The Story of Solomon (Sulaiman)

Imam Ibn Kathir Ad-Dimashqi

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Solomon inherited David's prophethood and dominion. This was not a material inheritance, as prophets do not bequeath their property. It is given away to the poor and needy, not to their relatives. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "The prophets' property will not be inherited, and whatever we leave is to be used for charity." (Sahih Al-Bukhari).

And indeed We gave knowledge to David and Solomon, and they both said: "All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has preferred us above many of His believing slaves!"

And Solomon inherited (the knowledge of) David. He said: "O mankind! We have been taught the language of birds, and on us have been bestowed all things. This, verily, is an evident grace (from Allah)."

And there were gathered before Solomon his hosts of jinns and men, and birds, and they were all set in battle order (marching forwards). [Ch 27:15-17 Quran].

After his father's death, Solomon became king. He begged Allah for a kingdom such as none after him would have, and Allah granted his wish. Besides wisdom, Allah had blessed Solomon with many abilities. He could command the winds and understand and talk to birds and animals. Allah directed him to teach both men and jinns to mine the earth and extract its minerals to make tools and weapons. He also favored him with a mine of copper, which was a rare metal in those days.

During his time horses were the common mode of transportation. They were very essential for defense, to carry soldiers and cart provisions and weapons of war. The animals were well cared for and well trained. One day Solomon 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. The sun was nearly setting, and the time for the middle prayer was passing by. When he realized this, he exclaimed: "I surely love the finer things of life than the service of my Lord! Return them to me."

Almighty Allah revealed: And to David We gave Solomon. How excellent a slave! Verily, he was ever oft returning in repentance (to Us)!

When there were displayed before him, in the afternoon, well-trained horses of the highest breed (for jihad in Allah's cause). And he said: "Alas! I did love the good (these horses) instead of remembering my Lord (in my 'Asr prayer)" till the time was over, and the sun had hidden in the veil of the night. Then he said: "Bring them (horses) back to me." Then he began to pass his hand over their legs and their necks (till the end of the display).

And indeed We did try Solomon and We placed on his throne Jasadan (a devil, so he lost his kingdom for a while) but he did return (to his throne and kingdom by the Grace of Allah and he did return) to Allah with obedience and in repentance. He said: "My Lord! Forgive me, and bestow upon me a kingdom such as shall not belong to any other after me. Verily, You are the Bestower."

So, We subjected to him the wind, it blew gently to his order whithersoever he willed, and also the devils from the jinns including every kind of builder and diver, and also other bound in fetters. (Saying of Allah to Solomon): "This is Our gift, so spend you or withhold, no account will be asked." And verily, he enjoyed a near access to Us, and a good final return Paradise. [Ch 38:30-40 Quran]

One day Solomon gathered his army, which had different battalions of men, jinns, birds, and animals. He marched them to the country of Askalon.

While they were passing through a valley, an ant saw the approaching army and cried out to warn the other ants: "Run to your homes! Otherwise, unaware, Solomon and his army might crush you!" Solomon, hearing the cry of the ant, smiled. He was glad that the ant knew him to be a prophet who would not intentionally harm Allah's creation. He thanked Allah for saving the ants' lives.

Allah the Almighty narrated: And there were gathered before Solomon his hosts of jinns and men, and birds, and they all were set in battle order (marching forwards). Till, when they came to a valley of the ants, one of the ants said: "O ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you, while they perceive not."

So he (Solomon) smiled, amused at her speech and said: "My Lord! Inspire and bestow upon me the power and ability that I maybe grateful for Your Favors which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves." [Ch 27:17-19 Quran].

In Jerusalem, on a huge rock, Solomon built a beautiful temple to draw the people to worship Allah. Today this building is known as "The Dome of the Rock." From there, a large band of followers joined Solomon on pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Mecca. After they had completed their hajj, they traveled to Yemen and arrived in the city of San'a. Solomon was impressed by their clever method of channeling water all over their cities. He was keen to build similar water systems in his own country but did not have enough springs.

He set out to find the hoopoe bird, which could detect water under the ground. He sent signals all over 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 to Solomon and explained the reason for its delay. "I have discovered something of which you are not aware. I have come from Sheba (Sab'a) with important news." Solomon became curious, and his anger subsided. The bird continued: "Sab'a is ruled by a queen named Bilkis (Bilqis), 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 Allah the Almighty."

To check the hoopoe's information, Solomon sent a letter to the queen with the bird. He instructed the bird to remain hidden and to watch everything.

The hoopoe dropped the letter in front of the queen and flew away to hide. She excitedly opened and read it: "Verily! It is from Solomon, and verily! It reads: 'In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, and Most Merciful; be you not exalted against me, but come to me as Muslims (true believers who submit with full submission).'" [Ch 27:30-31 Quran].

The queen 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 Solomon's invasion threat with a battle. However, she told them: "Peace and friendship are better and wiser; war only brings humiliation, enslaves people and destroys the good things. I have decided to send gifts to Solomon, selected from our most precious treasure. The courtiers who will deliver the gifts will also have an opportunity to learn about Solomon and his military mighty."

Solomon's reconnaissance team brought him the news of the arrival of Bilkis' messengers with a gift. He immediately realized that the queen had sent her men on a probing mission thus, he gave orders to rally the army. The envoys of Bilqis, entering amidst the well-equipped army, realized that their wealth was nothing in comparison to that of the kingdom of Solomon's palace floors, which were made of sandalwood and inlaid with gold.

They noticed Solomon surveying his army, and they were surprised at the number and variety of soldiers, which included lions, tigers, and birds. The messengers stood in amazement, realizing that they were in front of an irresistible army.

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