This article was taken from: http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/news/641556#:
The incident of Abraha Al-Ashram, king of Abyssinia, attacking Makkah to destroy the Kaaba, and to change its location over to his kingdom to draw the annual pilgrims of Arabia to come to his kingdom instead, is a locally (in Arabia) documented historical fact. It is also well documented that his attack and mission were a failure. By the way, king Abraha’s attack on Makkah happened shortly before the birth of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The following article clearly and indisputably prove this:
A group of young Saudi history enthusiasts has retraced the path of the People of the Elephant who tried to destroy the Holy Kaaba centuries ago.
The Holy Qur’an, in a short chapter, briefly refers to the story of the army of elephants led by Abraha Al-Ashram, who was a governor of Yemen. God destroyed Abraha and his army that included 13 elephants, by sending flocks of birds (mentioned as Ababeel) that dropped small stones on them.
“There never fell a stone on a soldier except it dissolved his flesh and burst it into pieces … Abraha Al-Ashram fled while his flesh was bursting into pieces and died on the way back to Yemen,” said the 14th century scholar Ibn Kathir, an authentic Qur’an commentator. During their tiring journey across mountains and rough terrain, the young Saudi men took photographs of important landmarks, beginning from north of Najran, to the east of Asir, and then east of Baha.
Some of the most important historical sites along the way included inscriptions of elephants on rocks in the Al-Qahr Mountain, southeast of Tathlith; an old well in Hafaer, east of Asir; and a paved road near Kara in Aqeeq principality in the Baha region.
Mohammed Al-Amry, head of the geology department at King Saud University, said he had seen the path of Abraha and his army in Tathlith and Baha. “The army had passed the Arabian shield region comprising rocks and there were writings in the Humairiya language on some mountains,” he said.
According to historical Islamic sources, Abraha, who was a Christian, had thought of building a church similar to the Kaaba in Sanaa. He wanted the Arabs to perform the pilgrimage in Sanaa instead of Makkah, with the intention of diverting trade and benefits to Yemen. He presented the idea to the then king of Ethiopia who agreed to it.
Abraha built the church but the Arabs refused to come for pilgrimage in Sanaa. This infuriated him, prompting him to form an army to invade Makkah and demolish the Kaaba. He defeated all Arab armies on the way until he reached Makkah where he was attacked by the flocks of birds sent by the Almighty.
This event is very famous and had happend in the same year as the birth of the Prophet Muhammed, (Peace Be Upon Him) (the year 571). Although the Prophet was not born during this event.
The begining of this event actually goes back further to the year 523. A Jew named Dhu Nawas campaigned against the Christian of Najran, with the aim of converting them to Judaism. Due to their refusal Dhu Nawas had the Christians thrown in a ditch and then set them on fire.
This is the reason for the second conquest of Yemen by Ethiopia (Abyssinia). The Roman Christian’s helped the Ethiopian Christian state to go against the Arabs. They assembled a fleet of 70,000 warriors to help the Ethiopian’s. Under the leadership of Eriat they succeded in the year 525.
Eriat was given rulership of Yemen untill he was assassinated by a fellow army leader, Abrahah. With the permission of the Ethiopian King, Abrahah was granted as the leader of Yemen.
It was Abrahah who aimed at destroying the Kaba.
At the approach of this grand army the inhabitants of Makkah fled to the hills. The Ethiopian army was approaching from the direction of Taif.
Upon the army was grand elephants. When they came close birds flew over Abrahah’s army and dropped rocks frim their beaks. The elephants began to run away in panic and many of the soldiers died.
For more details:
Al-Yaman ‘Abrat-Tarikh pp.77, 83, 124, 130, 157, 161
Tarikh Ardil-Qur’an 1/133
Tarikhul-Arab Qablal-Islam 105-151
The Sealed Nector pp48-49
The early life of Muhammad (PBUH) p6-7
Several Articles and Images of Inscriptions showing the Elephants:
Abraha, the year of the elephant, and the location of Mecca in Tom Holland’s “In the Shadow of the Sword”
Part 1: Pre-islamic inscriptions indirectly identifying the location of Mecca
‘Am al-Fil: The year in which the Yemenite Christian king Abraha is said to have tried to attack Mecca to destroy the Ka’ba, in an attempt to divert pilgrimage from the Meccan shrine to his own great cathedral in Yemen. The name, meaning “Year of the Elephant”, refers to Abraha’s usage of war elephants in his army which he led towards the Quraysh at Mecca.
