Account of the Army of the Elephant (Ashaabe Feel)
Hayat Al-Qulub Volume 2, A Detailed Biography of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.)
By: Allamah Muhammad Baqir Al-Majlisi
One of the miracles of the Noor of the Holy Prophet (S) is the miracle of Ashaabe Feel which had occurred during the time of Abdul Muttalib (a.s.). Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) is reported to have said that when the king of Abyssinia, Abraha bin Sabbaah planned to demolish the Holy Kaaba and reached Mecca, he first plundered the wealth of Meccans which included the camels of Abdul Muttalib also. Abdul Muttalib went to that king’s assembly and saw him after obtaining permission. Abraha was then sitting in a silken pavilion.
His Eminence saluted him. He replied to his Salam and was wonderstruck with his radiance, beauty, grandeur and majesty. He asked: “Did your forefathers also have this Noor?” He said: “Yes.” Abraha said: “Then you people are higher than all others due to this greatness and nobility. You ought to be chief of your community.
Then he seated him on his throne.” The king had white elephant both of whose teeth were decorated with various jewels. The king considered himself higher than other kings because of that elephant. He ordered that elephant to be brought forward. So the animal was brought in the court fully decorated. When that animal approached Abdul Muttalib it prostrated before him though it had never before done so for his master, the king.
Then that animal, by the Might of Allah and as a miracle of the Noor of the Holy Prophet (S) spoke up in fine Arabic language saluting Abdul Muttalib and said: “O the light of the best of creation and O possessor of the holy Sanctuary and Zamzam well and the best grandfather of the best prophet: Peace be on you and on the Noor which is lying in your loins. O Abdul Muttalib! All honor is for you. You can never be downed and disgraced.”
Seeing this extraordinary miracle, Abraha became fearful. He thought it was magic, so he sent back that elephant and asked Abdul Muttalib: “Why have you come here? I have heard much praise of your generosity, beauty, greatness and awe and have now personally observed your greatness and awe. I am prepared to meet your need. So let me know what you want.” He had imagined that he would ask him to refrain from destroying the Kaaba.
His Eminence, Abdul Muttalib said: “Your soldiers have taken away my camels, I request you to return them.” Abraha became angry and said: “Your honor has now decreased in my sight. I came here to destroy the honor of your Kaaba and also to destroy your community who are proud of the ownership of the Kaaba which has made you distinct. This house is where people from the whole world arrive for performing Hajj. You do not say anything about it and merely demand your camels from me?”
His Eminence replied: “I am not the owner of the House. I am the owner of my camels and have come ask you about them. The Owner of the House of Kaaba is mightier than all mighties. He Himself will protect and save His House as it is His prerogative more than all others.” Upon this Abraha returned the camels to Abdul Muttalib (a.s.) who then returned to Mecca with his animals.
Then Abraha turned his attention to the destruction of the Sanctuary of Allah and advanced with a big army and huge elephants. When he approached Kaaba his elephant stopped and sat down. When freed, it returned and when forced to go forward it lay down on the ground. His Eminence, Abdul Muttalib asked his men: “Call my sons.”
They brought Abbas. He said: “Not him. You bring my son.” At last they brought Abdullah, father of Muhammad (S). Then he told Abdullah: “Go up to mount Abu Qubais and look all around and let me know what you see.” Abdullah climbed the mountain and saw birds called Abaabeel advancing like a dark cloud with a speed of a flooded river. Then they (birds) sat on that mountain.
Then they flew therefrom, circled the Holy Kaaba seven times, did Sayy between the hillocks of Safa and Marwah seven times. Seeing all this, His Eminence, Abdullah rushed back to Abdul Muttalib and described what he had seen. His Eminence, said: “My son! Just see what else the birds do.” Abdullah said: “Then they went to the Abyssinian army.” Then Abdul Muttalib asked Meccans: “Go to Abraha’s army and take your share of the booty.”
When the Meccans reached there they saw all the soldiers lying dead like rotten wood. They also observed that every one of the birds was holding a stone in its beak and claw hitting to death every one of the army men. After finishing all of them, the birds flew back. Prior to that no one had ever seen such birds nor did anyone after that.
