been indicated in Sūrah Quraysh:
“Hence, they should worship the Lord of the House, who
feeds them because of hunger and provides them with peace in fear.” (106:3-4)
The only difference between the two Sūrahs is that in
Sūrah Feel an event bears witness to the Power and Might of Allah, which saved
the Baitullaah from a great enemy while in Sūrah Quraysh, the Quraysh have been
reminded of the fact that it is their association with the Baitullaah which
accounts for the favours of peace and sustenance.
At the time when Abraham had settled his son Ismeal in
Mecca, the land was not only scarce in food resources but was in a constant
state of strife as well. Abraham had earnestly prayed to the Almighty to bless
the land with peace and sustenance and the Almighty had fulfilled his wish. The
progeny of Abraham benefitted from both these favours because of Baitullaah
only, but later on pride and vanity made them indifferent to these blessings.
They have been warned on their gratitude at many instances in the Qur’ān. In the
Sūrahs of this last group, Sūrah Balad also discusses some important aspects of
this attitude. For details, it can be consulted.
In this Sūrah the Quraysh have been reminded of a
significant event which look place not long ago. The Almighty had helped them
decidedly in combating the forces of Abraha who had attacked the Baitullaah with
a sixty thousand strong army to demolish it. It was not easy for the Quraysh to
face such a big army in the open whose vaneguard consisted of elephants. They
had, therefore, sought refuge in the nearby mountains and had defended the holy
land by hurling stones at the advancing enemy. This defence was indeed very
frail and feeble, but the Almighty transformed it into a powerful outburst which
totally destroyed the enemy, and their dead bodies were feasted by kites,
vultures and crows.
Meaning of the Sūrah
Have you not seen how your lord dealt with the people of
the elephant? Did he not foil their treacherous plan? And sent down against them
swarms of birds?
You pelted them with clay stones. And Allah them like
straw eaten away.
Explanation of the Sūrah
Alam tara kaifa fa’ala rabbuka bi ashaabil feel.
(Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the People of
the Elephant?) (1)
The addressed words alam tara (Have you not seen?) are
grammatically singular in nature but they are mostly, used to address plural
entities, as if directed to every person individually in a group of people. Here
the addressees are the Quraysh. They are being reminded about their recent past
and are being inquired whether they had forgotten how their lord had dealt with
the People of the Elephant? It should be kept in mind that the event which is
being referred to, had taken place not long ago. The Prophet (sws) was born the
same year the event took place. Therefore, there must have been people at the
time of revelation of this Sūrah who must have witenessed it or at least heard
about it so much by so many people that it had become for them no less than a
directly observed reality. The words alam tara, therefore, seem very
The Qur’ān has not mentioned any details regarding the
People of the Elephant, as to who were they, where had they come from what and
was the object of their march? The reason for this brevity is that the addressed
people knew these details very well. Only their introduction by the words
Ashaab-ul-Feel (People of the Elephant) was enough to indicate that Abraha, the
Abyssinian ruler of Yemen whose troops also consisted of elephants was being
referred to. It was the first time that the Arabs had encountered elephants in a
war and to express the grimness of the event they remembered it by the above
Whether there was only a single elephant or several, both
meanings can be construed from the words of the Qur’ān. But since the world
ashaab (plural) has been used and not saahib, which is a singular word it is
more likely that there were more than one elephant. Traditions also reinforce
the fact that there was a whole battery of elephants with the army, which
tremendously increased its strength and awesomeness.
Though some historians have regarded Abraha as a tolerant
ruler,yet he does not deserve such a high opinion if his life is studied. He
seams to be an opportunist, a traitor and highly prejudiced Christian. He had
betrayed the ruler of Abyssinia and had actually used his army to bring Yemen
under his own control. History bears witness to his taitorship: it is not
possible to enlist all the details, yet it is a historical fact that after
assuming control of Yemen he not only killed its Jewish king but also ruthlessly
exterminated Judaism from the land.
