Taken from tafsir al jalalayn
The story of the Prophet Suleiman [pbuh]
And they follow (wa’ttaba‘ū is a supplement to nabadha, ‘[it] cast away’) what the devils used to relate, during the time of, Solomon’s kingdom, in the way of sorcery: it is said that they [the devils] buried these [books of sorcery] underneath his throne when his kingdom was taken from him; it is also said that they used to listen stealthily and add fabrications to what they heard, and then pass it on to the priests, who would compile it in books; this would be disseminated and rumours spread that the jinn had knowledge of the Unseen. Solomon gathered these books and buried them. When he died, the devils showed people where these books were, and the latter brought them out and found that they contained sorcery, and said,
‘Your kingdom was only thanks to what is in here’; they then took to learning them and rejected the Scriptures of their prophets. In order to demonstrate Solomon’s innocence and in repudiation of the Jews when they said, ‘Look at this Muhammad, he mentions Solomon as one of the prophets, when he was only a sorcerer’, God, exalted, says: Solomon disbelieved not, that is, he did not work magic because he disbelieved, but the devils disbelieved, teaching the people sorcery (this sentence is a circumstantial qualifier referring to the person governing the verb kafarū); and, teaching them, that which was revealed to the two angels, that is, the sorcery that they were inspired to [perform] (al-malakayn, ‘the two angels’: a variant reading has al-malikayn, ‘the two kings’) who were, in Babylon — a town in lower Iraq — Hārūt and Mārūt (here the names are standing in for ‘the two angels’, or an explication of the latter). Ibn ‘Abbās said, ‘They were two sorcerers who used to teach [people] magic’; it is also said that they were two angels that had been sent to teach [sorcery] to people as a trial from God. They taught not any man, without them saying by way of counsel, ‘We are but a temptation, a trial from God for people, so that He may test them when they are taught it: whoever learns it is a disbeliever, but whoever renounces it, he is a believer; do not disbelieve’, by learning it; if this person refused and insisted on learning it, they would teach him. From them they learned how they might cause division between a man and his wife, so that they would hate each other, yet they, the sorcerers, did not hurt any man thereby, that is, by this magic, save by the leave of God, by His will; and they learned what hurt them, in the Hereafter, and did not profit them, and this was sorcery. And surely (the lām [of la-qad, ‘surely’] is for oaths) they, the Jews, knew well that whoever (laman: the lām denotes [part of] the subject of the sentence and is semantically connected to what precedes it; the man introduces the relative clause) buys it, [whoever] chooses it and took it in place of God’s Book, he shall have no share in the Hereafter, that is, no portion of Paradise; evil then would have been, the thing, that they sold themselves for, those sellers, that is to say, the portion due for this [act] in the Hereafter, if they were to learn it; for it would have made the Fire obligatory in their case; if they had but known, the reality of the chastisement they would be destined for, they would not have learnt it.
And, We disposed, for Solomon the wind to blow strongly — in another verse it is [described as being] rukha’an, ‘to blow softly’ [Q. 38:36]; in other words, [it is either] blowing violently or gently [respectively], according to what he [Solomon] wanted — making its way, at his command, to the land which We have blessed, namely, Syria; and We have knowledge of all things, among them the fact that God, exalted be He, knew that what He gave to Solomon would prompt him to be subservient to his Lord, and so God did this in accordance with His knowledge.
And, We disposed, of the devils some that dived for him, plunging into the sea and bringing out of it jewels for Solomon, and performed tasks other than that, that is, other than diving, such as building and otherwise. And We were watchful over them, lest they should spoil what they had made, for whenever they completed a task before nightfall, they would [invariably] spoil it, unless they were occupied with some other [task].
And verily We gave David and Solomon, his son, knowledge, of rendering [decisive] judgement between people, and [knowledge] of the speech of birds and of other things, and they said, giving thanks to God, ‘Praise be to God Who has favoured us, with prophethood and the disposal of jinn, humans and devils [to our service], over many of His believing servants’.
And Solomon inherited from David, prophethood and knowledge exclusively from among all his other children; and he said, ‘O people, we have been taught the speech of the birds, that is, the ability to understand their sounds, and we have been given of all things, given to prophets and kings. Indeed this, gift, is the manifest, the evident, favour’.
And, on one journey, Solomon’s hosts of jinn and humans and birds stood assembled for him as they were being arrayed, brought together [in groups] and marshalled.