After all the invaders had died, Abdul Muttalib came to the Holy Kaaba, held its curtains and recited some couplets in praise of Allah for this great grace and bliss. Then he returned to his men and again recited some poetry criticizing the giving up of Kaaba by the Quraish and the description of his loneliness and his patience over it and his reliance on Only One Allah.
It is narrated through reliable chains from Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) that when the king of Abyssinia, Abraha’s army had come to demolish Kaaba and had taken away the camels of Abdul Muttalib, he (Abdul Muttalib) went to meet Abraha. The king asked why he had come. He was told that he had come for his camels. The king said: “This man is the chief of his people. I have come to destroy their place of worship. Yet he does not make any recommendation about it but asks only for his camels? Has he requested me not to destroy the Kaaba, I would have accepted that too.”
Then he returned his camels. Abdul Muttalib responded in the words quoted above and while returning, passed by Abraha’s big elephant named Mahmud. He cried: “O Mahmud!” The animal moved its head in response. Then Abdul Muttalib asked: “Do you know for what purpose they have brought you here?” Raising its head and then shaking it the elephant replied: “No.” Abdul Muttalib said: “They have brought you here so that you may destroy the House of your Lord. Will you do so?”
Moving its head the animal said: “No.” Therefrom Abdul Muttalib came back to his house. Next day Abraha’s army moved in the early morning to enter the Holy Sanctuary. The elephant did not go forward. At that time Abdul Muttalib asked one of his slaves to climb the hill and see the events and to relate them to him. The slave went, returned and narrated that a darkness was advancing from the direction of the sea.
When it came nearer he observed that there were innumerable birds. Every one of them had a pebble in its beak. The size of the pebble was as little as the top portion of a finger or even smaller. Abdul Muttalib said: “By Allah these birds intend to destroy the army men.” The birds hovered over those soldiers and began to drop the pebbles. The pebbles pierced the body of every soldier from head to foot and killed him instantly.
None but one man survived; who rushed back to his people to relate what had happened. When he was relating the story, people saw that one of those birds was hovering on his head also. He said: “The birds were like this.” At that very moment the bird dropped a pebble on that man which killed him then and there.
In yet another tradition the Imam mentions that when Abdul Muttalib entered Abraha’s assembly, Abraha got up from his throne and greeted him bowing and advanced towards him.Another reliable tradition says that those birds were like bats. Another narration describes that their heads were like those of wild animals and their beaks were like those of sparrows.
There is difference of opinion about the number of elephants too. Some say it was only one elephant, called Mahmud and others say they were eight and according to some twelve.
Opinions also differ regarding the intention of Abraha about the destruction of Kaaba. Some say he had built a house of worship in Yemen to equal the Holy Kaaba and he was asking people to make pilgrimage to that new house and also to go around it making Tawaf. Once a man from Quraish entered that place at night and dirtied it with excreta and ran away and that is why the accursed man became so angry that he vowed to destroy the Kaaba. The author of Kitabul Anwar has narrated that some Meccans had gone to Abyssinia for trading purpose and had stayed in a church.
There they made a fire to cook their food and then did not blow it out. Wind blew and burnt down everything therein. When the Christians came there and inquired who burnt the structure they were told that a group of Meccan traders were responsible for it. When the news reached the king of Habasha he became furious and sent his vizier, Abraha bin Sabaah along with 4000 elephants and 100000 warriors to destroy the Kaaba and to throw away its stones in the sea of Jeddah, to kill their men and to plunder their sons and their property and not to spare anyone.
Abraha advanced towards Mecca with that intention and first sent Aswad bin Maqsood with a vanguard of 20000 men and ordered them not to kill any of the men or women on the way until he arrived as he wanted to punish them in an unprecedented manner. When they reached Mecca and Meccans knew about it, all of them collected their wealth and relatives and intended to run away. Abdul Muttalib told them that it was shameful on their part to cut off themselves from the Holy Kaaba. The people replied: “We are not able to confront the enemy, and if they overpower us they will kill every one of us.”