His prejudice for Christianity made him obsessed with the
idea of converting the Arabs into Christians. To execute his scheme he built a
grand cathedral in San’aa, the capital of Yemen. He wrote to king Negus of
Abyssinia, for whom he was deputising in ruling Yemen, that he had built a
unique cathedral towards which he intended to divert the Arabs to offer their
pilgrimage and demolish the Baitullaah. He then mad up a story that an Arab had
isolated the sanctity of the cathedral, only to justify an attack on the
Baitullaah. Considering the traditional bravery and courage of the Arabs it is
very unlikely that something like this might have happened. Even if the episode
is assumed to be true, a person’s individual misdeed is not enough to justify
the exaction of revenge from a whole nation and go as far as razing down the
Baitullaah. It is quite evident that only to inflame the Arabs and to gain the
support of king Negus that this tie was given alot of air. He finally launched
an attack on Mecca with a sixty thousand story army supported by a battery of
Alam yaj’al kaidahum fee tadhleel.
(Did He not foil their trecherous plan.) (2)
The Almighty aborted the scheme of Abraha which has been
termed kaid (an evil plan) by the Qur’ān because to justify a vicious move a
ridiculous allegation was invented, as has been indicated before. However, there
are also some other reasons for calling this scheme an evil plane. Imam Farāhī
(d: 1930) mentions them in his exegesis:
“1. He (Abraha) had attacked the Baitullaah during the
forbidden months, because he believed that in these months the Arabs refrained
from war and bloodshed.
2. He had tried to enter Mecca when the Meccans and other
Arabs were performing the rites of Haj.
3. He had specially intended to launch his offensive
during the stay of Minaa, when the Arabs would either be busy in offering
sacrifice or would be returning home totally exhausted.” (“Majmu’ah-i-Tafaaseer-i-Farāhī”,
Pg Ed )
To foil this evil contrivance, what the Almighty did, is
deduced thus by Imam Farāhī:
“1. He did not let them penetrate beyond the valley of
2. The Arabs used the stones of this valley to bombard
their enemy, as shall be described later.
3. He let loose a haasib ( a stone hurling wind) on the
enemy, which totally destroyed them.” (“Majmu’ah-i-Tafaaseer-i-Farāhī”, Pg Ed )
Many eye witnesses have reported this hassib and
historians like Ibni Hashshaam have recorded their observations. Imam Farāhī has
also discussed it in detail. We, shall restrict ourselves to two examples only.
The famous poet Abu Qais while mentioning the Power and Glory of the Almighty
refers to this haasib in the following way.
Fa ursila rabbihim haasibun
Yaluffuhum mithla laffil qazam
[“Then the Almighty unleashed a haasib on them which
enwraped them like rubbish.”]
Similarly Saifee bin Amir has referred to a haasib and a
saif, which is similar to a haasib, Differing only in intensity:
Falammaa ‘ajaazoo batna nu’maana zuddahum
Junoodu laailaaha baina saafiw wa haasibee
[“As soon as they advanced beyond Batan-i-Nauman the
forces of the Almighty alighted among the haasib and saif and”]
Wa arsala ‘alaihum tairan abaabeel.
(And set down against them swarms of birds?) (3)
This is a metaphorical description of the final state of
devastation and helplessness of Abraha’s army. The Almighty totally ravaged them
and not a single sole survived to gather the dead; They remained scattered in
the battle field. The Almighty sent forth on them carnivorous birds, which tore
and ate their flesh and cleansed Mecca from their .’sending forth birds on the
enemies’ is a common metaphorical depiction of their state of utter decimation.
The Arab poets in their laudatory poems have after made use of this metaphor.
