Abraha al-Ashram

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Abraha al-Ashram (Arabic: أبرهة الأشرم) or Abraha ibn as-Saba'h was the governor of Saba (Yemen) and was responsible for leading a military expedition to Hejaz in order to destroy the Ka'ba. His story has been recounted in Surah al-Fil.


Attack on Ka'ba


Abraha was well aware of the reverence the Ka'ba had amongst the Arabs. Out of envy, he built a cathedral in the city of Sanaa known as al-Qullays and ordered the Arabs to go there for pilgrimage instead. His order was largely ignored and instead one of the men from the Quraysh had entered the cathedral and made it unclean.[1] Due to this, he decided to demolish the Ka'ba to ensure that there would be no place or structure more glorious than the church he was building at Sanaa.

The Attack

About 50 days before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Abraha proceeded towards Makkah with the intention to demolish the Ka'ba, accompanied by a large army that included many elephants. Elephants were not commonly seen by the Arabs and this incident led to them referring to that year as the Year of the Elephant (Arabic: عام الفيل; A'am ul-Fil). When Abraha arrived on the outskirts of Makkah, he sent a small contingent to capture camels and young people. He managed to capture 200 camels belonging to the chief of Makkah, Abd al-Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet. A man from the tribe of Himyar was sent by Abraha to advise the Quraysh that he was only here to demolish the Ka'ba and not to fight. However, if anyone put up resistance, they would be crushed. Abd al-Muttalib replied to his words saying, "By Allah, we do not want to fight him. So far as this House is concerned, it is the House of Allah; if Allah wants to save His House, He will save it, and if He leaves it unprotected, no one can save it."[2]

Abd al-Muttalib, with Amr ibn Lu'aba and some other leaders went to see Abraha. During their conversation, Abd al-Muttalib requested Abraha to release his camels, leaving Abraha astonished. He said, "When my eyes fell upon you, I was so impressed by you that had you requested me to withdraw my army and go back to Yemen, I would have granted that request. But now, I have no respect for you. Why? Here I have come to demolish the House which is the religious center of yours and of your forefathers and the foundation of your prestige and respect in Arabia, and you say nothing to save it; instead, you ask me to return your few camels back to you?!"

Abd al-Muttalib has famously been quoted to have replied saying that he was the owner of the camels, therefore he has tried to save them. Whereas the Ka'ba has its own Owner who would surely protect it. Abraha released the camels and on the second day ordered his army to enter Makkah. Abd al-Muttalib asked the people to retire to the neighbouring hills, leaving the Lord of Ka'ba to protect it and he himself went to the hills of Abu Qubays.

As the army of Abraha got closer to the Ka'ba, a flock of birds (known as Ababeel; Arabic: ابابيل) appeared with three pebbles each made of baked clay; one in its beak and two in its claws. As the birds flew over the army of Abraha, they showered them with the pebbles killing them all. The Qur'an describes the aftermath of the army as being like an empty field of stalks and straw, from which the corn has been eaten up. Abraha managed to escape the attack.


Abraha had escaped during the attack and went directly to the king in Abyssinia. During his journey, a bird with a stone in its beak followed him. When the king asked Abraha as to what kind of birds attacked his army, Abraha looked to the sky and the bird dropped the stone in its beak and killed him on the spot.[3]


  1. The Year of the Elephant, The Life of Muhammad The Prophet by Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi
  2. Ibid
  3. 105:1, M.A. Ali English Commentary
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