The Beautiful Story of Prophet Sulaymaan عليه السلام
Sulaymaan عليه السلام was one of the prominent Prophets of Allaah, may Allaah exalt their mention. He is well known in the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His story, which is an interesting one, is mentioned in the Noble Quran.
Sulaymaan inherited his prophethood and dominion from his father Daawood . This was not a material inheritance, as Prophets do not bequeath their property; rather, it may even be given away to the poor and needy who are not related to them. Prophet Muhammad Sal-lal-laahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “We (Prophets) do not inherit anything, and whatever we leave is to be used for charity.” [Al-Bukhaari]
In the Quran, Allaah Almighty Says (what means): “And We had certainly given to Daawood and Sulaymaan knowledge, and they said: ‘Praise [is due] to Allaah, who has favoured us over many of His believing servants.’ And Sulaymaan inherited Daawood. He said: ‘O People! We have been taught the language of birds, we have been given from all things. Indeed, this is an evident bounty.’ And gathered for Sulaymaan were his soldiers of the jinn and men and birds, and they were [marching] in rows.”[Quran: 27:15-17]
After his father’s death, Sulaymaan became a king. He begged Allaah for a kingdom of the stature that none after him would have, and Allaah granted him his wish. Besides wisdom, Allaah had blessed Sulaymaan with many abilities. He could command the winds and understand and talk to birds and animals. Allaah directed him to teach both men and jinn to mine the earth and extract its minerals to make tools and weapons. He also favoured him by giving him a mine of copper, which was a rare metal in that era.
During his time, horses were the common mode of transportation. They were essential for defence, to carry soldiers, and cart provisions and weapons of war. The animals were well cared for and well trained. One day, Sulaymaan was reviewing a parade of his stable. The fitness, beauty and posture of the horses fascinated him so much that he kept on stroking and admiring them while the sun was nearly setting, and the time for the mid-afternoon prayer was passing by. When he realised this, he exclaimed (what means): “… Indeed I gave preference to the love of good [things] over the remembrance of my Lord until it [i.e., the sun] disappeared into the curtain [of darkness].” [Quran: 38:32]
Indeed, this entire story is related in the Quran as follows, the meaning of which is: “And to Daawood We gave Sulaymaan. An excellent servant, indeed he was one who repeatedly turned back [to Allaah]. [Mention] when there were exhibited before him in the afternoon the poised [standing] racehorses. And he said: ‘Indeed I gave preference to the love of good [things] over the remembrance of my Lord until it [i.e., the sun] disappeared into the curtain [of darkness].’ [He said]: ‘Return them to me,’ and set about striking [their] legs and necks. And We certainly tried Sulaymaan and placed on his throne a body; then he returned. He said: ‘My Lord! Forgive me and grant me a kingdom such as will not belong to anyone after me. Indeed, You are the Bestower.’ So We subjected to him the wind blowing by his command, gently, wherever he directed, And [also] the devils [of jinn] – every builder and diver. And others bound together in shackles. [We said]: ‘This is Our gift, so grant or withhold without account.’ And indeed, for him is nearness to Us and a good place of return.” [Quran: 38:30-40]
One day, Sulaymaan gathered his army, which had different battalions of men, jinn, birds, and animals, and marched them to Askalon (in Palestine). While they were passing through a valley, an ant saw the approaching army and cried out to warn the other ants saying (what means): “…Enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Sulaymaan and his soldiers while they perceive not.” [Quran: 27:18] Sulaymaan , hearing the cry of the ant, smiled. He was glad that the ant knew him to be a Prophet who would not intentionally harm Allaah’s creation. He thanked Allaah for saving the ants’ lives.
