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Surah Fil – Surah Quraysh
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)


Both these surahs form a pair with regard to their subject-matter. The first surah warns the Quraysh, with reference to the Incident of the Elephant, to fear God, while the second surah urges them to keep in mind the favours they enjoy because of the Baytullah and consequently give up rebelliousness against God and worship Him only.

Both the surahs are directed at the leadership of the Quraysh. It is evident from their subject-matter that like the previous surahs they were also revealed in Makkah in the phase of itmam al-hujjah of the Prophet Muhammad’s (sws) preaching mission, a little before his migration to Madinah.

The theme of Surah al-Fil is to inform the Quraysh that the God – Who routed His enemies in this manner before them – will also not spare them now that they too have shown enmity to Him. They will also be devastated in a similar manner.

The theme of Surah al-Quraysh is to urge the Quraysh to at least recognize their obligation to the Lord of the House – Who has blessed them with the favours of peace and sustenance – that they should worship Him and serve Him alone in this world.




Surah Fil

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِأَصْحَابِ الْفِيلِ (١) أَلَمْ يَجْعَلْ كَيْدَهُمْ فِي تَضْلِيلٍ (٢) وَأَرْسَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ طَيْرًا أَبَابِيلَ (٣)


In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

Have you1 not seen how your Lord dealt with the people of the elephant?2 Did He not foil their plot? 3 And sent down upon them swarms of birds?4 (1-3)


تَرْمِيهِم بِحِجَارَةٍ مِّن سِجِّيلٍ (٤) فَجَعَلَهُمْ كَعَصْفٍ مَّأْكُولٍ (٥)


[Such that] you pelted them5 with stones of baked clay,6 and He rendered them as straw that is eaten.7 (4-5)



Surah Quraysh

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ (١) إِيلَافِهِمْ رِحْلَةَ الشِّتَاء وَالصَّيْفِ (٢) فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَذَا الْبَيْتِ (٣) الَّذِي أَطْعَمَهُم مِّن جُوعٍ وَآمَنَهُم مِّنْ خَوْفٍ (٤)


In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

The Quraysh were made familiar.8 They were made familiar with the winter and summer journeys.9 So, [if nothing else, only] for this reason10 they should worship the Lord of this House11 who fed them in hunger [among these barren mountains] and secured them from [their] fear.12



(Translated from Al-Bayan by Dr Shehzad Saleem)




1. The address is apparently to the Prophet (sws); however, the real addressees are the people of the Quraysh. Addressing single entities in this way is used when the attention of every person from among the addressees is needed individually. In parlance it is called: khitab ghayr mu‘ayyan (unspecified address).

2. The addressees of this surah were aware of this incident. Many people in Makkah and its whereabouts were alive at that time who had witnessed this incident. For the rest, it was concurrent news and they had certain knowledge of it as if they themselves had seen it. For this reason, the Qur’an has not mentioned any details of it. Only its introduction by the words “People of the Elephant” was enough to indicate that Abrahah, the Abyssinian ruler of Yemen was referred to. He had attacked the House of God with a vast army whose troops also consisted of huge elephants.

According to the research of Imam Hamid al-Din Farahi (d. 1930), Abrahah had attacked the Baytullah with nine elephants and a sixty thousand strong army to demolish it. It was not easy for the Quraysh to face such a big army in the open. They had, therefore, sought refuge in the nearby mountains and had defended the holy land by hurling stones at the advancing enemy. This defence was indeed very frail and feeble but the Almighty transformed it into a powerful outburst which took the shape of a terrible stone-hurling storm (hasib) that totally destroyed the enemy in the valley of Muhassar, and their dead bodies were devoured by birds. (For details, see: Farahi, Nizam al-Qur’an, 444). The famous poet Abu Qays refers to this hasib in the following way:

فأرسل من ربهم حاصب

يلفهم مثل لف القزم

(Then the Almighty unleashed a hasib on them which enwrapped them like rubbish.)

3. The word “plot” refers to the lame excuse Abrahah had made up to attack the Ka‘bah. It is evident from various historical narratives that he had made up a story that an Arab had violated the sanctity of the cathedral built by him at San‘a by relieving himself in it. Hence, in order to avenge this he was attacking the Ka‘bah. This tale was concocted in order to inflame the Arabs and to gain the support of king Negus of Abyssinia. As a result, an army of sixty thousand gathered for this attack on Makkah. This was merely a treacherous scheme. The real purpose was to raze to the ground the House of God and to divert the Arabs to offer their pilgrimage to the cathedral he had built in San‘a, the capital of Yemen. This whole scheme was concocted by him out of a frenzied prejudice for his religion in order to convert the Arabs into Christians. (For details, see: Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa al-nihayah, vol. 2, 170)

4. This is a graphic description of the final state of devastation and helplessness of Abrahah’s army. The Almighty totally ravaged them and not a single soul survived to gather the dead. They remained scattered in the battle field and carnivorous birds tore and ate their flesh.

