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Amu ul-Fil (Year of the Elephant)

Year of the Elephant (عام الفيل), The Year of the Elephant, is the name in Islamic history for the year approximately equating to 570 CE. According to Islamic tradition, it was in this year that Muhammad was born. The name is derived from an event said to have occurred at Mecca: Abraha, the Christian ruler of Yemen, which was subject to the Kingdom of Aksum of Ethiopia, marched upon the Kaaba with a large army, which included one or more war elephants, intending to demolish it. However, the lead elephant known as Mahmud is said to have stopped at the boundary around Mecca, and refused to enter. The year came to be known as the Year of the Elephant, beginning a trend for reckoning the years in the Arabian Peninsula used until it was replaced with the Islamic calendar during the rule of Umar.


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circa 570 CE

An imaginary picture of the invasion, and retreating army of Abraha. Abraha, launched an expedition of forty thousand men against the Ka‘bah at Mecca, led by a white elephant named Mahmud (and possibly with other elephants - some accounts state there were several elephants, or even as many as eight) in order to destroy the Ka‘bah. Several Arab tribes attempted to fight him on the way, but were defeated.

circa 570 CE

Mecca at the time, the artistic illustration of the boundary wall that Mahmud (lead elephant) might have refused to cross. Some scholars have placed the Year of the Elephant one or two decades earlier than 570 CE, with a tradition attributed to Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri in the works of ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-San‘ani placing it before the birth of Muhammad's father.

circa 570 CE

Wadi-i Muhassar, where Abraha's army was decimated by Ababīl birds. Wadi (valley) Muhassar (Arabic: وادي محسر) is situated between Mina and Muzdalifah. It is a Sunnah to walk briskly through this area when crossing between the two sites. It is also reported to be the location where the army of Abraha was destroyed as they marched towards Makkah, as mentioned in Surah al-Fil.

circa 570 CE

A hoopoe from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of "The Book of Wonders of the Age" (St Andrews ms32(o)). The reference to the story in Qur’an is rather short. According to Surah al-Fil, the next day [as Abraha prepared to enter the city], a dark cloud of small birds named 'Ababil' (Arabic: أَبـابـيـل‎) appeared. The birds carried small rocks in their beaks, and bombarded the Ethiopian forces and smashed them like "eaten straw".

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