They often extol their armies by saying that when they attack the enemy meat
eating birds fly with them as if they know that after the enemy is completely
destroyed they will get a chance to satisfy their hunger. In the old Testament,
the episode of Daood (David) and Jaloot (Gollaith) has been narrated. It says
that when the two faced eachother in combat and David assumed all the conceited
remarks of Gollaith, Gollaith, replied irritably ‘ I shall feed the kites and
crows with your meet today’. But David, by the Almighty’s help turned the tables
The word abaabeel does not mean the swallows (the birds
called abaabeel). The word means a pack of horses and also implies a swarm of
birds. Grammarians differ whether the word is singular or plural. Some hold that
it is the plural of ibbaalatun. In our opinion, here it has been used for the
birds who had gathered to feed on the slain.
Arsala alaihum refers to the utter state of helplessness
of the People of the Elephant, that no one remained to burry the dead: the birds
feasted on the dead bodies with complete freedom.
Tarmeehim bihijaaratin min sijjeel. Fa ja’alahum ka’asfim
(You pelted them with stones of clay. And Allah made them
like straw eaten away.) (4-5)
In the end, it has been indicated how the Almighty’s help
had aided the believers in destroying their foes. The Meccan people have been
addressed and told that while they were hurling stones on the enemy, the
Almighty transformed this weak defence into a strong one and it become so
effective that it virtually made them like straw devoured away.
Our commentators generally maintain that the Meccans did
not face the attacking enemy and their leader Abdul Mutlalib took them away to
seek refuge in the nearby mountains. They left the Baitullaah in the custody of
the Almighty, believing that He who is the Lord of the House shall Himself
protect it. In their consideration, the subject of the verb tarmee is tairan
abaabeel ie the birds had destroyed Abraha’s army by flinging stones on them.
There is a general consensus on this view, but due to various reasons it is
absolutely incorrect. We indicate some of them:
(1) There is no doubt that the Quraysh had gone off in the
mountains but this does not imply at all that they had completely withdrawn
themselves from its defence.They had adopted a special war strategy due to their
own weak position. Instead of facing a huge army in an open battle field they
took refuge in the mountains and tried to impede the enemy attack by adopting
the tacties of gueralla war fare. A similar strategy was adopted by the Muslims
in the battle of Ahzaab when they defended the Holy land of Medina by digging a
trench around it.
It would have been disasterous for them to engage the
enemy in open warfare, for even if they had tried their best they could not have
raised an army beyond twenty thousand, which was totally insufficient to fight a
sixty thousand strong army aided with a battery of elephants. The Almighty
helped them according to his principle that when a believer does his utmost in
discharging his duty, he is aided by Divine Help.
(2) The claim that the Quraysh offered no resistance is
not only against historical facts but also goes against the sense of honour and
pride of the Quraysh. All historians agree that from whichever routes the army
of Abraha traversed, the respective Arab tribe did not let them through without
offering any opposition. They tolerated the humiliation of defeat than letting
the enemy through easily with such an evil motive. The only exception was Banoo
Thaqeef, who did not display the sense of honour shown by all the other tribes.
Abu Righaal a tribesman of Bano Thaqeef revealed to the advancing army the way
to Mecca. As a result of being dishonorable Bano Thaqeef were completely
disgraced in the eyes of the Arabs and lost their respect. Abu Righaal met an
equally dreadful fate: for a number of years the Arabs pelted stones at his
grave. It should be realised that when small tribes fought so gallantly, how
could the Quraysh act in such a dishonorable way by letting the opponents
achieve their goal unchecked? If they did what is generally maintained, why was
only Abu Righaal condemned for a similar crime? The Quraysh have always been
famous for their sense of honour, as we have indicated before. Even in trivial
affairs they had never shown any weakness which could stain their honour; how
could they disgrace and dishonour themselves in an affair upon which depended
their religious as well as political supremacy. After loosing the Baitullaah
what else did they have to live for protecting themselves and hiding in the
mountains. The view, therefore, cannot be accepted.
