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A'AM AL-FIL

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The phrase in the first verse of the 105th Koranic chapter, Sura al-Fil, from which al-fil (elephant) provides the term by which the sura is known. The verse directly addressed to the Prophet: "Have you not seen how your Lord has dealt with the People of the Elephant (ashab al-fil)?" The short sura of five verses describes an expedition in which one of the mounts was an elephant, which was miraculously annihilated by God, Who sent flocks of birds against the invading host. The ashab al-fil were Abyssinians, the leader was Abraha, the Christian viceroy of the king of Abyssinia at Yamen; the target was Mecca and Kaba, the name of the elephant was Mahmud, its driver (sa'is) was Unays, the guide of the expedition was Abu Righal, the elephant stopped at al-Mughammas and would not proceed towards Kaba, the route of the elephant (darb al-fil) was charted from Yamen to al-Mughammas. Unable to defend the holy place against the huge army, and failing to dissuade Abraha, who was now encamped some three days' march from Mecca, from his sacrilegious purpose, Abdul Muttalib thus prayed aloud, leaning upon the door of the Kaba: "Defend, O Lord! Thine own House; and suffer not the Cross to triumph over the Kaba!" and then the whole population of Mecca repaired to the hills around the city. Meanwhile a virulent form of small-pox or some other pestilence broke out in Abraha's army, with such a severity that the army retreated in confusion and dismay, many of them, being unable to find their way back, perishing in the valleys, while a part was swept away by flood. In sum, the expedition foiled, and Abraha died a dolorous death and was carried back to Yamen. Abraha's object was to destroy the Kaba, so as to divert the Arab religious enthusiasm to San'a, where he had built a magnificent cathedral for the purpose, as well as Arab trade. This event marked the inception of the Arab pre-Islamic era, known as the "Year of the Elephant" (a'am al-fil), being the year 570 of the Christian era, and coinciding with the year of the Prophet's birth.

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