Friday 12 July 2019

Surah An Naml - The Ants: Exegesis / Tafsir 27th Chapter of Holy Quran - Part I

Sūrah  An-Naml is the twenty seventh surah with 93 ayahs with seven rukus, part of the 19-20 th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an. The Surah takes its name from the phrase wad-in-naml which occurs in verse 18 when mentioning the Prophet Solomon and his advancing armies, implying that it is a Surah in which the story of An-Naml (the Ant) has been related.

As already explained in the Overview of Sūrah Ash-Shuʻarāʼ that beginning from Sūrah Ash-Shuʻarāʼ, a new series of four Surahs (Chapters 26-29), sets in which illustrate the contrast between the spirit of Prophecy and spiritual Light and the reactions to it in the communities among whom it appeared, by going back to old Prophets and the stories of the Past. 

This Surah tells stories of the Prophets Moses, Solomon, Salih, and Lot (peace be upon them all) to emphasize the message of Tawhid. Continuing from Sūrah Ash-Shuʻarāʼ, the miracles of Moses are once again mentioned in opposition to the arrogance of Pharaoh.

As already mentioned in the Overview of this Surah, the exegesis / tafseer has been divided into two parts:
  • Part I  : Introduction and mentions of earlier prophets
  • Part II : Address to the nonbelievers and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
So we now discuss Part I along with the translation and exegesis / tafseer in English of the Surah segmented into portions as per the subject matter. For Arabic Text, please refer to the references given at the end and may also listen to its recitation in Arabic with English subtitles:
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

Rukhu 1 [Verses 1-14]
Verses 1-6 Al-Quran is a Guide and Good News to the Believers:

( 1 )   Ta, Seen. طٰسٓ​
 [These disjoined letters are one of the miracles of the Qur'an, and none but Allah (Alone) knows their meanings - see our earlier post for details: Understanding the Holy Quran: Huroof Muqatta’at - Disjoined Letters].

Immediately following the letters, Allah says that this scripture is a guide for the believers.  It is joyful news for those who pray, give charity, and believe in the Hereafter.  One the other hand those that do not believe wander blindly believing that their lives will have no lasting consequences.  They are wrong.  Their punishment will be severe, and this scripture is a warning.  Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him), receives this Quran from the one who is All Knowing.
 تِلۡكَ اٰيٰتُ الۡقُرۡاٰنِ وَكِتَابٍ مُّبِيۡنٍۙ‏ 
These are the verses of the Qur'an and a clear Book
Kitabim-mubin has three meanings: (1) This book presents its teachings and instructions and injunctions plainly; (2) It distinguishes between the truth and falsehood clearly; and (3) Its being a divine Book is obvious. Whoever studies it with open eyes will realize that it has not been composed and forged by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
( 2 )   As guidance and good tidings for the believers
 That is, the verses themselves are a “guidance” and “good tidings”, because they give guidance and convey good news in a most excellent manner.

الَّذِيۡنَ يُقِيۡمُوۡنَ الصَّلٰوةَ وَيُؤۡتُوۡنَ الزَّكٰوةَ وَ هُمۡ بِالۡاٰخِرَةِ هُمۡ يُوۡقِنُوۡنَ‏ 
( 3 )   Who establish prayer and give zakah, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith].
That is, these verses of the Quran give guidance and convey the good news of a good end only to those people who possess these two qualities: (1) They should affirm faith, that is, accept the invitation of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), believe in One God as their only Deity and Lord, accept the Quran as the Book of Allah, acknowledge the Prophet (peace be upon him) as a true prophet and their leader, and also adopt the belief that after this life there is another life, in which man has to render his full account of deeds and be rewarded or punished accordingly. (2) They should not only profess faith verbally, but should also be inclined to follow and obey the divine commands practically, and the first indication of this inclination is that they should establish the Salat and pay the Zakat.

Some people have interpreted the words yutun-az-zakat in this verse to mean that they should adopt moral purity. But, wherever in the Quran the word ita-i-zakat has occurred along with the word iqamat-i-salat, it means payment of the Zakat, which is the second pillar of Islam after the Salat. As for adopting piety and purity, the Quran has used the word tazakka and not ita which is specifically used for the payment of the Zakat. In fact, what is meant to be impressed here is this: In order to benefit fully by the guidance of the Quran, it is imperative that one should adopt the attitude of submission and obedience in practical life, as well after the affirmation of the faith, and the establishment of the Salat and the payment of the Zakat is the first indication that one has actually adopted such an attitude. If there is no such indication, it will become obvious that one is rebellious: he might have acknowledged a ruler as such, but he is not inclined to carry out his commands.

Although belief in the Hereafter is an article of the faith, and a believer will also believe in it along with believing in Tawhid and the prophet hood, here it has been specially mentioned separately in order to bring out its unique importance. Those who do not believe in the Hereafter, for them comes the next verse:
( 4 )   Indeed, for those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have made pleasing to them their deeds, so they wander blindly.
That is, this is Allah’s law of nature and the natural logic of human psychology that when man thinks that the results of his life’s struggle are confined to this world only when he does not believe in the existence of any court where his life's work has to be scrutinized and judged finally for good and evil, and when he does not believe in any life in Hereafter when he will be requited strictly in accordance with the real worth of his life’s deeds, he will inevitably develop in himself a material outlook on life, and every kind of conflict between the truth and falsehood, good and evil, morality and immorality, will appear utterly meaningless to him. Then, whatever earns him pleasure and enjoyment, material progress and prosperity, power and authority, will be the good for him, no matter it be any philosophy of life, any way of life and any system of morality. He will have no concern for truth and reality. His real ambition will be to win successes and earn adornments only of this worldly life, and their pursuit will lead him astray into every valley. Then, whatever he does with this object in view will be a thing of beauty for him, and he will regard all those others as foolish, who are not absorbed like him in seeking the world, and doing anything and everything without any moral qualm and inhibition.
( 5 )   Those are the ones for whom there will be the worst of punishment, and in the Hereafter they are the greatest losers.
Nothing definite has been said about the form, time and place of this “worst of punishment.” For it is imposed in this world also on different persons and groups and nations in countless different ways; a part of it is also experienced by the wicked when they are about to leave the world; man experiences it also in the intermediary state between death and resurrection; and then after resurrection it will become endless and everlasting.

وَاِنَّكَ لَـتُلَـقَّى الۡقُرۡاٰنَ مِنۡ لَّدُنۡ حَكِيۡمٍ عَلِيۡمٍ‏ 
( 6 )   And indeed, [O Muhammad], you receive the Qur'an from one Wise and Knowing.
That is, the things being mentioned in the Quran are not imaginary, nor are they based on the presumptions and opinions of a man, but they are being revealed by the One Who is All-Wise and All-Knowing, Who is perfect in Wisdom and Knowledge, Who has full knowledge of the affairs of His creation and of its past and present and future, and Whose Wisdom devises the best schemes for the reform and guidance of His servants.

In this verse, two attributes of Allah have been mentioned: Al Hakeem (The Wise), and Al Aleem (The All Knowing, The Omniscient). Please refer to our post: 99 Attributes of Allah for details of each attribute of Allah

Verses 7-14 Story of Prophet Musa (Moses, peace be upon him) and his selection as a Rasool and Nine signs were shown to Fir'on but he still disbelieved and incurred Allah's punishment.