(3) Those who hold this view---and actually dishonour the
Quraysh by doing so---maintain that the Sūrah conveys somewhat the following
message: ‘The Almighty Himself is the Guardian of His House. Even if its
custodians run away He Himself shall protect it. So when the Quraysh retreated
in the mountains the Almighty employed Abaabeels to defend His House. The
Abaabeels destroyed the enemy by hurling stones on them.’ If this is the lesson
the Sūrah conveys, them it is totally against the laws of the Almighty. It is
against His principle that His people should sit in their houses, whilst He
alone should win the battle for them. If it were in accordance with this
principle why were the childrens of Israel punished for a similar attitude when
they were left to wander for forty years in a desert. They had only said:
“So their they hard fight, we will sit here.” (5:124).
According to the law of the Almighty which is clear from
the Qur’ān, he helps only those who set out to fulfil their obligations, however
small in number they may be and however limited their resources may be.
Consequently, the responsibilities the Qur’ān has imposed on us in Sūrahs
Baqarah, Tauba and Haj as regards protection and liberation of Baitullaah are
that we should do all we can and the Almighty will help us. It is not that he
will send his help if we do not strive our not most. The Quraysh procurred the
Almighty’s help because they did all what they could. The Almighty reinforced
their weak defence by unleashing on the enemy a raging stone hurling ward which
reduced them to nothingness. In the battle of Badr too the Almighty lent his
invisible hand of help when circumstances were no different as far as the
defence of the Muslim army is concerned. The Almighty had transformed a handful
of dust thrown at the enemy by the Prophet (sws) into a storm. The Almighty
himself explained the nature of this event in the Qur’ān:
“And you did not hurl the stones on the enemy, but it was
Allah who had hurled them.” (8:17)
(4) A look at the prayer Abdul Multalib had uttered while
he was invoking the Almighty’s help shows that its words are overflowing with
faith in the Almighty. They are the words of the person who is very disturbed
and worried over a situation, yet he is very hopeful of the Almighty’s help.
There is not the slightest indication that these words have been uttered by
someone who has run enemy from the battle field. Those who have derived this
meaning from the prayer can only be lauded for their subtle sense of
appreciation. If Abdul Multalib had retreated in the mountains and prayed to the
Almigthy, it does not mean that he had withrawn from the defence of the
Baitullaah. A little deliberation shows that some of his words have the same
grace of confidence in the Almighty as the prayer the Prophet (sws) had uttered
admist the battle of Badr. Abdul Multalib’s prayer in like a glorious martial
song which has the scent of faith and trust in it. Consider who effectively
these completes invoke the Almighty’s help:
O Lord! A man protects his family, so protect Your people.
Let not their cross and their strength overpower You. If You want to leave our
qiblah at their mercy, then do as You please.
After such a display of honour and integrity, can someone
be regarded as a deserter?
Therefore, in our consideration the view that the Quraysh
had not faced the enemy and the birds had destroyed the enemy by flinging stones
at them is totally baseless. The subject of the verb tarmee, we believe, is the
tribe of Quraysh who have has been addressed by the words alam tara at the
beginning of the Sūrah. This verb is not at all appropriate for birds. The birds
can drop stones held in their beaks and claws, but this cannot be termed ramaa.
Ramaa can only be used when ‘the drop’ has the power of an arm, a string or a
wind behind it. Even the commentators who held the general view have also felt
its inaptness. They had to ‘make up’ the interpretation that the birds dropped
stones of the size of peas, which passed through the bodies of the elephant’s
bodies. By this interpretation, they were able to demonstrate the effectiveness
of the process, but in reality it cannot be termed ramaa.
Bi hijaaratin min sijjeel. Sijjeel is the Arabacized
from of the Persian word sangi gul. It means . It has been indicated before that
the Arab’s had a weak defence. The battle could have been termed hotly contested
if it were fought by swords and spears and the two armies were arrayed in a
battle field; if the enemy had elephants, the Quraysh at least had horses. This,
as pointed out before, was not possible; so they opted to retreat in the
mountains and impede the enemy advance by hurling stones at them. Obviously,
this was a weak defence and just to show the weak nature of defense, the words
bi hijaaratin min sijjeel have been used by the Qur’ān.
