Suratu’n-Naml (The Ant)

فَتَبَسَّمَ ضَاحِكاً مِّن قَوْلِهَا

(Solomon) smiled at her (the ant’s) words.    (An-Naml 27:19)

Obviously, the verb “dahk” in the verse above expresses smiling not laughing. A miraculous conversation occurred between Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, and the queen ant. This was an illustrious blessing granted to him by God. Thus, Solomon showed his gratitude with his smile, which is considered as the active or bodily expression of gratitude.

What caused Prophet Solomon to “smile” was the queen ant’s warning her community, saying: “O you ants! Get into your dwellings lest Solomon and his army crush you unawares” (An-Naml 27:18). As a sinless Prophet ruler, Solomon could not commit even a single crime or injustice. Therefore, God Almighty enabled him to communicate with the animal kingdom and understand their communication among themselves. This was an exceptional blessing, and Solomon expressed his happiness and gratitude to God with a smile.

A similar expression of satisfaction and gratitude came out of the blessed mouth of our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. While he was preaching on the pulpit, a Bedouin entered into the Mosque and exclaimed: “O Messenger of God! Everywhere has become arid because of the lack of rain, and our soil has cracked as a result of drought. It has not rained for a long time. Please pray to God for rain.” Our master nearly finished his prayer when it began raining heavily. There was rain everywhere. In the face of such a great blessing which came as an immediate reply to his prayer, he smiled with gratitude in front the congregation.(87)

Both Solomon’s response to the ant’s warning her community about Solomon’s army and our Prophet’s response to the immediate reply to his prayer was expressed with the word “dahk” (smile) in the Qur’an and the books of Hadith, respectively.

The verse, “O you ants! Get into your dwellings lest Solomon and his army crush you unawares!” may also be reviewed from the following point of view:

Having drawn the attention to Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, the ant meant that a person like Solomon observed not only the rights of human beings but also those of animals. While she warned her community about the fact that it was extremely difficult for humankind to realize absolute justice, she also reminded her community that they should not walk around under the feet of other beings lest they are trampled. Right after this exceptional blessing bestowed upon Prophet Solomon, the Qur’an mentions Prophet Solomon’s speaking with his hoopoe, named Hudhud. Since the hoopoe flew overhead, he brought Solomon important news from a powerful queen ruling in Yemen, saying:

I have obtained (some important information) which you do not have, and have come to you from Sheba with reliable news. I found there a woman ruling over them, one who has been granted everything (that a ruler is expected to have), and who has a mighty throne. However, I found her and her people prostrating to the sun rather than God. Satan has decked out their deeds to be appealing to them, and thus has barred them from the (unique straight) way, so they are not rightly guided, so that they do not prostrate before God, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you keep secret and what you disclose. God—there is no deity but He, the Lord of the Mighty Throne. (An-Naml 27:22–26)

Another fine point worth mentioning here is that both the ant whose words Solomon heard and the Queen of Sheba from whom the hoopoe brought news were female beings. Being female represents or signifies reproduction. Both the ant and the Queen were an allusion to Solomon having many wives and children to support his cause of exalting God’s Word.

These incidents mentioned in the Qur’an also teach us that it is important for human life to be able to communicate with the animal kingdom or recognize this kingdom with its peculiarities. This kingdom has numerous truths and messages that it can impart to us in its peculiar language. The fact that some of the Qur’anic chapters are named after some animals, such as Honeybee and Ant, implies the importance of the relationships between humans and the members of the animal kingdom. The social life of “republican” ants and bees must have many messages for us. However, these significant relationships should be explained from the viewpoint of believing people.

Through the miracle of a Prophet, God Almighty shows us in the Qur’an that it is possible for humankind to communicate with animals. The language of this communication is an articulate one, even though it is not composed of letters and words. Prophet Solomon might have smiled at the ant’s warning her community also because he sensed that one day humankind would be able to realize this communication.

God knows best the truth of everything, and to Him is the homecoming.

