YEAR OF THE ELEPHANT 570 CE:
Muhammad (S), the greatest man ever to set foot on earth, was born in Makkah in the year 570 CE commonly referred to as 'Aam-il-Fil (Year of the Elephant). He belonged to Quresh that were the most honored tribe of Arabia for being the custodians of Ka'bah, the holiest shrine in the land.
Muhammad (S), like all Arabs, belonged to the progeny of Hazrat Ismail. Ibrahim (a.s.) on Allah's Command, had settled his elder son, teenager Ismail a.s. (Ishmael) to reside permanently in Makkah along with his mother Haajirah. Contrary to the Biblical statement, Hagar was not a bondwoman. She was the daughter of the Egyptian/Syrian king. Abraham kept traveling between his second wife Haajirah (Hagar) in Makkah and first wife Sarah in Can'aan (Syria-Palestine). Ismail married a woman from the Qahtani Tribe of Jurham and became the ancestor of Musta Ribah (Arabianized Tribes or the Arabs.)
So the Arabs are, interestingly, descendants of a Hebrew father, Ishmael and a Qahtani Jurham mother, Wasiqa. They had twelve sons in their long and happy married life. The Qahtanis are still abundantly found in the Arabian Peninsula. They were a wandering tribe in Southern Arabia who had settled around Makkah before Ismail a. s.
The “Wilderness of Beer-Sheba” of Genesis 21:14, embraces Southern Palestine and Hijaz (roughly, the land between and around Makkah and Madinah). Therefore, the Bible and the Quran are in agreement concerning where Hazrat Ismail and his mother Haajirah had settled after moving from Can'aan.
This history also explains why the Quran repeatedly asserts that the Arabs had not received any Scripture before the Quran. Obviously, the Arabs became a community long after their ancestor, Ishmael had passed on.
THE KINGDOM OF SHEBA: In Yemen had collapsed in 115 B.C. They were overtaken by the Himairis who ruled until 300 CE when other tribes overtook the control of Yemen. They were in turn defeated by the Christian Kingdom of Ethipoia-Abyssinia when they invaded Yemen in 525 CE. The kingdom appointed Abrahah as the Viceroy of Yemen.
ABRAHAH PLANS TO DEMOLISH KA'BAH: The Roman and the Abyssinian Christians longed for converting the idolaters of Arabia to Christianity. They also sought control of the trade routes between Arabia, Syria, Persia and the Western Roman Empire. They saw Ka’bah in Makkah as a hindrance to their imperialistic and religious designs. Abrahah, the Viceroy of Yemen, made a smart move. Between 550 and 555 CE he built a gorgeous cathedral Ekklesia in San’aa, Yemen and invited his people and neighboring nations to come for pilgrimage there instead of going to Makkah. But Ekklesia remained unpopular and Abrahah decided to invade Makkah to demolish the Ka’bah and its surroundings.
Anticipating the presence of hostile tribes en route, he came up with a 60,000 strong army aided by thousands of horses, camels and thirteen elephants.
I agree with the research of Hamiduddin Farahi, 'Maulana' Amin Ahsan Islahi and Allama G.A. Parwez on what eventually happened. As Abrahah’s army approached Makkah, the Makkans who had been alerted by some travelers beforehand, saw flocks of birds that normally fly over caravans in search for food. The Makkans mounted the hills around and threw stones on the troops. The elephants, and in turn, other rides panicked and trampled the soldiers. This incident took place in 570 CE, the year when the exalted Messenger was born. The event carried such significance that the Arabs marked “Year of the Elephant” (‘Aam-il-Fil) as a point of reference in history.
THE ARABIAN PENINSULA
WHAT MUHAMMAD (S) SAW IN HIS FORMATIVE YEARS
As a little bright youngster, he observed with dismay many wrongs in the society. All of Arabia was divided into warring tribes and there was no rule of law. In the absence of organized government and courts of law, total chaos in political, social, economic and moral arenas was the obvious consequence.
SOCIAL INEQUITY: A few elite were extremely wealthy while the vast majority lived in abject poverty and humiliation. These rich people were ruthless in their behavior to the poor. Slavery was rampant therefore, those in power owned slaves and concubines. The laboring slaves were beaten with whips for little or no reason. No one cared for their welfare or emancipation.
STATUS OF WOMEN: Women were primarily the objects of pleasure and subservience and they were exempted from all human rights. The concubines served their masters and were sexually molested frequently. The free women were expected to obey men, be objects of sensual pleasure for them and pour wine in their company, labor within and outside the home and bear children. Some Arabs respected women especially those who had born children, and possessed knitting, weaving and cooking skills. Some women were hired or forced to sing and dance in public and in social gatherings. The birth of a girl was considered a matter of disgrace so much so that some Arabs buried their daughters alive. Men and women both were immodest. Disrobing in public was considered fashionable and they circled around the Ka'bah naked. As an exception, the wives of tribal leaders enjoyed a high status in the society and their jewelry, garment design, hairstyle, and mode of conduct became a fashion only to be dreamed by the poor majority. These "noble wives" wielded significant influence on their husbands, families and their own tribe. A tribe would be proud of a beautiful, smart, fashionable and artistic woman and she was seen as a prized potential booty by the adversary tribes.
ALCOHOL AND GAMBLING: Alcohol was rampant and quality drinks were considered as a status symbol. People got drunk, lost self-control and misbehaved; as a result, bloody feuds were a daily occurrence. Gambling was a part of everyday life. One who avoided alcohol and gambling was labeled a berm, meaning outcast. No person would befriend a berm. Men would put their wives as stakes in gambling and betting. If a person lost in gambling or could not pay his debt, he became a slave often along with the women of his family.
THAAR (CHAIN REVENGE):- Tribes fought endless wars in chain revenge on menial issues such as a goat or camel having grazed at someone else's field. Aggression was considered to grant dignity and superiority to a tribe and its leader. Looting and raiding other tribes was considered honorable. There was total disregard for other people's life, honor and property. Seeking revenge was a sacred duty and people took revenge even for their remote ancestors.
SUPERSTITIONS: A vast majority of the Arabs were pagans. The society as a whole was ridden with superstition. They believed in good and bad omens, wild interpretation of dreams, magic, clairvoyance, evil spirits, demons and witches, evil eye, arrows of good and bad luck, lucky and ominous stars, stones, days and numbers. Each family and tribe had their own special "gods". The fear of unseen creatures was common. Poets, fortune-tellers, soothsayers, diviners, and religious leaders easily exploited them.
MEANS OF LIVELIHOOD: Raising herds of livestock, camels, goats, sheep, cows, owning date palm trees and orchards, vineyards, parts of oasis, and looting were the common ways of making a living. Barter and trade were popular but honesty was unknown. Usury was rampant making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Big businessmen sent trade caravans to distant lands. The trade caravans were frequently looted. The proud rich wasted a lot of resources. They would kill their camels in competition. If one killed some camels the other would slay twice as many just to impress others.
DIVERSITY OF RELIGIONS: Although most inhabitants were pagans, it was a diverse, albeit peaceful, society. Jews and Christians in the Arabian Peninsula numbered quite a few thousands. There were among them Sabians (Nature worshipers), those who believed only in Yahya a. s. (John the Baptist), Agnostics, and followers of Deen-e-Hanif (Strict Monotheists that followed the remnants of Hazraat Ibrahim and Ismail's teachings).
This society was devoid of a government and any rules or standards of conduct. Immorality and corruption was an accepted part of life. "Might is Right", was the order of the day to solve all disputes. These were the circumstances when the exalted Prophet would herald the greatest Mission ever.