5. The actual word is: تَرْمِيهِم. It is an accusative of state from the word عَلَيْهِمْ of the previous verse. It is generally thought that birds pelted the stones. However, in reality, this word is not at all appropriate for birds throwing stones. Yet it is very appropriate for the stones that were pelted on Abrahah’s army from the heavens with the tempestuous winds. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… The birds can drop stones held in their beaks and claws, but this cannot be termed rami. This verb can only be used when “the drop” has the power of an arm, a string or a wind behind it. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9. 564)

Some scholars interpret this verb to connote its consequence; yet those who have linguistic appreciation of Arabic know that the consequence is stated ahead and here the occasion of the discourse signifies disgrace for the addressees. The words بِحِجَارَةٍ مِّن سِجِّيلٍ are meant to portray this disgrace. Hence the verb can be interpreted to connote its consequence.

6. The word سِجِّيلٍ (sijjil) is the Arabicized form of the Persian word sang-i gil. It refers to mud stones which have hardened after drying up.

7. The actual words are: فَجَعَلَهُمْ كَعَصْفٍ مَّأْكُولٍ. To call something by its fate is a common linguistic style of Arabic. The above words are also of this category. The implication is that not having the power to fight the enemy in the open, the Quraysh, while hiding in the mountains, were pelting them with stones. This was a very weak defence in relation to the huge army that attacked them and was likely to be futile. Yet they showed courage and did whatever they could. As a result, God helped them as per His established practice. His armies descended to help them in the form of tempestuous winds. With such fury they routed that enemy and changed this weak defence into an army's defence. The result was that the enemy became like the straw that is eaten by the animals.

8. With what were they made familiar? It is not expressed here. The coming verse answers this question in which the word لِإِيلَافِ is a permutative (badal) of the previous. This style has been adopted at certain other instances in the Qur’an as well. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

The style is useful, first of all, to direct the attention of those addressed, and secondly to firmly establish something in their minds by repeating it in two different ways: explaining something after stating it rather concisely. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9. 572)

9. This refers to the trade journeys of the Quraysh which had become a source of their affluence. During the winter season, the Quraysh used to travel to southern Arabia because it would be warm at that time, while their summers were spent journeying towards Syria and Palestine because they would be cold at that time. The prosperity of the people of Makkah was dependent on these journeys. The superiority they had in culture and wisdom over other tribes also owed much to these trade-journeys. However, these journeys were not easy in those times. Caravans would be looted and tribes along the route would not let the caravans pass without permission granted in return for huge sums of money. However, no such danger lurked for the Quraysh. All the tribes respected them owing to their being custodians of the House of God. The Quraysh would pass with all their merchandise and trade goods very safely through these areas. These tribes would many a time even provide them with guides to show the way, let alone harm them. It is these blessings of God which the Qur’an has reminded them of in these verses. The way people looked up to them and the way they benefited from their journeys as a result was because the House of God was built as a centre of monotheism in the whole world but because of their misdeeds the belief of monotheism has become alien to it.

10. The correct parsing of this sentence would be the same as what Zamakhshari has stated by the words اِما لا فليعبدوه لايلافهم. The translation has been done taking it into account. The implication is that if the Quraysh had nothing else to consider, they should have at least taken into account the respect they commanded and of the worldly benefits they reaped as a result. None of these things were primarily due to their intelligence, competence and planning. They enjoyed them merely because of their association with the House of their Lord – whose rights and obligations they had become indifferent to. It was built to renounce all other Gods and to worship the one and only God. Only one mission was associated with it; the purpose was to invite people from all over the world to it. Precisely for this reason, Abraham (sws) prayed for its custodians and service-men to be blessed with peace and sustenance. So if nothing else, the Quraysh should have at least considered these things.

11. Ie., only worship Him, disregarding every stain of polytheism. The messenger of God is inviting them to this worship. They were fully aware of it. It was for this very reason that Abraham (sws) built this House and made their ancestors its custodians. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… It should be kept in mind that in spite of being implicated in all the horrible forms of polytheism, the Quraysh had never disassociated themselves from the God of this House. Not for a moment did they consider any of the idols placed in the Baytullah as its real Lord. Even a cursory glance at ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s prayer at the time Abrahah attacked the Baytullah shows … that there is not the slightest indication of invoking help from any other deity, save the real Lord of the House. (See: Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, vol. 1, 199). In fact, the Quraysh … only regarded their idols a means to procure the nearness of God – whom they always considered their real Creator and Sustainer, and there never ever came a change in this stance of theirs. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9. 572)

 12. The actual words are: مِّن جُوعٍ and مِّنْ خَوْفٍ. The word مِّنْ is meant to state the cause.

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