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January 23rd, 2017

Solomon speaking to Ants? – Not too Antsy though!

Solomon speaking to Ants? – Not too Antsy though!

This chapter will address and remove many misconceptions that are attributed to Prophet Solomon (PBUH), for example he spoke the language of insects and birds; subjugated the jinn, birds, mountains, seas and winds.

In other chapters, various allegations attributed to Solomon are refuted including his alleged practice of magic, making altars for his wives, association with Harut and Marut1 and leaning on his asa (-rod) at the time of his death and continuing to lean for an extended period of time till it crumbled due to termites.2

Solomon is discussed in various contexts in many chapters of the Quran. We will focus on chapters 21, 27, 37 and 38.

Justice, Wisdom and Knowledge

21:78-79. And (We bestowed Our favours on) David and Solomon. Behold! they gave their (respective) judgment in the disputed matter about a certain crop when the sheep of a certain people strayed into it at night, and We were bearers of witness to the judgment they gave (them). So We gave Solomon the true appreciation of it (- the matter); to each one of them We gave wisdom and knowledge…

Solomon is distinguished in history for his sense of justice, wisdom and knowledge that is reflected in various paintings depicting trial in which he decided the claim of motherhood by two women of the same child.3 His wisdom is evident when he interacts with Queen of Sheba and subtly persuades her to give up her pagan beliefs. Quranic narrations about the technological advancements and knowledge of metallurgy, mining, sailing, architecture, administration and military in his reign touch upon various angles. In this chapter, these Quranic references will be used to debunk the myths attributed to him.

Harnessing of technologies

21:79… And We had subjected the mountains [of Levant and its dwellers – Amalekites] and the birds which celebrated (Our) glory along with David. That is what We always do.

Subjection of mountains refers to Solomon building roads and gaining access into the mountains which he used for mining and building dams. For these projects, he employed the natives of Levant, the Amalekites, known as the jinn in Quran for their wild nature. Subjection of mountains by Solomon is no different than subjection of sun and the moon by modern technologies for solar energy and lunar mining proposals – And He has made subservient to you the night and the day and the sun and the moon. And (similarly) the stars (too) are made subservient to you by His command. Surely, in that there are many a sign for a people who make use of their understanding (16:12). Similarly, birds celebrating God’s glory at the time of David are no different from the birds of our own times, who are simply following laws of nature, in David’s times or ours. Celebrating God’s glory is a reference to abiding by the laws of nature, and should not be taken in a literal sense, as if the birds were actually singing some humanly decipherable hymns. Have you not pondered that it is Allâh Whose praises celebrate those who are in the heavens and on the earth, and (so do) the birds on the wings. Each one of them knows his own (way of) prayer and glorification (according to his or its own faculties). And Allâh knows well what they do (24: 4). This glorification is not limited nor is unique to the birds and David, but includes everything in the universe – The seven heavens, the earth and all those inhabiting them extol His glory. Infact, there is not even a single thing but glorifies Him with His true and perfect praise, but you do not understand their glorification. Verily, Most Forbearing is He, Great Protector (17:44).

Similarly, the subjection of birds refers to the fast and effective means of communication in Solomon’s kingdom by his carrier pigeons.

21:80. And We taught him (the art of) making coats of mail for you (people), that they designed to fortify you against (one another's) violence (in your wars). Will you then be grateful?

David brought Israelites out of Bronze Age into Iron Age. He borrowed iron smelting from Hittites of Turkey. Coats of mail refers to the well-equipped army of Solomon and the use of iron in his kingdom.

21:81. And (We subjected) to Solomon the violent wind; it blew according to his commandments towards the land (of Can`ân) which We had blessed and We have knowledge of all things.

Subjection of violent wind clearly alludes to Solomon perfecting the art of sail-making, keels and science of sailing for his fleet which could then sail into the wind instead of away from it. This technique is commonly called as 'Close Hauled'4 and ‘Beating’ or ‘Tacking’5,6

21:82. And (We subjected to him) some of the expert deep divers who dived for him and did other (sundry) works besides that; and it was We who kept watch over them [i.e. Solomon’s kingdom prospered under Divine help due to his just and knowledgeable rule].

