Ibn-e-Kathir said that Saba was the title of the kings of Yemen and Queen Saba was one of them. They ruled there about one thousand years before the birth of Prophet Isa (AS). Queen Saba surrendered her dynasty to Prophet Sulaiman (AS) about nine hundred and fifty years before the birth of Isa (AS). The Quran neither mentions the real name of Queen Saba nor the part of Yemen she ruled. It describes only that part of a story, which provides guidance and is beneficial for the mankind. However, in Jewish stories Queen Saba is mentioned as Bilqis.
Allah (SWT) had bestowed upon Sulaiman (AS) a kingdom, which was unique in the history of mankind. He not only ruled over men but also ruled over the birds, animals and Jinns. The story of Queen Saba is another demonstration of how Allah (SWT) can bestow His favors on His chosen people.
The story of Queen Saba goes like this: Troops of men, animals, birds and Jinns were always present around Sulaiman (AS) and were very eager to serve him. One day Sulaiman (AS) inspected his troops and found that a bird called ‘Hud Hud’ (Hoopoe) was absent. He said, “I do not see Hud Hud here. If this bird is absent without genuine reason, I shall punish it or rather kill it”. Soon Hud Hud appeared and humbly said to Sulaiman (AS), “I have brought an important piece of information for you which is not known to you.” Hud Hud added, “There is a Queen in Yemen. She is extremely affluent and her throne is very extraordinary. Satan has led her and her people astray. She and her people worship sun instead of Allah (SWT).”
Sulaiman (AS) said, “I shall test your statement right away. Take this letter of mine to her and see how does she respond to it.” Queen Saba read the letter as it fell in her lap. Then she said to her advisors, “This letter is from Sulaiman (AS) stating ‘I start with the name of Allah (SWT), the most Beneficent, the most Merciful. You should not show arrogance and superiority to me and come to me as a Muslim.’’ She further said to her advisors, “I always consult you in important matters. Tell me what should I do.” Advisors said, “We need not be too concerned about this letter since we are very powerful. Final decision is, however, in your hand.” Queen Saba said to her advisors, “Although we are very powerful, we should be careful in dealing with Sulaiman (AS). I think we should first try to get an idea of his power. In fact the way this letter has reached me indicates that great caution should be observed in dealing with Sulaiman (AS). Let me send some messengers to him with a precious gift. In this way they will not only try to estimate his power but also try to understand what is on his mind. It is not advisable to fight with him in case he turns out to be extremely powerful. Conquerors always destroy the cities they enter and disgrace the residents. Surely we should try to avoid this uncalled for trouble”.
The messengers of Queen Saba delivered the precious gift to Sulaiman (AS). Sulaiman (AS) said to them, “You and your Queen have totally misunderstood my message. Take this so called precious gift back to her since Allah (SWT) has given me far superior things than this.” He added, “Remind your Queen to obey my message immediately. If she fails to do so, I shall be there with my troops. You will not be able to resist my troops. We will drive you out of your city and disgrace you all.”
The messengers conveyed Sulaiman’s (AS) warning to the Queen and informed her about the extraordinary power of Sulaiman (AS) since he ruled over men, birds, animals and Jinns. Queen Saba concluded that fighting with Sulaiman (AS) was like inviting one’s own destruction. She decided to submit to Sulaiman (AS). When she started her journey to meet Sulaiman (AS), Allah (SWT) informed Sulaiman (AS) about it by revelation to him.
Now Sulaiman (AS) said to his courtiers, “I want that the throne of Queen Saba be brought here before she arrives in my court. Who will do this job.” One very strong, crafty Jinn said, “I shall bring the throne here before you dismiss today’s business.” Another person possessing the knowledge of the book said, “I will bring it here in the twinkling of an eye.” When Sulaiman (AS) turned his side, he found the throne present in his court. Sulaiman (AS) very humbly thanked Allah (SWT) for His favors bestowed upon him, including the transfer of the throne in spur of a moment. Prophets do not take pride in these matters. They rather humble themselves more before Allah (SWT).
Sulaiman (AS) now ordered to somewhat change the look of this throne to test Saba’s intelligence. Queen Saba reached Sulaiman’s (AS) court and he asked her this question, “Is this your throne”? She looked at it and said, “It seems to be mine,” She added, “I already had good idea of your extraordinary power and glory but this incident of my throne further demonstrates your superiority. I humbly submit my loyalty to you.” In this way she thought she had fulfilled the message conveyed in Sulaiman’s (AS) letter.