When they came to the Valley of the Ants — which is [located] either in Tā’if or in Syria, and whose ants are either small or large — an ant, the queen ant, who had seen Solomon’s hosts, said, ‘O ants, enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you while they are unaware!’ — the ants are likened to rational beings in their use of the latter’s speech.
Whereat he, Solomon, smiled (fa-tabassama, the beginning [of the sentence]) amused (dāhikan, the end [of the sentence]) at its words, which he had heard from three miles away and which was carried to him by the winds. When he was on the verge of [entering] their valley, he [Solomon] made his hosts halt until they [the ants] had entered their dwellings — on this journey his hosts consisted of cavalry and infantry. And he said, ‘My Lord, inspire me to be thankful for Your grace with which You have favoured me and my parents, and to do good that will please You, and include me, by Your mercy, among Your righteous servants’, the prophets and saints.
And he reviewed the birds, to see the hoopoe — which would locate water beneath the ground and indicate its location by pecking at it, whereupon the devils would extract it, for Solomon required it for when he prayed; but he could not see him — then he said, ‘Why is it that I do not see the hoopoe?, in other words, is there something preventing me from seeing him? Or is he among the absent?, and so I cannot see himbecause he is absent?’ And when he became certain [of the hoopoe’s absence],
He said, ‘Assuredly I will chastise him with a severe chastisement, by having [all] his feathers as well as his tail plucked and leaving him out in the sun, where he would not be able to escape from reptiles, or I will slaughter him, by slitting his throat, unless he brings me (read la-ya’tiyanni or la-ya’tinanni) a clear warrant’, plain manifest proof for his [having a valid] excuse.
But he did not remain (read fa-makutha or fa-makatha) long [in absence], in other words, [he was away only] for a short while, and came to Solomon humbly, with his head up and his wings and tail lowered. Solomon pardoned him and asked him about what he had encountered during his absence: and he said, ‘I have discovered something of which you have no knowledge, and I have brought you from Sheba (this may be read in declined form [min Saba’in] or left as indeclinable [min Saba’a]) — a tribe in Yemen, whose name is taken from the name of one of their ancestors (which is also the reason why it may be declined) — a verified report.
I found a woman ruling over them, in other words, she was their queen, her name Bilqis; and she has been given [an abundance] of all things, that kings might require, in the way of machines and instruments, and she possesses a great throne — its length was 80 cubits, its width 40 cubits, its height 30 cubits, and was made of gold and silver, encrusted with pearls, rubies, chrysolite, and emeralds, with its legs made of rubies, chrysolite and emeralds, containing seven [inner] doors, the door of each chamber shut.
I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of God, and Satan has adorned for them their deeds and he has barred them from the Way, from the path of truth, so that they are not guided
to prostrate themselves to God (alla yasjudu should be read as an yasjudu: the la is extra and with it has been assimilated the nun of an, similar to [the construction] where God says, li-alla ya‘lama ahlu’l-kitabi, so that the People of the Scripture may know [Q. 57:29]; the sentence functions as the direct object of yahtaduna, ‘guided’, whose ila, ‘to’, has been omitted); [He] Who brings forth the hidden (al-khab’ is a verbal noun, with the same meaning as al-makhbu’, ‘that which is hidden’) of rain and plants, in the heavens and the earth, and He knows what they conceal, within their hearts, and what they proclaim, with their tongues.
God — there is no god except Him, the Lord of the Mighty Throne’ (this clause constitutes an [independent] new sentence, which is a eulogy comprising [praise of] the Throne of the Compassionate One to counter the [description of the] throne of Bilqis: between the two, however, is an unfathomable difference).
He, Solomon, said, to the hoopoe: ‘We shall see whether you have spoken the truth, in what you have informed us, or whether you are of the liars, that is, of their ilk — for [to say] that is rhetorically more powerful than [simply] saying ‘or whether you have lied’. He [the hoopoe] indicated to them the place of the water and it was extracted. They thus drank, performed their ablutions and prayed. Solomon then composed a letter in the following form: ‘From the servant of God, Solomon son of David, to Bilqis, Queen of Sheba. In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful: Peace be upon those who follow Guidance. To wit: do not rise up against me [in defiance], but come to me in submission’. He then stamped it with musk and sealed it with his ring, and said to the hoopoe:
Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them, that is, to Bilqīs and her people, then turn away, withdraw, from them, but remain close by them, and see what [response] they shall return’, [and see] what kind of response they shall give. Thus, he took it and approached her [Bilqīs]. But as her soldiers were all around her, he cast it into her private chamber. When she saw it, she shuddered and was consumed by fear. She read what it said.