رَبِّ أَوْزِعْنِيۤ أَنْ أَشْكُرَ نِعْمَتَكَ ٱلَّتِيۤ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَىَّ وَعَلَىٰ وَالِدَىَّ وَأَنْ أَعْمَلَ صَالِحاً تَرْضَاهُ وَأَدْخِلْنِى بِرَحْمَتِكَ فِى عِبَادِكَ ٱلصَّالِحِينَ

He (Solomon) said: “My Lord! Inspire and guide me so that I may thank You for Your favor which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and so that I may act righteously in a manner that will please You; and include me (out of Your mercy) among Your righteous servants.”    (An-Naml 27:19)

The choice of words, word-order, verbs, and their moods are very significant in explaining matters in the Qur’an. It sometimes occurs that, as in this verse, a single verb may contain various meanings. For instance, God uses the verb “an‘amta” (You have bestowed) in this verse. The finite form of this verb—which is inflected for tense and for person—refers to God’s bestowing bounties and providing people with them. That is, Prophet Solomon meant the following by this finite verb:

“My Lord! You did not keep me in non-existence; instead, You have brought me into existence. Being clothed in the attire of existence, I have been promoted to being a polished mirror that “reflects” You to those who look at me. You did not make me a lifeless thing; You bestowed life on me so that I have found the opportunity to tell people about You in a broader realm. Sometimes groaning like a reed flute, sometimes giving voice like a string, and sometimes causing a string to resonate like a plectrum, I function as a means to indicate You. Then, You did not leave me a mere human being; instead, You have exalted me to the level of a believing man. Thus You have honored me with the ability to see existence with the eyes of a believing human being, watch it like an exhibition, and read it as if reading a book. To be able to see the universe from this perspective is possible for a human being who believes. My Lord! I am not restricted to any place with the perspective You have granted to me. I am not fixed where I am; rather, I am moving my shuttle of thought through the spheres or realms of Divine Names, Attributes, and Essence, becoming enraptured with awe and wonder before You in these infinitely broad spheres.”

Indeed, Prophet Solomon meant these and many other things in accordance with his profound Prophetic wisdom by the finite verb of “an‘amta” (You have bestowed).

As a second point, with the same phrase Prophet Solomon called God’s compassion upon himself for the acceptance of his prayer, meaning: “My Lord! What I am asking and will ask for in this prayer is not something incompatible with Your laws and practice. For You have already given me many things like the ones I am asking and will ask You for now without asking anything in return. Therefore, I believe that You will grant what I am asking and will ask You for. You are absolutely able to grant whatever You will and whatever Your servants ask You for.” In the words of Muhammad Lütfi Efendi, the Imam of Alvar, he means: “Please my Lord, please my Lord! What will You lose, O Lord!” Prophet Solomon also meant: “So far You have always granted me everything I have; You have the character and reputation of granting. Therefore, I am not asking You for anything which You do not and will not grant; I only ask You to complete Your blessings and bounties on me.” He prayed to God in this way and included his parents in his prayer in a filial fidelity.

The father of Solomon was Prophet David, upon them be peace. As for David, he was a Messenger who attained a highest position along the way of Abraham. He was one of the Prophets whom the Qur’an praises with being “one ever-turning to God in contrition” (Sad 38:17, 30, 44). He was one of the most illustrious and praiseworthy servants who turn to God with all their being. He is worth being mentioned as one always weeping for God. So, it is inconceivable that a son whose father was David would forget his parents, who had a significant role in the attainment of his rank. Understanding, “If I had not been brought up in such a family, I would only have been one of many ordinary Solomons,” he did not neglect including his parents in his prayer.

We can approach the matter from the following point of view as well: Those who are the nearest to a person are their parents, and it is their right to receive the warmest care, treatment, and concern from their children. The Qur’an teaches us this with prayers. Another example of these prayers is: “O our Lord! Forgive me, and my parents, and all the believers, on the Day on which the Reckoning will be established” (Ibrahim 14:41). One should pray for oneself and then one’s parents. This is what being human requires. A true human being is happy with the happiness and pain-stricken with the pains of their fellow-human beings from those closest to them in relationship to those who are the farthest. Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, was both deeply concerned about his father’s plight—unbelief—in the world and, according to the Prophetic Traditions, will be so in the Hereafter.(88) Like his ancestor Abraham, Prophet Solomon, too, included his “parents” in his prayer, implying that their happiness was his happiness.