While traveling with his family Moses sees a fire.  He walks towards the light telling his family that he will return with either news or burning sticks with which to make their own warming fire.  When He reaches the fire, Allah calls out to him and introduces Himself.  Allah orders Moses to throw down his staff; he complies but runs away in fright when the staff begins to move like a snake.  Allah tells him  to stop and that the messengers should not be afraid when in Allah’s presence because He, Allah, is merciful and forgiving.  Allah then tells Moses to put his hand inside his cloak and when he withdraws it, it will be shinning white.  Allah explains that these are two from the nine signs that will be given to Pharaoh to convince him to submit to the One Allah.  Pharaoh and his advisers call the signs sorcery.  They knew the signs were miracles yet denied them and thus came to a very bad end.
( 7 )   (Recount to them) when Moses said to his family: "I perceive something like fire: soon will I bring to you some information from there, or I will bring you a burning brand that you may warm yourselves.
This happened at the foot of Mount Tur when the Prophet Musa (Moses, peace be upon him) was traveling along with his family in search of a suitable place for settlement, after passing eight to ten years in Madyan (Midian). From Madyan, whose territory lay on both sides of the Gulf of Aqabah, on the sea-shores of Arabia and the Sinai Peninsula, he reached the place called Mt. Sinai and Jabal Musa in the southern part of the Peninsula, which at the time of the revelation of the Quran was well known as Tur. The details of this story have been given in (Surah Ta Ha: Ayats 9-24), and in (Surah Al- Qasas: Ayats 29-36).
Mount Sinai [Photo]

The context shows that it was a cold wintry night and the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) was passing through unfamiliar land. Therefore, he said to his family, “Let me go and find out what habitation it is where a fire is alight, and get some information about the traveling routes and the nearby habitations. I shall at least bring a few embers for you to light a fire and warm yourselves.”

The place where the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) had seen a burning bush is situated at about 5,000 ft. above sea level at the foot of Mt. Tur. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire, had a church built in about 365 A.D. right at the spot where this event had occurred. Two hundred years later Emperor Justinian had a monastery built which included the church built by Constantine as well. Both the monastery and the church stand even today and are under the control of the monks of the Greek Orthodox Church.
( 8 )   But when he came to it, he was called, "Blessed is whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it. And exalted is Allah, Lord of the worlds.
According to (Al-Qasas: Ayat 30), the voice was calling out from a tree. What one understands from this is this: A sort of a fire was alight on the ground on the edge of the valley, but neither was anything burning nor any smoke arising. In the midst of the fire there stood a lush green tree from which a voice started calling out this all of a sudden.

This is a strange thing which the prophets of Allah have been experiencing. When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was first blessed with prophet hood, an angel appeared before him in the solitude of the cave of Hira and started delivering Allah’s message. A similar thing happened with the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) also. A journeying person has halted at a place, sees a fire at a distance, approaches it in order to get some information abort the route, or to pick a burning ember, and suddenly Allah, Lord of the Worlds, the Infinite, the Inconceivable Being, starts speaking to him. On such occasions, there exists externally as well as within the Prophets’ own selves an extraordinary state which fills them with the assurance that it is not a jinn or a satan or an illusion of their own mind, nor are their senses being deceived, but it is the Lord of the universe, or His Angel, who is speaking to them.

Here the use of the words Subhan-Allah (glorified is Allah) is meant to warn the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) to this effect: “You should never think that Allah, Lord of the universe, is sitting in the tree, or has entered into it, or that His absolute Light has concentrated itself into the limited sphere of your sight, or some tongue is functioning in some mouth to produce speech, but it is Allah, Who is Pure and Free from all such limitations, Who is Himself speaking to you.”
( 9 )   O Moses, indeed it is I - Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Wise."
وَاَ لۡقِ عَصَاكَ​ ؕ فَلَمَّا رَاٰهَا تَهۡتَزُّ كَاَنَّهَا جَآنٌّ وَّلّٰى مُدۡبِرًا وَّلَمۡ يُعَقِّبۡ​ ؕ يٰمُوۡسٰى لَا تَخَفۡ اِنِّىۡ لَا يَخَافُ لَدَىَّ الۡمُرۡسَلُوۡنَ ​ۖ‏  
( 10 )   And [he was told], "Throw down your staff." But when he saw it writhing as if it were a snake, he turned in flight and did not return. [Allah said], "O Moses, fear not. Indeed, in My presence the messengers do not fear.
In Surahs Al-Aaraf and Ash-Shuara, the snake has been called thuban (a large serpent) but here jaann, a small snake. The reason is that in physical size it was a serpent but in movement it was swift like a small snake. The same thing has been expressed by hayyatun tasaa (a running snake) in (Surah Ta Ha: Ayat 20).

When Moses retracted in fear, he was told, “In My presence there is no danger of any harm to the messenger. When I call someone into My presence to appoint him to the high office of prophet hood, I Myself become responsible for his safety. Therefore, the messenger should remain fearless and confident in every kind of unusual situation: it will never harm or hurt him in any way.”
( 11 )   Otherwise, he who wrongs, then substitutes good after evil - indeed, I am Forgiving and Merciful.
That is, “If even an offender repents and reforms himself and does good instead of evil, I will pardon him.” This implied both a warning and a good news. The Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) had killed a Copt inadvertently and fled from Egypt. This was an offense to which a subtle reference was made. When this offense was committed unintentionally by the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), he had immediately offered repentance to Allah, saying, “O my Lord! I have sinned against myself, so forgive me.” So, “Allah forgave him” there and then. (Surah Al-Qasas: Ayat 16). Here the good news of the same forgiveness has been given to him, as if to say, “O Moses, there could be a genuine cause for you to feel afraid in My presence, because you had committed an offense, but when you have changed the evil into good, I have nothing but forgiveness and mercy for you. I have not called you here at this time to punish you, but I am going to send you on a great mission with wonderful miracles.”
( 12 )   And put your hand into the opening of your garment [at the breast]; it will come out white without disease. [These are] among the nine signs [you will take] to Pharaoh and his people. Indeed, they have been a people defiantly disobedient."
According to (Surah Bani-Israil: Ayat 101), the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) had been granted nine clearly visible signs, which according to the details given in Surah Al-Aaraf were the following: (1) The staff’s turning into a serpent, (2) the shining hand when it was drawn out of the armpit, (3) public triumph over the magicians, (4) occurrence of a widespread famine in the land as foretold by the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), (5) the storm, (6) the locusts, (7) the incidence of weevils in the grain stores and of lice among human beings and animals, (8) the frogs, and (9) the rain of blood.
( 13 )   But when there came to them Our visible signs, they said, "This is obvious magic."
( 14 )   And they rejected them, while their [inner] selves were convinced thereof, out of injustice and haughtiness. So see how was the end of the corrupters.
As mentioned at other places in the Quran, whenever a plague befell Egypt as foretold by the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him), Pharaoh would say, “O Moses, pray to your Lord to remove this plague; then we shall submit to what you say.” But as soon as the plague was removed, Pharaoh would break his promise. (Surah Al-Aaraf: Ayat 134), ( Az- Zukhruf: Ayats 49-50). The Bible also has mentioned it (Exodus. 8 to 10).

It could not be imagined that the occurrence of a famine throughout the country, and the coming of a violent storm, and the incidence of the locusts and the frogs and the weevils in such abundance could be due to any trick of magic. The miracles were so manifest that even a simple minded person could not help but realize that the occurrence of the plagues on such a large scale and their removal at the Prophet’s prayer could be only due to Allah, Lord of all Creation’s Power and Authority. That is why the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) had told Pharaoh plainly: “You know it full well that none but the Lord of the heavens and the earth has sent down these signs.” (Surah Bani-lsrail: Ayat 102). But the reason why Pharaoh and his chiefs rejected Moses (peace be upon him) knowingly was: “What! should we believe in these two men who are human beings like ourselves and whose people are our bondsmen?” (Surah Al-Muminun: Ayat 47).