Benediction on Solomon

Quran further gives glimpse of benedictions on Solomon and his deep appreciation:

38:30. And We gave (a pious son like) Solomon to David. How excellent a servant (of Ours) he was! For he turned to Us in obedience and repentance again and again.

38:31. (Think of the time) when towards the close of the day, steeds of the noblest breed and swift of foot were brought before him.

38:32. He said, `I prefer the love of good things because they make (me) remember (God), my Lord.' And (he remained busy in his devotion and prayer), when these (horses) disappeared (while passing by) behind the veil (of distance),

38:33. (He said,) `Bring them back to me.' Then (as they were brought) he began to stroke their hind legs and necks (with kindness).

Solomon’s appreciation for his steeds and stroking their hind legs and necks is no different from someone appreciating the automobiles by passing one’s hand over chrome and curves, colloquially termed as ‘kicking some tires.’

38:34. Behold! We tried Solomon (too) and We placed on his throne (of kingdom) a (mere) body (without any spirit or faith). Then he turned (to God seeking His mercy).

Solomon is tested like as any other king or ruler. What sets Solomon apart from the rest is that he believed in a righteous rule and not a meritless dynasty. Solomon rejected the principle of inheritance to power as explained in Quran:

38:35. He said (praying), `My Lord! grant me protection and bestow on me a kingdom that belongs to none (by inheritance) after me. You indeed are the Great Bestower.'

Verse 38:35 is discussed in detail in a separate chapter: ‘Staff of Solomon – a Throne, not a Termitarium.’7

38:36. So (We accepted his prayer and) We subjected to him a gentle wind. It blew gently according to his requirements in the direction he desired to go.

38:37. And (We also subjugated to him) the rebellious people (- the unruly Amâliqah people of far off lands), all (their) builders and divers;

38:38. And others (among them, who were) bound in chains [i.e. the rebellious Amaliqah that are addressed elsewhere in Quran as jinn, were probably for the first time in service of a Jewish king, Solomon. Historically, Amaliqah were always adversarial to Jewish rule].

38:39. (We said to him,) `This is Our gift that knows no measure. So give it freely or withhold it (from whomsoever you deem fit) without reckoning.

38:40. Behold! there is for him (- Solomon) Our close proximity and an excellent resort.

Quran gives some more glimpses of favors bestowed on Prophets David and Solomon:

34:10. And certainly We bestowed Our (gracious) favours on David. (We said,) `O (you dwellers of the) mountains, obey him.' And (We assigned) the birds and the swift footed horses (their duty); and We made the iron soft and pliant for him [when the Israelites moved from bronze to iron age after they borrowed iron smelting technology from the Hittites during the reign of his father, King David].

34:11. (We said to him,) `Make full length coats of mail (to cover the whole body) forging links of proper measure (for their smooth working).' (And We also said to him and his followers,) `Do righteous deeds. I am a keen Observer of what you do.'

34:12. And We made such winds serve Solomon the blowing of which in the forenoon (and thus help sailing of his ships) was equal to (a voyage of) a month (by the other ships); similarly its blowing in the afternoon was (also) equal to (a voyage of) a month (by them) [– alluding to technological advanced sailing methods of Solomon’s fleet]. And We made a spring of molten copper to flow for him. Also (given into his service were) some of the jinns (- wild and rebellious mountain tribes known as Amalaqites), who worked under him as trained craftsmen) by the command of his Lord. And (We also told them) whoever of them deviated from and disobeyed Our command (- that they should obey Solomon) We shall make him suffer the agony of burning.

34:13. Those (jinns -handy craftsmen) made for him (- Solomon) whatever he desired, places for worship and plans and basins (as large) as the tanks and large and heavy cooking pots well-set (on their trivets due to their large size). (And We said,) `Act gratefully, O people of David.' Yet few are My people who are (really) grateful.