Allaah the Almighty narrated (what means): “And gathered for Sulaymaan were his soldiers of the jinn and men and birds, and they were [marching] in rows until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said: ‘O ants! Enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Sulaymaan and his soldiers while they perceive not.’ So [Sulaymaan] smiled, amused at her speech, and said: ‘My Lord! Enable me to be grateful for Your favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and do righteousness of which You approve. And admit me by Your mercy into [the ranks of] Your righteous servants'” [Quran: 27:17-19]
In Jerusalem, on a huge rock, Sulaymaan built a beautiful temple to draw the people to worship Allaah. Today, this building is known as the Dome of the Rock. From there, a large band of followers joined Sulaymaan on pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Makkah. After they had completed their Hajj, they travelled to Yemen and arrived in the city of Sana’a. Sulaymaan was impressed by the clever method of channelling water all over the cities that the Yemenis deployed. He was keen to build similar water systems in his own country but did not have enough springs.
He set out to find a hoopoe bird, which could detect water under the ground. He sent signals all over for the hoopoe to call on him, but it was nowhere to be found. In anger, he declared that unless the bird had a good reason for its absence, he would punish it severely.
The hoopoe eventually came and explained to Sulaymaan the reason for its delay. “I have discovered something of which you are not aware. I have come from Sheba (Saba’) with important news,” said the bird. Sulaymaan became curious, and his anger subsided. The bird continued: “Saba’ is ruled by a queen who has plenty of everything, including a splendid throne. But in spite of all this wealth, Satan has entered her heart and the hearts of her people. She rules their minds completely. I was shocked to learn that they worship the sun instead of Allaah, the Almighty.”
To check the hoopoe’s information, Sulaymaan sent a letter to the queen with the bird. He instructed the bird to remain hidden and to observe everything it saw.
The hoopoe dropped the letter in front of the queen and flew away to hide. She excitedly opened and read its content (which means): “Indeed, it is from Sulaymaan, and indeed. It is [i.e., reads]: ‘In the Name of Allaah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission [as Muslims].'” [Quran: 27:30-31]
The queen of Sheba, upon receiving the letter from Sulaymaan was very disturbed and hurriedly summoned her advisors. They reacted as to a challenge, for they felt that there was someone challenging them, hinting at war and defeat, and asking them to submit to his conditions.
They told her that they could only offer advice, but it was her right to command action. She sensed that they wanted to meet Sulaymaan’s threat of invasion with a battle. However, she told them: “Peace and friendship are better and wiser; war only brings humiliation, enslaves people and destroys everything that is good. I have decided to send gifts to Sulaymaan, selected from our most precious treasures. The courtiers who will deliver the gifts will also have an opportunity to learn about Sulaymaan and his military might.”
Sulaymaan’s ‘reconnaissance team’ brought him the news of the arrival of the queen’s messengers with gifts. He immediately realised that the queen had sent her men on a probing mission and, therefore, gave orders to rally his army. The envoys of the queen, entering amidst the well-equipped army of Sulaymaan realised that their wealth was nothing in comparison to that of the kingdom of Sulaymaan, in which the floors of his palace were made of sandalwood and inlaid with pure gold. They noticed Sulaymaan surveying his army, and were amazed at the number and variety of soldiers, which included lions, tigers, and birds. The messengers stood awestruck, realising that they were in front of an irresistible army.
The envoys marvelled at the splendour surrounding them. They eagerly presented their queen’s precious gifts and told Sulaymaan that the queen wished that he would accept them as a token of friendship. They were shocked by his reaction: he did not even ask to open the covers of the containers! He told them: “Allaah has given me plenty of wealth, a large kingdom, and prophethood. I am, therefore, beyond bribery.
My only objective is to spread belief in Tawheed – the Oneness of Allaah.”
He also directed them to take the gifts back to the queen and to tell her that if she did not stop her type of worship (i.e., the worship of the sun) he would uproot her kingdom and drive its people out of the land.
The queen’s envoys returned with the gifts and conveyed the message. They also told her of the wonderful things they had seen. Instead of taking offence, she decided to visit Sulaymaan . Accompanied by her royal officials and servants, she left Saba’, sending a messenger ahead to inform Sulaymaan that she was on her way to meet him.
