Quranic Surat Alfeel: A Myth
02 Jan, 2009
105:1 ART THOU NOT aware of how thy Sustainer dealt with the Army of the elephant?
105:2 Did He not utterly confound their artful planning?
105:3 Thus, He let loose upon them great swarms of flying creatures
105:4 which smote them with stone-hard blows of chastisement pre-ordained,
105:5 and caused them to become like a field of grain that has been eaten down to stubble
In University of Michigan website, the language is a bit simpler
105.1] Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant?
[105.2] Did He not cause their war to end in confusion,
[105.3] And send down (to prey) upon them birds in flocks,
[105.4] Casting against them stones of baked clay,
[105.5] So He rendered them like straw eaten up?
Here is Ibn Kathir's commentary on the Sura:
1. Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the Owners of the Elephant) (2. Did He not make their plot go astray) (3. And He sent against them birds, in flocks (Ababil).) (4. Striking them with stones of Sijjil.) (5. And He made them like `Asf, Ma'kul.)
This is one of the favors Allah did for the Quraysh. He saved them from the People of the Elephant who had tried to tear down the Ka`bah and wipe out all traces of its existence. Allah destroyed them, defeated them, thwarted their plans, made their efforts in vain and sent them back routed. They were people who were Christians, and thus, their religion was closer to the True Religion (Islam) than the idolatry of the Quraysh. However, this was a means of giving a sign and preparing the way for the coming of the Messenger of Allah. For verily, he was born during that same year according to the most popular opinion. So the tongue of destiny was saying, "We will not help you, O people of Quraysh, because of any status you may have over the Ethiopians (Abyssinians). We are only helping you in order to defend the Ancient House (the Ka`bah), which We will honor, magnify, and venerate by sending the unlettered Prophet, Muhammad , the Finality of all Prophets.''
There is only one problem. Elephants in Africa, including Ethiopia, were never domesticated and used by humans. By “Never”, I mean throughout history. I came to know this fact through talking with three Ethiopian university professors. True, elephants were and still are domesticated and used for labor in Southeast Asia, but never in Africa. Hence, Sura Alfeel is a myth. Its events never happened. Muhammad probably just used an old Arab folk-tale. The Ka’ba was sacred to a multiplicity of Arab tribes, and so it is very probable to have a story like that as a folk-story told by the old to the young. Humans have such stories of places they consider holy in many parts of the world. Most of those stories are probably myths or a mixture of myth and reality.
Ibn Kamuna an Arabic-speaking writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.