Saturday 24 November 2018

Women Mentioned in the Holy Quran: Queen Sheba and the Prophet Solomon

Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon, peace be upon him) was one of the greatest kings and prophet of Allah who has been mentioned in all holy scriptures including the Holy Qur'an. He, despite being a very powerful king, has been very humble and feared Allah more than anyone else of his times. Beside many bounties, Allah had also blessed him the ability to understand the speech of animals, birds and insects even the ants. He also ruled over the unseen jinns and the human beings. 

There are many stories attributed to him, which we shall share in time, but in this post we share his ability to understand the birds and command the jinns as we describe the story of a powerful woman queen who ruled people of Sheba.

The Prophet Sulaiman held his meeting with all men, jinns, animals and birds every day. It so happened that one day he found that a hoopoe was missing. and from here on the verses 20-44 of Surah An Naml, the 27th surah / chapter of the Holy Qur'an narrates the entire story of how the Prophet Sulaiman came to know of the Queen of Sheba. However, it may be noted that in the Qur'an the name used is Saba, but we use name Sheba as it is known in other scriptures:
20. And he took attendance of the birds and said, "Why do I not see the hoopoe - or is he among the absent?21. I will surely punish him with a severe punishment or slaughter him unless he brings me clear authorization."22. But the hoopoe stayed not long and said, "I have encompassed [in knowledge] that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Saba with certain news.23. Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne.24. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided,25. [And] so they do not prostrate to Allah, who brings forth what is hidden within the heavens and the earth and knows what you conceal and what you declare -26. Allah; there is no God save Him, the Lord of the Tremendous Throne. 27. (Solomon) said: We shall see whether thou speaketh truth or whether thou art of the liars.28. Go with this my letter and throw it down unto them; then turn away and see what (answer) they return,
Prophet Sulaiman was a deeply religious man and was distressed that a whole people should be lost in worshiping the sun, rather than the One God who created it. Thus he sent a message to the Queen, inviting her and her people to worship Allah.

When the Queen received the letter from the all powerful King, she assembled her assembly of chieftains for consultation:
29. (The Queen of Sheba) said (when she received the letter): O chieftains! Lo! there hath been thrown unto me a noble letter.30. Lo! it is from Solomon, and lo! it is: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful;31. Exalt not yourselves against me, but come unto me as those who surrender.32. She said: O chieftains! Pronounce for me in my case. I decide no case till ye are present with me.33. They said: We are lords of might and lords of great prowess, but it is for thee to command; so consider what thou wilt command.34. She said: Lo! kings, when they enter a township, ruin it and make the honour of its people shame. Thus will they do.35. But lo! I am going to send a present unto them, and to see with what (answer) the messengers return.36. So when they came to Solomon, he said, "Do you provide me with wealth? But what Allah has given me is better than what He has given you. Rather, it is you who rejoice in your gift.
This verse is worth noticing  for one would find the difference between the answer of an all powerful king and a humble servant and God fearing prophet. In fact the reply is not meant to express pride and vanity. What it means to say is this: “I have no desire for your wealth; I only desire that you should believe, or at least submit to a righteous system. If you agree to neither of these alternatives, it is not possible for me to accept the bribes of wealth and leave you free in the matter of a polytheistic and wicked system of life. What my Lord has given me is enough for me to cherish any desire for your wealth.
37. Return unto them. We verily shall come unto them with hosts that they cannot resist, and we shall drive them out from thence with shame, and they will be abased.
Thus the reply is plainly clear: “O messengers, take these gift back to the people who have sent you. They will either have to yield to our first proposal, i.e. they should come before us as Muslims, or we shall bring forces against them.”

The details of the story that have been omitted are to the effect. The envoys returned to the queen with the gift and made a report of what they had seen and heard. The queen decided on the basis of what she heard about the Prophet Sulaiman to make a visit to Jerusalem to see him personally. She left Saba for Palestine accompanied by her royal entourage and sent a message to Solomon’s court that she was coming to personally hear the invitation from the king and to have a direct talk with him. Here, the story is resumed from the time when the queen had reached near Jerusalem and was going to appear before Solomon (peace be upon him) in a day or two.

