Surah Fil in Arabic with English Transliteration and Translation

105. Al-Fil (The Elephant) – الفيل

Al-Fil is the 105th surah (chapter) of the Holy Quran. It consists of 5 ayat (verses) that were all revealed in Mecca.

TAKING its name from the mention of the “Army of the Elephant”‘ in the first verse, this surah alludes to the Abyssinian campaign against Mecca in the year 570 of the Christian era. Abrahah, the Christian viceroy of the Yemen (which at that time was ruled by the Abyssinians), erected a great cathedral at Sana, hoping thus to divert the annual Arabian pilgrimage from the Meccan sanctuary, the Kabah, to the new church. When this hope remained unfulfilled, he determined to destroy the Kabah; and so he set out against Mecca at the head of a large army, which included a number of war elephants as well, and thus represented something hitherto unknown and utterly astounding to the Arabs: hence the designation of that year, by contemporaries as well as historians of later generations, as “the Year of the Elephant”. Abrahah’s army was totally destroyed on its march (see Ibn Hisham; also Ibn Sa’d I/1, 55 f.)—probably by an extremely virulent outbreak of smallpox or typhus (see note 2 below) – and Abrahah himself died on his return to Sana.

بِسْمِ اللّٰهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

Surah Al-Fil Ayat 1

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِأَصْحَابِ الْفِيلِ

Alam tara kaifa fa’ala rabbuka bi ashaabil feel

1. ART THOU NOT aware of how thy Sustainer dealt with the Army of the Elephant?1

1 Lit., “the companions (ashab) of the elephant”—see introductory note.

Surah Al-Fil Ayat 2

أَلَمْ يَجْعَلْ كَيْدَهُمْ فِي تَضْلِيلٍ

Alam yaj’al kaidahum fee tadleel

2. Did He not utterly confound their artful planning?

Surah Al-Fil Ayat 3

وَأَرْسَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ طَيْرًا أَبَابِيلَ

Wa arsala ‘alaihim tairan abaabeel

3. Thus, He let loose upon them great swarms of flying creatures

Surah Al-Fil Ayat 4

تَرْمِيهِمْ بِحِجَارَةٍ مِنْ سِجِّيلٍ

Tarmeehim bihijaaratim min sijjeel

4. which smote them with stone-hard blows of chastisement pre-ordained,2

2 Lit., “with stones of sijjil“. As explained in note 114 on Surah Hud [11]: 82, this latter term is synonymous with sijjil, which signifies “a writing” and, tropically, “something that has been decreed by [God]”: hence, the phrase hijarah min sijjil is a metaphor for “stone-hard blows of chastisement preordained”, i.e., in God’s decree (Zamakhshari and Razi, with analogous comments on the same expression in Surah Hud [11]: 82).

As already mentioned in the introductory note, the particular chastisement to which the above verse alludes seems to have been a sudden epidemic of extreme virulence: according to Waqidi and Muhammad ibn Ishaq—the latter as quoted by Ibn Hisham and Ibn Kathir—”this was the first time that spotted fever (hasbah) and smallpox (judari) appeared in the land of the Arabs”. It is interesting to note that the word hasbah—which, according to some authorities, signifies also typhus—primarily means “pelting [or smiting”] with stones” (Qamus).

As regards the noun ta’ir (of which tayr is the plural), we ought to remember that it denotes any “flying creature”, whether bird or insect (Taj al-‘Arus). Neither the Qur’an nor any authentic Tradition offers us any evidence as to the nature of the “flying creatures” mentioned in the above verse; and since, on the other hand, all the “descriptions” indulged in by the commentators are purely imaginary, they need not he seriously considered. If the hypothesis of an epidemic is correct, the “flying creatures”—whether birds or insects—may well have been the carriers of the infection. One thing, however, is clear: whatever the nature of the doom that overtook the invading force, it was certainly miraculous in the true sense of this word—namely, in the sudden, totally unexpected rescue which it brought to the distressed people of Mecca.

Surah Al-Fil Ayat 5

فَجَعَلَهُمْ كَعَصْفٍ مَأْكُولٍ

Faja ‘alahum ka’asfim m’akool

5. and caused them to become like a field of grain that has been eaten down to stubble3

3 This passage is evidently continued in the next surah, which, according to some authorities, is part of the present one (see introductory note to Surah Quraish).

Source: The Message of the Quran by Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss)