By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam
30 April 2015
The Quran narrates the story of the meeting of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, a sun-worshipper and the latter embracing Islam after some observations she made in the palace and gave her own explanation for leaving sun-worship and embracing Islam succinctly.
Apart from its outer message, the story has a deeper meaning which till now has generally been ignored. When King and prophet Solomon came to know from a bird (hoopoe) that there was another land ruled by a queen and she and her countrymen worshipped the Sun and not God, he sent her a letter asking her to submit to one God and come to meet her. She finally arrived at King Solomon’s palace but before the actual meeting took place between them and before King Solomon could deliver a long speech stressing the virtues of his religion (Islam), she declared that she became a Muslim. What compelled her to have belief in one God and realize that Islam was the true religion?
Actually, Queen of Sheba, named Bilquis was more influenced and impressed by the scientific and industrial development of King Solomon’s kingdom. The power derived from this scientific development rendered her overawed. She formed the opinion that believers in one God have immense spiritual and scientific powers. She also realized that there was a veil on her sight and her consciousness that prevented her from realizing the truth of nature and the universe. The illusion of falsehood was removed by the observation of a higher manifestation of knowledge in King Solomon’s palace. It also proves the fact that a greater scientific understanding of objects and the nature leads man to a greater understanding of the existence of God.
The story starts with the hoopoe telling King Solomon that a kingdom in a distant land is ruled by a queen and she and her subjects are sun-worshippers. They have been bestowed all the bounties from God but they do not prostrate to God but to the Sun. King Solomon, who was a also a prophet of God and a very pious and righteous man told hoopoe to deliver his letter asking her to come to him as a Muslim. Queen of Sheba consulted her courtiers and army officers and asked for their advice. They said that they were brave people always ready to obey her and were ready to fight and defend the country but the final decision was to be taken by her.
Queen of Sheba said that when kings attack a country, it causes large scale destruction on both sides. So she would prefer extending a hand of friendship towards Solomon by sending his some valuable gifts. So she sends her courtiers to Solomon with valuable gift. But King Solomon said that he did not rejoice in those gifts as God had already given him wealth and power. He only wanted their queen and them to submit to God. So they returned and told her about King Solomon’s non-acceptance of the gifts and his warning.
After the courtiers of Queen of Sheba left, King Solomon called all his ministers among whom djinns were also present. He asked the ministers if someone from them could bring the throne of Queen of Sheba to his palace before they surrendered to him as Muslims.
One of the djinns said that he could bring her throne before he will rise from his throne. That is, he will bring the throne very swiftly as he was made for this task only.
But another minister who had the knowledge of the ‘scripture’ claimed that he will bring the throne before he turned his eyes or in the blink of an eye.
And in the next moment, King Solomon saw the throne before his eyes in his palace. So when Queen of Sheba arrived at the gate of the palace, she was shown her throne lying there. The ministers asked her, “Isn’t it your throne?” She said, “It appears very much like my throne.” King Solomon said, “We have been given the knowledge before her.”
After that she was told to enter the palace. When she entered the palace, she thought that the floor was flooded with water. So she pulled up her robe and exposed her shin. The ministers were bemused and said to her, “This is not water but the floor is made of smooth glass which creates the illusion of water.”
Queen of Sheba was first surprised at this scientific marvel and then said to herself, “O my Lord, I have indeed wronged myself. And I submit with Solomon to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.”
Here, Queen of Sheba seems to be overawed by the scientific powers of King Solomon and not as a Muslim king. King Solomon’s kingdom is shown in the Quran as one industrially and scientifically developed apart from the fact that he had control over the djinns and the demons and birds and animals. His royal palace was built on scientific principles and the floor was made of a kind of glass that created the illusion of water. Such a phenomenon would have been a miracle in those days though in the modern and scientifically developed age, it would be a commonplace incident. Her throne was brought to Solomon’s palace by one his ministers who had the knowledge of the ‘scripture’ or a specific knowledge from a holy book that would enable anyone to achieve this scientific feat. So when she arrived at the gate of the Solomon’s palace and found her throne lying there, she was taken aback and was awestruck at King Solomon’s power. When she realized that she mistook glass for water, she uttered in self realization that her illusion was because of her lack of insight. She mistook glass for water as she mistook sun for God. The spiritual and scientific power of King Solomon and his ministers observed by her on her visit to the palace created a very lofty image of Muslims in her eye. Are Muslims like that? Are Muslims so intellectually, spiritually and scientifically developed? Does belief in one God lead them to this development and power? She realized that though she too was the queen and also had her powerful ministers but they could not acquire these powers because they were devoid of the true wisdom and insight: they could not prevented her throne being taken away.
Here King Solomon invites Queen of Sheba to his palace obviously for preaching to her Islam and the worship of One God. But before the proper meeting is held between the two, she realizes that she was wrong to worship false gods because she did not have the insight. And she at once realized her lack of insight when she was told that it was not water but glass.
She was told, "Enter the palace." But when she saw it, she thought it was a body of water and uncovered her shins [to wade through]. He said, "Indeed, it is a palace [whose floor is] made smooth with glass." She said, "My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the worlds."
From the verses of the Quran, we come to know that King Solomon also had factories where large furnaces for melting copper were set up and djinns would work in those factories day and night and build houses and other installations under the king’s order.
“And to Solomon [We subjected] the wind - its morning [journey was that of] a month - and its afternoon [journey was that of] a month, and We made flow for him a spring of [liquid] copper. And among the jinn were those who worked for him by the permission of his Lord. And whoever deviated among them from Our command - We will make him taste of the punishment of the Blaze. They made for him what he willed of elevated chambers, statues, bowls like reservoirs, and stationary kettles. [We said], "Work, O family of David, in gratitude." And few of My servants are grateful." (Saba: 10-13)
The furnaces the Quran mentions are only found in modern day factories where copper is melted and many tools and utensils of copper are made.
After visiting Solomon’s industrialized and scientifically developed country, Queen of Sheba at once held her own sultanate in contrast where there was no scientific development and scientific temperament. This made her form the opinion that Muslims are a scientifically developed nation. “O my Lord, are Muslims like this? So scientifically, industrially and spiritually developed?”
And she at once said, “Aslamto”. I become a Muslim.
Therefore, the story has a deep allegorical and philosophical significance that drives home the message that belief in non-gods or false gods is due to a lack of understanding of the reality of universe and nature and science only helps lift the curtain from this illusion of falsehood and enlightens the mind.
Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam. He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.