Here the mention of Prophet Moses and Pharaoh ends and mention of Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon, peace be upon him) begins:

Rukhu 2 [Verses 15-31]
Verses 15-19 Story of Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon, peace be upon him) is in most details, to whom Allah gave rule over jinn, men, birds and winds:

When Allah gave knowledge to Prophets Dawood and Sulaiman (David and Solomon, peace be upon them)  they praised Him.  They understood the language of the birds and Solomon inherited the Kingdom of David.  Solomon’s soldiers marched in rows, jinn, humans and birds.  When the armies marched through the valley of the ants, one ant directed the others so that they would not be crushed.  Solomon understood and smiled widely, and requested Allah to give him the strength and ability to be grateful, the ability to perform good deeds that He loves, and to be with the righteous.
( 15 )   And We had certainly given to David and Solomon knowledge, and they said, "Praise [is due] to Allah, who has favored us over many of His believing servants."
That is, the knowledge of the reality, the knowledge that whatever they have is not theirs but the gift of Allah and whatever rights they have been granted over those things should be used strictly according to Allah’s will. For, they will be held answerable before Allah, the real Owner, for the right and wrong use of those rights. This knowledge is the opposite of the ignorance in which Pharaoh was involved. The type of character built on the ignorance has been presented in the preceding verses. Now, in the following verses, the model of the character built on the knowledge is being presented. The sort of kingdom, wealth, power and grandeur were common on both sides. The Pharaoh had been given these as well as the Prophets David and Solomon. But the distinction of the ignorance and the knowledge built and molded them into entirely different personalities.

That is, “There were other believing, servants as well, who could be blessed with vicegerency. But it is only Allah’s favor, not due to any special quality in ourselves, that He has chosen us to be rulers over this kingdom.”
( 16 )   And Solomon succeeded David. He said, "O people, we have been taught the language of birds, and we have been given from all things. Indeed, this is evident bounty."
Succession here does not mean inheritance of wealth and properties, but the succession to the Prophet David (peace be upon him) in the prophet hood and vicegerency. For the wealth and possessions, if at all transferred, could not be transferred to the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) only, because Prophet David (peace be upon him) had other children also. Therefore, this verse cannot be cited to refute the Hadith reported from the Prophet (peace be upon him), saying, “The inheritance left by us, the Prophets, is not divided as such. Whatever we leave behind is charity.” (Bukhari). And, “There is no heir to a Prophet. Whatever he leaves behind is divided among the needy and the indigent of the Muslims.” (Musnad Ahmad).

The Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) was the youngest son of the Prophet David (peace be upon him). His Hebrew name Solomon. He succeeded the Prophet David (peace be upon him) in 965 B.C. and ruled his kingdom for forty years, till 926 B.C. His kingdom comprised the present Palestine and Trans Jordan and a part of Syria.

There is no mention in the Bible that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) had been taught speech of the birds and animals, though the Israelite traditions contain a reference to it.

“Allah has bestowed on us all sorts of things,” should not be understood literally; it only means the abundance of the wealth and the means of life granted by Allah. This was not said proudly by Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) but only to express his gratitude to Allah for His grace and bounty and favors.
( 17 )   And gathered for Solomon were his soldiers of the jinn and men and birds, and they were [marching] in rows.
The Bible does not either make any mention that there were jinns in the Prophet Solomon’s (peace be upon him) armies, and he took service from them; but the Talmud and the rabbinical traditions contain details of this. Some of the present-day writers have strained every nerve to prove that the words jinn and tair do not refer to the jinns and birds but to men who performed different duties in the Prophet Solomon's (peace be upon him) army. They say that the Jinn were the people of the mountain tribes whom Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) had subdued and who performed tasks of great strength and skill under him; and tair implies cavalry which could move much faster than the infantry.

But these are indeed the worst examples of misinterpreting the Quran. The Quran here mentions three distinct kinds of the army consisting of the men, the jinns and the birds, and all the three have been qualified by the prefix al (alif-lam) to denote a class. Therefore, al-jinn and al-tair could not be included in al-ins (the men), but could be two separate and different classes from the men. Moreover, a person who has a little acquaintance with Arabic cannot imagine that in this language the mere word al-Jinn could ever imply a group of the men, or al-tair as troops mounted on horses, nor could any Arab understand these meanings from these words.

Calling a man a jinn because of some supernatural feat of his, or a woman a fairy because of her beauty, or a fast moving person a bird, does not mean that the words jinn and fairy and bird will henceforth be taken to mean a powerful man and a beautiful woman and a fast moving person respectively. These are only the metaphoric and not the real meanings of these words. In a discourse, a word is used in its figurative instead of its real meaning, and the listeners also will take it in that meaning, only when there exists in the context a clear pointer to its being figurative. What, after all, is the pointer in the context here from which one may understand that the words jinn and tair have been used not in their real and lexical meaning but in their figurative meaning? Contrary to this, the work and the state of a member each of the two groups that have been mentioned in the following verses, fall entirely against the purport of this interpretation.

If a person does not want to believe in something stated in the Quran, he should frankly say that he does not believe in it. But it would be moral cowardice and intellectual dishonesty if one should force the clear words of the Quran to give the meaning that he wants them to give, and tells the world that he believes in what the Quran says, whereas he does not, in fact, believe in it but believes in his own distorted meaning.

Now here comes the verse 18 in which mention of ants has been made and this surah takes its name from this verse:
( 18 )   Until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, "O ants, enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not."
This verse also has been greatly misconstrued by some commentators of the present day. They say that wad-in naml does not mean “valley of the ants”, but it is the name of a valley that was in Syria, and namlah does not mean an ant but it is the name of a tribe. Thus, according to them, the verse means this: “When the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) reached the valley of the ants, a Namilite said, O people of the Naml tribe ......” But this also is an interpretation which is not supported by the words of the Quran. Even if we took wad-in-naml to be the name of a valley and supposed that it was inhabited by the tribe of Bani an-Naml, it would be against the Arabic idiom and usage to speak of a member of the tribe as namlah. Although there are many Arab tribes which have been named after the animals, e.g. Kalb (dog), Asad (lion), etc. Yet no Arab would ever say in respect of a member of the Kalb or the Asad tribe: “A dog said, or a lion said, etc.” Therefore, it would be against the Arabic idiom to say in respect of a member of the Naml tribe: “An ant (namlah) said this.” Then a member of the Naml tribe’s warning the people of his tribe, saying, “O Namilites, get into your houses lest Solomon’s hosts should trample you down without even knowing it,” becomes meaningless, It has never happened that an army of men should have trampled down a group of men without knowing it. If the army has come with the intention of an attack, it would be useless for the other side to get into their houses, for in that case the invaders would follow them into their houses, and trample them more ruthlessly. And if the army is only on the routine march, it is just enough to clear off the way for it. Human beings may be harmed by the marching columns, but it can never happen that the soldiers on the march would trample down other men without knowing it. Therefore, if Bani an-Naml were a tribe of human beings, and one of its members were to warn his people, then in case of an attack, he would have said, “O Namilites, flee your houses and take refuge in the mountains lest Solomon’s armies should destroy you.” And in case there was no danger of an attack, he would have said, “O Namilites, clear off the way lest one of you should be harmed by the marching columns of Solomon’s armies.”

This error in the interpretation is on account of the Arabic idiom and the subject-matter. As for the name of the valley and the tribe of Bani an-Naml inhabiting it, it is a mere hypothesis for which there exists no scientific proof. Those who hold that wad-in-naml was the name of a valley have themselves pointed out that it had been so named because of the abundance of ants in it. Qatadah and Muqatil say, “It is a valley in the land of Syria where ants are found in abundance.” But in no book of history and geography and in no archaeological research it is mentioned that it was inhabited by a tribe called Bani an-Naml. Thus, it is merely a concoction that has been invented to support one’s own interpretation.

This story is also found in the Israelite traditions but its latter portion falls against the Quran as well as against the real dignity of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him). According to it, when the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) was passing through a valley which abounded in ants, he heard an ant calling out to the other ants to say, “Get into your holes, otherwise you will be trampled down by Solomon's hosts.” At this, Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) displayed great vanity before the ant to which the ant said, “What are you? - the product of a mere sperm drop!” Hearing this the Prophet Solomon felt greatly ashamed. This shows how the Quran corrects the wrong traditions of the Israelites, and cleanses the filthy spots with which they had themselves branded the characters of their prophets. It is these traditions about which the Western orientalists shamelessly claim that the Quran has plagiarized them for its narratives.