Sulaiman (AS) was very witty. He came up with another plan to guide her to recognize the supreme power of Allah (SWT). Sulaiman (AS) ordered Jinns to prepare a marvelous palace. The floor of its courtyard was made of transparent glass. A pool of water was located nearby. Because of the extraordinary construction of this palace, it appeared as if the water was flowing in its courtyard. Queen Saba was asked to stay in this palace. As she entered the courtyard of this palace, she tucked up her clothes uncovering her legs. Sulaiman (AS) said to her, “It is not the actual flow of water there. It is only a glass surface.” At this point Saba concluded that these skills have been bestowed upon Sulaiman (AS) by a Superior Power. She declared, “I submit with Sulaiman (AS) to the Creator of all universes.” Hence she became a Muslim. This was exactly what was intended in the letter of Sulaiman (AS) to her. She also put her huge dynasty under the direct control of Sulaiman (AS). Some scholars say that she married Sulaiman (AS) although the Quran and Hadith are silent about it.
Allah (SWT) has described the story of Queen Saba very precisely in Surah An-Naml. Verses 20 – 44
He inspected the birds, and said: “What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees? I will surely punish him with a severe penalty, or execute him, unless he brings me a clear reason.” But the hoopoe stayed not long: he (came up and) said: “I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba’ (Sheba) with true news. I found a woman ruling over them: she has been given all things that could be possessed by any ruler of the earth, and she has a magnificent throne. 1 found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah, and Shaitan (Satan) has made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and has barred them from (Allah’s) Way: they have no guidance so they do not worship Allah, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you conceal and what you reveal. None has the right to be worshipped but He, the Lord of the Supreme Throne!” (Sulaiman) said: “We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars. Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what (answer) they return.”
She said: “O chiefs! Verily! Here is delivered to me a noble letter. Verily it is from Sulaiman, and verily, it (reads): ‘In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most, Merciful: Be you not exalted against me, but come to me as Muslim.’ She said: “O chiefs! Advise me in (this) case of mine. I decide no case till you are present with me (and give me your opinions).” They said: “We have great strength, and great ability for war, but it is for you to command: so think over what you will command.” She said: “Verily kings, when they enter a town (country), they despoil it and make the most honorable amongst its people the lowest. And thus they do. But verily! I am going to send him a present, and see with what (answer) the messengers return.”
So when (the messengers with the present) came to Sulaiman, he said: “Will you help me in wealth? What Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay, you rejoice in your gift! Go back to them. We verily shall come to them with hosts that they cannot resist, and we shall drive them out from there in disgrace, and they will be abased.”
He (Sulaiman (AS)) said to his own assembly, “O chiefs! Which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me surrendering themselves in obedience?” A strong one from the jinns said: “I will bring it to you before you rise from your place (council). And verily, I am indeed strong, and trustworthy for such work.” One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: “I will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye!” Then when he (Sulaiman) saw it placed before him, he said: “This is by the Grace of my Lord – to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for (the good of) his ownself; but if any one is ungrateful, certainly my Lord is Rich (Free of all needs), Bountiful.” He said: “Disguise her throne for her that we may see whether she will be guided (to recognise her throne), or she will be one of those not guided.” So when she came, it was said (to her): “Is this your throne?” She said: “(It is) as though it were the very same.” And [Sulaiman said]: “Knowledge was bestowed on us before her, and we were submitted to Allah (in Islam as Muslims before her).”
And that which she used to worship besides Allah prevented her (from Islam), for she was of a disbelieving people.
It was said to her: “Enter As-Sarh” (a glass surface with water underneath it or a palace): but when she saw it, she thought it was a pool, and she (tucked up her clothes) uncovering her legs. (Sulaiman) said: “Verily, it is a Sarh (a glass surface with water underneath it).” She said: “My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, and I submit [in Islam], together with Sulaiman to Allah, the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists).”
All the scholars believe that the letter of Sulaiman (AS) to Saba was unique in the history of mankind. Sulaiman (AS) has very briefly mentioned the Greatness of Allah (SWT), along with his own introduction to her. He warned her not to show off her power to him and finally instructed her to present herself submissively in his court. In fact the last sentence is the most eloquent. It is instructing her to submit herself to Allah (SWT) and make herself present in his court as a Muslim. No human being has written such a brief and comprehensive and eloquent letter. This letter was another miracle of Sulaiman (AS).
Indeed Allah (SWT) bestows power, wisdom and humbleness on whom He wills.