Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 27, Al-Naml [32-43]

[32] She said, ‘You chiefs, give me your opinion concerning (this) my affair. I am not used to deciding a matter until you are present (with) me.’47


47. There are quite a few reports of Jewish origin about the number of chiefs that Bilqis consulted. Alusi scoffs at them and considers them nearer to lies than truth.

[33] They said, ‘We possess power and own great fighting (prowess). However, the affair rests with you. So, consider what you will command.’

[34] She said, ‘Kings when they enter a country, they despoil it and render the noblest of its people the most abased. That is what they do.48


48. Her chiefs had comforted her that they commanded great power and fighting skill. But she knew the reality and told them indirectly that if they faced Sulayman’s forces, they would have a different story to narrate after the fiasco (Au.).

[35] I am going to send them a gift and see with what do the envoys return.’49


49. That is, if Sulayman accepted the gifts and spared her and her kingdom, it would mean he was a mere king who could be resisted. But if he did not accept the gifts, it would mean he was a Prophet who could not be resisted (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). There are no few reports on what those fabulous gifts constituted, but, once again in the words of Alusi, nearer to lies than to truth. The Jewish Encyclopedia for instance says she sent several vessels of treasures along with 6000 boys and girls of the same age as gift. (Majid)

[36] But when they (the envoys) came to Sulayman he said, ‘Will you extend riches to me?, while what Allah has given me is better than what He gave you. But rather, it is you who rejoice in your gifts.50


50. Yusuf Ali comments: “Poor Bilqis! She thought she had arranged with womanly tact to conciliate Solomon, and at the same time pacify her warlike subjects. But the effect of the embassy with such presents was the very opposite. Solomon took it as an insult that she should send him presents instead of her submission to the true Religion! He flung back the presents at her, as much as to say, ‘Let these baubles delight your own hearts! Allah (swt) has blessed me with plenty of worldly goods, and something infinitely better, viz., His Light and Guidance! Why do you say nothing about that?’”

[37] Go back to them. We will assuredly come against them with a force they have no power (to resist), drive them out from there disgraced, and they will be humbled.’

[38] He asked, ‘You chiefs. Which one of you will bring me her throne before they come to me surrendered?’51


51. It is narrated that when Bilqis came to know that her gifts were rejected, she started off to see Sulayman. It was when she had arrived close to his capital that he ordered her throne brought to him. (Ibn Kathir)

[39] Said one of the powerful ones52 of the Jinn, ‘I will bring it to you before you rise from your place.53 Surely, I am strong, trustworthy.’


52. Literally, the word `ifrit is used for a rebellious ruffian (Alusi), but here it is understood as a giant and a mighty one of them, as in Ibn Kathir.

53. Maqamik: i.e., from the seat of Justice that Sulayman occupied every day until noon, administering justice.

[40] Said he who possessed knowledge of the Book, ‘I will bring it to you before even your glance returns to you.’54 When he saw it firmly placed55 before him he said,56 ‘This is by the grace of my Lord that He may test me whether I give thanks or am I ungrateful. And, whosoever is grateful, surely he is grateful only for himself, while whosoever is ungrateful, then, surely, my Lord is All-sufficient, All-generous.’57


54. Ibn Is-haq, as well as some others, have reported that the one who said these words was a friend of Sulayman and he knew Ism al-A`zam by whose power he was able to place the throne before Sulayman in a moment (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Another opinion is that it was Sulayman himself who brought the throne with Allah’s help (Zamakhshari, Razi).

55. The use of the term “mustaqarr” implies that it could have been a fairly large throne (Au.).

56. Ibn Jarir has several reports that describe who brought the throne and how. But, in the absence of any hadith, either weak or strong, the details do not carry any scholarly weight. As Ibn Kathir notes, there is no way we can check the authenticity of these reports since they are most probably of Jewish origin, and hence ignoring them is the best course.

Mawdudi comments: “It may well be asked how the throne was carried over the distance of 1500 miles, appearing in Solomon’s court within the twinkling of an eye. In this regard, it must be stated that our notions of time and space, of matter and motions, based on our limited observation and experience, are applicable only to us and not to God… God can cause anything… When we are talking of God… what difficulty is there in believing that a throne was carried up to a distance of a few thousand miles within the twinkling of an eye? … After all, the same Qur’an contains the statement that one night God took His servant Muhammad (peace be on him) from Makkah to Jerusalem and brought him back, all within one night.”

For those familiar with modern science, it should not present any difficulty in understanding how the throne could have been brought in a second. The distance between Yemen and Palestine is no more than about 2500 km. It means the carrier would have traveled at the speed of about 5000 km. per second. How does it compare with the speed of light which is 300,000 km a second – roughly the speed at which the universe is now expanding?!

57.“If Solomon had been ungrateful to Allah, i.e., if he had worked for his own selfish or worldly ends, he could have used the brute strength of `Ifrit to add to his worldly strength and glory. Instead, he uses the higher magic of the Book, – of the Spirit – to transform the throne of Bilqis for her highest good, which means also the highest good of her subjects, by the divine Light. He had the two alternatives, and he chooses the better, and he thus shows his gratitude to Allah (swt) for the Grace He had given him.” (Yusuf Ali)


[41] He said, ‘Disguise her throne for her. We will see whether she is guided or will she be of those who are not guided.’58


58. Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, and Wahb b. Munabbih have opined that the meaning of this ayah is, ‘Will Bilqis be rightly guided in recognizing her throne as her own?’ And the presentation of the throne was to test whether she was intelligent enough (to recognize Allah’s powers).~ Ibn Jarir

[42] So when she came, it was said, ‘Is your throne like this?’ She said, ‘As if it is it.’59 ‘And we were given the knowledge before her, and were submitted.60


59. “Bilqis stands the test. She knows it was her throne, yet not exactly the same, for it was now much better. And she is proud of her good fortune, and acknowledges, for herself and her people, with gratitude, the light which was given to them by Allah (swt), by which they recognized Allah’s prophet in Solomon (asws), and received the true Religion with all their will and heart and soul.” (Yusuf Ali)

60. The dominant opinion is that of Mujahid who said that these are the words of Sulayman meaning, he had knowledge of these things much before her arrival, and, was a believer. (Baghawi, Ibn Kathir)


[43] But what she had been worshipping besides Allah had prevented her. She was of an unbelieving people.’61


61. “The purport is that her continuance in paganism was not specially a fault of her own, but due to her family upbringing and to her vicious associates.” (Majid)

The opinion of Mujahid, Sa`id and Hasan was that the words, “And we were given the knowledge” … until “she was of an unbelieving people” are those of Sulayman. (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir)

(To be continued)

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