Rationally also, it is not at all inconceivable that an ant should warn members of its own species of an impending danger and tell them to get into their holes. As for the question as to how the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) heard it, the answer is: It is not all difficult to understand the crude speech of an ant for a person whose senses can comprehend and receive a subtle message like the word of revelation.
( 19 )   So [Solomon] smiled, amused at her speech, and said, "My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to do righteousness of which You approve. And admit me by Your mercy into [the ranks of] Your righteous servants."
“Bestow upon me that I may be thankful” means this: “O my Lord! The wonderful powers and abilities that You have given me are such that if I become even a little forgetful and heedless, I might transgress the bounds of service and be puffed up with pride and go astray. Therefore, O my Lord, bestow upon me so that I may remain grateful to You for all Your blessings instead of being ungrateful.”

“And admit me by Your mercy among Your righteous slaves” probably implies this: “I should be included among the righteous in the Hereafter and should enter Paradise along with them.” For a person who does righteous acts will automatically be righteous, but one’s entry into Paradise in the Hereafter cannot come about merely on the strength of one’s good works, but it will depend on Allah’s mercy. According to a Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) once said, “Merely the deeds of any one of you will not enable him to enter Paradise.” It was asked, “In your case too, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “Yes, I also shall not enter Paradise only on the strength of my deeds, unless Allah Almighty covers me with His mercy.”

This prayer of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) on this occasion becomes irrelevant if an-namal is taken to mean a tribe of human beings and namlah a member of that tribe. After all, there could be nothing extraordinary in the warning given by a member of a human tribe to the people of his tribe about the approaching troops of a powerful king that it should have induced the king to make such a prayer to Allah. However, a person having such a wonderful power of comprehension that he may hear the speech of an ant from a distance and also understand it, is certainly something extraordinary, which can involve a person in self-conceit and vanity. In such a case only the prayer of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) can be relevant.

Verses 20-31 The hoopoe brought him the news about the Queen of Sheba and Letter from King Sulaiman to the Queen of Sheba:

The mention of Queen of Sheba commences when one day Solomon inspected the birds but could not find the hoopoe.  The hoopoe returned saying that he had been in Sheba where he found a woman leading the people.  She had a magnificent throne but they all worshiped the sun instead of Allah.  Solomon sent the hoopoe with a letter for the Queen of Sheba.  She read the letter to her counselors.  It was an invitation to submit to the will of Allah.  Solomon and his army had not invaded the city so she decided to send a gift.  When the gift arrived, Solomon said that they could not give him anything that God had not already provided for him.  Solomon sent them away with a threat to invade their city.
Hoopoe [Photo]
( 20 )   And he took attendance of the birds and said, "Why do I not see the hoopoe - or is he among the absent?
That is, the birds whose troops, as mentioned above, were included in the armies of Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) like the troops of the men and jinns. It is just possible that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) had employed them for communicating messages, hunting and performing other such services.
( 21 )   I will surely punish him with a severe punishment or slaughter him unless he brings me clear authorization."
Some commentators say that the hud-hud (hoopoe) does not mean the bird commonly known by this name, but is the name of a man who was an officer in the army of Solomon. This claim is not based on any historical research in which they might have found a person named hud-hud included in the list of the officers of the government of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him), but they base their claim on the argument that the custom of naming human beings after animals is prevalent in Arabic as in other languages and was also found in Hebrew. Moreover, the work that has been ascribed to the hud-hud in the following verses and its conversation with the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) can, according to them, be only performed by a human being. But if one keeps in view the context in which this thing occurs in the Quran, it becomes evident that this is no commentary of the Quran but its distortion. After all, why should the Quran put the intellect and intelligence of man to the test by using enigmatic language? Why should it not clearly say that a soldier of the Prophet Solomon’s (peace be upon him) cavalry, or platoon, or communication department, was missing, whom he ordered to be searched out, and who came and gave this news and whom he dispatched on such and such a mission? Instead, it uses such language that the reader, from the beginning to the end, is compelled to regard it as a bird. Let us, in this connection, consider the parts in their sequence as presented in the Quran.

First of all, Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) expresses his gratitude to Allah for His this bounty: “We have been taught the speech of the birds.” In this sentence, firstly, the word tair has been used absolutely which every Arab and scholar of Arabic will take in the meaning of a bird, because there is nothing in the context that points to its being figurative; secondly, if tair implied a group of men and not a bird, the word language or tongue would have been used concerning it and not speech. Then, a person’s knowing the tongue of another people is not so extraordinary a thing that it should be specially mentioned. Today there are among us thousands of men and women, who can speak and understand many foreign languages. This is in no way an unusual achievement which may be mentioned as an extraordinary gift of God.

Then the Quran says, “For Solomon (peace be upon him) were gathered hosts of jinns and then and birds.” In this sentence, firstly, the words jinn and ins (men) and tair have been used as names for three well-known and distinct species denoted by these words in Arabic. Then they have been used absolutely and there is nothing in the context that may point to any of them being used metaphorically, or as a simile, because of which one may take them in another meaning than their well-known lexical meaning. Then the word ins has occurred between the words jinn and tair which does not allow taking it in the meaning that the jinn and the tair were, in tact, two groups included in the species of ins (men). Had this been meant the words would have been: ul jinn wat-tair min-al-ins and not min-al-jinn wal-ins wat-tair.

A little further on, the Quran says that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) said this when during his review of the birds he found the hud-hud missing. If the tair were human beings and hud-hud also was the name of a man, a word or two should have been there to indicate this so that the poor reader should not have taken the word for a bird. When the group being mentioned is clearly of the birds and a member of it is called hud-hud, how can it be expected that the reader will of his own accord understand them to be human beings?

Then the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) says, “I will punish him severely, or even slaughter him, unless he presents before me a reasonable excuse.” A man is killed, or hanged, or sentenced to death, but never slaughtered. Some hard-hearted person may even slaughter another person out of vengeance, but it cannot be expected of a Prophet (peace be upon him) that he would sentence a soldier of his army to be slaughtered only for the offense of desertion, and Allah would mention this heinous act of the Prophet (peace be upon him) without a word of disapproval.

A little further on, we shall again see that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) sends the same hud-hud with a letter to the queen of Sheba and tells him “to cast it before her”. Obviously, such an instruction can be given to a bird but not at all to a man when he is sent as an envoy or messenger. Only a foolish person will believe that a king would send his envoy with a letter to the queen of another country and tell him to cast or throw it before her. Should we suppose that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) was not aware of the preliminary social etiquette which even common people like us also observe when we send our servant to a neighbor? Will a gentleman tell his servant to carry his letter to the other gentleman and throw it before him?

All these things show that the word hud-hud here has been used in its lexical meaning, showing that he was not a man but a bird. Now, if a person is not prepared to believe that a hud-hud can speak those things that have been ascribed to it in the Quran, he should frankly say that he does not believe in this narrative of the Quran. It is sheer hypocrisy to misconstrue plain and clear words of the Quran according to one’s own whims only in order to cover up one’s lack of faith in it.
( 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 Sheba with certain news.
Sheba were a well-known commercial people of southern Arabia, whose capital city of Marib lay about 55 miles to the north east of Sana, the present capital of Yemen. They rose to power after the decline of the Minaean Kingdom in about 1100 B.C. and flourished for a thousand years in Arabia. Then in 115 B.C. they were replaced by the Himyarites, the other well-known people of southern Arabia, who ruled Yemen and Hadramaut in Arabia and Habash in Africa. The Sabaeans controlled the whole trade that passed between eastern Africa, India, the Far East and Arabia, as well as Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. That is why they were famous for their wealth in the ancient times; so much so that according to the Greek historians they were the richest people of the world. Besides trade and commerce, another great reason for their prosperity was that they had built dams here and there in their country to store rainwater for irrigation purposes, which had turned their whole land into a veritable garden. The Greek historians have made mention of the unusual greenery of their country; and the Quran also refers to it in (Surah Saba: Ayat 15). The statement of the hud-hud, “I have obtained knowledge of things of which you have no knowledge”, does not imply that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) was wholly unaware of Saba. Obviously, the ruler of Syria and Palestine whose kingdom extended to the northern shores of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqabah), could not be unaware of a people who ruled the southern shores (Yemen) of the same Red Sea, and who also controlled an important pan of the international trade. Moreover, according to Psalms, Solomon’s father, Prophet David (peace be upon them), knew Saba. We find the following words of his prayer in Psalms.

