Qur’an Stories: The Hoopoe

“And (when) he (Nabi Sulaimān) inspected the birds, he exclaimed: ‘Why do I not see Hud-Hud, or is he among the absentees? Either he brings to me a valid proof (explanation) or I shall most certainly give him a severe punishment or slaughter him. The Hud-Hud stayed away for just a short time. (Upon his return) he said: ‘I have discovered what you have not discovered, and I come to you from (the land of) Saba’ with reliable information. Verily, I found a woman ruling over people. She has been given everything (of worldly wealth) and she has a wonderful throne. I have found her and her people prostrating to the sun besides Allāh. Shaitān has adorned for them their deeds and has prevented them from the Path of Allāh, hence they do not derive guidance.” (Surah Namal, Āyat 20 – 24)

These are the Qur’ānic aayaat commencing the story of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) and Queen Bilqees, the ruler of Yemen at that time. The story begins with an inspection of the birds by Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām). Allāh Ta’ala had bestowed to Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) the ability to understand and speak the variety of languages of even the birds. Mentioning this, the Qur’ān Majeed records the statement of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) who said: “O people, we have been taught the speech of the birds and have been granted from everything . Verily, this is a clear bounty (of Allāh).” – Āyat 16, Surah Namal

On his expedition from Baitul Maqdis (Jerusalem) to Yemen, at one stage his army requested for water. There was no water in sight and the soldiers were extremely thirsty. Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) ordered the variety of birds to form their rows for an inspection. The purpose of the inspection was to issue a command to the bird Hud-Hud. What bird is the Hud-Hud?

Some say that it is the woodpecker whilst others say it is the hoopoe. Allāh knows best. The reason for the search for the Hud-Hud was the bird’s inherent ability to locate water. Irrespective of how deep the water may be underground, the Hud-Hud would fly into the air, and from a height detect the presence of water. It would descend to the ground and indicate the location with its beak. Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) would then order the Jinns who had been made subservient to him by Allāh Ta’ala, to dig for the water. In this manner fountains and streams would form.

At that time, the bird known as Kulang (heron) was appointed the king of the birds. When he did not find the Hud-Hud in the ranks, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) was extremely annoyed. He demanded an answer from the Kulang who expressed unawareness of the Hud-Hud. He said that the Hud-Hud had in fact departed without even informing him . Thus, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) threatened to slay the Hud-Hud or punish him severely if he did not present a viable excuse for his absence. The severe punishment mentioned in the Āyat refers to Nabi Sulaimān’s cutting the wing feathers of birds to prevent them from flying for a year. When he discerned the need to punish a bird, this would be his ‘severe’ punishment.

However, the Hud-Hud after a brief absence made his appearance. His companions among the birds informed him of the anger of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) and the threatened severe punishment. Then the Hud-Hud hastened into the presence of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām), prostrated and offered a supplication (dua’) for Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām). It pecked at the ground with its beak in submission and obedience. Simultaneously, it looked at Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) and explained that it has come with such reliable news of which Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) was unaware.

The Hud-Hud continuing with its story said that it discovered in the City of Saba’, a Queen ruling over her people. It was a prosperous land. She had a massive, magnificent throne. She and her people were sun worshippers. According to some narrations her throne which was beautifully adorned with precious stones, diamonds and pearls was about 40 metres wide and 40 metres high . On hearing this news, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) instructed the Hud-Hud to locate water while he reflected on what he had just heard. After the army had quenched their thirst, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) handed the Hud-Hud a letter which he had written for Queen Bilqees.

The Hud-Hud flew with the letter and reached the City of Saba’ at midday when it was the time of qailoolah (the mid-day nap). All the doors of the magnificent palace were closed while Bilqees was taking her nap. Nothing and nobody could reach her in the securely closed palace. Guards were stationed all around the palace. Her huge army had 12,000 officers. It was her practice to emerge from the innermost recess of the palace every Friday to attend to the affairs of her people. Her massive and magnificent throne rested on four huge pillars of solid gold. She sat on this huge throne in such a position which enabled her to see all the people gathered while no one could see her from where they happened to be. Whoever had any petition, request or problem was granted permission to step forward. He/she would advance and prostrate at the foot of the throne and remain in prostration until the Queen made her announcement.

At the end of the day after having attended to the affairs of the state, she would return inside her palace, and no one would see her again until the next Friday .