Another point worth mentioning here is that just as one’s asking for repentance for his parents is valid, his thankfulness for the bounties accorded on his parents is also valid. If a person could not fulfill their filial duties to their parents while they were alive, they should pray for them after their death. One may say, “My Lord! I pray to You to accept my gratitude, glorification, supplication, and repentance on their behalf as well.” We also learn this reality from Prophet Solomon, peace be upon him. Solomon, who was favored with numerous bounties as well as the ability to communicate in various languages, including the language of birds as stated in the verse, “We have been taught the language of birds” (An-Naml 27:16), voiced his ardent prayer on behalf of his parents through the most sincere language.

The following part of the verse, “…so that I may act righteously in a manner that will please You,” should be viewed from the perspective that God’s Prophets were sure about their ends. Indeed, they feared God very much, but they were sure that God would preserve them out of His Mercy. It may also be that this prayer was inspired in him by God Almighty. It can be said that he prayed, knowing and stressing that God’s consent or good pleasure is dependent on “acting righteously.” He also considered that a righteous, good deed usually causes another good deed. There are many apparently good deeds which do not serve their doers to attain God’s good pleasure. A truly good deed usually paves the way to other good deeds.

To sum up, in the valley of ants, which was one of the farthest dimensions of the realm of his material and spiritual authority, Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, smiled or expressed his happiness at the blessings and bounties that God accorded on him, and, like Prophet Joseph, who prayed to God to take him to Himself with a yearning to return to Him at the moment when he felt he had reached the point where he enjoyed the greatest Divine blessings which would come in the world, prayed: “My Lord! Inspire and guide me so that I may thank You for Your favor which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and so that I may act righteously in a manner that will please You; and include me out of Your mercy among Your righteous servants.” At the moment when he saw his Prophethood had been crowned with employing beings from ants and birds to human beings in his service, he turned to God with all his being and expressed that the end and aim of human worldly life was emigrating to God among good, righteous people out of God’s mercy, and the means to this end was righteous, good deeds that are pleasing to God and thankfulness to Him for His bounties, which is regarded as the most comprehensive expression of servanthood.

If the righteousness of a deed lies in doing it only for God’s sake and because God orders it and expecting nothing worldly in return, both Prophet Joseph and Solomon would certainly desire to be able to do it, and so they desired.

My Lord! Inspire and guide me so that I may thank You for Your favor which You have bestowed on me and on Your sincere servants, and include us out of Your mercy among Your righteous servants. And bestow blessings and peace on the one whom You sent as a mercy for all the worlds, and on his Family and Companions, all of them.

قَالَ نَكِّرُواْ لَهَا عَرْشَهَا نَنظُرْ أَتَهْتَدِيۤ أَمْ تَكُونُ مِنَ ٱلَّذِينَ لاَ يَهْتَدُونَ

Solomon said: “Disguise her throne, and let us see whether she (the Queen of Sheba) is able to recognize it, or remains one of those who cannot recognize.”

(An-Naml 27:41)

While the Queen of Sheba was on her way to visit Prophet Solomon in Jerusalem, her throne was brought to Solomon’s court miraculously “in the twinkling of an eye.” Prophet Solomon, peace be upon him, then said: “Disguise her throne, and let us see whether she is able to recognize it, or remains one of those who cannot recognize.” Many interpreters have interpreted this verse as: “Let us see whether she is able to find guidance or remains one of those who are not guided.” This meaning can be considered, but according to me, it does not seem to be in conformity with the verses following it. Therefore, the verse would be better interpreted as: “Make her throne unrecognizable, and let us see whether she is able to recognize it, or not.”

