Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER CV.: ENTITLED SURAT AL FÍL (THE ELEPHANT). Revealed at Makkah. - The Quran, vol. 4
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CHAPTER CV.: ENTITLED SURAT AL FÍL (THE ELEPHANT). Revealed at Makkah. - Mohammed, The Quran, vol. 4 
A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran: Comprising Sale’s Translation and preliminary Discourse, with Additional Notes and Emendations (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co., 1896). 4 vols.
Part of: The Quran, 4 vols.
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ENTITLED SURAT AL FÍL (THE ELEPHANT).
This chapter is remarkable for its allusion to an incident in the history of Makkah, as an example of how God deals with His enemies. The inappropriateness of the example, however, will be manifest when we recollect that the army destroyed was an army of “the people of the book,” going to avenge an insult offered their holy place by the idolaters, who are here being warned. The story of the commentators, with its embellishments, is given in Sale’s note quoted below. The chapter is probably a fragment of a longer Sura.
Probable Date of the Revelation.
Noëldeke places this chapter in the first Makkan period, and in his chronological list of Suras it follows chap. cii.
IN THE NAME OF THE MOST MERCIFUL GOD.
∥ (1) Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the masters of the elephant? (2) Did he not make their treacherous design an occasion of drawing them into error; (3) and send against them flocks of birds, (4) which cast down upon them stones of baked clay; (5) and render them like the leaves of corn eaten by cattle?
[(1) ]How thy Lord dealt, &c. “This chapter relates to the following piece of history, which is famous among the Arabs. Abraha Ibn al Sabáh, surnamed al Ashram, i.e., the slit-nosed, king or viceroy of Yaman, who was an Ethiopian and of the Christian religion, having built a magnificent church at Sanáa, with a design to draw the Arabs to go in pilgrimage thither, instead of visiting the temple of Makkah, the Quraish, observing the devotion and concourse of the pilgrims at the Kaabah began considerably to diminish, sent one Nufail, as he is named by some, of the tribe of Kinánáh, who, getting into the aforesaid church by night, defiled the altar and walls thereof with his excrements. At this profanation Abraha being highly incensed, vowed the destruction of the Kaabah, and accordingly set out against Makkah at the head of a considerable army, wherein were several elephants, which he had obtained of the king of Ethiopia, their number being, as some say, thirteen, though others mention but one. The Makkans, at the approach of so considerable a host, retired to the neighbouring mountains, being unable to defend their city or temple; but God himself undertook the protection of both. For when Abraha drew near to Makkah, and would have entered it, the elephant on which he rode, which was a very large one, and named Mahmúd, refused to advance any nigher to the town, but knelt down whenever they endeavoured to force him that way, though he would rise and march briskly enough if they turned him towards any other quarter: and while matters were in this posture, on a sudden a large flock of birds, like swallows, came flying from the sea-coast, every one of which carried three stones, one in each foot, and one in its bill; and these stones they threw down upon the heads of Abraha’s men, certainly killing every one they struck. Then God sent a flood, which swept the dead bodies, and some of those who had not been struck with the stones, into the sea: the rest fled towards Yaman, but perished by the way; none of them reaching Sanáa, except only Abraha himself, who died soon after his arrival there, being struck with a sort of plague or putrefaction, so that his body opened and his limbs rotted off by piecemeal. It is said that one of Abraha’s army, named Abu Yaqsúm, escaped over the Red Sea into Ethiopia, and going directly to the king, told him the tragical story; and upon that prince’s asking him what sort of birds they were that had occasioned such a destruction, the man pointed to one of them, which had followed him all the way, and was at that time hovering directly over his head, when immediately the bird let fall the stone, and struck him dead at the king’s feet.”—Sale, Baidháwi, Zamaḳhshari, Jaláluddín.
[(4) ]Stones of baked clay. “These stones were of the same kind with those by which the Sodomites were destroyed (chap. xi. 81), and were no bigger than vetches, though they fell with such force as to pierce the helmet and the man through. It is said also that on each stone was written the name of him who was to be slain by it.”—Sale.