Abdul Muttalib said: “The Lord of the Kaaba will never let them win over Kaaba and if you take shelter in this holy house they will not be able to defeat you also.” But the people did not listen to him and went away from Kaaba. Some went up hills and some hid themselves in valleys and some took shelter in ships on the sea. Abdul Muttalib said: “I feel ashamed to keep myself away from His House. I will not move from my place until Allah decides between me and them. In short, Aswad camped after reaching Mecca and Abraha followed him with huge elephants and a big army, rushed to Mecca and seized the animals of Meccans. His men took away eighty red-eyed camels of Abdul Muttalib too.
When Abdul Muttalib came to know about it, he exclaimed: “Praise be to Allah, they belonged to Allah which I had gathered for feasting guests of this holy house. If Allah returns them, I will thank Him and even if He does not return it, I will be thankful to Him.” Then Abdul Muttalib dressed: put the chador (sheet) of Lavi bin Ghalib on his shoulder, tied the waistband of Ibrahim (a.s.), hung the bow of Ismail (a.s.) on his arm, mounted his horse and proceeded to Abraha. His relatives approached him saying: “We will not allow you to go to that oppressor who does not respect the House and the precincts of the House of Allah.” Abdul Muttalib replied: “I am aware of Allah’s Might and His Mercy more than you do. Let me go. If Allah wills, I will return very soon.”
Then he proceeded. When the army men of Abraha observed his elegance and radiance they were astonished and trembled due to fright. They too came to him and requested him not to go to the merciless ruler who had vowed not to spare alive even a single Meccan. “We feel pity for you and are afraid that despite all this elegance of yours that cruel man will kill you.” His Eminence, told them: “You only take me to him and give up advising me.” Then they informed Abraha of the arrival of Abdul Muttalib (a.s.) and described his courage and bravery etc. He issued orders whereupon all of his men stood up and drew their swords.
He called his biggest elephant in his court and put on his crown and then called His Eminence, Abdul Muttalib (a.s.). His elephant was called Mazmoom. Two iron branches were fixed on the head of that elephant so that even if it were to attack a mountain it would have broken it up. Two swords were tied to its trunk and it was trained to fight. He had issued orders to the effect that when Abdul Muttalib arrived in the assembly, this elephant should be made to attack him. In short, when Abdul Muttalib entered, the entire audience was awed to see him.
When the elephant was called upon to attack him that animal approached Abdul Muttalib and began to rub its head on the ground and turned obedient for him. Abraha was wonderstruck by this scene and he began to tremble in fear. He respectfully made him sit beside him and asked his name, saying: “I have never seen anyone more handsome than you. I will fulfill everyone of your need and would even return from here if you say so.” Abdul Muttalib said: “I am not concerned with all that. Your men have taken away my camels which I had collected for visitors of the House of Allah. Order them to return my camels.”
Abraha issued orders for the return of his camels and then asked if he had any other wish to which Abdul Muttalib replied in the negative. He asked: “Why did you not recommend the protection of your citizens? I have vowed to destroy your Kaaba and to kill your men. But I saw that your status is very high and would have accepted your request had you asked me for their safety.” Abdul Muttalib replied: “I have no concern with it because this House is owned by one Who does not require my recommendation. If He desires, He can surely defend His House.”
Abraha retorted: “I am following you with my army and my elephants to destroy the Kaaba and all around it and to kill all its residents.” Abdul Muttalib replied: “Do so if you can.” Then he returned to Mecca. When he approached the biggest elephant that animal prostrated before him. The viziers and courtiers of Abraha asked him why he spared Abdul Muttalib’s life. He said: “Don’t criticize me because when I saw him, my heart was filled with fear and awe. Did you not see that even the elephant bowed before him? Now say something about my intention. What is advisable in your opinion?”
They replied: “Whatever is ordered by the ruler must be carried out. So the army advanced to destroy Kaaba. After reaching Mecca, Abdul Muttalib asked his men to climb Abu Qubais Mountain and see what happens. He himself clung to Kaaba and prayed to the Almighty Allah tearfully for the sake of the Noor of the Holy Prophet (S): “O Allah! It is Your House and all of us are your family members and the residents of Your House. Everybody defends his house and its residents.”
