Surah Al-Fil is the 105th Surah of the Holy Quran and was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) during his Makkan years. It consists of five verses which gives an account of the Year of the Elephant, the year in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was born. The name of the Surah is taken from the expression ‘Ashaab-al-Fil’ which means ‘Fellows of the Elephant’. It is about the invasion of Makkah by Abraha Ashram, the Christian Viceroy of Yemen who came with the objective to destroy Kaabah. The Surah is so called because Abraha army consisted of many elephants.
After the Jewish ruler of Yemen put to death 20,000 Christians, Negus, the Emperor of Abyssinia sent Abraha to Yemen in order to avenge this cruel act. He defeated the Jewish ruler and made Yemen a part of Abyssinian empire. Abraha was then appointed as the viceroy of Yemen.
In order to break the unity among Arabs and keeping in mind the prophecy of the arrival of the great Arabian prophet, he built a church at Sana in Yemen with the sole purpose of diverting the Arabs attention towards it rather than towards the Kaabah. When he failed to attract any Arab to his place of worship and when he saw the Arabs’ strict loyalty to Kaabah, he decided to destroy it. He raised an army of twenty thousand and marched towards Makkah to put the House of God to the ground.
Few miles outside Makkah, the deputation of Quraysh headed by Prophet Muhamamd’s (pbuh) grandfather Abdul Muttalib tried to negotiate with Abraha. Though Abraha treated Abdul Muttalib with respect but eventually the negotiations broked down and Abraha continued on his mission meanwhile Abdul Muttalib ordered his comrades to prepare for the protection of Kaabah. Abdul Muttalib prayed to God to protect the Kaabah.
As Abraha army tried to advance, a type of smallpox spread among its army and in confusion the whole army retreated. As their guides also fleed, in utter confusion, Abraha was lost. A small flood also came which also annihilated much of Abraha’s army. He himself died on his way back to Sana. It is particularly to this incident this Surah refers. But there is also another view, as it is derived from the literal meaning of the verses. It is said that God sent birds who had clutched stones in their claws. The birds showered these stones on Abraha’s army and elephants and in confusion, the elephants caused a stampede costing much of Abraha’s men their lives.
The former view is taken on historical accounts related to this incident while the latter is derived from the literal meaning of the verses of this Surah.
Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the People of the Elephant?
This verse refers to Abraha’s invasion and its result as God protected the Kaabah from any damage visioned by its enemies.
Did He not cause their plan to miscarry?
Allah refers to the failure of Abraha, how his plan failed.
And He sent against them swarms of birds
This refers to the angels sent to help the Makkans. I cannot really comment accurately on this verse
Striking them against stones of clay
This can refer to the aftermath or the fate of the dead bodies of Abraha’s men. Birds do often throw stones when eating the small and severed pieces of animal bodies. This verse may mean that their flesh was eaten up by birds
And made them like broken straw, eaten up.
This verse refers to the fourth’s aftermath. This can mean that the birds ate much of the dead bodies’ flesh and the ground looks as clear as there was nothing on it. It means the physical existence of Abraha’s men completely vanished.
MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE INTERPRET THE SURAH IN DIFFERENT WAYS.