The Hud-Hud could find no way of entry. After prolonged search around the palace, it finally found an opening through which it entered. After passing through seven huge chambers, the Hud-Hud reached Bilqees who was deep in slumber. The bird dropped the letter close to her. When Bilqees finally rose from her slumber, to her surprise and astonishment she saw the letter. After opening the letter, she read: “In the Name of Allāh, The Most Kind, The Most Merciful. This letter is from Sulaimān. Don’t rebel against me and come to me in submission.” She went out and questioned the guards to ascertain if anyone had entered the palace while she was taking her nap. The guards assured her that no one had entered and all the doors were still securely closed and locked.

She assembled her army generals, courtiers, and advisors. She read the letter to them and sought their advice. They assured her of their allegiance and their power. They were prepared for war and only awaited her command. Bilqees was not in favour of war. She explained that when kings invade a land, they lay it to utter waste. They pillage, plunder, kill and humiliate the honourable citizens. She decided to send expensive gifts to Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) to see his reaction. This course was decided on.

A large procession left Saba’ with valuable gifts and a letter from Bilqees . In the letter, Bilqees had posed many intricate questions to ascertain the integrity of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām). When the impressive delegation with its entourage arrived, Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) paid no heed to the valuable gifts. On the contrary, he instructed them to return with the gifts and convey to Bilqees that he would come with such armies which they will not be able to confront, and he will expel them from their land with humiliation. When the delegation returned with the gifts and described to her the pomp and splendour of Nabi Sulaimān’s palace and kingdom, she decided to answer his summons. She then commenced her journey to Nabi Sulaimān.

After Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) rejected the gifts which Bilqees, the Queen of Saba’ had sent, she set out in person to meet him. Before she set out on her journey, she assembled her council members and explained that it was clear to her that Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) was no ordinary worldly king. He was backed by divine power and confrontation with him would be disastrous.

She made extraordinary arrangements for the protection of her throne. She arranged for many more soldiers to guard the seventh chamber of the palace where the throne was. This chamber was securely locked and no one would be able to enter in her absence .

Meanwhile the Hud-Hud had informed Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) of the journey of Bilqees towards him. Addressing the chiefs who consisted of men and jinn, and who were all his subordinates, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) enquired whether any one of them was able to bring the throne of Bilqees to him before her arrival. Present in the gathering was Ifreet, a giant and the most powerful of all the jinn. He said: “I shall bring her throne to you before you end the proceedings of your court.” Usually, Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām)’s court proceedings endured until about midday. The jinn added that he would execute the task with honesty, therefore trust should be reposed on him in this matter.

Immediately after the jinn advanced his proposal, Aasif Bin Barkhaya who was an Aalim of the Allāh’s Book, and who had the knowledge of the Ism-e-A’zam (A Name of Allāh Ta’ala known to only a few select Auliya), said that he would make dua’ to Allāh Ta’ala, and he was confident that he would deliver the throne quicker than the jinn. Although some Mufassireen say that Aasif was also a jinn, the majority view is that he was a human being. The name of his mother was Baatura and she was from Bani Israaeel.

Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) said to Aasif: ‘If you are able to accomplish this feat, you will be victorious. If you fail, you will humiliate me among the jinn although I have been appointed the ruler of men and jinn.”

Aasif renewed his wudhu, went into Sajdah, recited the Ism-e-A’zam and supplicated to Allāh Ta’ala. As he supplicated, the throne of Bilqees disappeared into the earth, and instantaneously appeared outside where Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) was seated on his throne. Referring to the miraculous appearance of the throne of Bilqees in the presence of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām), the Qur’ān Majeed says:

“When he saw it (the throne) lodged firmly in his presence, He (Nabi Sulaimān) said: ‘This is of the Fadhl (Grace) of my Rabb to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful . And, whoever is grateful is grateful for his own good, and whoever is ungrateful, then verily, my Rabb is Independent (and) Gracious.” (Surah Namal, Āyat 40)

Then Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) ordered some changes to be effected to the throne. The purpose for this exercise was to gauge the intelligence of Bilqees to see if she recognized her throne or not. The desire to test her intelligence was because some of the jinn told Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) that she was of defective intelligence. There are several stories surrounding this episode and the reason for this claim made by the shayāteen who were under the control of Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām). Some of the stories pertaining to Bilqees are weird and farfetched. These stories are the narrations of Bani Israeel. It is alleged that her mother was a jinn. But this is not supported by reliable evidence whether narrational or rational.

