The Queen of Sheba
The hoopoe did as commanded, carried the letter (and in some reports, together with a copy of religious scriptures) and dropped it close by to Balqis. Then, as instructed, he observed her secretly from a distance. The letter was very short and to the point, containing an invitation to the way of Allah. Balqis read the letter and decided to seek counsel of the royal advisors on the best course of action.
She said, “O eminent ones, indeed, to me has been delivered a noble letter. Indeed, it is from Sulaiman, and indeed, it reads: ‘Bismillah al rahman al raheem’ (In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful), Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission [as Muslims].’ “ (Al Qur’an 27:29 – 27:31)
She did not want to take any action without analyzing the consequences. Her counsel advised her that they had the strength and the ability for war, and it was her prerogative whether she wanted to press on with warfare. Balqis considered their advice and said:
“Indeed kings – when they enter a city, they ruin it and render the honored of its people humbled.” (Al Qur’an 27:34).
She realized that if her forces were overpowered at war, she would lose her status and be the lowest of the subjects. Therefore a more conservative and diplomatic tactic was required. She decided to send her emissaries to Sulaiman AS, to bear gifts to him in order to establish a friendship and also as a bribe for him not to attack them.
Her emissaries travelled to the kingdom of Sulaiman AS, laden with magnificent gifts from Sheba. To their surprise, Sulaiman’s AS kingdom was so resplendent, exceeding all their expectations and in fact making their own presents look cheap in comparison.
Sulaiman AS was unimpressed, not only because as a Prophet it was beneath his station to accept bribes and be dazzled by the material wealth, but also:
“Do you provide me with wealth? But what Allah has given me is better than what He has given you. Rather, it is you who rejoice in your gift.” (Al Qur’an 27:36)
He then issued an ultimatum to the emissaries: “Return to them, for we will surely come to them with soldiers that they will be powerless to encounter, and we will surely expel them therefrom in humiliation, and they will be debased.” (Al Qur’an 27:37)
When the emissaries returned to their Queen, they realized that given the size and force of Sulaiman’s AS army, their only option was to surrender. Together, they travelled back with Balqis to Jerusalem to meet Sulaiman AS.
In fact, Sulaiman AS was averse to using violence or force to spread the word of Allah. Submission to Allah should be from the heart, not by bloodshed or fear. Upon hearing that Balqis and her entourage were on their way, he devised a strategy to impress Balqis and give her a glimpse of Allah’s might.
He knew that her throne was a symbol of her kingdom’s status, so decided that he would use her throne as a tool of displaying the power of Allah to her.
[Sulaiman] said, “O assembly [of jinn], which of you will bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?” A powerful one from among the jinn said, “I will bring it to you before you rise from your place, and indeed, I am for this [task] strong and trustworthy.” Said one who had knowledge from the Scripture, “I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you.” (Al Qur’an 27:38 to 27:40)
The distance between Jerusalem and Sheba is at least 2,000 km. When Sulaiman AS saw her throne placed before him in the blink of an eye, he was reminded of his Lord’s greatness, and turned to Him in gratitude, saying:
“This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful – his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful – then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.” (Al Qur’an 27:40)
He then instructed them to disguise her throne and alter some of its characteristics, to see if she would be guided to recognize it or not. When Balqis arrived, he asked her whether she had a throne like that. She was disconcerted – the throne resembled hers, yet some of the features were different. Could it be the same one?
[Sulaiman said], “And we were given knowledge before her, and we have been Muslims [in submission to Allah]. And that which she was worshipping other than Allah had averted her [from submission to Him]. Indeed, she was from a disbelieving people.” (Al Qur’an 27:42- 27:43)
Sulaiman AS then ordered the construction of a grand palace built of glass or crystal. According to some reports, the passages inside the palace had water streams, containing fish and other underwater creatures, covered with glass. The palace looked like an aquarium from all sides, including the floor.