Then, she said, to the noblemen of her people: ‘O [members of the] council, lo! (read yā ayyuhā’l-mala’u innī, pronouncing [in the last two words] both hamzas; or by not pronouncing the second one and changing it into a wāw with kasra vowelling) a noble, a sealed, letter has been delivered to me.
It is from Solomon and lo! it is, in other words, its text says: “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Do not rise up against me [in defiance], but come to me in submission”’.
She said, ‘O [members of the] council, give me an opinion (read yā ayyuhā’l-mala’u aftūnī, pronouncing both hamzas, or by not pronouncing the second and changing it into a wāw), in other words, guide me, in this matter of mine. I never decide on a matter, I never conclude it, until you are present’.
They said, ‘We possess force and we possess great might, in other words, we are hardy in war. The matter is for you [to decide]. So see what you will command’, us, and we will obey you.
She said, ‘Indeed kings, when they enter a town, ruin it, with destruction, and reduce the mightiest of its inhabitants to the most abased. That is what they too will do, namely, the senders of this letter.
Now I will send them a gift and wait to see with what [response] the envoys return’, in the way of accepting the gift or rejecting it. If it be a king [to whom we have sent it], he will accept it; but if it be a prophet, he will reject it. Thus, she sent male and female servants, one thousand in total, together with five hundred bricks of gold, a crown studded with jewels, and musk, ambergris and other things with an envoy carrying a letter. The hoopoe thus hurried back to bring the news to Solomon, who ordered bricks of gold and silver to be made and laid out across a [vast] square the distance of nine parasangs from his seat and for a towering wall of gold and silver to be constructed around it, and for the most splendid creatures of the land and the sea, together with the children of the jinn, to be brought to line the right and left sides of the square.
But when he, the envoy, came to Solomon, with the gift and the servants, he said, ‘Are you supplying mewith wealth? What God has given me, of prophethood and kingship, is better than what He has given you, of [the things of] this world. Nay, but it is you [and not I] who exult in your gift, for you pride yourselves upon [the possession of] the ornaments of this world!
Go back to them, with the gifts that you have brought, for We shall assuredly come to them with hosts which they will not be able to face and we shall expel them from there, from the land of Sheba (Saba’) — named [thus] after their tribal ancestor — humiliated, and they shall be utterly abased’, unless they come to me in submission. When the envoy returned to her with the gift, she had her throne placed inside seven doors inside her palace, with her palace inside seven palaces, and had all the doors locked with guards at them. She then prepared to make the journey to Solomon to see what he would command her. She departed with twelve thousand chieftains (qayl), each accompanied by thousands [of men] until when she came to within a parasang of him, he sensed her [arrival].
He said, ‘O [members of the] council, which of you (regarding the two hamzas read them in the way mentioned above [verse 32]) will bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?’, compliant and obedient? For I may only [rightfully] seize it before this [submission] and not afterwards.
An afreet from among the jinn — a [jinn who is] powerful and stalwart — said, ‘I will bring it to you before you rise from your place, the one in which you sit when adjudicating — the period from morning to midday. Indeed I have the strength for it, that is, for carrying it, and I am trustworthy’, over what it may contain of jewels and other [precious] things. Solomon said, ‘I want something faster than that!’
The one who had knowledge of the, revealed, Scripture — and this was [one] Asif b. Barkhiya, a righteous individual with knowledge of God’s Greatest Name, which when invoked [in supplication] for something it is [immediately] granted — said: ‘I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you, after you look at something. So he [the afreet] said to him, ‘Look up towards the heaven’, which he did, and when his glance returned [in front of him] he found it [Bilqis’ throne] placed before him — for in the instance in which Solomon looked up to the heaven, Asif supplicated by invoking the Greatest Name that God bring it [thereto]; and this was done by having it travel under the earth until it sprung up below Solomon’s seat(kursi). Then, when he saw it standing, still, before him, he said, ‘This, bringing it to me, is of my Lord’s bounty, that He may try me, test me, whether I give thanks (read a-ashkur, pronouncing both hamzas; or by replacing the second one with an alif; or by not pronouncing the second one, but inserting an alif between the one not pronounced and the other one or without [the insertion]) or am ungrateful, for the favour. And whoever gives thanks, gives thanks only for his own sake, because the reward for his thanks shall be his, and whoever is ungrateful, for the favour, [should know] then my Lord is surely Independent, with no need of his thanks, Generous’, by being bounteous to those who are ungrateful for it.
