"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 27

Sura 27 -- an-Naml

"The Ant" is basically a retelling of stories previously mentioned in the Quran. There is Moses and his encounter with God in the fiery bush, a reminder of Saleh and Lot. There is, however, a story of Solomon among the people of Naml which I'd never heard in the Quran or the Bible. I was at the point of wishing the Quran could come up with something new from the Bible to share -- something like the exciting stories of the Judges (e.g. Samuel, Samson, Deborah, Gideon) or the Prophets such an Daniel or even the three Hebrew boys who were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow to the Babylonian king. About the time I was wishing for this, I read this peculiar story of Solomon. I say peculiar partly because Sol's army was made up of both men and jinn! Solomon lead an army? Also it's a bit strange because in the end of the section about Solomon, the queen lifts her skirt to show her legs! And somehow this convinces her to worship Solomon's God. Didn't quite follow all that, but apparently Solomon came up with something convincing!

In the Bible King Solomon was allowed to build the Jewish Temple. His father, David, wanted to, but since he was a man of war, God told him the honor of building the Temple would belong to his son who would reign in a time of peace. Here is the account from I Chronicles 22. By the way, Solomon is "from the Hebrew name שְׁלֹמֹה (Shelomoh) which was derived from Hebrew שָׁלוֹם (shalom) "peace". "

7 David said to Solomon: "My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God. 8 But this word of the LORD came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. 9 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. 10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.'

11 "Now, my son, the LORD be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the LORD your God, as he said you would. 12 May the LORD give you discretion and understanding when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the LORD your God. 13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the LORD gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.

So according to Jewish and Christian beliefs, Solomon was a man of peace, not off leading an army of men and jinn.

But since we are talking about the Quran, I should mention that Solomon heard from a messenger named Hud-dud about a woman ruler who worshiped the sun god. Some cool plot happened that convinced her to worship the one true God. Good thing since Solomon had plans to drive them out of the land and humble them (vs. 37) if she didn't. At least that's how I understood it. Please correct me if I'm mistaken!

Now to some verses in the Quran.

10. Throw down your staff." When he saw it wriggling like a serpent he turned his back and fled without turning (to look). "O Moses," (said the voice), "be not fearful. Surely those sent as messengers do not fear in My presence, 11. Except those who do some wrong but afterwards do good to make up for the wrong. And I am forgiving and merciful.

For some reason this verse made me think that prophets DO do wrong and when they do, they are fearful in God's presence until they repent and get the sin forgiven. This makes sense because when we know we've wronged someone, we feel fearful or shy or nervous around them until we confess what we did and get their forgiveness. I've still not seen evidence in the Quran that the prophets are nearly perfect. In fact I think Muslims are supposed to look back at the Torah and Gospel for examples of people and see good things to do and also sins to avoid. I think Muslims have wrongly exalted their prophets to near perfection when God never presented them this way. Only God is perfect and we - all - fall short of His glorious standard.

44. She was invited to enter the court. When she saw it, she took it for a sheet of water, and (pulling up her skirts) uncovered her legs. (Solomon) told her: "This is paved with tiles of glass." "O Lord," she said, "I have wronged myself, and I submit to the Lord of all the worlds with Solomon."

I didn't follow the story well enough to understand this verse and why pulling up her skirts and seeing some tiles of glass convinced the Queen to submit to the Lord. Ah, I just reread it. I suppose it was a miracle because the glass looked enough like water that she was lifting her skirt as if to step into it. Is that right?

57. So We saved him and his family except his wife who was destined to stay behind.

About Lot's wife -- it seems she was truly predestined to be damned with the other sinners.

86. Do they not see that We made the night for them to rest, the day to make things clear? Indeed there are signs in this for people who believe.

And I thought this was cute because I know many Arabs love to stay up super-late for parties and visiting friends. Don't they know that God created the night for them to rest? ;-)


Suroor said...

Oh I LOVED Solomon's tales! As a kid I would ask my father to read them to me over and over again.

This tale about the Queen of Sheba and Solomon is based on an ancient Jewish legend. I recently copied it for my children; here it is:

'The story of the Queen of Sheba is found in detail in the Second Targum to Esther. It is the hoopoe that directed Solomon's attention to the country of Sheba and to its queen. The dust of that land was more precious than gold, and silver was like dirt in the streets; the trees dated from the Creation and the waters came from paradise, whence came also the garlands which the people wore. The hoopoe carried Solomon's letter under its wing to the queen, who resided at Kitor. In the letter Solomon commanded her to appear before him, otherwise his hosts of beasts, birds, spirits, devils, and demons of the night would take the field against her. In terror she consulted with her elders and princes, who, however, knew nothing of Solomon. Notwithstanding their ignorance, she loaded her ships with costly woods, precious stones, and pearls, and sent to Solomon 6,000 boys and girls, all born in the same hour, all of the same height and appearance, and all clothed in purple. In the letter to Solomon which they bore with them, she declared that although the journey from Kitor to Jerusalem usually took seven years to accomplish, she wouldcomply with his mandate and visit him within three years. He in his turn sent a youth "like the dawn" to meet her, and on her arrival he received her in a glass house. Thinking that Solomon was sitting in the water, she lifted up her skirt, whereupon he noticed hair on her feet, and said: "Thy beauty is a woman's beauty, but thy hair a man's hair; hair adorneth man, but disfigureth woman."

