The Elephant in My Life: Some Lessons from Surah Feel
Do you not see how your Lord dealt with the army of the Elephant?
Did He not utterly confound their plans?
He sent flocks of birds against them.
Pelting them with pellets of hard baked clay
He made them [like] cropped stubble
[Quran, Surah Feel Ch-105. Translation by Professor MAS Abdel Haleem]
Most of us probably know of the story of Abraha and how he tried to attack and destroy the Kaaba, and then was roundly defeated by the army of Allah (which here are the birds). More often than not, reading such stories I tend to think of people other than me, as if I am some righteous man guaranteed paradise. Seeing atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, I would read this Surah in Salaah and remember how Allah destroyed this one oppressor and He can surely destroy those of this day as well. However, there are lots to take from this story, and I will share just a few reflections, both personal and worldly in sha Allah.
1. The end of oppressors is never cute- Abraha wanted to destroy the Kaaba and he tried his utmost. While people fled thinking they would never be able to defeat him, Allah sent His army to shatter him and his people and made them an example till the Last Day. My brothers and sisters horrified by nearly 65 years of oppression in Palestine, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the mass genocide in Syria, la tahzan (don’t be sad), the army of Allah is on its way in sha Allah. Abraha was not finished off in the beginning. No, he planned, he came from Yemen, he did all he did along the way. Only in the last stop just outside the Kaaba did Allah unleash.
2. None knows the soldiers of your Lord except He (Surah Mudathir 74:31). Allah here uses birds as His soldiers to destroy the enemy. During the Battle of Khandaq Allah used the winds against the disbelievers of Makkah and their Jewish allies. During the Battle of Badr, Allah sent down angels to fight the mushrikeen. Sometimes it will be harsh weather as was the case during the Soviet war against Afghanistan. Or it could be the earth who is His soldier giving a violent quake. We never know who is the soldier of Allah, so be patient with the oppression, it is going to end. More importantly, save YOURSELF from the soldiers of Allah, they may take you anytime as well.
3. The problem of religious authority- Abraha had nothing personal against the Kaaba. He built a cathedral and wanted people to come there instead of going to the Kaaba. It was an issue of “religious authority”. Come to “my group” or I will destroy you. Pay attention to “me” and not to others. Sounds familiar? Abraha shows us the dangerous disease of the heart of envy and jealousy. Even Iblees, all he had was an issue with a religious position. He couldn’t stand that Adam was given a higher position than he was. And yet, do we not feel bad when others are doing well instead of us in terms of deen? Do we not sometimes wish we could reach there and not them? Do we not sometimes do dawah projects simultaneously as others so that we might “out-compete” them and get more people on our side? Lesson from Abraha.
4. Dunya from deen- Abraha wanted to benefit his commerce and his business by building a cathedral. Effectively, he wanted to make money out of religion. While most of us are probably thinking of the “mullah” next door who makes money out of deen as well, let us look within us. Do we not try to be extra-religious at times so that we may get praised? Or maybe impress that sister we want to get married to? Or maybe people say “that guy is so pious ma sha Allah” behind our backs? Showing off, or riyaa is one of the most dangerous diseases of the heart, referred to in classical Islamic literature as a “black ant on a black rock on a black night”. Some scholars say, “The one who feels safe from it is the one who falls into it first”. We should take a long hard look into our hearts and see where it is at. Is it looking for the pleasure of the people and the dunya or is it looking at the pleasure of Allah?
5. Consequences of immature actions- A man among the Arabs went to the cathedral of Abraha, urinated and defecated in it. That is what enraged Abraha the most. Do we not sometimes do things out of “anger” as well that are immature and cause more harm to our community than good? Sometimes we even end up making a mockery of Islam to the wider community.
6. Hypocrisy leads to no “honour”- Abu Righal was a man who sold his religion and his land for a few dollars and dimes. He showed Abraha the way towards the Kaaba. For years afterwards, Arabs would spit at, urinate etc. at his grave. And even till today, they call traitors Abu Righals. How many of us are Abu Righals to this ummah? How many of us would happily show off with people like the US Secretary of State etc. who are known to commit mass genocide, hoping for some “honour” therein? There is no true honour in that, only humiliation in both this world and the next.
7. “The house has it’s own Lord and He will protect it”- was what Abdul Muttalib said to Abraha when he knew the Arabs would not be able to defend it. Similar is the case of Al Aqsa. So many a times we see Muslims crying and screaming that the Zionists are going to destroy Masjid Al Aqsa. Yet, Al Aqsa is from the most holiest of places on Earth. And if none were to be alive to defend it, Allah will defend His House just like He defended Al Masjid Al Haram.
These are a few of the many many lessons from this short Surah of the Quran. It is Ramadan, and we should think deeply over the many lessons that are in the Quran, “Will they not contemplate the Quran? Do they have locks in their hearts?” (Surah Muhammad 47:24). May Allah save us from a heart with locks, and from following in the footsteps of Abraha.