“Give the king thy judgment, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son (i.e. Solomon). The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba (i.e. of Yaman's and Habash’s branches) shall offer gifts.”

Therefore, what the hud-hud means to say is this: “The knowledge of the things I have seen with my eyes in the central city of the Sabaeans has not yet reached you.”
( 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,
This shows that the people of Saba at that time followed the religion of sun-worship, which is also supported by the ancient traditions of Arabia. Ibn Ishaq has cited the genealogists saying to the effect that Saba have in fact descended from an ancestor whose name was Abd Shams (slave of the sun, or sun-worshiper) and title Saba. This is supported by the Israelite traditions as well. According to these when the hud-hud arrived with the Prophet Solomon’s (peace be upon him) letter, the queen of Sheba was going for the worship of the sun-god, and it threw the letter on the way before the queen.

The style shows that the sentences from here to the end of the paragraph are not a part of the hud-hud’s speech but its speech ended with: “they prostrate themselves before the sun”, and these words are an addition by Allah to its speech. His opinion is supported by the sentence: “He knows all that you conceal and reveal.” These words give the impression that the speaker and the addressees here are not the hud-hud and the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) and his courtiers respectively, but the speaker is Allah and the addressees the mushriks of Makkah, for whose admonition this story has been related. From among the commentators, Allamah Alusi, the author of Ruh-al-Maani, also has preferred the same opinion.

That is, Satan has made them believe that earning the worldly wealth and making their lives more and more grand and pompous is the only real and best use of their mental and intellectual and physical powers. Apart from these, they need not think seriously of anything else: they need not bother themselves to see whether there was any factual reality behind the apparent life of the world or not. And whether the basis of their religion, morality, culture and system of life accorded with that reality or went utterly against it. Satan satisfied them that when they were making adequate progress in respect of wealth and power and worldly grandeur, they had no need to see whether their beliefs and philosophies and theories were correct or not, for the only proof of their being correct was that they were earning wealth and enjoying life to their hearts content.
( 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
 That is, He is bringing continuously into existence those things which before their birth were hidden here and there. He is bringing out continuously countless kinds of vegetation and minerals from the bowels of the earth. He is manifesting from upper space such things as could not even be conceived by the human mind before their manifestation.

That is, His knowledge embraces everything, the open and hidden are alike for Him. He is aware of everything. By citing these two attributes of Allah the object is to impress that if they had not been deluded by Satan, they could have seen the right way clearly. They could have perceived that the hot burning sphere of the sun which has no sense of its own existence, did not deserve to be worshiped but worship was due to Him alone who is the All-Knowing and the All-Wise Being, and whose power is bringing into existence new and ever new phenomena every moment.

اَللّٰهُ لَاۤ اِلٰهَ اِلَّا هُوَ رَبُّ الۡعَرۡشِ الۡعَظِيۡمِ ۩‏ 
( 26 )   Allah - there is no deity except Him, Lord of the Great Throne."
 This is one of the verses of the Quran, where its recital makes it obligatory to perform a Sajdah (prostration), and there is a consensus on this of the Muslim jurists. The object of performing a Sajdah here is that a believer should set himself apart from the sun-worshipers and should declare by his action that he does not regard the sun but Allah Almighty alone as his Deity and Lord.

The reader must prostate here as the symbol  ۩ indicates so.
( 27 )   [Solomon] said, "We will see whether you were truthful or were of the liars.
( 28 )   Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them. Then leave them and see what [answer] they will return."
Here ends the role of the hud-hud (hoopoe). The rationalists deny its being a bird for the reason that a bird could not possibly be endowed with such powers of observation, discrimination and expression that it should pass over a country and should come to know that it is the land of Saba, it has such and such a system of government, it is ruled by a certain woman, its religion is sun worship, that it should have worshiped One God instead of having gone astray, and then on its return to the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) it should so clearly make a report of all its observations before him.

Due to these very reasons the open atheists object that the Quran is a book of fables and legends; then those who try to interpret the Quran rationally misconstrue its clear words in order to prove that the hud-hud was not at all a bird but he was a man. But the question is: What scientific information do these people have by which they could tell, with absolute certainty, what powers and abilities do the different species of animals and their different individuals have? The information that they possess only consists of the results inferred from the grossly insufficient observation made by them of the life and behavior of the animals. In fact, man has not so far been able to know through any certain means what different animals know and what they see and hear, and what they feel and think and understand, and how the mind of each one of them works. Yet, whatever little observation has been made of the life of the different species of animals, it has revealed some of their wonderful abilities.

Now, when Allah, Who is the Creator of these animals, tells us that He had taught the speech of the birds to one of His Prophets and blessed him with the ability to speak to them, and the Prophet’s taming and training had so enabled a hud-hud that it could make certain observations in the foreign lands and could report that to the Prophet, we should in fact, be prepared to revise our little knowledge about the animals in the light of Allah’s statement. But, instead, we commit the folly of taking our insufficient knowledge as the criterion and belie this statement of Allah or distort it out of its true meaning.
( 29 )   She said, "O eminent ones, indeed, to me has been delivered a noble letter.
اِنَّهٗ مِنۡ سُلَيۡمٰنَ وَاِنَّهٗ بِسۡمِ اللّٰهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِۙ‏   
( 30 )   Indeed, it is from Solomon, and indeed, it reads: 'In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful,
( 31 )   Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission [as Muslims].' "
That is, “The letter is important for several reasons: (1) It has reached me in an unusual way. Instead of an envoy it has been brought and dropped at me by a bird. (2) It is from Solomon, the great ruler of Palestine and Syria. (3) It begins with the name of Allah, the Compassionate, and Merciful, which is an unusual way of correspondence and is not followed by any kingdom in the world. (4) Then, it is also unusual that a letter should be written only in the name of Allah, the Exalted, spare from all other gods and goddesses. (5) The most important thing in it is that it quite clearly and plainly invites us to give up rebellion and adopt obedience and present ourselves before Solomon in submission (or as Muslims).” “Come to me in submission” can have two meanings: (1)

“Present yourselves in submission”; and (2) “present yourselves as Muslims (after embracing Islam).” The first meaning is in accordance with the Prophet Solomon’s (peace be upon him) position as a ruler, and the second with his position as a prophet. Probably this comprehensive word was used in order to convey both the meanings through the letter. The same sort of invitation has always been extended by Islam to independent nations and governments that they should either accept Islam and become equal partners in the Islamic system of life, or surrender political independence and submit to the system of Islam and pay Jizyah.

Rukhu 3 [Verses 32-44]
Verses 32-37 Communications between Queen of Sheba and Sulaiman:
( 32 )   She said, "O eminent ones, advise me in my affair. I would not decide a matter until you witness [for] me."( 33 )   They said, "We are men of strength and of great military might, but the command is yours, so see what you will command."
( 34 )   She said, "Indeed kings - when they enter a city, they ruin it and render the honored of its people humbled. And thus do they do.
The character of Queen Bilqis (The Queen of Sheba), as disclosed here, is that of a ruler enjoying great wealth and dignity, and the full confidence of her subjects. She does nothing without consulting her Council, and her Council are ready to carry out her commands in all things. Her people are manly, loyal, and contented, and ready to take the field against any enemy of their country. But their queen is prudent in policy, and is not willing to embroil her country in war. She has the discrimination to see that Solomon is not like ordinary kings who conquer by violence. Perhaps in her heart she has a ray of the divine light already, though her people are yet Pagans. She wishes to carry her people with her in whatever she does, because she is as loyal to them as they are to her. An exchange of presents would probably establish better relations between the two kingdoms. And perhaps she anticipates some spiritual understanding also, a hope which was afterwards realized. In Bilqis we have a picture of womanhood, gentle, prudent, and able to tame the wider passions of her subjects.
( 35 )   But indeed, I will send to them a gift and see with what [reply] the messengers will 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.
Verse 36 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 to them, for we will surely come to them with soldiers that they will be powerless to encounter, and we will surely expel them therefrom in humiliation, and they will be debased."
There is a subtle gap between this and the previous sentence, which one can easily fill up by a careful study of the discourse. It means this: “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.”