Sulaymaan asked the jinn in his employment whether anyone among them could bring her throne to his palace before she arrived. One of them said: “I will bring it to you before this sitting is over.” Sulaymaan did not react to this offer; it appeared that he was waiting for a faster means. The jinn competed with each other to please him. One of them said: “I will fetch it for you in the twinkling of an eye!”
No sooner had this one, who had knowledge of the Book, finished his statement that the throne stood before Sulaymaan . The mission had, indeed, been completed in the blinking of an eye. Sulaymaan’s seat was inPalestine, and the throne of the queen had been in Yemen, two thousand miles away. This was a great miracle performed by one of the soldiers of Sulaymaan .
When the queen arrived at Sulaymaan’s palace, she was welcomed with pomp and ceremony. Then, pointing to the altered throne, Sulaymaan asked her whether her throne looked like it. She looked at it again and again. In her mind she was convinced that her throne could not possibly be the one she was looking at, as hers was in her palace; yet, she detected a striking similarity and replied: “It is as if it were the very one, and resembles mine in every respect.” Sulaymaan judged that she was intelligent and diplomatic.
He then invited her into the great hall, the floor of which was laid in glass and shimmering. Thinking it was water, as she stepped on the floor, she lifted her skirt slightly above her heels, for fear of wetting it. Sulaymaan pointed out to her that it was made of solid glass.
She was amazed. She had never seen such things before. The queen realised that she was in the company of an erudite person who was not only the ruler of a great kingdom, but also a messenger of Allaah. She repented, gave up sun worship, accepted the faith of Allaah, and asked her people to do the same.
Thus, the queen saw her people’s creed fall apart before Sulaymaan . She realised that the sun which her people worshipped was nothing but one of Allaah’s creations.
The sun eclipsed within her for the first time, and her heart was lit by a never fading light – the light of Islam. Almighty Allaah told us this story in Soorah An-Naml (lit. ants) in the Quran, in the twentieth to forty-fourth verses.
Sulaymaan’s public work was largely carried out by the jinn. This was a punishment for their sins of making people believe that they were all-powerful and that they knew the unseen and could foresee the future. As a prophet, it was Sulaymaan’s duty to remove such false beliefs from his followers.
Sulaymaan lived amidst glory, and all creatures were subjected to him. Then Allaah, the Exalted, ordained for him to die. His life and death were full of wonders and miracles; thus, his death harmonised with his life and glory. His death, like his life, was unique. The people had to learn that the future is known neither by the jinn, nor by the Prophets, but by Allaah Almighty alone.
Sulaymaan’s effort in this direction did not end with his life, for even his death became an example. He was sitting holding his staff, overseeing the jinn at work in a mine. He died sitting in this position. For a long time, no one was aware of his death, for he was seen sitting erect. The jinn continued with their sand toil, thinking that Sulaymaan was watching over them.
Many days later, a little worm began nibbling on Sulaymaan’s staff. It continued to do so, eating the lower part of the staff, until it fell out of Sulaymaan’s hand, and his great body fell to the ground. People hurried to him, and upon reaching his body realised that he had died a long time ago and that the jinn did not perceive the unseen, for had the jinn known the unseen, they would not have kept working, thinking that Sulaymaan was alive.
Regarding this, Allaah the Exalted revealed (what means): “And to Sulaymaan [We subjected] the wind – its morning [journey was that of] a month, and We made flow for him a spring of [liquid] copper. And among the jinn were those who worked for him by the permission of his Lord. And whoever deviated among them from Our command – We will make him taste of the punishment of the Blaze. They made for him what he will of elevated chambers, statues, bowls like reservoirs, and stationary kettles. [We said]: ‘Work, O family of Daawood, in gratitude.’ And few of my servants are grateful. And when We decreed for him [i.e. Sulaymaan] death, nothing indicated to them [i.e., the jinn] his death except a creature of the earth eating his staff. But when he fell, it became clear to the jinn that if they had known the unseen, they would not have remained in humiliating punishment.” [Quran: 34:12-14]