(This is in continuation from the introduction of Surah al-Feel)
The army continued on its way until it came to the land of Khath`am where it was confronted by Nufayl bin Habib Al-Kath`ami along with his people, the Shahran and Nahis tribes. They fought Abrahah but he defeated them and captured Nufayl bin Habib. Initially he wanted to kill him, but he forgave him and took him as his guide to show him the way to Al-Hijaz.
When they approached the area of At-Ta’if, its people — the people of Thaqif — went out to Abrahah. They wanted to appease him because they were fearful for their place of worship, which they called Al-Lat. Abrahah was kind to them and they sent a man named Abu Righal with him as a guide. When they reached a place known as Al-Mughammas, which is near Makkah, they settled there. Then he sent his troops on a foray to capture the camels and other grazing animals of the Makkans, which they did, including about two hundred camels belonging to `Abdul-Muttalib.
The leader of this particular expedition was a man named Al-Aswad bin Mafsud. According to what Ibn Ishaq mentioned, some of the Arabs used to satirize him (because of the part he played in this historical incident). Then Abrahah sent an emissary named Hanatah Al-Himyari to enter Makkah, commanding him to bring the head of the Quraysh to him. He also commanded him to inform him that the king will not fight the people of Makkah unless they try to prevent him from the destruction of the Ka`abah.
Hanatah went to the city and he was directed to `Abdul-Muttalib bin Hashim, to whom he relayed Abrahah’s message. Abdul-Muttalib replied, “By Allah! We have no wish to fight him, nor are we in any position to do so. This is the Sacred House of Allah, and the house of His Khalil, Ibrahim, and if He wishes to prevent him (Abrahah) from (destroying) it, it is His House and His Sacred Place (to do so). And if He lets him approach it, by Allah, We have no means to defend it from him.”
So Hanatah told him, “Come with me to him (Abrahah).” And so Abdul-Muttalib went with him. When Abrahah saw him, he was impressed by him, because Abdul-Muttalib was a large and handsome man. So Abrahah descended from his seat and sat with him on a carpet on the ground. Then he asked his translator to say to him, “What do you need?” Abdul-Muttalib replied to the translator, “I want the king to return my camels which he has taken from me which are two hundred in number.”
Abrahah then told his translator to tell him, “I was impressed by you when I first saw you, but now I withdraw from you after you have spoken to me. You are asking me about two hundred camels which I have taken from you and you leave the matter of a house which is (the foundation of) religion and the religion of your fathers, which I have come to destroy and you do not speak to me about it”
Abdul-Muttalib said to him, “Verily, I am the lord of the camels. As for the House, it has its Lord Who will defend it.” Abrahah said, “I cannot be prevented (from destroying it).” `Abdul-Muttalib answered, “Then do so.”
It is said that a number of the chiefs of the Arabs accompanied Abdul-Muttalib and offered Abrahah a third of the wealth of the tribe of Tihamah if he would withdraw from the House, but he refused and returned Abdul-Muttalib’s camels to him. Abdul-Muttalib then returned to his people and ordered them to leave Makkah and seek shelter at the top of the mountains, fearful of the excesses which might be committed by the army against them. Then he took hold of the metal ring of the door of the Ka`abah, and along with a number of Quraysh, he called upon Allah to give them victory over Abrahah and his army.
Abdul-Muttalib said, while hanging on to the ring of the Ka`abah’s door, “There is no matter more important to any man right now than the defense of his livestock and property. So, O my Lord! Defend Your property. Their cross and their cunning will not be victorious over Your cunning by the time morning comes.”
According to Ibn Ishaq, then Abdul-Muttalib let go of the metal ring of the door of the Ka`abah, and they left Makkah and ascended to the mountains tops. Muqatil bin Sulayman mentioned that they left one hundred animals (camels) tied near the Ka`abah hoping that some of the army would take some of them without a right to do so, and thus bring about the vengeance of Allah upon themselves.
When morning came, Abrahah prepared to enter the sacred city of Makkah. He prepared the elephant named Mahmud. He mobilized his army, and they turned the elephant towards the Ka`abah.
At that moment Nufayl bin Habib approached it and stood next to it, and taking it by its ear, he said, “Kneel, Mahmud! Then turn around and return directly to whence you came. For verily, you are in the Sacred City of Allah.” Then he released the elephant’s ear and it knelt, after which Nufayl bin Habib left and hastened to the mountains.
Abrahah’s men beat the elephant in an attempt to make it rise, but it refused. They beat it on its head with axes and used hooked staffs to pull it out of its resistance and make it stand, but it refused. So they turned him towards Yemen, and he rose and walked quickly. Then they turned him towards Ash-Sham and he did likewise. Then they turned him towards the east and he did the same thing. Then they turned him towards Makkah and he knelt down again.
Then Allah sent against them the birds from the sea, like swallows and herons. Each bird carried three stones the size of chickpeas and lentils, one in each claw and one in its beak. Everyone who was hit by them was destroyed, though not all of them were hit. They fled in panic along the road asking about the whereabouts of Nufayl that he might point out to them the way home.
Nufayl, however, was at the top of the mountain with the Quraysh and the Arabs of the Hijaz observing the wrath which Allah had caused to descend on the people of the elephant. Nufayl then began to say, “Where will they flee when the One True God is the Pursuer For Al-Ashram is defeated and not the victor?” Ibn Ishaq reported that Nufayl said these lines of poetry at that time,
“Didn’t you live with continued support We favored you all with a revolving eye in the morning (i.e., a guide along the way). If you saw, but you did not see it at the side of the rock covered mountain that which we saw. Then you will excuse me and praise my affair, and do not grieve over what is lost between us. I praised Allah when I saw the birds, and I feared that the stones might be thrown down upon us. So all the people are asking about the whereabouts of Nufayl, as if I have some debt that I owe the Abyssinians.”
`Ata’ bin Yasar and others have said that all of them were not struck by the torment at this hour of retribution. Rather some of them were destroyed immediately, while others were gradually broken down limb by limb while trying to escape. Abrahah was of those who was broken down limb by limb until he eventually died in the land of Khath`am.
Ibn Ishaq said that they left (Makkah) being struck down and destroyed along every path and at every water spring. Abrahah’s body was afflicted by the pestilence of the stones and his army carried him away with them as he was falling apart piece by piece, until they arrived back in San`a’. When they arrived there he was but like the baby chick of a bird. And he did not die until his heart fell out of his chest. So they claim. Ibn Ishaq said that when Allah sent Muhammad with the Prophethood, among the things that he used to recount to the Quraysh as blessings that Allah had favored them with of His bounties, was His defending them from the attack of the Abyssinians. Due to this they (the Quraysh) were allowed to remain (safely in Makkah) for a period of time.