The story is alluded to in the Qur’an in Surah al-Fil and its continuation, Surah Quraysh:
1 Do you not see how your Lord dealt with the army of the elephant? 2 Did He not utterly confound their plans? 3 He sent ranks of birds against them, 4 pelting them with pellets of hard-baked clay: 5 He made them [like] cropped stubble.
1 [He did this] to make the Quraysh feel secure, 2 secure in their winter and summer journeys. 3 So let them worship the Lord of this House: 4 who provides them with food to ward off hunger, safety to ward off fear.
The story alluded to here is undoubtedly the events in the Year of the Elephant. Commentators are absolutely unanimous in this regard. One may still doubt whether these Qur’anic passages really do allude to ‘Abraha’s march towards Mecca. However, there is non-Qur’anic pre-islamic poetry that reports the same story that Muslim exegetes provide in their explanation of these verses. For example, in the kitaab al-hayawaan by al-Jahiz, a poem by Abu Qays Sayfi praises God for His help on “the day of the elephant of the Abyssinians”, recalling that the elephant simply stopped dead in his tracks and would not advance despite being tortured. Then “God sent a wind bringing a shower of pebbles (ḥāṣib) from above”. Rubin notes that the vocabulary of the poem is distinctly unqur’anic. Infact, the poem has different themes to that of the Qur’anic account: The Qur’an, as with recounting other pre-islamic occurrences, spins it into a cautionary tale and rhetorical prose to convince the audience of the magnificence of God.
To scholars, this indicates that Abu Qays’ poetry is independent from the Qur’an. It is very likely that the poem is pre-islamic.
It is important to note that the same poet also identifies this incident with “Abu Yaksum” – none other than Abraha himself. This is significant-there is already enough similarity between the pre-islamic poem and Surah al-fil to realize that they are talking about the same event (due to an elephant being involved and an army being wiped out by stones from the sky). Thus, it obviously follows that both versions of the story (Qur’anic and pre-islamic) are speaking about an attack on the Quraysh by the Yemenite king Abraha.
What I would like to drive home at this point is that now we have Arabic poetry originating decades after the death of Abraha, authored by and for the Arabs which were contemporary with the incident, if not from the following generation. The Quranic account is independent from the poem, providing an added level of attestation to the historical account; again, written for Arabs that would have probably been children of those who lived even as Abraha led a campaign against Mecca. The story is both early and multiply attested. If we ignore the miracle story, there is little reason for a historian to deny that the expedition occurred*.
Other supporting evidence can be found in South Arabian inscriptions depicting war elephants:
The inscriptions are significant because Abraha’s army would be the only one in the area to parade war elephants.
From this discussion, we can infer that:
1. The Qur’an is reporting a pre-Islamic event that must have actually happened some time during Abraha’s reign, meaning that the generation before the Prophet’s own.
2. Abraha campaigned with war elephants in the South Arabian region.
Mecca in Palestine?
Holland places the ‘original’ location of Mecca in Mamre, Palestine. Palestine in the 6th century was situated in Byzantine land. The corollary? That Abraha must have attacked the Byzantine empire some time in the 6th century.
One only needs to be slightly familiar with 6th century byzantine and arabian history to know how this is plain and simply false. We can understand why the expedition of the elephant is absent from pre-islamic jahili written tradition (plainly due to the fact that the writing was comparatively rare in the first place), however an attack on the Palestine would have been recorded at least by Roman sources. Procopius, a byzantine historian living in Palestine during the reign of Abraha records his ascent to power over the Himyarites, as well some of his wars and political exploits during his reign. Abraha’s supposed attack on Palestine goes unmentioned, however, his promise to Justinian to attack the Persians does not.
