Mawlana Shaykh Hisham once read a beautiful narration of the events of the Elephant, in which Sayyidina `Abdul-Muttalib (as) ascended Jabal Qubays with all the people of Mecca and watched as Abraha arrived with his army:
Then from his forehead, the light of Sayyidina Muhammad (s) shone forth and repelled the army with immense force and “with the blessing of the light of the Prophet (s) Allah repelled Abraha’s harm.”
How is that possible given that the Year of the Elephant was the Prophet’s birth year?
It is mentioned in al-Shahrastani’s Seerah, Kitab al-milal wa al-nihal (2:238) that “The light of Muhammad went from Ibrahim to Isma`il. Then that light passed through all his children, until it arrived at `Abd al-Muttalib… and with the blessing of this light Allah repelled Abraha’s harm” (wa bibarakati dhalik al-nur dafa` allahu ta`alaa sharra Abraha)
وروى أن عبد المطلب لما حضر عند أبرهة نظر الفيل الأبيض العظيم إلى وجهه فبرك كما يبرك البعير وخر ساجدا وأنطق الله تعالى الفيل فقال السلام على النور الذى فى ظهرك ياعبد المطلب
ِِAl-Qastallani in al-Mawahib al-Ladunniyya (`Ilmiyya ed. 1:52-53) cites the report that at the time Abraha attacked the Kaaba his huge white elephant Saayis — which alone did not prostrate to him the way his other elephants did — when he saw the face of `Abd al-Muttalib knelt the way camels kneel then prostrated, whereupon Allah caused it to speak in plain Arabic and say: “al-salamu `ala al-nur al-ladhi fi zhahrika ya `Abd al-Muttalib. Greeting and peace to the light that is in your loins (fee zhahrik) O `Abd al-Muttalib.” (The rest of the sources name the elephant Mahmud).
Upon reflection, “zhahr” in the elephant’s expression does not necessarily mean “back” or “loins” but can also mean “progeny” as in the hadith:
“Allah took the covenant from Adam’s zhahr in Na`man — meaning `Arafa — and brought out of his loins (sulbihi) every single offspring (dhurriyya) He created from his seed. He scattered them before Himself like ants (dharr) then He addressed them, saying: Am I not your Lord? They said: Yes, verily! We testify….” Ahmad, Musnad (4:267 §2455); al-Hakim, Mustadrak(1:27-28, 2:544), and others.
The scholars said that that zhahr in the above hadith means offspring or progeny.
So the elephant’s statement is not anachronistic after all, but makes sense if we say that he is giving salam to the Prophet (s) through his father’s progenitor `Abd al-Muttalib.
[See the author’s book
“The Muhammadan Light” for further discussions of this and other related topics.]
Hajj Gibril Haddad