However, the original of the word translated as “recognize” is ihtada, related to guidance. Therefore, in addition to recognition, it also suggests guidance. The context of the verse also corroborates this. The matter may not have only been Solomon’s testing the Sheban Queen’s discernment by making her throne unrecognizable. As a Prophet, his aim must have been her guidance as well. Therefore, we should approach the verse from the following point of view:

The Queen was worshipping the sun, so there may have been the figures affiliated with her religion engraved on her throne. Prophet Solomon may have made changes on this throne and engraved other figures which were associated with his faith. The Qur’an does not tell us that he made additions to it or reductions from it. It only tells that he ordered his men to make changes on it to see whether she would be able to recognize her throne. Therefore, it is highly likely that such figures were engraved and such shapes were made on the throne so that when the Queen saw it, she would have some glimpses of Solomon’s faith and understand the source of his supreme rule.

The Queen of Sheba, whose name some sources relate as Balqis, was an intelligent and shrewd woman. Despite her intelligence, shrewdness, insightfulness, and good nature, she had not been able to find guidance as she was brought up among a people who worshipped the sun. She was also a powerful queen over a powerful state. Prophet Solomon first asked her throne to be brought from Yemen to his capital while the Queen was on the way to him. The transportation of the throne from Yemen to Jerusalem “in the twinkling of an eye” was a miracle of Prophet Solomon and wonder-working on the part of the scholarly man who brought it. This may have been enough for someone’s guidance or accepting Solomon’s faith—the Divine Religion.

However, a sound belief is based upon sound reasoning, reflective thought, contemplation on the outer and human inner worlds, using the free-will properly, and upon the Divine will. For this reason, Solomon took a further step and replaced the pagan figures on the throne with those associated with the Divine Religion. As a step before the final one, this opened the door of guidance for the Queen. Indeed, the very door to guidance or the way of embracing belief is through using one’s sound reasoning and free will as well as through contemplation of the outer world and the inner world of the human, and it is certainly realized through the Will of God.

O God! Bestow blessings and peace on the one whom You sent as a mercy for all the worlds, and on his brothers from among the Messengers and Prophets, and on his Family, Companions, and followers, all of them.

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَآ إِلَىٰ ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَالِحاً

And certainly, We sent to the (people of) Thamud their brother Salih.

(An-Naml 27:45)

The following points may be worth considering why the Qur’an continues with the Thamud, the people of Prophet Salih, right after the narrative about Prophet Solomon, who was the Prophet-king of the Children of Israel, peace be upon them both:

1.  The community of Solomon knew the Thamud very well.

2.  The community of Thamud must have been known as a powerful people, which had influences on the community of Solomon.

3.  There may have been a relationship between the people of Solomon and the Thamud similar to that of the people of Urartu and the people of Iram, who appeared in history one after the other.

4.  These two peoples—the people of Solomon and the Thamud—may have had similar characteristics.

It is a historical fact that when a Prophet came with God’s Message, the people among whom he appeared and whom he called to God were divided into two groups as believers and unbelievers, as “two factions which dispute with each other” (An-Naml 27:45). There may have been a close similarity between the Thamud and a faction which appeared after the death of Prophet Solomon among his people: When Prophet Salih, who was sent to the Thamud, warned them, saying, “Why do you seek to hasten the coming (upon you) of evil instead of good?” (An-Naml 27:46), the Thamud responded to him with the words: “We augur ill of you and those who are with you” (An-Naml 27:47), and continued their mischief. This same reaction had been shown to Prophet Moses and would be shown to Jesus as well. Some from among his people said to Jesus, upon him be peace: “We augur ill of you” (Ya-Sin 36:18). This marks the similarity of character between the Thamud and some from among the Children of Israel, who were Moses’ and Solomon’s people.

In addition, there were other similarities between these two peoples such as the tyranny of the power, the spread of injustice and oppression, demanding miracles from their Prophets, and even demanding to see God with physical eyes in the world.

In fact, five or six peoples who rebelled against their Prophets and represented unbelief also in the same strain were mentioned in succession in several places of the Qur’an. This part of the Suratu’n-Naml, in which certain aspects of the Thamud are mentioned, is one of these places.

All praise is for God eternally (both in the beginning and in the end), and may blessings and peace be upon the best of His creation—Muhammad, and upon his Family and Companions altogether.

M. Fethullah Gülen

87   Bukhari, Istisqa’, 14; Abu Dawud, Istisqa’, 2.

88   Bukhari, Anbiya’, 8.

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