And when the queen accepted the invitation to come to his court, Prophet Sulaiman summoned one of his jinns to bring the queen;s throne before she reaches her court to show her his might:
38. He said: O chiefs! Which of you will bring me her throne before they come unto me, surrendering ?39. A stalwart of the jinn said: I will bring it thee before thou canst rise from thy place. Lo! I verily am strong and trusty for such work.40. One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: I will bring it thee before thy gaze returneth unto thee. And when he saw it set in his presence, (Solomon) said: This is of the bounty of my Lord, that He may try me whether I give thanks or am ungrateful. Whosoever giveth thanks he only giveth thanks for (the good of) his own soul; and whosoever is ungrateful (is ungrateful only to his own soul's hurt). For lo! my Lord is Absolute in independence, Bountiful.
In the verse 40 above,  nothing is known with certainty as to who this person was, what special knowledge he had and what book is referred to here, the knowledge of which he had. No explanation of these things has been given either in the Quran or in any authentic Hadith. Some of the commentators say that it was an angel, others say that it was a man.  In any case the person was not from among the jinns, and possibly he was a man. He possessed some extraordinary knowledge, which had been derived from some Divine Book. The jinn had claimed to fetch the throne within a few hours by means of his physical strength; this man fetched it in a moment by the power of his knowledge. The words of the Quran are very clear in this regard. This person’s claim did not remain a claim like the jinn’s, but, in fact, as soon as he made the claim the throne was seen placed before the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) the next moment.
41. He said: Disguise her throne for her that we may see whether she will go aright or be of those not rightly guided.42. So, when she came, it was said (unto her): Is thy throne like this ? She said: (It is) as though it were the very one. And (Solomon said): We were given the knowledge before her and we had surrendered (to Allah).
This verse 43 below has been added by Allah to clarity the queen’s position, saying that she was not obdurate and stubborn. She had been an unbeliever till then mainly because she came of an unbelieving people. As she had become accustomed to bowing down before a false deity since her childhood, it had become a hindrance for her to the right way. As soon as she came in contact with the Prophet Sulaiman, she discerned the right way and the hindrance was removed forthwith.
43. What prevented her (from accepting the True Faith) was her worshiping deities other than Allah, for she belonged to an unbelieving people.
When the queen was asked to enter the palace, she tucked up her skirts, because she thought she had to pass through a pool of water. Prophet Sulaiman, not wishing to humiliate the queen, informed her that what she had mistaken for water was actually smooth slabs of glass which paved the courtyard.
44. It was said unto her: Enter the hall. And when she saw it she deemed it a pool and bared her legs. (Solomon) said: Lo! it is a hall, made smooth, of glass. She said: My Lord! Lo! I have wronged myself, and I surrender with Solomon unto Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
This was the last thing, as explained in verse 44 above, that opened queen’s eyes:
  • The first thing was Prophet Sulaiman’s letter that began with the name of the All-Compassionate, the All- Merciful Allah, a way different front the common custom prevalent among the kings. 
  • The second was his rejection of her gifts, which made the queen understand that he was a different kind of king. 
  • The third was the report made by the queen’s envoys from which she came to know about Solomon's pious life, his wisdom and his message of the truth. This very thing had induced her to travel to Jerusalem to personally meet the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him), and to this she had referred when she said: “and we had surrendered (to Allah)”. 
  • The fourth thing was the removal of her throne from Marib to Jerusalem in no time, from which the queen realized that he had Allah’s power with him. Now this was the last thing that removed every doubt from her mind regarding the unique and great personality of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him). 
When she saw that in spite of possessing every means of comfort and ease and a grand palace for a dwelling, he was so free from every conceit, so God-fearing and righteous and so grateful to God that he bowed before Him for every small favor and his life was so different from the life of those who were enamored of the world, she exclaimed the words "My Lord! Lo! I have wronged myself, and I surrender with Solomon unto Allah, the Lord of the Worlds."

This story of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) and the queen of Sheba has been related in the Old and the New Testaments and the Israelite traditions in different ways, but the Quranic narration differs from all others. A resume of the story as given in the Old Testament [please read details in E.N. 50 at reference 1 given below]

The story mentioned in the Holy Qur'an thus teaches us that submitting to Allah is richer than silver or gold, and better than splendor or wealth. And this exactly what Prophet Sulaiman had in his mind when he decided to invite the Queen and her people to worship none other than one omnipotent Allah rather than the sun they worshiped.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 |
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