Verses 38-44 A man who had the 'Knowledge of the Book' brought Throne of the Queen to king Sulaiman in twinkling of and eye and Queen of Sheba and her people embraced Islam:

When Queen of Sheba decided to come in person, and whilst waiting Solomon asked his own counselors if someone was able to bring him Sheba’s magnificent throne.  One of the jinn was able to produce the throne within the blink of an eye.  When Sheba arrived, she was asked if what she saw was her throne and although it was disguised she said it looked as if it was.  When Sheba was asked to enter the palace, she thought she was about to wade through water and lifted her skirt, however the floor was made of shinning smooth glass.  When she saw for herself what Allah had given Solomon and how majestic his position was, she submitted to the command of Allah and acknowledged that he was a noble Prophet. 
( 38 )   [Solomon] said, "O assembly [of jinn], which of you will bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?"
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 Solomon (peace be upon him) 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.

That is, the same throne about which the hoopoe (hud-hud) had reported, “She has a splendid throne.” Some commentators have given a strange interpretation here. They say that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) wanted to have the throne before him before the queen’s arrival because he wanted to take possession of it. For, he feared that if the queen became a Muslim. It would be unlawful to take possession of her property without her approval: therefore, he made haste to have the queen’s throne with him even before her arrival in Jerusalem, because at that time it was lawful to take it into his possession. May Allah pardon us! This is a strange concept about the intention of a prophet. Why should one not understand the verse in the light that Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) wanted to show a miracle also to the queen and her courtiers besides preaching his message so that she might know what extraordinary powers Allah, Lord of the worlds, had granted His prophet so that she might be convinced that Solomon (peace be upon him) was surely a prophet of Allah? Some modern commentators have put an even more strange meaning on this verse. They translate the verse thus: “Which of you can bring me a throne for the queen:” whereas the Quran has used the word bi-arshi-ha which means “her throne”, and not biarshil- laha, “a throne for her”. They mistranslate the verse in order to get rid of what the Quran has stated that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) wanted the queen’s own throne to be brought froth Yemen to Jerusalem and that too before the queen’s arrival.
( 39 )   A powerful one from among the jinn said, "I will bring it to you before you rise from your place, and indeed, I am for this [task] strong and trustworthy."
From this it becomes obvious whether the jinns under the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) were, according to the interpretation of some rationalist commentators of the modern times, from among mankind or from among the hidden creation commonly known as jinns. Obviously, the sitting of the Prophet Solomon's court would at the most be of three to four hours, and the distance of Marib, capital of Saba, from Jerusalem was, even as the crow flies, not less than 1500 miles. To fetch a splendid throne of a queen from such a distant place in such a short time could not be possible for a man, even if he be a very strong and robust person. This task cannot be performed even by a jet plane of today. The throne was not lying in a jungle from where it had just to be fetched. It lay in a queen’s palace, which must have been well-guarded, and in the absence of the queen it must have been kept in a secure place. If a man had gone to fetch it, he should have been accompanied by a commando force so that he could overwhelm the guards and snatch away the throne. How could all this be accomplished before the rising of the court? This thing can be conceived only in connection with a real jinn!
( 40 )   Said one who had knowledge from the Scripture, "I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you." And when [Solomon] saw it placed before him, he said, "This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful - his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful - then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous."
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. Then they differ as to the identity of the man. Someone mentions the name of Asaf bin Barchiah, who, according to the rabbinical traditions, was the Prince of Men. Someone says that he was Khidr, someone mentions some other name, and Imam Razi insists that it was the Prophet Solomon himself. But none of these has any reliable source for this information, and Imam Razi's opinion does not even fit in with the Quranic context. Likewise, about the book also the commentators differ. Someone says that it refers to Lauh-i-Mahfuz (the Preserved Tablet) and some other takes it for the Book of Law. But all this is mere guess work. Similar guesses have been made about the knowledge the man had from the book. We only know and believe what has been said in the Quran, or what becomes evident from its words. 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 (al-Kitab). 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. Just consider these words:

“I will bring it to you before that your gaze returns to you. Then when he saw it placed before him.”

Anyone who reads these words, regardless of the extraordinary nature of the event, will surely understand that no sooner did the person utter these words than the event as claimed by him took place forthwith. There is, therefore, no need to make far-fetched interpretations of this plain matter. Then, on seeing the throne, the Prophet Solomon’s exclaiming, “This is from the favor of my Lord, that He may test me whether I give thanks or I am ungrateful” can be relevant only if the event be extraordinary; otherwise if only a skillful craftsman of the king had hurriedly made or arranged a throne for the queen, it could not be so novel an event at which the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) should have spontaneously exclaimed: “This is from the favor of my Lord” and feared that the prompt arrangement of a throne for the honorable guest might cause him to become ungrateful to Allah instead of being grateful. After all, there could be no question of a believing ruler’s becoming involved in vanity and self-conceit on this small achievement, especially when he was not merely an ordinary believer but a Prophet of Allah.

As for the question as to how a royal throne was fetched over a distance of 1,500 miles in the twinkling of an eye, it can be briefly answered thus: “The concepts of time and space, and matter and movement, that we have formed on the basis of our experiments and observations, are only applicable to us. These concepts are not correct in respect to God, nor is He bound by these. Not to speak of an ordinary throne, His power can make the sun; and even much larger stars, travel millions of millions of miles in the matter of moments. The God who by His one command brought this huge universe into being, has the power to have moved the throne of the queen of Sheba at a speed greater than the speed of light. In this very Quran it has been stated that Allah, by His powers, took his servant Muhammad (peace be upon him) from Makkah to Jerusalem and also brought him back in the same night.

"Indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous" means He does not stand in need of somebody’s gratefulness. His Godhead is neither enhanced by an iota by somebody’s gratefulness, nor diminished by that amount by somebody’s ingratitude or thanklessness. He is Sovereign in His own right. His Sovereignty is not dependent on His creation’s acknowledgment or rejection. The same thing has been expressed in the Quran through the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him): “If you prove thankless, you and all the dwellers of the earth, (you should know that) Allah is All-Sufficient and worthy of all praise by Himself.” (Surah Ibrahim: Ayat 8). The same theme is contained in a Hadith Qudsi related in Sahih-Muslim saying:

“Allah says: O My servants, if you all men and jinns, from the beginning to the end, together become like the heart of the most righteous person among you, it will not cause any increase in My Kingdom; and O My servants, if you all men and jinns, from the beginning to the end, together become like the heart of the most sinful person among you, it will not cause any decrease in My Kingdom. O My servants, it is your own deeds which I credit to your account, and then fully recompense you for them. So, whoever receives something good, let him be grateful to Allah, and whoever receives something else, let him curse his own self only”.
( 41 )   He said, "Disguise for her her throne; we will see whether she will be guided [to truth] or will be of those who is not guided."
This is a meaningful sentence, which means: (1) “Whether she understands or not that it is her own throne which has been fetched in no time from her capital to distant place like Jerusalem;” and also (2) “whether she is guided aright after seeing this wonderful miracle, or persists in her error.” This refutes the wrong idea of the people who say that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) intended to take possession of the throne. Here he himself clearly says that he had done this in order to help the queen see guidance.
( 42 )   So when she arrived, it was said [to her], "Is your throne like this?" She said, "[It is] as though it was it." [Solomon said], "And we were given knowledge before her, and we have been Muslims [in submission to Allah].
 This also refutes the speculations of those people who depict the event in a manner as though the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) wanted to have a throne made for the queen and for this purpose he invited tenders and a strong robust artisan offered to make him a throne in the matter of a few hours, but an expert craftsman submitted that he could make and produce it in no time. This whole guess-work is destroyed by the tact that Solomon (peace be upon him) himself ordered the throne to be fetched before him (Ayat 38), and when it had been fetched, ordered his servants to set it before the queen casually (Ayat 41), and then when she arrived, she was asked whether her throne was like that (Ayat 42), and she answered, “(It is) as though it were the very one.” Obviously, there could he no room for the absurd interpretations in the face of such a clear statement of facts. If there is still any doubt left, it can be satisfied by the next sentence.

