Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Most of the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is told in Surah 27, The Ants—yes, there is a verse about ants, and talking ones no less.
27:15 And We gave David and Solomon knowledge. They said: “Praise be to Allah Who preferred us over many of His believing servants.”
Solomon’s people could talk to birds.
27:16 Solomon inherited David, and he said: “O people we have been taught the speech of birds and have been given part of everything. This is indeed the manifest bounty.
Both birds and the jinn served in Solomon’s armies. When this mass of men, jinn and birds were about to trample over some ants, God held them in check until the ants could find safety.
27:17 And Solomon’s troops, jinn, men and birds, were mustered and duly held in check.
27:18 Until they reached an ants’ hill; when an ant said: “O ants, enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his troops crush you, without noticing it.”
The ants’ words reminded Solomon to be grateful for small mercies.
27:19 Then he (Solomon) smiled, laughing at its words, and said: “Lord, inspire me to be thankful for Your Blessing, with which You blessed me and my parents, and to do the right pleasing to You. Admit me, by Your Mercy, into the company of Your righteous servants.”
Back at the palace, Solomon couldn’t locate his hoopoe, a colourful bird that is found in Africa and Eurasia.
27:20 He inspected the birds, then said: “Why do I not see the hoopoe (the hoopoe served Solomon as a carrier-pigeon would)? Or is it gone away with the absent ones (the birds who were on an expedition with the troops of men and jinns,27:20 He inspected the birds, then said: “Why do I not see the hoopoe (the hoopoe served Solomon as a carrier-pigeon would)? Or is it gone away with the absent ones (the birds who were on an expedition with the troops of men and jinns, Moududi)?
The hoopoe better have a good reason for being absent or he could be dinner. He did, as his flight plan came from God Himself, the “manifest authority” in the following verse:
7:21 “I will punish it grievously or slaughter it, unless it brings me a manifest authority.””
The hoopoe returned with news of a land ruled by a woman.
27:22 He lingered not for long, and so it (the hoopoe) said: “I have learnt what you have not learnt and have brought from Sheba news which is certain.
27:23 “I have found a woman ruling over them and she has been given a share of everything and she has a great throne.
Not only that, the hoopoe reported, but the people of Sheba do not worship Allah. This must be Satan’s doing!
27:24 “I found her and her people prostrating themselves to the sun, instead of Allah, and Satan has embellished their actions, barring them from the Path. Therefore they are not well-guided;
27:25 “So that they may not prostrate themselves to Allah, Who brings out what is hidden in the heavens and the earth and knows what you conceal and what you reveal.”
Solomon didn’t believe the bird and asked it to deliver a letter, an ultimatum in effect, requesting the Queen’s presence. In the Bible, the Queen of Sheba seeks out Solomon because of his reputed wisdom, although a rabbinical embellishment known as a Midrash has Solomon requesting the Queen come to his court after, as in the Koran, being informed by a bird of the existence of the kingdom of Sheba.
27:26 Allah, there is no god but He, the Lord of the Great Throne.
27:27 He (Solomon) said: “We will see if you are telling the truth or are a liar.
27:28 “Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them; then turn away from them and see what they will give back in response.”
No sooner said than done.
27:29 She said (the Queen of Sheba): “O my dignitaries, a gracious letter has been delivered to me.
27:30 “It is from Solomon and it says: ‘In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
27:31 “'Do not rise against me, and come to me submissively.’
The Queen of Sheba was gracious in labelling a letter which demanded that she, a Queen, come crawling to the sender. Fakhry explains in a footnote that this was the equivalent of insisting that the Queen of Sheba become a Muslim.
What to do? The queen consulted her dignitaries.
27:32 She said: “O my dignitaries, give me your counsel in this, my affair. I will make no decision until you bear witness to me.”
It’s your call, was essentially her dignitaries’ response.
27:33 They said: “We are endowed with force and great might, but the command is yours; so see what you will command.”
The Queen decided to send Solomon a tribute to avoid appearing before him ‘submissively’. Before doing so, she paused to reflect on what absolute rulers like her and Solomon do to a people when they enter a city.
27:34 She said: “When kings enter a city, they ruin it and reduce its proud inhabitants to subjection. Thus they will always do.
27:35 “I am sending them a gift and will see what the envoys will bring back.”
Solomon was not interested in her money.
27:36 When [the emissary] came to Solomon, he said: “Are you supplying me with money? What Allah has given me is better than what He gave you. You are rather rejoicing in your gift.
Solomon threatened to invade and not only defeat the people of Sheba, but, like Allah, humiliate and demean them.
27:37 “Go back to them (the people of Sheba); for we shall array against them troops which they cannot resist and we shall drive them out of it degraded and abased.”
