Muslims believe that the Prophets of Allah (God) were gifted with the special grace of being called by Allah to deliver a message to His people, but they were, nonetheless, men.
The message they delivered was free from error, but their lives often showed many of the mistakeswhich ordinary people make.
King Solomon (peace be upon him) is just such a man. His life shows us that, just like us, when he had a special care for God and was obedient in His service, he prospered. And when he forgot about God and believed that he could do things on his own, his life seemed to fall apart.
King Solomon (known as Prophet Suleiman to Muslims) is revered as a Prophet by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. This alone should make him worthy of our attention, that the world’s great “Abrahamic Faiths” have yet another focal point of shared belief.
Solomon’s great wisdom and vast wealth are described in the Old Testament. The “wisdom of Solomon” is famous the world over, as is his wealth. However, it is the description of Solomon which we find in the Quran that concerns us here.
Although the Jewish scriptures ascribe three books to Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs), Muslims do not believe that he was given a book from Allah.
So what do Muslims believe about Prophet Solomon and what does the story of his life teach all of us today, whether we are Muslim or not?
The main points about his life can be divided into three sections, which we will deal with in three different parts: Solomon as a king; Solomon’s visit by the Queen of Sheba; and Solomon’s extraordinary gift of being able to talk to animals and birds.
These last two are dealt with in great detail in the Quran, so there must surely be something special for us to learn from them.
Solomon as a King
In the first of these aspects of his life, though, Solomon as king, there is something for us to learn. Solomon, according to the Quran, was not only a Prophet of God, but also a king. He was also the son of a Prophet and a king, King David, whom he succeeded.
From an early age he showed great wisdom and understanding, just like the Christian Gospel of Saint Luke says that another Prophet, Jesus, (peace be upon him) was very wise, even as a boy, and instructed the doctors of the law in the Temple.
During his reign as king, Solomon ruled an area that stretched from what is modern Palestine, south towards what is now Yemen. He was, in fact, the last king of a united Israel. After his death, the kingdom was divided in two.
He was well loved and respected as a wise and fair-minded ruler. The kingdom prospered and acquired great wealth.
As king, though, his actions sometimes led him away from Allah, just as our own successes in life often take us away from God, since we feel we no longer need Him, because we are doing quite well on our own. It is only when things begin to go wrong, isn’t it, that we turn to God once again?
Solomon was most successful as a ruler and as a man when he was close to doing Allah’s will. He nearly lost his kingdom, though, when he began to believe in his own success, and it is only when he realized that obedience to Allah was the most important thing in his life that his kingdom was saved from destruction.
At the height of his worldly power, he began to be distracted:
Behold, there were brought before him, at eventide, coursers of the highest breeding, and swift of foot. And he said, “Truly do I prefer wealth to the remembrance of my Lord.” (38:31-2)
When he began to show interest in horses and the things of this world, instead of care for his people and devotion to his Lord, he lost part of his kingdom, having to fight off a rebellion from one of his governors.
In this period, Solomon lost many battles, and at one stage, even the capital of the kingdom, Jerusalem, was captured by the enemy.
There is a very lovely verse in the Quran which describes the effect of this episode on Solomon’s life:
And We did try Solomon; We placed on his throne a body but he did turn (to Us in true devotion). (38:34)
Without the might and power of Allah to hold him up, it is as though the king sitting on the throne was just an empty, lifeless body. This was a turning point in Solomon’s life and he regained the sense of service to Allah which he had lost.
With renewed dedication, he seemed like a new man and later regained the lost territories, after he re-discovered his faith and once more dedicated his life to the service of Allah.
It was during this phase that Solomon built a magnificent temple to the glory of Allah, which has become synonymous with his very name. Solomon’s temple is a byword for magnificence.
For Love of Horses
In this first part of the story of Prophet Solomon, then, we can learn to be on guard against our own weaknesses lest they should become our downfall.
Solomon’s weakness was in the love of horses (coursers of the highest breeding). It was they that drove him to distraction. The Quran describes it like this:
And he said, “Truly do I prefer wealth to the remembrance of my Lord.” Until (the sun) was hidden in the veil (of Night): “Bring them back to me.” Then began he to pass his hand over (their) legs and their necks. (38:32-3)
So it is that in this world whole careers are destroyed by a love for gambling or for alcohol. Like all the prophets, we are only mortal and we need to be on our guard against our own faults and failings.
When we understand ourselves well, we are halfway there to overcoming these faults. The other half is to do what Solomon did and recognize that only in God can we find our real happiness and life’s success.
In the next two parts of this account of Prophet Solomon’s life we shall look at the extraordinary gift he had of being able to talk to animals and birds and hold sway over the forces of nature.
And we shall see how his piety and good conduct were able to bring even the Queen of Sheba to turn away from sun-worship and to declare her belief in the Oneness of God.
In doing so, we will also try to draw some conclusions about our own lives and how we, like Solomon, can achieve extraordinary things if we allow a place for God in our lives.