Owners of the Elephant (Part-1)

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Allah the Almighty says:
{Have you (O Muhammad (SM)) not seen how your Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant? [The Elephant army which came from Yemen under the command of Abraha Al-Ashram intending to destroy the Ka`bah at Makkah]. Did He not make their plot go astray? And He sent against them birds, in flocks. Striking them with stones of Sijjil (baked clay). And He made them like (an empty field on stalks (of which the corn has been eaten up by cattle)}. (Al-Pil, 1-5)

At -Tabari said: The first one to tame elephants was Ifridun Ibn Athqiyan who killed Ad- Dahhaq. He was the first to use saddle for horses. But, the first one to tame and ride on horses was Tahmuris, the third king on earth. It is also said that Isma'il Ibn Ibrahim (Peace be upon them) was the first to ride horses. It is probably that he was the first one to ride on them from among the Arabs, and Allah knows the best.

It is said: Though the elephant is so huge, he fears from cats. Thereupon, some warlords, during their fight against the Indians, brought some cats to the battlefield the matter that forced the elephants to bolt.

Ibn Ishaq said: the governor or viceroy, Abraha Al-Ashram built a huge and very lofty churcb, and wrote to the king of Abyssinia, Negus that "I have built you a church that is unprecedented, and I am intending to divert pilgrimage from Mecca to Abyssinia " .

Al-Suhaili said: Abraha Al-Ashram subjugated the Yemenites to build that mean church and forced them to taste several sorts of humiliation. He used to cut off the hand of the one who comes late for labor till the sun rises. He took many valuable things from the palace of Bilqis to add thereto. He took marbles, precious stones, and valuable luggage. Moreover, he erected gold and silver crosses, built ebony and ivory pulpits, and raised the church's stature and expanded its width. Afterwards, when Abraha was killed, whosoever tried to take anything out of its body or ornaments, the Jinn were reluctant and hesitant to do him harm. For, it was built above the burial of two idols called Ku'aib and his wife, the height of which was about sixty cubits. So, the Yemenites left it untouched till the era of Al-Saffah, the first Abbaside Caliph. He, Al-Saffah, sent a group of pious scholars of will firm who totally demolished it, and it was destroyed then till the present day.

Ibn Ishaq said: When the Arabs heard of the letter of Abraha sent to Negus, a man from Kinanah got angry. He set out till he reached the church where he urinated on its walls.l  No body noticed him, and upon that he returned home safely. The news reached Abraha who asked about the doer. He was answered: this was done by one of those Arabs who perform pilgrimage to the Ka'bah at Mecca when he heard of your declared intention that you would divert pilgrimage from their Sacred House to your (recently-built) church. He (the Arab) got angry and came to excrete therein declaring it to be unqualified (to the event). Upon hearing this, Abraha burst with rage and took oath that he would demolish the Ka ' bah. Then, he ordered the Abyssinians (Christians) to get prepared for war. He led a big expedition against Mecca accompanying an elephant or elephants in his train. The Arabs heard of the news and they were terrified, but they decided to fight him when the news was affirmed that he intended to destroy the Sacred House. A man from among the noblemen of Yemen called Dhu Nafar set out for him accompanied with his own clan and those who answered his call to fight against Abraha. The two parties met, Dhu Nafar and his followers were defeated and he himself was taken as a prisoner of 'war. He was then brought before Abraha who was about to kill him, but Dhu Nafar said: "0 king! Don't kill me, I may be of any use to you." Abraha did not kill him and he kept him tied up in custody. Then Abraha went on intending what he set out for. He arrived at the land of Khath'am where he encountered with Nufail Ibn Habib Al-Khath' ami who was leading his two tribes -Shahran and Nahis- along with his followers from among the Arabs. Nufail was defeated and taken as a prisoner of war to be brought before Abraha. Abraha intended to kill him, but Nufail said: "0 king! Don't kill me. I may guide you to the destination you desire. Here you are! My pledge of allegiance. `Abraha set him free and took him as a guide. When they passed by Ta'if, there came to him Mas' ud Ibn Mu' tab Ibn Malik Ibn Ka' b Ibn 'Amr Ibn Sa'd Ibn 'Auf Ibn Thaqif along with his followers who said: "0 king! We are nothing but your slaves, we listen and obey, no hostility is ever there between you and us, and our House is not that which you want -i.e. Al-Lat - you only want the House in Mecca. Hence, we send with you someone who leads you thereto.