34:14. And when We ordained death for him (- Solomon) the people only came to know of his death through a (worthless) creature of earth (- Solomon's son) that was eating away his (father's) staff (- ruling power and glory). So when it fell down [– the stable rule of Solomon after his death,] the jinn [– the subjugated Amalaqites] realized then plainly that had they known the secret (of the hollowness of the kingdom) they would have never remained in (a state of) humiliating torment.

The last verse above refers to Solomon's inept son, Rehoboam and his rule. It is not too uncommon for incompetent sons to bring the downfall of their father's rule. In recent history we see how the inept sons contributed to the downfall of a rule, rule of the tyrants – Gaddafi and Saddam.

As discussed elsewhere in this book, science is the knowledge governed by laws made by none other than God Himself. As the science is advancing it is only validating, rather than invalidating, Quran. In the context of extra-Quranic myths attributed to Solomon, science tells us that ants in particular communicate with chemical signals and not by sound.

The readers of Quran, at times, equate the genie of fairy tales with the jinn of Quran. The former is a creature of human imagination, whereas the latter is a human attribute – the fiery nature, haughtiness, well built, ability to perform extraordinary feats, people who are generally not visible in public so that others can only make conjectures about them e.g. kings or desert dwellers etc. A jinn is a person who stands distinct and separate from the ordinary people, such as a heavy weightlifter, basketball dunker, mesmerizing orator, actor or artist on stage. Such a distinct person usually is considered a notch above the rest. Even different laws apply to public figures as opposed to private citizens.

The superficial reader of Quran takes the distinct but erroneous impression that the birds are at par with humans in intelligence and supernatural beings exist among our midst. A contextual reading of the Quran with an open mind is a must to avoid such absurd deductions. No wonder, in any educational system of the world, reading and comprehension is emphasized in elementary schools.


27:15. And We granted knowledge to David and Solomon, and they said, `All true and perfect praise belongs to Allâh alone Who has exalted us over many of His believing servants.'

History bears witness that both David and Solomon, were great prophets, law givers, judges, rulers, administrators, project managers, architects, personnel managers, generals, equestrian handlers, sailors, metallurgist and many others, as a consequence of the granted knowledge.

The Birds – Cavalry and Messenger Pigeons:

27:16. And Solomon succeeded David and he said, `O you people! we have been taught the language of the birds (and also the technique of horsemanship), and bestowed with everything (essential for us). This indeed is a distinct favour (of God and His grace).'

Before the reader is carried away by fancies of one's imaginations, Solomon used 'we' clearly establishing that the skill of language of the birds was prevalent amongst the people of the time. One can safely assume that there is nothing special about Solomon alone. Even in present times, anyone who has seen a pigeon trainer is surprised to see how the trainer controls the flight behavior of the whole flock by gestures and whistles. To the onlooker the trainer is, as if, talking to the birds and the birds are responding. Till very recently, pigeons were used to send messages. As recently as Waterloo, Nathan Rothschild, overnight became the richest person in the world by merely employing a pigeon as a messenger to find out the outcome of the battle, a day before rest of England. This teaches us the value of information as a commodity, which Nathan alone possessed about the Waterloo, and using it he manipulated London stock exchange into his overnight riches and elevated his status from a mere money lender to a nobility with full court access. No wonder, by some accounts, the Rothschilds subsequently purchased Reuters and then Associated Press, the modern day pigeons and thus mastered the – language of the birds¸ albeit on a global scale.

Disciplined force:

27:17. And there were gathered together before Solomon his hosts comprising of jinn (- haughty) and (ordinary) men and birds [– tair i.e. swift animal including cavalry] and swift footed horses, and they were then arranged in separate well-disciplined columns.

The above verse possibly alludes to some expedition that Solomon undertook that included a few distinguished commanders (–jinn), mounted cavalry (–birds) and supply trains (–horses).

Marching Army:

27:18. (Once he was marching with them) until when they (his armies) reached the valley [-Arabic: wadi] of (the tribe named) al-Naml, a distinguished Namlite [addressing his tribemates] said, `O al-Naml! get into your habitations lest Solomon and his hosts should crush you unknowingly.'

