Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of The Glorious Koran. An Explanatory Translation (1930)
Al-Fîl, “The Elephant,” takes its name from a word in the first verse. The allusion is to the campaign of Abraha, the Abyssinian ruler of Al-Yaman, against Mecca, with the purpose of destroying the Ka‘bah in the year of the Prophet’s birth. He had with him an elephant which much impressed the Arabs. Tradition says that the elephant refused to advance on the last stage of the march, and that swarms of flying creatures pelted the Abyssinians with stones. Another tradition says that they retired in disorder owing to an outbreak of smallpox in the camp. At the time when this Sûrah was revealed, many men in Mecca must have known what happened. Dr. Krenkow, a sound Arabic scholar, is of opinion that the flying creatures may well have been swarms of insects carrying infection. In any case the Ka‘bah was saved from destruction after its defenders had despaired.
A very early Meccan Sûrah.
1. Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant?
2. Did He not bring their stratagem to naught,
3. And send against them, swarms of flying creatures,
4. Which pelted them with stones of baked clay,
5. And made them like green crops devoured (by cattle)?