I believe in this case we can make a good argument from silence. Had the attack happened, Procopius would have written about it, if not some other roman historian.
Besides Procopius’s account, Abraha campaigning against the Byzantines simply seems unlikely. The latter is was a regional superpower sharing the same religion as that of Abraha, so unlike Islam’s conquest of Roman lands, there is no theological motive to challenge a natural alliance. This explains why Abraha aligned himself with the Byzantines against the Persians at one point.
On the other hand, an attack on a south arabian Mecca simply seems much more plausible. Inscriptions indicating Abraha’s political and military might over this area are well known, some of which have been reproduced in this article. There is also the Murayghan inscription, reporting of an expedition sent by Abraha towards Taraban, 100km north of Ta’if, which is in the vicinity of the traditional location of Mecca.
Tom Holland’s proposal that Mecca was originally located at Mamre, Palestine cannot be correct because it contradicts known facts surrounding the expedition of the elephant. As there is good evidence for the expedition, it would entail that the Himyarite king marched against the Byzantines, which contradicts what we see in Roman historical records and also goes against common sense.
 A very useful web page collating these inscriptions is www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/
 For an overview of the traditional story, see “The Message of the Qur’an”. Muhammad Asad. See intro to Surah al Fil. Other reasons are proposed for the motives of the campaign, one of which is that some Arabs went and defiled the cathedral in Yemen which incited ‘Abraha’s anger.
 See entry for Abraha. Rubin, Uri. Encyclopaedia of Islam, 3rd ed.
 ibid. “These and other verses that al-Jāḥiẓ considers genuinely pre-Islamic (al-Jāḥiẓ, Kitāb al-Ḥayawān, 7:197–9) are indeed free of Qurʾānic vocabulary and style—even the description of the divine punishment lacks Qurʾānic phrases”
 ibid. It must be noted that the name is not Qur’anic, meaning that the poet must have had non-Qur’anic sources. This adds to the likelyhood of the poem being of Jahili origin.
* Scholars such as Rubin, Conrad and Robin have all argued for or have assumed the historicity of the campaign.
 Les Compagnons de l’Éléphant (Aṣḥāb al-Fīl ). Christian Robin. Published in Les origines du Coran, le Coran des origines. 2015. p47. I have roughly translated from french and edited in the captions.
 That of Abd Al-Muttalib- indeed, he is present in the traditional story of the expedition.
 See Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam. Abraha marched against Persia
 Procopius, Histories of the Wars, Vol 1 and 2 accessable here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16764/16764-h/16764-h.htm
 F.E Peters. Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. p88
Saudi refuses $4 million for stone
A Saudi man on a hunting trip in the rugged mountains near the border with Yemen stumbled across a little dark stone, which he instantly recognized as that mentioned in the Holy Koran. A year later, he was offered $four million for the stone but he refused.
Saleh Musfer Al Gamdi said the stone, which carries drawings of birds and elephants, weighs 131 gm, exactly the same number of words in the Koran verse that mentioned the stone– “Surat Al Fil (elephant).”
According to that verse, God the Almighty sent Ababil birds to throw Sejil stones (pebbles of hell) to destroy an army led by Yemen’s warlord Abraha just before the advent of Islam to knock down Kaaba in Makkah, now the Moslems’ holiest shrine.
Gamdi said he found the hard black-grayish stone in the southern Jarb valley, previously known as the Green Wadi, where Abraha and his soldiers and elephants stayed for a period of time before heading for Makkah.
He said experts estimated that the stone dates back to nearly 1,442 years, adding that he found it just a day after dreaming of his father and grandfather.
“A year after I found the stone, I asked an Egyptian friend whose relatives work in the archeology field…they contacted me and asked me to send them pictures of that stone,” Gamdi said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily Sabq.
“After a series of messages and phone calls, they told me they would buy the stone for $four million but I refused to sell it….a while later, the tourism department in Baha (southern Saudi Arabia) asked me to hand the stone over but I again refused.”