It is not unusual to name valleys and canyons after animals and tribes e.g. Coyote Canyon in the state of Utah and the state itself too is named after Ute tribe of Native Americans. If the above verse is read as if it were the ant rather than the human dweller of the Valley of Ants speaking about Solomon's army, then it would mean that the ants somehow have understood human affairs for centuries, yet we are still unaware of it! Imagine an ant versus Solomon, with Solomon bent upon destroying an ant colony with all his might. What an absurd interpretation. The verse is written about a Namalite, a human being and not an ant. As explained by Nooruddin in his exegesis of Quran, Arabs named tribes after animals e.g. Banu Asad (-lion), Banu Kalb (-dog) and in this case the tribe is named after insect, Al-Naml (-ant). The use of the term ‘wadi l-naml’ concretely means Valley of the Ants, whereas, it logically means the Valley of the Tribe al-Naml.

The miracle is supposed to be that Solomon could understand what the ant said (to other ants). But this implies that ants have an understanding of human affairs and communicate among themselves about those matters (as the ant here says: “O ants, go into your houses, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you” — 27:18). Solomon being able to understand the ant could be a miracle, but how did that ant and all the other ants addressed by it have the capacity of knowing who Solomon was? If those ants had this level of understanding then ants throughout history, even now, would have the same capacity of knowledge. There is no authority in the Quran for believing that such creatures have human-like knowledge of current affairs (that Solomon is the king who is coming with his army).”8

Allamah Nooruddin in his exegesis explains that Valley of Naml is located just south of Taif which in turn is south-east of Makkah. The dwellers of this valley were called ‘Ants’ i.e. Naml because their source of livelihood depended upon their picking gold dust from the sand in the manner of ants. This geographic clarification places Solomon and his army nearest to Yemen. That is where Solomon was stationed when his Intelligence Officer, Hudhud, made a short espionage trip to the Yemenite kingdom of Saba and returned with important news, discussed later.

Humbleness of Solomon:

27:19. Thereupon he (- Solomon) wondered and was pleased with (the good opinion the Namlite expressed about his own and his army's power and piety) and said (praying), `My Lord! rouse me up that I may offer thanks for the favours You have shown me and my forefathers and that I should do such deeds as are righteous and may please You, and count me through Your mercy with Your righteous servants.'

Clearly Solomon is humbled in the above verse by witnessing the awe his force is held in by the people. To be humble in victory and in distress is one of the attributes of the Prophets that this verse brings to fore. Later in history, we see Prophet Muhammad in same humbleness, head bowed, riding his camel he entered Makkah at the head of 10,000 strong army consisting of distinguished commanders (–jinn), cavalry (–birds) and mounted and supply trains (–horses). The narrative of Solomon’s army is repeated in history on the arrival of the Prophet and his army on the outskirts of Makkah. Abu-Sufyan, the Makkan chief, visited the camp of the Prophet and admitted to complete victory of the Prophet, just as the Nalamite chief had done for Solomon. As a term of general amnesty given by the Prophet, Abu-Sufyan returned to the city and announced that anyone who stayed in his home would be given amnesty. In effect, Abu-Sufyan, repeated the words of the chief of Namalites: `O Makkaites! get into your habitations lest Muhammad and his hosts should crush you unknowingly.'

The famous hoopoe:

27:20. And (once) he reviewed the birds and the (cavalry of) swift running horses and said, `How is it that I do not see (my officer named) Hudhud? Is he deliberately absent?

27:21. `I will certainly punish him very severely, rather I will execute him or else he must give me some valid excuse (for remaining absent).

Similar to jinn, some readers of the above verse take this to mean that hudhud (English: hoopoe) was an actual bird. They derive their support from the current and adjoining verses that refer to Solomon inspecting the 'birds'. If the reader of these lines has seen British TV comedy serial of early 1990s – 'Are you being served', he will be all too familiar with a character by the name of Captain Peacock9,10 who, although named after a bird, was in fact a human being. Similarly, Hudhud of Solomon, even though named after a bird, was in fact Captain Hudhud, a human. It is not uncommon for generals to call out their juniors by their name without using their rank. Similarly, in the above verse, Solomon is asking for an important officer, Hudhud, who is noticed by his mere absence. The reaction of Solomon reflects of a general who is perturbed by an apparent lack of discipline and possibly an AWOL (absent without leave) in his ranks.