Solomon then hits upon the idea of stealing the Queen’s throne. A jinn by the name of ‘Ifreettvolunteers to go steal it, and does so in the blink of an eye.volunteers to go steal it, and does so in the blink of an eye.
27:38 He said: “O dignitaries, which of you will bring me her throne, before they come forward submitting?”
27:39 A ‘Ifreettof the jinn said: “I will bring it to you, before you rise from your seat, and I am indeed capable of it and faithful.”of the jinn said: “I will bring it to you, before you rise from your seat, and I am indeed capable of it and faithful.”
The jinn was true to his word; of course, Solomon knew who conjured up the throne and who to thank. Like David, he feared this to be a test from God.
27:40 He who had knowledge of the Book said: “I will bring it to you, before your glance returns to you.” So when he (Solomon) saw it ensconced before him, he said: “This is a bounty from my Lord, to test me, whether I am grateful or ungrateful. He who gives thanks, only gives thanks to his own credit, and he who is ungrateful (shouldn't it be "grateful"?) will find my Lord All Sufficient and Generous.”
With the throne in his possession, Solomon decided to test the Queen—who obviously decided to accept his invitation—in her faith. If she recognized her disguised throne, it would mean the Queen of Sheba believed in Allah.
27:41 He said: “Disguise her throne for her, so that we might see whether she will be well-guided or will be one of those who are not well-guided.”
27:42 When she arrived, it was said (to her): “Is your throne like this one?” She said: “It looks like it.” “We (Solomon) were given the knowledge before her and were submissive.”
Her hesitancy in identifying her throne seemed to confirm that the Queen did not bow before any man, not even God.
27:43 However, what she worshipped, apart from Allah, barred her; she was indeed one of the unbelieving people.
During her visit, the Queen of Sheba committed another faux pas that, when pointed out to her by Solomon, caused her to change her mind about Allah.
27:44 It was said to her: “Enter the mansion”; but when she saw it, she thought it was a deep pond, and she bared her legs. He (Solomon) said: “This is actually a mansion made of glass.” She said: “Lord, I have wronged myself and have submitted, along with Solomon, to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.”
The Queen might have seen the light, but her people did not, for Allah visited a punishment upon them reminiscent of the great flood.
34:15 For Sheba there also was a sign in their dwelling two gardens, to the right and the left: “Eat of your Lord’s provision and give thanks to Him; a good land and an All-Forgiving Lord.”
34:16 But they turned away; and so We loosed upon them the Overwhelming Flood, and We substituted for their two gardens another two gardens bearing bitter fruit and having fir trees and a few lotus trees.
34:17 Thus We penalized them for their disbelief; and do We ever penalize any but the unbeliever?
34:18 We established between them and between the cities, which we blessed, other visible cities, and We determined the measure of travel therein; “Travel therein for nights and days in perfect security.”
34:19 Then they said: “Lord, prolong the stages between our travels.“ They wronged themselves, so we reduced them to mere tales and tore them up utterly. Surely, there are in that signs for every steadfast and thankful man.
Why would God penalize humans for asking to extend their travel time? If that is why He utterly “tore them up” then the personification of pettiness is not adequate to describe Allah. The pettiest of gods was not above giving credit where credit was due; in this instance, it meant praising the devil for being a good judge of character.
34:20 And Iblis definitely proved right his opinion of them, and so they followed him, except for a group of believers.
34:21 Yet he had no authority over them; but that We might distinguish him who believed in the Hereafter, from him who was in doubt regarding it. Your Lord is watchful over everything.
Solomon and the Light-Footed Horses
38:30 And We granted David, Solomon, a blessed servant. Indeed, he was penitent.
38:31 When the light-footed horses were presented to him in the evening,
38:32 He said: “I have preferred the love of earthly good to the mention of my Lord, till the sun disappeared behind the veil.”
38:33 “Bring them back to me.” Then he proceeded to wipe their shanks and necks.
38:34 And We tried Solomon and cast upon his throne a dead body (did Allah forget that it was David who engineered the murder of Uriah?); then he repented.
38:35 He said: “Lord, forgive me and grant me a kingdom that no one after me will deserve; you are indeed the All-Giver.”
38:36 So, We subjected the wind unto him, to blow at his command softly, wherever he wished;
38:37 And of the demons every builder and diver;
38:38 And others shackled in fetters.
38:39 “This is Our Bounty; so give or withhold without account.”
38:40 And he has to Us a close relationship and a fair recourse.
Solomon died watching the jinns that, as a punishment from God, were commanded to help build his famous temple. Others might not have noticed his passing had it not been for a worm gnawing at his staff which, when it broke, caused Solomon’s dead body to fall over.
34:14 When We decreed his death, nothing indicated to them that he was dead except an earth-worm gnawing away at his staff. Then, when he fell down, the jinn realized that, had they known the Unseen, they would not have continued in the demeaning punishment.