“Even before we saw this miracle, we had been convinced by what we had heard of Solomon (peace be upon him) that he was a Prophet of Allah, and not merely a ruler of a kingdom.” After seeing the throne and saying, “(It is) as though it were the very one”, what could be the relevance of adding this sentence if it is supposed that the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) had gotten a throne manufactured and set the same before her? Even if it is assumed that no effort was spared to have a throne manufactured closely resembling that of queen’s throne, what could have made a sun-worshiping queen exclaim “We had already known this and we had become Muslims!”
( 43 )   And that which she was worshiping other than Allah had averted her [from submission to Him]. Indeed, she was from a disbelieving people."
This sentence 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 Solomon (peace be upon him), she discerned the right way and the hindrance was removed forthwith.
( 44 )   She was told, "Enter the palace." But when she saw it, she thought it was a body of water and uncovered her shins [to wade through]. He said, "Indeed, it is a palace [whose floor is] made smooth with glass." She said, "My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the worlds."
This was the last thing that opened queen’s eyes. The first thing was Solomon’s (peace be upon him) 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 that follow.

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 is as follows:
“And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to prove Solomon with hard questions at Jerusalem, with a very great company. When she came to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her questions. And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, and the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel; his cup bearers also, and their apparel; and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her. And she said to the king, It was a true report which I heard in my own land of thine acts, and of thine wisdom: Howbeit I believed not their words, until I came, and thine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the one half of the greatness of thy wisdom was not told me: for thou exceedest the fame that 1 heard. Happy are thy men and happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and hear thy wisdom. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee to set thee on his throne. And she gave the king a hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices great abundance and precious stones: neither was there any such spice as the queen of Sheba gave king Solomon. And king Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatever she asked. So she turned, and went away to her own land, she and her servants.” (2 Chronicles, 9: 1-12. A similar account is also found in 1 Kings, 10: 1-13).
In the New Testament, the following sentence only has been reported from a discourse of the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) about the queen of Sheba:
“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew, 12: 42; Luke, 11: 31).
The story of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) and the queen of Sheba as given in the rabbinical traditions resembles in most parts with the Quranic version. The hoopoe’s absence, then its arrival and reporting about Sheba and its queen, the Prophet Solomon’s sending her a letter through it, the hoopoe’s dropping the letter in front of the queen at the time when she was going for sun worship, the queen’s calling for her ministers’ council, then her sending of valuable gifts to Solomon, her traveling to Jerusalem and meeting him personally, her arrival in the palace and thinking that Prophet Solomon was sitting in the midst of a pool of water, tucking up her skirt in order to enter it. All this has been mentioned in these traditions as in the Quran. But there is no mention whatsoever in these traditions of the Prophet Solomon’s reply on receipt of the gift, having the queen’s throne fetched from Marib, his bowing down before God in thankfulness for every favor of His, and the queen’s embracing the faith ultimately, at his hand, his belief in the oneness of God, etc.

And worst of all, these wicked people have accused Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) of having committed adultery, God forbid, with the queen of Sheba, giving rise to an illegitimate race, which gave birth to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who destroyed Jerusalem. (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. XI, p. 443). The fact of the matter is that a section of the Jewish learned men have been highly critical of the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him). They have accused him of heinous crimes like violating the commandments of the Torah, of pride of government, pride of wisdom, of being a hen-pecked husband, and of luxurious living, polytheism and idol-worship. (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. XI, pp. 439- 441). It is due to this propaganda that the Bible presents him only as a king instead of a Prophet. A king who was lost in the love of polytheistic women against the divine commandments, whose heart was turned away from God, and was turned to other gods and goddesses. (I Kings, 11: 1-11). As against this, it can be seen what great favor has the Quran done to the Israelites by cleansing the personalities of their elders of the filth thrown at them by themselves, and yet the Israelites, ungrateful as they are, look upon the Quran and him who brought it as their enemies.

Rukhu 4 [Verses 45-58]
Verses 45-53 Story of Prophet Saleh and his address to his people and Saleh's people plotted to kill him but Allah saved him and destroyed the disbelievers:

When Saleh called the people of Thamud to worship One Allah, but they split into rival factions.  One group said that Saleh and his followers were an evil omen.  The leaders of some families took an oath that they would together kill Saleh and his family.  They planned a deceitful plan, but Allah also planned a plan.  The outcome was that their plan came to nothing and they were destroyed, and their desolate houses are a sign for those who think.  The true believers were saved.
( 45 )   And We had certainly sent to Thamud their brother Salih, [saying], "Worship Allah," and at once they were two parties conflicting.
That is, as soon as the Prophet Salih (peace be upon him) embarked on his mission, his people were divined into two groups, the believers and the disbelievers, and a conflict started between them as stated elsewhere in the Quran. The chiefs of his tribe, who were full of pride, said to those who had believed from among the oppressed people, “Do you know it for certain that Salih is a Messenger from his Lord?” They replied, “Indeed, we believe in the message with which he has been sent.” But those who had arrogant assumption of superiority, said, “We deny that which you believe”. (Surah Al-Aaraf: Ayats 75-76). One should note that precisely the same situation arose in Makkah at the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The nation was divided into two factions and a conflict started between them. Therefore, this story fully applies to the conditions in which these verses were revealed.

For comparison, see (Surah Al-Aaraf: Ayats 73-79), (Surah Hud: Ayats 61-68), (Surah Ash-Shuara: Ayats 141- 159), (Surah Al-Qamar: Ayats 23-32), (Surah Ash-Shams: Ayats 11-15).
( 46 )   He said, "O my people, why are you impatient for evil instead of good? Why do you not seek forgiveness of Allah that you may receive mercy?"
That is, “Why do you hasten in asking for a torment instead of some good from Allah?” The following saying of the chiefs of the Prophet Salih’s people has been related at another place: “O Salih, bring that scourge with which you threaten us, if you really are one of the Messengers.” (Surah Al-Aaraf: Ayat 77).
( 47 )   They said, "We consider you a bad omen, you and those with you." He said, "Your omen is with Allah. Rather, you are a people being tested."
One meaning of what they said is: “Your movement has proved to be an evil omen for us. Since you and your companions have revolted against the ancestral religion, one or the other calamity is befalling us almost daily, because our deities have become angry with us.” In this sense, this saying is similar to the sayings of most of those polytheistic nations who regarded their Prophets as ominous. In Surah YaSin, for instance, a nation has been mentioned, which said to its Prophet “We regard you as an evil omen for ourselves.” (Ayat 18). The same thing was said by the Pharaoh’s people about the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him). Whenever a good time came, they would say, “This is but our due”, and when there was a bad time, they would ascribe their calamities to Moses and his companions. (Surah Al-Aaraf Ayat 130). Almost similar things were said in Makkah about the Prophet (peace be upon him).