Hudhud – apparently an intelligence officer:

27:22. But he (- Solomon) had not to wait long (before Hudhud came) and said, `I have acquired that information which you do not possess. I have come to you from (the territory of a Yemanite tribe) Saba' with sure and important news (to tell).

The key phrase in this verse is when Hudud says – I have acquired that information which you do not possess. This clearly points to intelligence information and not any other knowledge because earlier we quoted that Allah had already given knowledge to – to each one of them [-David and Solomon] We gave wisdom and knowledge (21:79).

27:23. `I found (there) a (wonderful) woman ruling over them (- the Sabaeans) and she has been given everything (she requires) and owns a magnificent throne.

27:24. `I (also) found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allâh. And satan has made their deeds fair-seeming to them (so that they take pride in their practices), and has thus hindered them from the right way, so that they do not follow true guidance.

27:25. `And (satan has done this) so that they do not worship Allâh while Allâh is He Who brings to light all that lies hidden in the heavens and the earth and knows all that you (O people!) conceal (in your minds) and all that you make known (of your designs).

27:26. `Allâh! there is no other, cannot be and will never be One worthy of worship but He, the Lord of the Mighty Throne.'

At times, intelligence agencies operate without disclosing their mission, even to their superiors. Apparently, Hudhud is a Muslim because he is able to point out polytheistic practices of the people he pried upon while he was on a reconnaissance mission to adjoining kingdom of Sheba. Being a subordinate of a Muslim king, Solomon, he notices which others will not notice, and that is the religious practices of the kingdom of Sheba and comments on their pagan customs and worships. He apparently has also made his way into the court of the Queen of Sheba that he is able to comment on her magnificent throne. He also comments on the qualities of the Queen, yet rejects it all in comparison with Lord of the Mighty Throne. Apparently, all this happened when Solomon was in the Valley of the Ants, in deep Arabia and near Yemen. Reaching out to monarchs of the world, getting to know them by sending ambassadors to the courts of Persia, Byzantium, Egypt and Yemen is what Prophet Muhammad also did. Solomon or Muhammad, it is the job description of prophets to reach out and spread the message far and wide.

Trust but verify:

27:27. (Thereupon Solomon) said, `We will now look into it and see whether you have spoken the truth or whether you are of the liars.

27:28. `Take this letter of mine, deliver it to them (-the people of Saba') then withdraw from them and wait what (answer) they make in return,

Being a king, Solomon needs to verify the single-source information from Hudhud. Hence, he sends a letter to Queen of Sheba at the hands of Hudhud. Again, it is ridiculous to imagine that before it was only Solomon who could converse with the birds, now it is the pagan Queen of Sheba who can also understand a bird and takes it seriously. Further, carrier pigeons can only fly one way – towards their home and never away from it. They are not Fed-Ex, going multiple ways. History tells us that similar to Solomon, Prophet Muhammad also sent letters to Byzantine king Heracles, Chosroe of Persian, Egyptian and Yemani kings inviting them to Islam while telling them to give up their pagan practices.

Queen – befitting her qualities, takes counsel:

27:29. (When the Queen saw the letter) she said, `Chieftains! there has been delivered to me a noble letter.

27:30. `It is from Solomon and it says, "With the name of Allâh, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful (I commence to write to you).

27:31. "Do not rise up against me but come to me (surrendering yourselves) in submission".'

27:32. She said, `Chieftains! give me your sound and mature advice in the matter which confronts me, (for) I decide no important matter except when you are present with me (to advise).'

27:33. They said, `We are a people possessing (extraordinary) power and are gallant fighters; but as for the decision it rests with you, therefore you may thoroughly consider what order you want to give.'

27:34. She said, `Surely, when the kings enter a township (as invaders) they ruin it and reduce its most honourable residents to the most degraded positions. And such indeed will be their (- of Solomon and his men's) ways.