The Queen of Sheba propounded to Solomon the following three riddles to test his wisdom: "What is a well of wood, a pail of iron which draws up stones and pours out water?" Solomon answered, "A tube of cosmetic." "What is that which comes from the earth as dust, the food of which is dust, which is poured out like water, and which looketh toward the house?" Solomon answered, "Naphtha." "What is that which precedeth all, like a general; which crieth loudly and bitterly; the head of which is like a reed; which is the glory of the rich and the shame of the poor, the glory of the dead and the shame of the living; the joy of the birds and the sorrow of the fishes?" Solomon answered, "Flax." Other riddles are quoted in the Midrash.

Arabic tradition and Koran also tells of Solomon solving riddles and of other proofs of his wisdom, and contains in general most of the stories found in Jewish tradition.'

So I think Queen of Sheba accepted Solomon's God because he proved his wisdom and showed him through the glass tiles and solving the riddles that if he is smart then his choice of God would also be smart.

Susanne said...

Suroor, aha! Thank you for this wonderful comment explaining some things that I was not understanding. Interesting legends! I can see how you would love hearing them from your father. I appreciate you sharing them with me. :)

Carmen said...

I was confused too why this woman would be converted simply because Solomon's tiles were able to appear as glass. lol

I did read Suroor's comment enjoyed reading it as well. Although again, I'm not sure I'm following how the glass tiles were related to the woman choosing Solomon's God.

(I knew Solomon meant peace as it is Zachariah's second middle name and we gave it to him for that very reason)

Susanne said...

Carmen, I guess it was some convincing miracle?? :)

I'd forgotten about Z's middle name being Solomon. It's a cool, under-used name, I think!

I love your comments - thanks!

Durriyyah said...

The Queen of Sheeba was stunned that he had her throne, which is the miracle that brought her to Islam. Here's a link that explains more: http://www.theholybook.org/content/view/8145/2/ (I typically don't like when sites say "A New Approach to the Qur'an", but given that this article is written by Ibn Kathir, a well known scholar, I trust this article… but I can't say I know anything about the rest of the site). I like Yusuf Ali's comments about lifting up the skirt (it wasn't "the thing" that convinced her of following God's way) -

In symbolic language, a new entrant into the Palance of divine knowledge, may yet carry in his mind many of the illusions of the lower world, the transparent crystal of Truth he may yet mistake for the unstable water of worldly vanity, which soils the vestments of those who paddle in it. This leads to many undignified positions and mistakes. But a gentle leader points out the truth. Instead of resenting it, the new entrant is grateful, acknowledges her own mistake freely and frankly, and heartily joins with the Teacher in the worship of Allah, the Source of all truth and knowledge.

I'm not sure if verse 37 is talking about driving her out of her land, or if he would give her much better gifts and she would be disgraced and humbled by such. God knows best.

As you keep bringing up about prophets sinning, it reminded me of this hadith:

Al-Bukhaari (4836) and Muslim (2819) narrated that al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) stood (in prayer) until his feet became swollen. It was said to him: Allaah has forgiven your past and future sins. He said: “Should I not be a thankful slave?” 

So it leads me to think again that they are not infallible. One thing to note is I am pretty sure that Shia Muslims believe prophets are infallible, period. I don't have a lot of details, but a Shia friend told me that she believes that, and I think it extends to that sect.

27:57 - Or we can also understand this to be that she was a disbeliever already, and this was her destined time to die. Just another angle...

27:86 - Hehehe, but the nights are so fun!!

Susanne said...

Durriyyah, thanks for the additional comments on this Solomon story and how the throne/water and all was meant. That makes more sense.

Are you a night owl, too? Some of my family is also. I just had to tease my Arab friends since they like to stay up reallllllly late. Like out with friends until 3 or 4 AM. Hehehe.

Thanks for sharing that hadith about sin. I totally agree that they needed forgiveness and it's mistaken to think they were nearly perfect.

I appreciate your comment. :)

Durriyyah said...

I used to be much more of a night owl. Now I have things to do in the morning, so that makes me go to bed earlier. :)