The story of Abraha begins when he feels envy of the town of Makkah in Saudi Arabia because Kaaba (House) was visited by many Arabs who wanted to make the pilgrimage every year before Islam. He has a great desire to destroy and divert Arab worshippers to Yemen, which has a large temple built by Abraha.
Before the offensive on Mecca, he first sent a messenger to inform them of his aims and desires. The messenger was suggested for the people of Mecca to perform their pilgrimage in Yemen only. If not, then the Kaaba will be destroyed.
Because they were disobedient, finally Abraha was really mad and ordered all troops to be getting ready to attack Mecca and destroy the Kaaba.
Abraha’s army had complete war equipment, armour, and the elephants that will be used to knock down kaaba. Abraha told the messenger that the purpose of attack is not intended to fight, but just wanted to destroy the Kaaba.
At that time Mecca residents, led by Abdul Muttalib could not do anything to stop Abraha. There was no choice but to surrender and give up.
Some time before the arrival of Abraha’s army, Abdul Muttalib instructed his people to shelter and evacuate immediately behind the hill near Mecca.
Abraha was convinced that he will be able to destroy the Kaaba very easily. But what happens next? God’s help arrived according to the Koran. These birds threw many, many stones of baked clay at the elephants and the people, which led to their defeat and destruction before they manage to knock down Kaaba.
The Story of Abraha and Smallpox Epidemic
By Wikiversity Journal of Medicine
Based on historical interpretations of the Sūrat al-Fīl, the 105th Meccan Sura of the Qur’an, an epidemic occurred near Mecca circa 570 CE (Common Era), the Year of the Elephant in Islamic history. The five verses of the Surah are thought to be an allegorical description of the “Elephant War epidemic,” so named because invading Axumite (Ethiopian) forces from present-day Yemen included one or more war elephants. The elephants refused to enter the city, causing the Axumites to halt the attack. Interpreted literally, divine intervention then defeated the invaders by sending a flock of birds (ababil) that dropped pellets—a possible allusion to pustules—onto the Axumites, maiming and killing them, and ending the siege of the city. Early historians interpreted the Sura as allegorical for either a smallpox ormeasles epidemic; available descriptions favor smallpox. The residents of Mecca were spared. Descriptions of the birds and use of the term ababil for birds are consistent with barn swallows (Hirundo rustica, subspecies rustica), which collect clay pellets to make nests. They are attracted to flies following domestic animals. We consider the zoonotic origins, geographical distributions and clinical presentations of two types of smallpox virus, and propose that the epidemic was due to Variola major. Since the prophet Muhammad was born in 570 CE, the events played a critical role in the birth of Islam.
Smallpox has probably existed in the human population for thousands of years, but the first reasonably clear descriptions appeared in documents in the 4th century CE (Common Era) by Ko Hung in China and in the 7th century by Vagbhata in India.
The most influential treatise, al-Judari wa al-Hasbah (On Smallpox and Measles), was written by the renowned physician-scholar Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī, or Rhazes (860–932 CE) at the beginning of the tenth century. He is credited with first clearly distinguishing between smallpox and measles, a differential diagnosis that continued to confuse Western physicians until well into the second millenium. The disease seems to have first entered the Arabian Peninsula before 570 CE, brought across the Red Sea by the Christian Axumites (Ethiopians), who conquered the region of present-day Yemen. In 570 BC, Āmu’l-Fīl or the Year of the Elephant, the Axumites invaded Mecca, but the attack was thwarted, an event described only in five verses or ayats of the Sūrat al-Fīl, Sura 105 of the Qur’an.
The Scottish physician-explorer James Bruce found an Ethiopian chronicle entitled the Siege of Mecca that describes the defeat of the Axumite army in which the author El Hamessy reckoned the Sura had to be a parable for an epidemic disease, possibly the first description of a true smallpox epidemic.
