Prophets (الانبياء)

The Prophet Sulayman – Part 2

Lessons from the Blessed Anbiya’ (`alayhim al-salam)

The Prophet Sulayman (as) – Part 2

Below is part two of a brief outline of some of the lessons that can be learnt from the mention of the Prophet Sulayman (as) in the Noble Qur’an. Allah (swt) states in approximate translation of the meanings of the original Arabic:


  • He had a white body.
  • He was taught and instructed by Dawud (as).
  • He was ruler at the age of 13 years old.
  • The region of his rule extended over al-Sham (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq).
  • He died at the age of 53.[1]

***Section 3***

{He inspected the birds and said: ‘What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?’ I will surely punish him with a severe torment, or slaughter him, unless he brings me a clear reason.’ But the hoopoe stayed not long, he [came up and] said: ‘I have grasped [the knowledge of a thing] which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba’ (Sheba) with true news. I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given all things that could be possessed by any ruler of the earth and she has a great throne. I found her and her people worshiping the sun instead of Allah, and shaytan has made their deeds fair-seeming to them and has barred them from [Allah’s] Way, so they have no guidance from Allah. So they do not prostrate before Allah Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you conceal and what you reveal. Allah, La ilaha illa Huwa [none has the right to be worshipped but He], the Lord of the Supreme Throne!’ [Sulayman] said: ‘We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are [one] of the liars’}.[2]

Basic tafsir of the Q. 27:20-27:

v.20: {He inspected the birds…}: meaning for preparation of jihad or as a matter of routine in order to ensure all is on order.

{Hoopoe}: Arabic = “hud-hud”.[3] The reason why Sulayman (as) sought the Hoopoe was: 1. Because it flies ahead and finds water in various locations; 2. It specifically shades Sulayman (as) from the Sun and 3. It swoops ahead for any news to report back.

v.21: {I will punish him…}: either by: 1. Plucking its feathers; 2. Exposing it to the sun or 3. Separating it from its species (solitary confinement). Imam Ibn al-Jawzi writes:

قوله تعالى: { لأُعَذِّبَنَّهُ عذاباً شديداً } فيه ستة أقوال. أحدها: نتف ريشه، قاله ابن عباس، والجمهور. والثاني: نتفه وتشميسه، قاله عبد الله بن شداد. والثالث: شد رجله وتشميسه، قاله الضحاك. والرابع: أن يطليَه بالقطران ويشمّسه، قاله مقاتل بن حيان. والخامس: ان يودِعه القفص. والسادس: أن يفرِّق بينه وبين إِلفه، حكاهما الثعلبي.

“Allah’s saying: {I will punish him with a severe punishment} has six opinions: [1] its feathers will be plucked. This is what Ibn `Abbas mentioned as well as the majority of commentators; [2] its feathers will be plucked and left out in the sun as held by `Abd Allah b. Shaddad; [3] its legs will be tied and will be exposed to the sun. This is what al-Dahhak held; [4] it will be smeared with tar and left exposed to the sun. This was the opinion of Muqatil b. Hayyan; [5] it will be locked up in a cage and [6] it will be separated from its kind as was related by al-Tha`labi.”[4]

{…slaughter it…}: meaning ‘I will kill it’.

Lesson: death is a sanction because the matter is serious in that jihad requires every contingent of the army to be prepared, ready and serious to the task hence the consequences and sanctions are equally severe reflecting the severity of the duty.

{sultan mubin}: 1. ‘a clear proof’; 2. ‘clear argument for its case’; 3. Valid excuse for the absence.

vv.23-25: {I found a woman…and what you reveal…}: {woman} = ‘woman’ meaning the Queen of Saba’ named ‘Bilqis’.[5] {Saba’}: ‘Sheba’ – a locality in modern day Yemen.[6] {given all things}: meaning all manner of riches; every level of respect, obedience and worship, strong army, etc.

Lesson: From the Hud-hud incident mentioned in the Qur’an, we learn many lessons such as:

  1. The concern for tawhid (monotheism): the Hud-hud brings news of a nation in non-belief worshipping a created entity instead of the Creator of that entity. Are Muslims concerned about tawhid today and carrying the desire for bringing the people to understanding what the reality of tawhid is and the effect it has in the life of the believer as an individual and as an ummah as a collective?
  2. The concern for deception: the Hud-hud describes how the people of Saba’ have been misled and deceived by shaytan making them think their actions were virtuous and righteous whereas in reality it was not. It was made to appear that way. Are Muslims today pondering on how many unislamic ideas and precepts are made to appear attractive and ‘Islamic’ to them when in actual fact it has no basis in their din, such as secularism, modernisation of the faith, adoption of democracy and liberal values, etc.[7]

