Victory comes only by the decree and permission of Allah, and this is true whether the victory is a small personal victory (like meeting a personal goal), the victory of a nation (like winning a battle), or the victory of passing the tests of dunya (like overcoming temptation and lowering your gaze). The evidence that supports this rule is ample, and the quality of the evidence—subhaanAllah, the stories are amazing! One such story comes from Suratul-Fil (The Elephant), and even a moment of reflection upon the story resonates with a message about the Supreme Power of Allah.
Allah says, in Suratul-Fil:
Translation: Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? Did He not make their plan into misguidance? And He sent against them birds in flocks, striking them with stones of hard clay, and He made them like eaten straw. [Surah , verses 1-5]
In short, the conflict leading to the march of the Elephants began when the emperor of Yemen (Abrahah) decided to force the Arabs to make pilgrimage to a church he built for the King of Abyssinia. The Quraysh acted out in anger, so Abrahah took an army of elephants to destroy the House of Makkah (Ka’bah). Among these elephants was Mahmud, an elephant sent by the King of Abyssinia specifically to demolish the Ka’bah. Abrahah’s army defeated several troops on their way to Makkah and then captured the livestock of the Makkan people.
Before attacking the city, Abrahah told the Makkans that he would not fight them as long as they did not try to prevent him from destroying the Ka’bah. ‘Abdul-Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), replied by saying, “By Allah! We have no wish to fight him, nor are we in any position to do so. This is the Sacred House of Allah, and the house of His Khalil, Ibrahim, and if He wishes to prevent him (Abrahah) from (destroying) it, it is His House and His Sacred Place (to do so). And if He lets him approach it, by Allah, we have no means to defend it from him.”
Abrahah met ‘Abdul-Muttalib and they had a short but telling conversation. In it ‘Abdul-Muttalib only asked for the return of his 200 camels (which were among the livestock Abrahah’s army had captured). Abrahah (probably as surprised as you are) replied by saying, “I was impressed by you when I first saw you, but now I withdraw from you after you have spoken to me. You are asking me about 200 camels which I have taken from you, and you leave the matter of a house which is (the foundation of) religion and the religion of your fathers, which I have come to destroy and you do not speak to me about it.” But ‘Abdul-Muttalib said to him, “Verily, I am the lord of the camels. As for the House, it has its Lord who will defend it.”
Other Makkans tried to offer Abrahah money to withdraw, but he refused to accept. Before retreating for their safety, ‘Abdul-Muttalib (and other Quraysh) went to the door of the Ka’bah and asked Allah to give them victory over the approaching army and to defend His property saying, “Their cross and their cunning will not be victorious over your cunning by the time morning comes.” According to some accounts, the people also left camels near the Ka’bah, hoping that some of the army would steal the camels and thereby bring about the anger of Allah—SubhaanAllah look at the strategy of their battle!
Before Nufayl bin Habib (one of the Makkans) left, he took Mahmud by the ear and said, “Kneel Mahmud! Then turn around and return directly to where you came from, for verily, you are in the Sacred City of Allah.” The men of Abrahah’s army beat Mahmud with axes on its head and tried to trick it into moving, but Mahmud would not move toward the Ka’bah. Then Allah sent birds, flock after flock, carrying stones, one in each claw, and one in each beak. Those who were hit by the stones were destroyed utterly, while others fled in panic. As Nufayl watched he said, “Where will they flee when the One True God is the Pursuer?”
SubhaanAllah! Victory comes only by the decree and permission of Allah, and as you think about the battles of this life and the battles for the next, the words of Nufayl resonate with eternal truth. So next time you are tempted to sin or feel bad for those who are suffering defeat in this dunya, remember the words of Nufayl and make du’aa for those who are suffering, for where will the aggressors or the sinners flee when the One True God is the Pursuer?
I ask Allah to make us of those who are blessed with His favour and to spare us from being of those who have earned His wrath. Ameen.
All that correct in the above narration is from Allah, and any error is my own—May Allah forgive me—and Allah knows best.
Al-Mubarakpuri, Safiur-Rahman, ed. Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged). 1st ed. Vol. 10. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2000. 588-594.