He said, ‘Disguise her throne for her — in other words, transform it such that when she sees it, it will be in an unrecognisable form — that we may see whether she will be guided, to recognising it, or be of those who cannot be guided’, to recognise when things are transformed around them. He [Solomon] sought thereby to test her mind, for it was said to have something wrong with it. Thus they transformed it by adding or taking away [certain things] and in other ways.
So when she came, it was said, to her: ‘Is your throne like this?’ She said, ‘It as though it is the one’. Shehad, in fact, recognised it; but she made a pretence to them just as they made a pretence to her, given that [when she was asked about the throne] it was not said, ‘Is this your throne?’, for had it been so, she would have replied, ‘Yes, it is’. When Solomon realised that she was perceptive and knowledgeable, he said: ‘And we were given the knowledge before her and we had submitted [to God].
And what she worshipped besides God, that is, other than Him, barred her, from the worship of God, for she belonged to disbelieving folk’.
It was, also, said to her, ‘Enter the palace [hallway]’ — this was a transparent white glass floor underneath which flowed sweet water that contained fish. Solomon had it made when he was told that her legs and feet resembled the shanks of a mule. And when she saw it, she supposed it to be a pool, of water, and so she bared her legs, to wade through it. Meanwhile Solomon was seated on his throne at the front part of the palace [hallway], and he saw that her legs and feet were [in fact] fair. He said, to her: ‘It is a hallway paved [smooth] with crystal’, and thereafter he called her to submit [to God]. She said, ‘My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, by worshipping other than You, and I submit with Solomon to God, the Lord of the Worlds’. He wanted to marry her but disliked the hair on her legs. So the devils made a [depilatory] lime mixture (nura) and she removed it therewith. He married her and had [great] love for her. And he let her remain as ruler of her kingdom and would visit her once a month, staying for three days [every time]. Her reign came to an end at the same time as that of Solomon. It is reported that he became king at the age of 13 and died at the age of 53 — Glory be to the One whose enduring sovereignty will never end!
And, We disposed, for Solomon the wind (the nominative reading of al-rihu would be based on an implicit [missing verb] sakhkharna, ‘We disposed’) its morning course, meaning its journey from the morning to the noon, was a month’s journey and its evening course, that is, its journey from the noon to sunset, was a month’s journey. And We caused a fount of [molten] copper to flow for him, in other words, We caused the copper to melt for him, and so the fount flowed for three days and nights like water, and to this day people have been using of that [copper] which was given to Solomon [at that time]. And of the jinn [there] were those who worked before him by the leave, by the command, of his Lord. And such of them as deviated from Our command, to him to obey him [Solomon], We would make them taste the chastisement of the Blaze, the Fire in the Hereafter — but it is also said, [that their chastisement was] in this world, in which case an angel would smite one of them with a lash thereof that would scorch him.
They fashioned for him whatever he wished: lofty shrines (maharib are high edifices which are ascended by stairs) and statues (tamathil is the plural of timthal, which is any thing which you fashion as a likeness [of another]), in other words, brass, crystal or marble figures — the use of figures was not prohibited according to his Law; and basins (jifan is the plural of jafna) like cisterns (jawabin is the plural of jabiya, which is a large basin) — around each ‘basin’ a thousand men would gather to eat — and cauldrons built into the ground, fixed with foundations, and cannot be moved from their places: these were made from the [rocks of the] mountains of Yemen, and to which one ascended by climbing up a ladder. And We said: ‘Work, O,
House of David, in obedience to God, in thankfulness, to Him for what He has given you. And few indeed of My servants are thankful’, labouring in obedience to Me in thanks for My favours.