The other meaning of their saying is this: “Your advent has stirred up divisions in our nation. Before this we were a united people, who followed one religion. Your ominous coming has turned brother against brother, and separated son from father.”
The same accusation was being brought against the Prophet (peace be upon him) by his opponents over and over again. Soon after he started his mission of inviting the people to the faith, the delegation of the chiefs of the Quraish, who went to Abu Talib, had said, “Give up to us this nephew of yours: he has opposed your religion and your forefathers’ religion and has sown discord among your people, and has held the whole nation as foolish.” On the occasion of Hajj, when the disbelievers of Makkah feared that the visitors from outside might be influenced by the Prophet (peace be upon him), they held consultations and decided to approach the Arab tribes and tell them: “This man is a sorcerer, who by his sorcery separates son from his father, brother from his brother, wife from her husband, and man from his family.”
That is, “The truth is not that which you understand it to be. The fact which you have not yet realized is that my advent has put you to the test. Until my arrival you were following a beaten track in your ignorance. You could not recognize the truth from the falsehood; you had no criterion for judging the genuine from the counterfeit; your worst people were lording over your best people, who were rolling in the dust. But now a criterion has come against which you will all be judged and assessed. Now a balance has been set up publicly, which will weigh everybody according to his true worth. Now both the truth and the falsehood have been made manifest. Whoever accepts the truth will weigh heavy whether he was not being held even worth a farthing so far; and whoever persists in falsehood will not weigh a gram even though he was being esteemed as the chief of the chiefs before this. Now the judgment will not be based on the nobility or otherwise of the family one came of, or the abundance of the means and resources that one possessed, or one’s physical strength, but on this whether one accepted the truth gracefully or preferred to remain attached to falsehood.”
( 48 )   And there were in the city nine family heads causing corruption in the land and not amending [its affairs].
( 49 )   They said, "Take a mutual oath by Allah that we will kill him by night, he and his family. Then we will say to his executor, 'We did not witness the destruction of his family, and indeed, we are truthful.' "
“The guardian”: the chief of the Prophet Salih’s (peace be upon him) tribe, who, according to the ancient tribal tradition and custom, could make a claim to blood vengeance. The same was the position in Makkah of the Prophet’s uncle (peace be upon him), Abu Talib. The Quraish were hesitant that if they attacked and killed the Prophet (peace be upon him), Abu Talib, the chief of Bani Hashim, would come out with a claim to blood vengeance on behalf of his clan.

This precisely was the kind of plot which the Makkan chiefs of the clans were devising against the Prophet (peace be upon him), and they devised the same ultimately on the occasion of migration (Hijrah) to kill him. They decided that men from all the clans would attack him in a body so that the Bani Hashim could not hold any one of the clans as responsible for the murder, and, therefore, would find it impossible to fight all of them at one and the same time.
( 50 )   And they planned a plan, and We planned a plan, while they perceived not.
 That is, “Before they could make the night attack on the Prophet Salih (peace be upon him) at the appointed time, Allah sent down His scourge which destroyed their whole nation completely. It appears that they made this plot after hamstringing the she-camel. According to (Surah Hud: Ayat 65), when they had killed the she-camel, Prophet Salih (peace be upon him) gave them a notice to enjoy life in their houses for three more days, for then they would be seized by the torment. At this they might have thought that the torment with which Salih (peace be upon him) threatened them might come or might not, but they must take the vengeance on Salih himself. Therefore, most probably they chose the same night for the attack which Allah had appointed for sending down the torment, and thus were struck down by Allah even before they could touch the Prophet Salih (peace be upon him).”
( 51 )   Then look how was the outcome of their plan - that We destroyed them and their people, all.( 52 )   So those are their houses, desolate because of the wrong they had done. Indeed in that is a sign for people who know.
That is, the ignorant people will say, “There is no link between the Prophet Salih (peace be upon him) and his she-camel and the earthquake which struck the people of Thamud. These things have their natural causes. Their occurrence or otherwise has nothing to do with the piety and wickedness of the people of a place, with their highhandedness or their show of mercy. It is meaningless merely to say that such and such a city or land was filled with sin and wickedness, and therefore, it was overwhelmed by flood, or its habitation turned upside down by an earthquake, or it was ruined by a sudden disaster.” But the people who possess knowledge know that this universe is being ruled by an All-Wise, All-Knowing One Who is deciding the destinies. His decisions are not subject to physical causes, but the physical causes are subject to His will. His decisions to debase or exalt nations are not taken blindly but with wisdom and justice. In His Book of Law there is also included the principle of retribution, according to which the wicked are made to suffer for their evil deeds even in this world, on moral grounds. The people who are aware of these realities, cannot explain away the occurrence of an earthquake by citing physical and natural causes; they will rather look upon them as the scourge of warning for themselves, and they will learn lessons from it. They will try to understand those moral causes because of which the Creator annihilated a flourishing nation, which He Himself had created. They will divert their conduct and attitude from the track that brings Allah's wrath to the way that joins them to His mercy.
( 53 )   And We saved those who believed and used to fear Allah.
Verses 54-58 Prophet Lut admonished his people but they paid no heed so they faced the scourge of Allah:

Prophet Lot was sent to his people to ask them why they openly committed homosexual acts even though they knew it to be wrong.  They had no answer except to try to expel Lot and his followers from the town.  So Allah saved Lot and all his family; except his wife who was destined to be one of those who stayed behind.  An evil rain of stones pelted down on those who chose to ignore the warning.
( 54 )   And [mention] Lot, when he said to his people, "Do you commit immorality while you are seeing?
This can have several meanings and probably all are implied: (1) “That you are not unaware of this act’s being wicked, but you commit it knowing it to be so”. (2) “You are also not unaware that the man has not been created for the man’s sexual desire, but the intimate relationship is between man and woman, and the distinction between them (man and woman) is not such as you cannot perceive, yet with open eyes you commit this abominable act.” (3) “You indulge in this indecency publicly when there are people watching you”, as stated in (Surah Al-Ankabut: Ayat 29), thus: “And you indulge in indecencies in your assemblies.”

For comparison, see (Surah Al-Aaraf: Ayats 80-84); (Surah Hud: Ayats 74-83); (Surah Al-Hijr: Ayats 57-77); (Surah Al-Anbiya: Ayats 71-75); (Surah Ash-Shuara: Ayats 160-174); (Surah Al-Ankabut: Ayats 28-75); (Surah As-Saffat: Ayats 133-138); (Surah Al-Qamar: Ayats 33-39).
( 55 )   Do you indeed approach men with desire instead of women? Rather, you are a people behaving ignorantly."ا
The ignorance referred to here is the spiritual Ignorance, the Ignorance of how grossness and sins that bring shame on their own physical and moral nature are doomed to destroy them: it is their own loss. That they knew the iniquity of their sins has already been stated in the last verse. That knowledge makes their spiritual Ignorance all the more culpable, just as a man consciously deceiving people by half-truths is a greater liar than a man who tells lies inadvertently.
( 56 )   But the answer of his people was not except that they said, "Expel the family of Lot from your city. Indeed, they are people who keep themselves pure."
Instead of being ashamed on account of the consciousness of their own guilt, they attack the pure ones with their sarcasms, as if not they but the pure ones were in the wrong in trying to set them on the right way.
( 57 )   So We saved him and his family, except for his wife; We destined her to be of those who remained behind. 
That is, “The Prophet Lot (peace be upon him) had already been instructed not to take the woman along because she had to be destroyed along with her people.”
( 58 )   And We rained upon them a rain [of stones], and evil was the rain of those who were warned.
Here the Part I of the exegesis of Surah An Naml comes to an end in which mention of Prophets Moses, Solomon, Salih, and Lot (peace be upon them all) has been made to emphasize the message of Tawhid. The remaining portion of the surah from verse 59 onward will be discussed in the Part II which is about the address to the nonbelievers and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Sūrah  An-Naml  with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary / exegesis of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Juzʼ / Part backwards for chapters in 30th Juzʼ / Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. 
  • In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites. 
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