Fa ja’alahum ka’asfim ma’kool.
(And Allah made them like straw eaten away) (5)
This verse expresses how the Might and Power of the
Almighty turned the tables on Abraha’s army. Since his people had strived to
their utmost, he according to his law helped them and made their enemy like
straw eaten away (ka’asfim ma’kool). To call something by the fate it shall
finally meet is a common linguistic style of Arabic: ka’asfim ma’kool being an
It should be noted here that the verb ramaa has been
related to the people addressed, but rendering the enemy into ‘straw eaten away’
has been attributed to the Almight’s power. The reason is that it was not
possible for the Arabs alone to destroy their enemy. The Almighty helped them by
unleashing a ravaging stone hurling wind on the enemy, when the Quraysh
themselves were flinging stones on them in the valley of Mahassir. This haasib,
as has been indicated before, was reported by many eye witnesses. It has also
been mentioned earlier, that the Quraysh had adopted similar tactics in the
battle of Ahzaab and then too ‘a wind’ was sent to help them.
Only one question now remains. If the actual fact is that
the forces of Abraha had been destroyed by the stone hurling of the Quraysh and
the Good sent haasib and not by the birds, who had only come to eat away the
dead, them the verses should have had the following order: Tarmeehim
bihijaaratim min sijjeel. Fa ja’alahum ka’asifim ma’kool. Wa arsala ‘alaihim
tairan abaabeel (You pelted then with claystones. And Allah made then like straw
eaten way. And sent down against them swarms of birds.). In Our opinion, the
people who have raised this question are not aware of a certain rhetorical style
of Arabic. In this style, just to project the consequences – good or bad – of a
certain event, they are listed before expressing all the details. To express the
swiftness in the acceptance of prayers this style has been adopted by the Qur’an
at many places. The following verses of Sūrah Nooh clearly testify to this:
“Nooh cried: O my lord! they have disobeyed me and
followed those O whose wealth and children only increased their loss; they
contrived big evil schemes and seduced their nation by saying: do not ever
renounce your gods; Forsake not Wadd nor Suw’a neither Yaguth nor Nasr [and O my
Lord!] they have misled many and Thou only increase the wrongdoers in their
wrong doing. Hence, because of their sins they were overwhelmed by the flood and
cast into the fire. And they found none besides Allah to help them.
And Nooh said: O Lord! Leave not a single disbeliever in
the earth. If you spare them they will mislead thy servants and beget none but
wicked and ungrateful ones.” (71:21-27)
If we reflect on the above verse, it becomes clear
that just after the Prophet Noah had uttered the first sentence of his prayer,
the fate of his nation has been depicted while the remaining prayer has been
deferred though obviously they would have met this fate after the whole prayer.
The only reason for this is that only to show the speediness in the acceptance
of the prayer a certain sentence have been placed earlier. Likewise! in the
present Sūrah just to depict the dreadful fate of the foes of Abraha the mention
of sending down birds against them has been made before the mention of their
destruction. Since the central theme of the Sūrah renders around recounting the
favours of the Almighty on the Quraysh, rhetorical principles dictate that the
dreadful fate of the enemies be portrayed first.
My teacher, Hameed Uddin Farāhī, has dealt at length with
the various aspects of this Sūrah. Brevity has restricted me to omit many of his
views which are very important as regards the explanation of the Sūrah. Among
other details which present a fresh insight in the Sūrah, Maulana Farāhī
considers the Ramee-i-Jamaraat as a symbolic representation of the ramee ‘done’
by the Quraysh on Abraha’s forces. I advise the readers to go through Maulana
Farāhī’s interpretation of the Sūrah, which will also bring out the very
delicate difference between his views and the ones held by his humble pupil.
Translated from Islahi’s “Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān”)