The “Elephant War epidemic” is an otherwise obscure event in a long history of smallpox that was to follow. Others have described previous outbreaks in the Mediterranean of what may have been smallpox; subsequent, well-documented epidemics also occurred in the latter part of the first millennium that led to a spread throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
The event might remain a minor historical curiosity, except that it had an important historical implication—it took place in the same year that the Prophet Muhammad was born. The presumed outbreak occurred during a battle between an invading Axumite army and pre-Islamic Arabic tribes around the city of Mecca. We re-analyze the evidence relating to the cause of the presumed epidemic and its place in history.
By the sixth century CE, the Byzantine Empire included protectorates in Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Nubia, and Axum (parts of present day Ethiopia and Eritrea). Axum had converted to Christianity two centuries earlier, and was in its ascendancy. The kingdom had an alliance with Emperor Justinian in Constantinople. A major rival to the Eastern Roman Empire was the Persian Empire under the Sassanid Dynasty. The Persians controlled vassal states along the western Arabian Sea, including most of what is now Yemen and Oman, but they were also sympathetic to the pre-Islamic tribes throughout Arabia. A small independent Jewish kingdom of Himyar (present-day Yemen) existed on the southwestern coast of the Arabian Peninsula facing the African continent and Axum.
Early in the 6th century, an Axumite army attacked Himyar by crossing the Red Sea. Christian King Kaleb sent the army to conquer the Jewish kingdom that had committed pogroms against Christian minorities. Munro-Hay, citing the Byzantine historian Procopius and Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, mentions that large forces, as many as 70,000 men, were sent to attack Sana’a — the Himyarite capital — and to subjugate other nearby cities. The Axumite army was traditionally organized into sarwe (regiments), each with a provincial or tribal name. Each regiment was led by a general commanding large numbers of spear-carrying infantry, archers, camel cavalry, and water-corveé support units (water bearers). Some accounts also mention a contingent of up to 80 elephant-fighters. Kaleb ordered his generals to conquer Himyar and to kill a third of its men and to lay waste to one-third of the country, then seize onethird of its women and children.
The attack against Mecca in the Year of the Elephant was lead by Abraha, a viceroy who had been overseeing Himyar since the earlier Axumite victory. He was instructed to attack the city as revenge for the defilement of a Christian shrine in Sana’a by Arab pagans incensed over a previous insult to the Kaaba in Mecca. The time of year, duration of battle and strength of his army are not known, but troop size and contingent forces were probably similar to the earlier conquest of Himyar. (The Year of the Elephant is most often cited as 570 CE, but estimates vary by a few years and are debated among scholars.) Mounted on an elephant, Abraha led his army overland through desert terrain from Sana’a northwards to Mecca, some four hundred miles across arid land and through mountain passes.
By the late sixth century, Mecca had become an important trading center for merchants who chose to avoid dangerous overland caravan routes between Europe, Egypt, India and China. African ivory, Asian silk, locally produced frankincense and myrrh, and imported spices were prized items of trade between the East and West. Mecca had established communications and trade between Himyar to the south, and Gaza, Damascus, and Aleppo to the north. Mecca’s population was primarily composed of the Quraysh tribe, which consisted of dozens of clans allied with nearby tribes living in the surrounding hills and mountains. There were also non-Arab craftsmen, merchants and visitors from the Byzantine Empire living in the city, but the size of this population is not known.
The term “Elephant War epidemic” derives from an allegorical passage in the Qur’an referring to Abraha, mounted on an elephant. Allah smote the enemy army with small “stones”:
Have you not considered, how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? Did He not make their plan into misguidance?
And He sent against them birds in flocks, Striking them with stones of hard clay, And He made them like eaten straw. Qur’an 105:1-5
Flocks of birds flew overhead, dropping clay pebbles on the enemy and crushing them. Some have suggested the pebbles may refer to the lesions of measles. The spelling of the two words is different but pronunciation is similar.
