a big church

This is post #21 in our series on Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma (click the link to see all posts in this series).

The Sabab-un-Nuzool (reason of revelation) for Surah Fil well-known; you can read all about it, along with some lessons and gems, in this post by Sr. Mariam 3.36. Please read it, since I won’t touch on those points.

I will mention, however, two points not mentioned there–that the Christian tyrant king who brought his elephant, why did he decide to destroy the Ka’bah? He saw how well-known the Ka’bah was, and how great to the people; so he built a church to rival that.

So he built this huge, huge church; not realizing that it’s Allah who puts the love of Ka’bah in the hearts of the people. Honestly, the Ka’bah has a very simple architectural structure; but it’s more beloved than many buildings that are much more beautiful than it.

So one of the bedouins went to his church. “Oh, this is your ka’bah? Here you go.” And pooped in it.

That’s bedouins for you!

So the king got angry … very angry. And he decided to destroy the Ka’bah. Remember, these are tyrant kings we’re talking about.

The Quraysh Made Noble

Allah says, in Surah Fil:

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِأَصْحَابِ الْفِيلِ

أَلَمْ يَجْعَلْ كَيْدَهُمْ فِي تَضْلِيلٍ

Translation: Have you not considered, [O Muhammad], how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? Did He not make their plan into misguidance? [Surah Fil, verses 1-2]

This incident–the incident of Surah Fil–was well-known among the Arabs at that time. In fact, the Messenger of Allah, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, was born in the Year of the Elephant–the year that this incident occurred.

Look at the details of the story–the Meccans took their camels and sheep and goats, and they went up into the bleachers, the mountains of Mecca, to watch; the tank, the war-elephant of the Christian king, against the ka’bah.

Allah destroyed them–and in doing this, it seemed that He, subhannahu wa ta’ala, sided with mushrikeen of Mecca against Christians. But really, Allah was defending His great house.

And this showed the Quraysh, the keepers of the Ka’bah, that Allah sided with them! So immediately, their status and nobility went up among the other Arabs; so much so, that raiders and looters wouldn’t accost their caravans.

If you’ve ever lived in India/Pakistan/China/etc. and seen how people crowd around someone from America/Canada and how they’re treated well … that’s what happened to the Quryash after this.

Muhammad Alshareef mentions that when he was in Alexandria, in Egypt, some little kid was accosting him; so he started beating the kid up. And the kid’s bigger sister–like twice his age–came and started pounding and pounding on him.

And he went down! And all the kids around her wer saying, huwa kaanadi, huwa kaanadi–he’s Canadian, he’s Canadian!–and the girl herself cried from what she had done.

Just like that, the Allah raised the status of Quraysh.

Tiny Little Birds, Abaabeel

Allah continues, in verses 3-4:

وَأَرْسَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ طَيْرًا أَبَابِيلَ

تَرْمِيهِم بِحِجَارَةٍ مِّن سِجِّيلٍ

Translation: And He sent against them birds in flocks (abaabeel), striking them with stones of hard clay,[verses 3-4]

The mufassireen mention, from this ayah, that the birds were small birds. Little birds. Tiny birds. What’s a tiny little bird going to do against an elephant? Nothing!

But Allah didn’t just send one, or two, or three; he sent them … ababeel. Waves and waves and waves of birds that darkened the sky.

And each bird had two stones–one in its beak, and one in its talons. You ever see those tall, tall buildings (Empire State building? CN Tower?), and someone is always tempted to throw a penny from the top floor? What would happen if that hit someone?

What about thousands and thousands of pennies, flying at high-speed? It’s almost like the birds carpet-bombed the army with little tiny rocks.

waves and waves of birds

This is the army of Allah. And we see that he destroys great creations, with the smallest of creations. Like Firawn, who was killed by water, something you drink every day.

Not a Passive God

Allah finishes with verse 5:

فَجَعَلَهُمْ كَعَصْفٍ مَّأْكُولٍ

Translation: And He made them like eaten straw.

If you’ve ever seen, like corn on the cob, while it’s on the cob–you’ll see this tall, dense wall of green and yellow. A day later, when all that corn has been picked off, you just see these green husks; and even that, the cows and goats come and eat that, and it becomes like a dead field.

Allah describes the army of the elephant as eaten straw. This means that they were pulverized. Obliterated. Annihilated. Destroyed utterly and completely.

Why is this relevant to Meccan tafseer? Because the Quraysh were oppressing the Muslims, torturing the Muslims, killing the Muslims; and Allah is warning them: stop, or else.

And you might say, as a Meccan mushrik, “Can Allah really destroy a people like that?”

And the answer is … He already has.

And this is a stern warning to all those who are oppressing and torturing and killing Muslims in the land. Don’t think you’re fighting against some passive God. Allah has already destroyed waves of nations more powerful than you. It’s not a question of “can He?” It’s more like “when?”

Action Items

  • Reflect on Natural Disasters: Natural disasters (hurricanes, fires, floods, tornadoes) are from Allah. Use YouTube to find videos of these. Watch them. This is the power of Allah at work!
  • Post your own Action Items. I really don’t have anything else that comes to my mind.

Wallahu ta’ala ‘alam.


  • Touched by an Angel: Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma. By Muhammad Alshareef. 2009.