Ibn Ishaq said: Al-Lat was a 'sacred' House in Ta'if, it was to them just as the Ka' bah was to the rest of the Arabs. They sent a man called Abu Rughal to show him (Abraha) the way to Mecca. They went on till they arrived at a place called Al-Maghmas where Abu Rughal died. Abu Rughal was buried there and afterwards, the Arabs used to stone his grave. However, I mentioned on the Story of Thamud that Abu Rughal was among the train of Abraha and that he sheltered himself with the Sacred House (Ka' bah) and when he came out, a stone hit him and he was dead. The Prophet (SM) told his Companions: "As a sign on this, he was buried with two branches of gold". They dug and verily, they found them. To compromise between this and the narration of Ibn Ishaq I say: the later Abu Rughal had the same name as his higher ancestor whose grave used to be stoned by the Arabs. Moreover, the people used to stone his grave as they stone that of the former.

Ibn Ishaq said: When Abraha arrived at Al-Maghmas, he sent a man called Al-Aswad Ibn Maqsud with a cavalry dispatch. Al-Aswad seized some of the Arab's property which included two hundred camels that belonged to 'Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet's uncle, who was, then, the principal man among the nobility. Upon this, Quraish, Kinanah and Hudhail decided to fight against Abraha, but they comprehended that they cannot afford that and thus quitted the idea. Then, Abraha sent Hanatah Al-Himiari to Mecca ordering him to ask about the chief of the people and tell him: "I (the king) did not come to fight against you, 1 only came to destroy the Sacred House. If you do not stand in our way, we will not harm any of you all. `Abraha added to his messenger: 'And if he showed his desire not. to fight, bring him to me.' When Hanatah entered Mecca, he asked about its chief and master. He was told: it is 'Abdul Muttalib Ibn Hashim. He saw him and thus delivered the message. 'Abdul Muttalib said: "By Allah! We do not intend to fight. Really we cannot afford it. This is the Sacred House of Allah and His Khalil (friend) Ibrahim (A), only Him Alone can protect it if He wills to." Upon hearing this, Hanatah said: "Come with me to meet with him (Abraha), he ordered me to do so." 'Abdul Muttalib set out for him accompanied with some of his sons till they approached the camp. He asked about Dhu Nafar who was a friend of his. He entered upon him in his prison and said: "0 Dhu Nafar! Can't you do anything for us in this plight of ours?" Dhu Nafar said: "What can a prisoner do while waiting for death to come either in the morning of at night? All that 1 can do is to send to the stableman of the elephant, Anis, who is a friend of mine to recommend you, say a good word of you, intercede for you before him, and to seek permission for you to meet with Abraha." 'Abdul Muttalib said: "That's enough with me." Dhu Nafar sent to Anis saying: Verily, 'Abdul Muttalib is the chief of the Quraishites, he is generous to both humans and animals and the king (Abraha) seized two hundred camels that belong to him. So, seek permission for him to meet Abraha and do whatever you see useful for him. Anis said: Surely, 1 will do. Anis presented himself before Abraha and then said: 0 king! The chief of Quraish is here and wants to present himself before you,so give him permission to, please! Abraha gave his consent. 'Abdul Muttalib was very handsome and grand and when seen by Abraha, Abraha showed great respect and was highly impressed. So, he refused to make him sit lowly in front of him, and also disliked to let the Abyssinians see him allowing him to sit on his own chair (throne). Consequently, he descended from above his chair and sat besides him on the rich carpet. Then, he said to his interpreter: Ask him what does he want? However, Abraha was surprised to hear from 'Abdul Muttalib through the interpreter that all he wanted was a compensation for his two hundred camels, but did not ask him to leave the Ka' bah alone. When Abraha expressed surprise, 'Abdul Muttalib answered: "I am the master of the camels, whereas the Ka' bah house of worship -has its lord to defend it". Abraha said: No one can defend it from me. 'Abdul Muttalib said: You are on your own! Finally, Abraha gave him the camels back.

To read the next part of this story, click here.

By: Ibn Katheer Translated by Ali As-Sayed Al-Halawani

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