Regarding   the   variety of queer stories related to Bilqees, Imām Ibn Abi Shaibah (rahmatullah ‘alayh) said: “Although the story is interesting, I have to say that it is to be rejected totally. It is extremely weird. It is the imagination of Ata Bin Saaib which constrained him to ascribe the story to Ibn Abbaas (radhiyAllāhu anhu). In all likelihood these stories have been acquired from the volumes compiled by Bani Israaeel. These stories are unreliable. Bani Israaeel were fabricators of novelties (fairy tales). It was their profession to change, interpolate, add and delete . We are grateful to Allāh Ta’ala that He has not made us reliant on them (for ascertaining the Truth). He has bestowed to us His Kitāb via His Nabi (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). He has delivered to us such information which is beneficial. This divine information transcends greatly what they (Bani Israaeel) narrate while at the same time it is very beneficial and cautious. All praise be unto Allāh.”

After Bilqees had arrived, Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) asked her: “Is yourthrone like this?’ She said: ‘It appears to be the very one.” (Surah Namal, Āyat 42) When Bilqees saw the throne whose appearance had been slightly altered, she responded with caution. She did not blurt out an emphatic affirmation to the effect that it was her throne. On one side, she felt certain that it was her throne. However, she had left her throne securely locked and under 24 hour guarded protection. How could her throne be here? From her guarded response Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) understood that she was not deficient in intelligence as claimed by the jinn.

The first and foremost proposal in his dialogue with the Queen was Hadhrat Sulaimān’s Da’wat of Tauheed. He emphasized to her the belief in Allāh Azza Wa Jal. Referring to his invitation, the Qur’ān Majeed says: “He prevented (prohibited) her from (worshipping) what she used to worship besides Allāh . Verily she was from a nation of kāfireen.” (Surah Namal, Āyat 43).

This dialogue took place in a glass palace which Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) had ordered the jinn to construct before the arrival of Bilqees. It was a palace of exquisite beauty constructed with the highest quality glass. The floor of the main hall where visitors would enter to meet Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) was made of solid glass with water flowing underneath. The water was filled with fish and other forms of sea life. The glass floor was so magnificent and transparent that it created the illusion that the entire hall was filled with water. Nabi Sulaimān’s throne together with the seating arrangement of his courtiers and the other members of his counsel were set out in this hall.

Bilqees was told to enter. As she entered, she believed the floor was a river. Although she could not understand why Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) had instructed her to walk through water, she nevertheless obeyed. But she raised her dress and her calves were exposed. As she did so, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) said: “Verily, it (the palace) is constructed of glass.’ She said: “O my Rabb! Verily, I have wronged myself. I submit with Sulaimān to Allāh, the Rabb of all the worlds.” (Surah Namal, Āyat 44)

The objective of the glass palace was to impress Bilqees and to shatter the image of her own grandeur and the glory of her kingdom . When she witnessed the external/material pomp, splendour and power of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) she understood the inferiority of her own kingdom. This had convinced her that Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) was indeed the Nabi of Allāh Ta’ala, hence she readily accepted Islam and surrendered her kingdom to him.

According to some narrations, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) married Bilqees while according to other versions he did not. However, he had entrusted a kingdom to her. In all likelihood it was Saba’ in Yemen which she had ruled. But now she ruled as a vassal of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām).

Hadhrat Sayyid Abdul Qādir Jilaani (rahmatullah ‘alayh) states in his famous book, Ghunyatut Taalibeen: “Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) married Bilqees. A son was born and was named Daawood. However, this child died during the lifetime of Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām). After a short while, Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) also died. A month thereafter, Bilqees too departed from this world. Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) would visit her once every month in the kingdom which was assigned to her.”

His monthly journeys were made possible by a wonderful Mu’jizah (Miracle) which Allāh Ta’ala had bestowed to him. Describing this Mu’jizah, the Qur’ān Majeed say: “We made subservient to Sulaimān the wind. (Its travel) in a morning was the equivalent of a month’s journey, and (its travel) in the evening was the equivalent of a month’s journey.” (Surah Saba’, Āyat 12)

Nabi Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) would command the wind to transport him and his entourage along with his throne wherever he wished to go. In a single morning or evening he would accomplish a journey which would normally take a month. Hadhrat Hasan Basri (rahmatullah ‘alayh) narrated that Hadhrat Sulaimān (‘alayhis Salām) would depart from Damascus in the morning and reach Istakhar by the evening. From there he would reach Kabul by the next morning. At times he would have breakfast in Ray and supper in Samarqand.