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Year of the Elephant

The Year of the Elephant (عام الفيل `m al-Fl) is estimated at 570 AD. According to early Islamic historians such as Ibn Ishaq, the Ethiopian governor of Yemen, Abraha, had built a great church in Sanaa intended to lure the Arabs away from the Kaaba; a man of Quraysh, angered by this, went to Sanaa and slipped into it in the night and defiled it. Abraha, incensed, launched an expedition against Mecca led by an elephant (and possibly with other elephants) in order to destroy the Kaaba. Several Arab tribes attempted to fight him on the way, but were defeated. As he neared Mecca, he sent them an emissary, telling them that he would not fight them if they did not resist his destruction of the Kaaba; Abdul Muttalib , the chief of Quraysh, responded that he would defend his own property, but God would defend His house, the Kaaba, and withdrew with his people. The next day, as Abraha prepared to enter the city, swarms of birds carrying small rocks came and bombarded the Ethiopian forces; each man that was hit was killed, and they fled in panic, as Abraha died a horrible death. The tribes saw this as a sign of the Kaaba's holiness. The incident is recounted allusively in surat al-Fil in the Qur'an; it is also described in a poem attributed to the pre-Islamic poet Nufayl ibn Habib .

Non-Muslims tend to treat the details of this account with scepticism. The existence of Abraha is confirmed from various inscriptions, notably one on the Marib Dam , and he is known from another inscription (Ryckmans 506) to have undertaken expeditions against northern Arabian tribes; however, no non-Islamic source is known to record the date or circumstances of his death.

It is recorded as the year of Muhammad's birth.

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