***Section 4***

{‘Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, and then draw back from them and see what

they give back.’ She said: ‘O chiefs! Verily! Here is delivered to me a noble letter. Verily! It is from Sulayman and it [reads]:’ In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Be you not exalted against me, but come to me as Muslims. She said: ‘O chiefs! Advise me in [this] case of mine. I decide no case till you are present with me.’ They said: ‘We have great strength and great ability for war, but it is for you to command; so think over what you will command.’ She said: ‘Verily! Kings, when they enter a town [country], they spoil it and make the most honourable amongst its people low. And thus that is what they do. But verily I am going to send him a present, and see with what
the messengers return.’ So when [the messengers with the present] came to Sulayman, he said: ‘Will you help me in wealth? What Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay, you rejoice in your gift!’ [Then Sulayman said to the chief of her messengers who brought the present]: ‘Go back to them. We verily shall come to them with hosts that they cannot resist and we shall drive them out from there in disgrace and they will be abased.’ He said: ‘O chiefs! Which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me surrendering themselves in obedience?’ An
 `ifrit from the jinn said: ‘I will bring it to you before you rise from your place [council]. And verily, I am indeed strong and trustworthy for such work.’ One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: ‘I will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye!’ then when [Sulayman] saw it placed before him, he said: ‘This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for [the good of] his own self, and whoever is ungrateful, [he is ungrateful only for the loss of his own self]. Certainly! My Lord is Rich (i.e. Free of all wants), Bountiful.’ He said: ‘Disguise her throne for her that we may see whether she will be guided [to recognise her throne], or she will be one of those not guided.’ So when she came, it was said [to her]: ‘Is your throne like this?’ She said: ‘[It is] as though it were the very same.’ And [Sulayman said]: ‘Knowledge was bestowed on us before her and we were submitted to Allah [in Islam as Muslims before her].’ And that which she used to worship besides Allah has prevented her [from Islam] for she was of a disbelieving people. It was said to her: ‘Enter the sarh’ but when she saw it, she thought it was a pool and she [tucked up her clothes] uncovering her legs, Sulayman said: ‘Verily, it is sarh paved smooth with slabs of glass.’ She said: ‘My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, and I submit [in Islam], together with Sulayman, to Allah, the Lord of the worlds…’}.

Basic tafsir of the Q. 27:28-44:

v.28:{kitabi}: literally ‘my book’ but here ‘my letter’, ‘my parchment’.

v.29: {noble letter} which is described as so either: 1. Because Bilqis thought it had the seal of the Prophet Sulayman; 2. She thought it was from Allah (swt); 3. Noble meaning ‘good’ (hasan); 4. She thought it was a gift of some sort; 5. She thought it was a special letter because of the way it was delivered by the Hud-hud bird.[8]

v.31: {be you not exalted against me}: meaning: 1. ‘do not be arrogant’; 2. ‘do not have pride against me’; 3. ‘Do not bear enmity’.

v.32: {till you are present with me…}: i.e. ‘until I have consulted with you all’.

v.34: {And thus that is what they do}: This is either an interjection from Allah confirming the practice of kings and rulers of that time destroying the towns they enter or the council of elders with Bilqis believing that to be the practice of Sulayman (as) if he entered their kingdom. Ibn al-Jawzi states:

قوله تعالى: { وكذلك يَفْعَلون } فيه قولان. أحدهما: أنه من تصديق الله تعالى، لقولها، قاله الزجاج. والثاني: من تمام كلامها؛ والمعنى: وكذلك يفعل سليمان وأصحابه إِذا دخلوا بلادنا، حكاه الماوردي

“Allah’s statement: {and thus that is what they do} has two opinions: The first opinion is that it refers to Allah’s confirmation of Bilqis’ statement. This was held by al-Zajjaj. The second opinion is that it is from Bilqis’s entire statement meaning: ‘Sulayman and his companions will do exactly this if they enter our lands. This was mentioned by al-Mawardi.”[9]

v.35: {presents}: ‘gifts’, ‘offerings’, ‘favours’; these presents are said to be either: 1. Slave girls (concubines); 3. Three gold bars; 3. Maidservants (wusafa’) and 4. Innumerable riches. This is in order to test whether Sulayman (as) was a Prophet or a worldly king. If he accepts the presents then he indeed was a worldly king. Sulayman (as) however rejected the presents and requested angrily that they be returned to their owner and to then prepare for jihad.

