Companions of the Elephant

Companions of the Elephant (أصحاب الفيل) are a group of people whose story is recounted in the chapter of the Quran named "The Elephant". Companions of the Elephant are referred to in verse (105:1) of chapter (105) sūrat l-fīl (The Elephant):

- أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِأَصْحَابِ الْفِيلِ -

Have you not considered, [O Muhammad], how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant?

According to Islamic tradition, Daghfous suggests that, the army composed of abyssinians, Himyarites, and Arabs. In the vanguard he put an elephant-several, according to some traditions. He arrived in the vicinity of the city of al-Taif, whose tribe submitted, and then progressed towards Mecca.

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circa 552-570 CE

Historically, in Islamic tradition the companions or the people of the elephant are identified with an army of Abraha, so-called because it included a number of war elephants. He felt slighted by the Quraysh, and planned to exact revenge by destroying the kaaba. The principal source on Abraha outside of Islamic tradition is a series of six inscriptions, of which four were written by the sovereign himself. It is not known how many troops partake in this campaign, all that is known is that there were two columns of army for this incursion.

One of these inscriptions recounts military operations in central Arabia, described as the "fourth expedition" (Murayghan 1 = Ry 506). According to traditionist Hisham ibn al-Kalbi's chronological reconstruction, there were seventy years between the 'Am al-Fil and the Hijrah (622 CE). This account is also corroborated by the 522 CE inscription, which mentions two columns of Abrahamite army which confronted Banu 'mr ('Amr or 'Amir) and were victorious. Abraha then went to Haliban where the tribe of Ma'addum declared its allegiance. Beeston infers that one of these two columns were sent to central Arabia, where the king was himself at the head of his troops. In this model, it is not impossible to imagine that a secondary action against Mecca had failed, which may have been the expedition of the elephant, mentioned in Islamic sources.

However this, framework was abandoned after the discovery of another inscription, (Murayghan 3), which mentions a total submission of the tribes of inner Arabia. Though, outside of later Islamic tradition, there is no mention of Abraha's expedition and the details of the campaign differ in Islamic sources as compared to that of the inscriptions as well. However, recent findings of Himyaritic inscriptions describe an hitherto unknown expedition of Abraha, which subsequently led Gajda et al to identify this expedition as the failed conquest of Mecca.

Abraha al-Ashram

King Abraha is seen as becoming a prominent figure in Yemen's history, he is said to have built a great church at San'a' and to have repaired the principal irrigation dam at the Sabaean capital of Ma'rib. Munro-Hay dates his death to some time after 553 based on the inscription at Murayghän. Islamic tradition places it immediately after his expedition to Mecca.

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