And when We decreed for him, for Solomon, death, in other words, [when] he died — he remained supported against his staff an entire year, while the jinn continued to toil in hard labour as was customary, unaware of his death, until [finally] when a termite ate through his staff, he fell to the ground [and was seen to be] dead — nothing indicated to them that he had died except a termite (al-ard is the verbal noun from uridat al-khashaba, passive verbal form, in other words, ‘it [the piece of wood] was eaten away by a termite [al-arada]’) that gnawed away at his staff (read minsa’atahu or minsatahu, replacing the hamza with an alif, meaning a ‘staff’, so called because [when describing it one would say] yunsa’u biha, to mean it is used to repel or drive away [creatures]’). And when he fell down, dead, the jinn realised, it became apparent to them, that (an, is softened, in other words, annahum) had they known the Unseen — comprising what was hidden from them in the way of Solomon being dead — they would not have continued in the humiliating chastisement, [in] that hard labour of theirs, [in which they continued] as they supposed him to be alive, which is in contrast to what they would have supposed had they known the Unseen and the fact that he had been there an entire year, judging by how much of the staff the termite had eaten through after his death; in other words, [they would not have continued in the humiliating chastisement] for a single day or even a single night [longer].
And We bestowed on David, Solomon, his son — what an excellent servant!, that is, Solomon. Truly he was a penitent [soul], always returning [to God] with glorification and remembrance at all times.
When one evening — which is the period after midday — there were displayed before him the prancing steeds (al-safinat, ‘horses’, is the plural of safina, which denotes [a horse] standing on three legs with the fourth supported on the edge of the hoof, and derives from [the verb] safana, yasfinu sufunan; al-jiyad is the plural of jawad, which is a ‘racer’; the meaning is that these [horses] are such that when they are halted they stand still and when they run they surpass [others] in speed). One thousand horses were displayed before him after he had performed the midday prayer, for he had wanted to use them in a holy struggle (jihad) against an enemy. But when the display reached the nine-hundredth [horse], the sun set and he had
not performed the afternoon prayer. So he was greatly distressed.
He said, ‘Lo! I have loved, I have desired, the love of [worldly] good things, that is, [of] horses, over the remembrance of my Lord’, that is, [over] the afternoon prayer, until it, that is, the sun, disappeared behind the [night’s] veil, [until] it was concealed by that which veils it from sight.
Bring them back to me!, that is, the horses that were displayed; and they so brought them back. Then he set about slashing, with his sword, [their] legs (al-suq is the plural of saq) and necks, in other words, he slaughtered them and cut off their legs as an offering [of atonement] to God, exalted be He, for having been distracted by them from the prayer. He gave all the meat thereof as voluntary alms and so God compensated him what was better and faster that these [horses], and this was the wind, which blew at his command as he wished.
And We certainly tried Solomon: We tested him by wresting his kingdom from him, because he had married a woman [solely] out of his desire for her. She used to worship idols in his [own] home without his knowledge. Now, [control of] his kingdom lay in his ring. On one occasion, needing to withdraw [to relieve himself], he took it off and left it with this woman of his, whose name was al-Amina, as was his custom; but a jinn, [disguised] in the form of Solomon, came to her and seized it from her. And We cast upon his throne a [lifeless] body, which was that [very] jinn, and he was [the one known as] Sakhr — or it was some other [jinn]; he sat upon Solomon’s throne and so [as was the case with Solomon] the birds and other [creatures] devoted themselves to him [in service]. When Solomon came out [of his palace], having seen him [the jinn] upon his throne, he said to the people, ‘I am Solomon [not him]!’ But they did not recognise him. Then he repented — Solomon returned to his kingdom, many days later, after he had managed to acquire the ring. He wore it and sat upon his throne [again].
He said, ‘My Lord! Forgive me and grant me a kingdom that shall not belong to anyone after me, in other words, other than me (this [use of min ba‘di to mean ‘other than me’] is similar to [Q. 45:23] fa-man yahdih min ba‘di’Llah, ‘who will guide him other than God?’). Truly You are the Bestower’.
So We disposed for him the wind, which blew softly, gently, at his command wherever he intended.
And the devils [also We disposed], every builder, building marvellous edifices, and diver, in the sea, bringing up pearls,
and others too, from among them, bounded together in fetters, in shackles with their hands tied to their necks.
And We said to him: ‘This is Our gift. So bestow, grant thereof to whomever you wish, or withhold, from giving, without any reckoning’, in other words, without your being called to account for any of this.
And indeed he has [a station of] nearness with Us and a fair resort — a similar [statement] has already appeared [in another verse above].