In the first part of our account of the life of Prophet Solomon (known as Suleiman to Muslims) we described how there are three facets of his life which can teach us something today.
The first facet, which we dealt with last time, was his career as a king, and we showed that even though Solomon was called to be both a Prophet of God and the last king of a unified Israel, he was, like all of us, just a man and had all the weaknesses which we are all subject to.
His love of horses was almost his downfall, since it distracted him from his service to God.
However, Solomon was able to re-find the still, small voice within him which called him to be God’s servant, and he was able to regain the parts of his kingdom which were lost.
The next facet of Solomon’s life was his extraordinary gift of being able to communicate with animals and birds and be able to control the forces of nature. This will be the focus of the third part of our story.
In this part, we will look at the third facet of the story of Solomon (peace be upon him), which is the very famous story of the visit to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba, and see what that story can teach us today.
Solomon had a very large army of men, jinn, and birds (Muslims believe that jinn are created beings, both good and bad, that we cannot see).
One day, he was reviewing this army when he noted that the hoopoe bird was absent without permission. It was the job of the hoopoe to look for water when the army needed it.
The bird had been traveling in the country of Saba (Sheba), which is in modern-day Yemen, and it returned and declared to Solomon:
I come to you from Sheba with sure news. I found a woman ruling over the people, she has been given many blessings and has a mighty throne! I found her and her people worshiping the sun instead of Allah… (27:22-4)
Solomon was a deeply religious man and was distressed that a whole people should be lost in worshiping the sun, rather than the One God who created it.
He decided to send a message to the Queen, whose name was Bilqis, inviting her and her people to worship God:
Allah! – there is no god but He! – Lord of the Throne supreme! (Solomon) said: “Soon shall we see whether thou hast told the truth or lied! Go thou, with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them…(27:26-7)
Bilqis, too, was a wise ruler and when she received the letter, she was suspicious that Solomon really wanted to control her territory.
She decided to send him gifts and to see what his reaction to her splendid gifts would be. In this way, she would know if Solomon was only really interested in wealth.
Bilqis was impressed by Solomon’s reaction. Not only was he not interested in her gifts of gold and jewels, but he was actually quite offended to receive them. The belief in God was better to him than precious jewels:
Will ye give me abundance in wealth? But that which Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you!… (27:36)
The Queen of Sheba decided to travel to Solomon to see with her own eyes the one who had sent a message to her. Traveling a long distance with her courtiers, she eventually arrived at the court of Solomon.
Bilqis was known to have a magnificent throne, and one of the jinn offered to Solomon to bring this throne before he could have time to stand up. Another wise man at the court offered to bring the throne to him within the blinking of an eye, and sure enough the throne of Sheba was transported to him, so that it was waiting for her, in disguise, when she arrived:
So when she arrived, she was asked, “Is this thy throne?” She said, “It seems the same. And knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to Allah (in Islam).” (27:42)
Having recognized her throne and recognized, also, the wisdom of Solomon, Bilqis entered the magnificent palace.
Its floor was made of shimmering glass, which shined like water, and the queen, thinking it to be real water, lifted her skirts so that she would not get wet, which must have been very undignified for a queen, especially when Solomon told her:
…This is but a palace paved smooth with slabs of glass.. (27:44)
The story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon has a very beautiful ending. The queen declares:
O my Lord! I have indeed wronged my soul: I do (now) submit (in Islam), with Solomon, to the Lord of the Worlds.(27:44)
Lessons from the Story
This story is told in great detail in the Quran, which surely tells us that it is important and that it has something to teach. So what, then, can we learn from the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?
Well, first of all, we note the queen’s reaction when she is first told about Islam she suspects a trick. When the messenger arrives with the message of Solomon, she doubts the true intentions of Solomon. Surely, she thinks, no one can be telling me about God just for my own sake.
There must be a hidden agenda. Isn’t that the reaction some of us have when we hear the words of God being spoken? “Why are they inviting me to learn about Islam? What are they really after?”
In a world given over to greed and acquiring more, often at the expense of someone else, it seems rather odd that people would invite us to learn about Islam for no other reason than for the sake of conveying the message.
And yet, Prophet Solomon’s invitation had no ulterior motive. He only wanted what was best for Bilqis. And what was best for her was to abandon the worship of the sun and the moon and the stars and to worship, instead, the One who created the heavens and the earth and everything in between.
Another lesson from this story is the reaction of Solomon to being offered gifts. What use are gold and jewels to him, he says, when he has been given everything he could want by believing in God? This might seem strange to those who are not Muslim, but for the devout Muslim, the sincere believer, the gift of Islam is greater than any amount of gold and silver.
And finally, the response of the Queen of Sheba to all of this is quite simple: she submits to God and to Islam. “Islam” is an Arabic word which comes from a root word meaning both “peace” and “submission.”
Bilqis finds peace in her heart when she submits to God. It is such a simple thing to do, yet for many, it is one of the most difficult. The story of the visit to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba is meant to teach us that submitting to God is richer than silver or gold, and better than splendor or wealth.