Lesson: Despite being the most powerful ruler in the world, Sulayman (as) did not allow worldly pretence to overpower him; he did not fall for any form of bribery, diversion or distraction from the cause of inviting to the way of Allah and removing shirk.[10] He spurned their offerings without even looking at them and replied that whatever Allah grants is far greater than what Bilqis and her people can ever give.[11] We can learn a number of lessons here such as:

1. Avoid compromising a religious duty;

2. Only Allah grants real and true gifts and favours and

3. Avoid worldly temptations.

4. Avoid bribery.

5. Full submission to Allah’s commands.

6. Allah’s command will prevail.

v.38: {…bring me her throne}: Before Bilqis arrives to Sulayman’s court from Yemen. This is either to: 1 Prove the words of the Hud-hud as true; 2. Establish the veracity of his Prophethood (nabuwwa) or 3. To prove the majesty and Might of Allah (swt) as well His Dominion.

v.39: {`ifrit}: This can refer to either: 1. A giant jinn; 2. A mature leader from the jinn and humans; 3. A reliable person or 4. One who executes a command of Sulayman (as). Ibn al-Jawzi states:

قوله تعالى: { قال عِفْريتٌ من الجِنِّ } قال أبو عبيدة: العِفْريت من كل جِنّ أو إِنس: الفائق المبالغ الرئيس. وقال ابن قتيبة: العِفْريت: الشديد الوثيق. وقال الزجاج: العفريت: النافذ في الأمر، المبالغ فيه مع خُبث ودهاء.

“Allah’s saying: {an `ifrit from the jinn said}. Abu `Ubayda said: it means an `ifrit from every group of jinn and human being: i.e. the eminent and high-ranking ones. Ibn Qutayba said: the `ifriq refers to a serious and trustworthy one. al-Zajjaj said: the `ifrit is he who executes a command being mature and extremely smart…”[12]

v.40: {one with whom was knowledge} – referring to either: 1. A man from Banu Isra’il by the name of Asif b. Barkhiya; 2. Khidr (as); 3. One of the pious inhabitants of the sea; 4. Jibril (as); 5. Sulayman (as) himself or 6. Sulayman’s scribe.

{Knowledge} in verse can refer to 1. Knowledge of the letter (kitab) sent by Sulayman to Bilqis; 2. Knowledge of Allah’s Exalted Name (ism al-a`zam); 3. Knowledge of what Allah has written for Adam’s progeny.

v.41: {disguise her throne}: meaning to: 1. Alter it (i.e. its decorations, colours and features); 2. Change it; 3. Add to it and take parts away or 4. Add statues/engravings of a fish.

v.42: {‘[It is] as though it were the very same.’}: meaning ‘it is as I last saw it’; ‘it is as I recognise it to be’ or ‘it is as I know it to be’.

v.43: {…has prevented her…}: meaning the actions of her forefathers in worshiping the Sun and moon have prevented her from worshiping Allah because she is an intelligent and shrewd woman.

v.44: {sarh}: ‘glass palace’ (qasr), ‘glass structure’, ‘glass surface with water underneath’.[13] The reason for the request for the glass structure to be built was either: 1. To show Bilqis the power and unequalled authority of Sulayman (as); 2. To see if Bilqis’s foot had hairs and hooves as was claimed by some or 3. To make her see the error of her beliefs.

Lesson: From the incident of Bilqis’s conversion to full submission to Allah (swt) upon seeing a large glass surface thinking it was lake of water, we can learn a number of lessons:

1. Change is possible from belief to unbelief;

2. Appearance often does not represent reality.

3. Demonstration is required for the proof of the Islamic creed.

4. Humility is required in investigating the truth.


Peace and Blessings upon our Master Muhammad,

His Family, Companions and all who follow them.



London, 2009.

[1] B. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur’an: An Introduction to the Qur’an and Muslim Exegetes, p.266 and J. Lassner, Demonising the Queen of Sheba: Boundaries of Gender and Culture in Judaism and Medieval Islam, pp.50-63.

[2] Q. 27:20-27.

[3] See art. O. Leaman, “Hud-Hud”, in The Qur’an: An Encyclopaedia, ed. by O. Leaman, pp.272-273.

[4] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 6:163-164.

[5] For Muslim exegetical accounts on Bilqis especially by al-Tha`labi, see Lassner’s Demonising the Queen of Sheba: Boundaries of Gender and Culture in Judaism and Medieval Islam, pp.50-52. For al-Tabari and his appropriation of prevailing Jewish narratives, see his Ta’rikh al-Rusul wa ’l-Muluk, 1:576-586.

[6] Cf. M. Saifullah and A. David, “The Queen of Sheba and Sun Worship” at

[7] Refer to “Ibn al-Jawzi on ‘Flowery Speech’” at

[8] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 6:158.

[9] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 6:158.

[10] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, 6:186.

[11] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, 6.186-188.

[12] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 6:174.

[13] For possible aesthetic considerations that shaped Bilqis’s conclusions about reality and her mistaken religious beliefs, see O. Leaman, Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction, pp.133-136 and idem, “Appearance and Reality in the Qur’an: Bilqis and Zulaykha” in ISAM, 2003, pp.23-37.


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