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Sūrah Fīl-Quraysh
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)



These two sūrahs form a pair as far as the subject discussed in them is concerned. The first sūrah warns the Quraysh with reference to a great incident that took place not long ago, while the second sūrah, urges them to fulfil the obligations ensuing from the favours they enjoy because of the Baytullaah.

Both the sūrahs are directed at the leadership of the Quraysh.

A look at the contents of the sūrahs shows that, like the previous sūrahs, they were revealed in Mecca just before the Prophet's migration to Medina in the phase of Itmaam-i-Hujjat. In this phase of his mission, the Prophet (sws) was revealing the truth to them in its ultimate form after which they could have no excuse to deny it.

Central Themes

The central theme of Sūrah Fīl is to warn the rebellious and arrogant leadership of the Quraysh to remain aware of the wrath of the Almighty who, not very long ago, had destroyed the enemies of the Ka`ba in front of their very eyes.

The central theme of Sūrah Quraysh is that it is the Lord of the Baytullaah who has blessed the Quraysh with the favours of peace and sustenance since they are its custodians. This magnanimity entails that they should now adopt a submissive attitude towards Him.


Sūrah Fīl1

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

Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the people of the elephant?2 Did He not foil their treacherous scheme?3 And sent down against them swarms of birds?4

[Such that] you pelted them with stones of baked clay, and He rendered them as straw eaten away5

Sūrah Quraysh

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

On account of the association the Quraysh have -- the association [in the peaceful atmosphere of the Baytullah] they have with the winter and summer travels6 they should worship the Lord of this House who [in these barren mountains] fed them in hunger and rendered them secure from fear7




1. According to the research carried out by Imam Hameed Uddin Farahi (d:1930), the correct interpretation of this incident is that the Almighty had helped the Quraysh decidedly in combating the forces of Abraha who had attacked the Baytullaah with 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 that totally destroyed the enemy in the valley of Muhassab, and their dead bodies were devoured by kites, vultures and crows. The timely assistance of the Almighty was in accordance with His law that He helps only those who set out to fulfil their obligations, however small in number they may be and however limited their resources may be.

2. The Quran has not mentioned any details regarding the People of the Elephant. The reason for this brevity is that the addressed people knew these details very well. Only their introduction by the words "Ashaab-ul-Fīl" (People of the Elephant) was enough to indicate that Abraha, the Abyssinian ruler of Yemen, whose troops also consisted of elephants has been referred to. It was the first time that the Arabs had encountered elephants in a war and to express the grimness of the event they remembered it by the above name. The words alam tara (Have you not seen?) are grammatically for a singular subject, but they are mostly used to address plural entities, as if directed to every person individually in a group of people. Here, as mentioned earlier, the addressees are the Quraysh.

3. The words `treacherous scheme' refers to the lame excuse Abraha had made up to attack the Ka`ba. He had made up a story that an Arab had violated the sanctity of the cathedral built by him at San`aa. Considering the traditional bravery and courage of the Arabs, it is very unlikely that something like this might have happened. Even if the episode is assumed to be true, a person's individual misdeed is not enough to justify the exaction of revenge from a whole nation and to go as far as razing down the Baytullaah. It is quite evident that only to inflame the Arabs and to gain the support of king Negus of Abyssinia, on whose behalf Abraha was ruling Yemen, that this tale was concocted.

4. This is a graphic description of the final state of devastation and helplessness of Abraha's army. The Almighty totally ravaged them and not a single sole survived to gather the dead. They remained scattered in the battle field. The Almighty sent forth on them carnivorous birds, which tore and ate their flesh. `Sending forth birds on the enemies' is a common metaphorical depiction of the state of utter decimation. The Arab poets in their odes have after made use of this metaphor. They often extol their armies by saying that when they attack the enemy, meat eating birds fly with them as if they knew that after the complete destruction of the enemy they would get a chance to satisfy their hunger. In the old Testament, the episode of Daood (David) and Jaloot (Golaith) has been narrated. It says that when the two faced each other in combat and David answered all the conceited remarks of Golaith, Golaith, replied irritably `I shall feed the kites and crows with your meet today'.

5. These verses explain how the destruction of Abraha's army actually took place. It should be noted here that the verb ramaa (to pelt) has been related to the people addressed, but rendering the enemy as `straw eaten away' has been attributed to the Almighty's power. The reason is that it was not possible for the Arabs alone to destroy their enemy. The Almighty helped them by unleashing a ravaging stone-hurling wind (haasib) on the enemy, after the Quraysh had put in all their effort. This haasib has been reported by many eye witnesses and historians like Ibni Hashaam have recorded their observations. We, shall restrict ourselves to two examples only. The famous poet Abu Qais while mentioning the Power and Glory of the Almighty refers to this haasib in the following way:

Fa ursila rabbihim haasibun
Yaluffuhumu mithla laffil qazam

["Then the Almighty unleashed a haasib on them which enwraped them like rubbish."]

Similarly, Saifee bin Amir has referred to a haasib and a saaf, which is similar to a haasib, differing only in intensity:

Falammaa 'ajaazoo batna nu`maana raddahum
Junoodul ilaahi baina saafiw wa haasibi

["As soon as they advanced beyond Batan-i-Nauman the forces of the Almighty alighted among the haasib and saif and destroyed them."]

6. The verse explains that the association under discussion is the one the Quraysh had with their trade journeys of summers and winters. It should be kept in mind that during the winter season the Quraysh used to travel to Yemen, while their summers were spent journeying towards Syria and Palestine. With these caravans travelled the wealth of the whole nation. The reason being that there were many traders and businessmen who acted as agents of those who could invest money, and hence people who did not go along with these caravans were also able to benefit from this profitable business. It was these tours which were the real source of wealth for the Meccan people. By this means merchandise reached other markets and at the same time their own consumers were able to buy goods from other markets. Thus, these trade routes were the real source of sustenance for the Quraysh. Although these were international trade routes, yet they were safe in the true sense of the word for the Quraysh only. The extent of protection provided to them was not provided to any other tribe. Other tribes were robbed in broad daylight and had to seek permission by paying huge amounts to the tribe whose territory they had to pass, but the Quraysh enjoyed unlimited freedom and liberty. They were even provided with people who acted as guides and no one could even think of harming them, for they were given a special respect as the custodians of the Baytullaah and caretakers of the pilgrims.

7. The verse states the obligations entailed by the favours of peace and sustenance bestowed on the Quraysh by the Almighty. They should be grateful to Him and worship Him with all sincerity. Haram, (the land around the Baytullaah) before the advent of Abraham had always remained scarce in food resources and was also in a constant state of strife and unrest. It was because of the Baytullaah that the Almighty blessed the area with peace and ample sources of sustenance. It is with all this background that the Quran admonishes the Quraysh not to become inebriated with these worldly successes and forget the Lord of this House. All these successes are due to the Baytullaah and they will only remain its beneficiaries if they remain sincere to the cause of the exalted House.

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