27:35. `I am going to send them a (significant) gift and shall wait to see what (answer) the envoys bring back.'

Obviously the contents of the letter are noble, that makes Queen of Sheba send friendly presents to Solomon, who apparently is not impressed by the pomp of the gifts:

27:36. So when he (- the Queen's envoy) came (with the present) to Solomon he (- Solomon) said, `Do you mean to help me with (your) wealth? Well, what Allâh has given me is far better than what He has given you. You seem to be rather proud of your gift.

27:37. `Go back to them (and tell your people that), we shall certainly come down upon them with hosts they have no power to withstand and we shall, surely, drive them out from there (- their country) disgraced, while they are subjugated?'

Clearly Solomon is perturbed by the gift, which later verses clarify as a throne. Possibly the throne had some art work that was abhorring to the prophet, quite possibly idols or nudes engraved into it (Muhammad Ali).

Making of a throne for Queen of Sheba:

All the pieces are in place for making of a throne befitting Queen of Sheba: gift of the throne from Sheba, the description of her existing throne in her court from Hudhud, the craftsmen, the jinn, who can make even a better one, and the Israelitethe jeweler who could design it making the throne ornate with possibly precious metals and stones:

27:38. (Later on addressing his courtiers Solomon) said, `Nobles! which one of you will bring me a throne befitting her (- the Queen) before they come to me surrendering in submission.'

27:39. A stalwart from among the jinn said, `I will bring it to you (prepared as you desire), before you rise and depart from your place of encampment. Surely, I am strong and expert enough (to accomplish this task and can be) trusted (with it).'

27:40. One (Israelite) who had knowledge of the Scripture said, `I will bring it to you before your Yemanite (noble guests) come to you.' And when he (- Solomon) saw it (- the throne) set before him he said, `This is due to the grace of my Lord; so that He may reveal my inner self to show whether I am grateful (for all His favours) or ungrateful. Indeed, he who thanks, his thanksgiving is for his own good, and he who shows ingratitude (let him remember that) My Lord is truly Self-Sufficient (and is in need of no praise), Oft-Generous (and Noble in His own right).'

Contrary to the prevailing belief, nowhere in the above verse is any reference to the original throne of the Queen which is in Sheba, to be brought to the kingdom of Solomon. After seeing the first version of the throne made in the due course of time, Solomon suggests further improvements:

27:41. He (further) said, `Make her own (old) throne seem discredited to her (in her own estimation by making this new throne of a very excellent standard). We shall see (thereby) whether she follows the right way (by discarding her old idolatrous throne) or whether she is (one) of those who do not follow the right way.'

27:42. When she came (to Solomon) it was said to her, `Is your throne like this?' She said, `It is as though it were much the same. We had been given the knowledge (about your excellence and perfection) before this and we have already surrendered in submission (to you).'

27:43. And (Solomon) held her back from the things she used to worship apart from Allâh, for she belonged to an unbelieving people.

27:44. It was said to her, `Enter the palace.' And when she saw it she took it for a great expanse of water. She was greatly perturbed. (Solomon) said, `It is a palace paved smooth with slabs of glass.' She (realizing the truth that she worshipped outward objects like the sun in place of Reality, the true God,) said, `My Lord! I have done injustice to myself and (now) I submit myself through Solomon to Allâh, the Lord of the worlds.'

Obviously, Solomon treats the Queen as a revered guest. At the same time, using his wisdom and knowledge,11 he uses her own psychology of superficial perception of awe and grandeur, to convince her of the facade of worldly things that were apparently important for her faith and power, yet she was tricked by them in the first place. She realizes the deception of her own belief and converts to Islam. Solomon asking the Queen `Enter the palace' possibly refers to his marriage with the Queen of Sheba (-Bilqis).

8 Ahmadiyya view of miracles in the Quran” – Reply to an objection, by Dr. Zahid Aziz., The Light & Islamic Review. July–September 2003, Volume 80, Number 3.
11to each one of them [-David and Solomon] We gave wisdom and knowledge (21:79).
All  verses of Quran are quoted from English Translation of the Holy Quran by Allamah Nooruddin

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