English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 27: Al-Naml — The Naml (Revealed at Makkah: 7 sections, 93 verses)

Section 2 (Verses 27:15–27:31): History of Solomon

Translation:

27:15 And certainly We gave knowledge to David and Solomon.1 And they said: Praise be to Allah, Who has made us excel many of His believing servants!
27:16 And Solomon was David’s heir, and he said: O people, we have been taught the speech of birds,2 and we have been granted all sorts of things. Surely this is manifest grace.
27:17 And his forces of the jinn and the men and the birds were gathered to Solomon,3 and they were formed into groups.
27:18 Until when they came to the valley of the Naml,4 a Namlite said: O Naml, enter your houses, (so that) Solomon and his forces may not crush you, while they do not know.
27:19 So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord, grant me that I may be grateful for Your favour which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good such as You are pleased with, and admit me, by Your mercy, among Your righteous servants.
27:20 And he reviewed the birds, then said: How is it I do not see Hudhud, or is it that he is one of the absentees?5
27:21 I will certainly punish him with a severe punishment, or kill him, unless he brings me a clear excuse.
27:22 And he did not remain away long, then said: I have encompassed something you do not have comprehensive knowledge of, and I have come to you from Saba’ with sure information6
27:23 I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given all sorts of things and she has a mighty throne.
27:24 I found her and her people adoring the sun instead of Allah, and the devil has made their deeds seem good to them and turned them from the way, so they do not go aright —
27:25 so that they do not worship Allah, Who brings forth what is hidden in the heavens and the earth and knows what you hide and what you proclaim.
27:26 Allah, there is no God but He, the Lord of the mighty Throne.Prostration
27:27 He said: We shall see whether you speak the truth or whether you are a liar.
27:28 Take this letter of mine and hand it over to them, then turn from them and see what (answer) they return.
27:29 She said: Chiefs, an honourable letter has been delivered to me.
27:30 It is from Solomon, and it is in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful,
27:31 proclaiming, Do not exalt yourselves against me and come to me in submission.

Commentary:

  1. The history of David and Solomon, being the history of the temporal greatness of the Israelites, forms really a part of the history of Moses, and reference to it is in fact prophetical, to show that Islam was also destined to rise to greatness temporally as well as spiritually.
  2. Solomon’s understanding the speech of birds may imply the use he made of birds in carrying messages from one place to another, these messages being metaphorically called the speech of birds. The reference here is to the great resources of Solomon’s kingdom in his victorious marches against near and distant enemies. Note also that Solomon says: We have been taught. This shows that his people also knew that speech.
  3. The jinn were men belonging to certain mountain tribes whom Solo­mon had subjugated. Ṭair may mean either birds or horse, i.e., cavalry, as this word is applied not only to birds but also to swift animals such as horses.
  4. Many of the fables regarding Solomon have been due to a misconcep­tion of the word naml, taken as meaning ‘ant’. It should be noted that wādi-l-Naml cannot be properly translated as the valley of the ants, for Naml is a proper noun. According to the classical dictionary Tāj al-‘Urūs, the valley of the Naml is situated between Jibrin and Asqalan. And Namlah is the name of a tribe which literally signifies the eggs of the ants. The name Namlah used also to be given to a child in whose hands an ant was placed at its birth, because it was said such a child would be wise and intelligent.
  5. The opening words may mean either a review of birds or a review of horses; see v. 17. By Hudhud is not to be understood the lapwing, but a person of that name. In every language many of the proper names given to people will be found to be identical with the names of animals. The Arab writers speak of a king of Himyar as Hudad, which is almost identical with Hudhud mentioned in the Quran. The Bible speaks of a king of Syria, named Ben Hadad (1 Kings 15:18, etc.). The Muntaha-l-arab states that Hudhad was the name of the father of Balqis, the queen of Sheba. The verses that follow show clearly that Solomon was speaking of one of his own officers. The infliction of severe punish­ment on a small bird by such a mighty monarch, as Solomon, and the exposition of the great religious doctrine of the Unity of God by the lapwing, are quite incompre­hensible.
  6. Saba’ is the same as the Sheba of the Bible. The story as given here is not met with in the Bible, but it was known to Jewish rabbis. The Bible speaks of the coming of the queen of Sheba to Solomon with large presents to test him. See 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chron. 9. And later on, it speaks of many strange women as Solomon’s wives (1 Kings 11).

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