The distinction between the two diseases awaited Rhazes’ description a few hundred years later. The two diseases are easily conflated since both cause a skin eruption. Ibn Ishaq, referring to another historian, states “Utba told me that he was informed that year was the first time that measles and smallpox had been seen in Arabia; and too, that it was the first time that bitter herbs like rue, colocynth and Asclepias gigantea were seen.” (Mention of these botanicals indicates trade existed from countries where smallpox may have been brought to the southwestern Arabian peninsula; the herbs are native to Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean basin and Iran, which suggest that they had been recent importations from these regions.) One of the earliest historical descriptions was by the Roman Eusebius in 302 CE:
“It was characterized by a dangerous eruption which unlike the true plague spread over the whole body and which often affected the eyes and resulted in the loss of sight, which had a profound effect of protecting against a second attack of the same disorder, and whose eruptions were accompanied by a very offensive smell”, which Willan concluded were due to the confluent form of smallpox.
Descriptions specific to a differential diagnosis, clinical signs, complications, immunity, and mortality estimates specific to the elephant war epidemic (detailed in Table 2) include:
“… as they brought him (Abraha) along the retreat, his limbs fell off piece by piece, and as often as a piece fell off, matter and blood came off.”
“… as they withdrew they were continually falling by the wayside dying miserably by every watering hole. Abraha was smitten in his body, and as they took him away, his fingers fell off one by one. Where the fingers had been, there arose an evil sore exuding pus and blood, so that when they brought him to Sana’a, he was like a young fledgling.”
The metaphor “like eaten straw” has been interpreted as referring to stubble remaining in a barren field, or broken blades seen in animal dung — both interpretations implying useless, decaying and fetid remains. This image reinforces the previous descriptions of death and dying. The only citation suggesting the size of the army and extent of its devastation comes from a poem listed in Ibn Ishaq’s narrative:
“He who knows what happened will tell the ignorant.
Sixty thousand men returned not home.
Nor did their sick recover after their return.”
Nearly three centuries after the birth of Muhammad, Rhazes wrote copiously on many subjects, primarily medicine, and is one of the most revered figures of the Islamic Golden Age, considered a genius of medieval medicine. According to Rhazes “Smallpox appears when blood ‘boils’ and is infected, resulting in vapours being expelled. Thus, juvenile blood (which looks like wet extracts appearing on the skin) is being transformed into richer blood, having the color of mature wine. At this stage, smallpox shows up essentially as ‘bubbles found in wine’ – (as blisters) – … this disease can also occur at other times – (not only during childhood) -. The best thing to do during this first stage is to keep away from it, otherwise this disease might turn into an epidemic.”
The Sura refers to the flocks of birds as ababil. Some descriptions of the birds include a leonine appearance, although this is clearly a legendary embellishment. Other early accounts mention the ababil as having black and green coloring with white and yellow beaks. “Ababil” is a Middle Eastern term that can apply to the common barn swallow (Hirundo rustica, subspecies rustica) — which has similar markings mentioned above, with dark orange throat feathering. Barn swallows are found throughout the world, including Arabia.
The elephant that Abraha rode was probably the North African elephant (Loxodonta africana pharaoensis) — now extinct, which had been used by the Carthaginians centuries before. Its original range extended across North Africa and down the grasslands of the Sudan. Some have questioned the claim that elephants could not survive a long cross-desert sojourn because of their need for water. However, according to the facts, Abraha may have brought only a single elephant with him. His water bearers, oases, and wells along the northern march would have provided sufficient water for both the large army and its animal retinue, including at least one, but many elephants, and hundreds of horses, camels, and beasts of burden.
It is evident that an epidemic of some sort — smallpox or measles—crippled the Axumites during the siege of Mecca in 570. Fragmentary evidence supports smallpox. Subsequent larger outbreaks in North Africa and the Mediterranean littoral region were definitely smallpox. The Mecca outbreak was minor in comparison to later epidemics, but was historically important. Had the Axumites succeeded in conquering Mecca in 570, they would have instituted measures similar to those inflicted on Himyar four decades before — killing women, razing crops and enslaving its captives. In that same year an infant was born — the future Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The child and His mother may have been killed or enslaved. In the Bible it states that Yahweh divinely intervened to help His people in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues on the Egyptians. In the Qur’an, Allah divinely intervened to save His future Prophet with a single plague.