By repeating such words, Abdul Muttalib was requesting Allah when suddenly he heard the voice of an invisible announcer saying: “Your prayer is accepted due to the Noor in your forehead.” Then Abdul Muttalib told his community: “Congratulations, I have observed the radiance in my forehead rising up due to the bliss of which you are saved.”
At that time people observed the dust raised by enemy’s army. Thereafter they saw elephants covered with iron from top to bottom standing like mountains in front of their army. Though the men riding them were trying their utmost, the animals did not move towards Kaaba. When their faces were turned round they ran speedily.
At that time Aswad said: “The Meccans have bewitched these elephants,” and sent a word about this to Abraha. Abraha’s fear multiplied and he sent a word to Aswad telling him: “We have made repeated trials and it is now not advisable to act against our experience. So send a number of messengers to the Meccans for making peace and do not make any mention of the elephants otherwise they will become more courageous. Tell them to hand over to us as many of their men as have been killed of us and to pay the losses caused to our house of worship so that we may go back.” Abraha’s messenger carried this message to Aswad.
The messenger was a very courageous man and his name was Hanatah who was very proud of his strength as he could all alone confront big armies. His appearance was very dreadful. Aswad asked him: “You yourself go to them with this message. Perhaps peace will be established between us and them because of you.” Hanatah replied: “I am going. If they don’t agree, I will bring back to you the heads of all of them.” When he arrived in Mecca and looked at Abdul Muttalib he became fearful and began to tremble.
Abdul Muttalib asked him: “With what intention have you come?” He replied: “My master, Abraha is convinced of your gracefulness. Now he has bestowed you your Sanctuary and he wants that you should hand him over as many of your men as have been killed from our side and to pay the losses caused to our house of worship. Then we will return with our army.”
Abdul Muttalib replied: “We never punish one for the mistake committed by another. Justice and honesty is our trait. We always refrain from oppression and never act against Allah’s command. As regards the House of Kaaba I have already said clearly that, that House has its own Lord Who is definitely able to defend it. By Allah! I am neither afraid of Abraha nor I give any importance to his army and weapons.”
Hanatah became furious at this and intended to kill Abdul Muttalib. His Eminence, caught him by neck, raised him up and flung him on the ground saying: “Had you not been a messenger I would have finished you just now.”
Hanatah returned to Aswad and informed him that it was no use talking with them; that Mecca was empty; that it must be attacked. So they approached the Holy Sanctuary. Then they saw birds hovering like clouds; and that the birds were like bats; each of them held three pebbles, (two in their claws and one in the beak); that the said pebbles were somewhat larger than the Masoor seed and smaller than a gram. Seeing the birds, the army men became fearful and said: “What is this? We have never seen such birds before.”
Aswad said: “There is nothing to be afraid of. He also said that these sparrows come out once annually.” Saying this he shot one arrow towards them from his bow. The birds began to make noise. Then an unseen announcer announced: “O obedient birds, obey your Lord’s command and do what you have been asked to do as Allah’s anger has multiplied against these deniers.”
When the birds began to hit the army men with the aforesaid pebbles, the first to be hit was Hanatah whose body was pierced from head to bottom and that pebble went through the ground beneath him. Hanatah fell down and entered Hell. The army started to scatter all around. The birds followed them and dropped pebbles on their heads until all of them were killed.
Aswad also went to Hell. Abraha was fleeing when his right hand was fractured and he fell down, then his left hand, then both of his legs also broke down. When he talked about all this after reaching his destination, his head also disintegrated from his body. There was a man from Hadhramaut in Abraha’s army who had asked his brother to join him but he had refused to do so saying: “I can never march to destroy the House of Allah.”
That man, after seeing the condition of the army, ran back to his brother in Hadhramaut and told him what had happened. At that moment when he raised his head to the sky he saw one of those birds still hovering above. That bird threw a pebble on his head which killed him instantly. During all this time His Eminence, Abdul Muttalib was busy begging Allah and requesting through the mediation of the Divine Noor: “My Lord! Protect me from this trouble through the blessing of this Noor which You have bestowed on me and give me victory over Your enemy.” When he saw the running away of the elephants and the dead bodies of the enemies, he thanked Allah, took possession of the booty and utilized it.