Bilqis, the Queen of Saba in Yemen
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
The status of women in Islam is far more lofty than any another creed or school of thought. The holy Qur’an has a lengthy Surah titled Nisa’ or Women, and God has revealed another Surah in honour of the Virgin Mary (peace upon her), the mother of Prophet Jesus (PBUH).
We will focus on Bilqis, the Queen of Saba in Yemen, who was endowed with wisdom, and is known in the West as Sheba.
In the days of Prophet Solomon (PBUH), whom God had endowed with the power to control birds and animals, and speak in their tongue, Hoopoe brought important news from a land ruled by a woman, who sits on a splendid throne. The bird told the Prophet that unfortunately this wealthy and powerful woman, as well as the people of her land, are devoid of faith in the One and Only God, and worship the imaginations of their minds and the forces of nature, such as the sun. Solomon sent her a letter through Hoopoe who dropped it in front of the Queen. Sheba picked up the letter, opened it, and to her astonishment, found it to be a message from the powerful ruler of Palestine, Solomon.
She summoned her advisors and read its contents, which started with the phrase Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim, or In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. Solomon advised her to shun pride and arrogance, and asked her to come to him for personal submission. Bilqis was disturbed while her advisors thought it to be challenge to her power and their sovereignty that might result in possible war.
She, however, told them: Peace and friendship are better and wiser; while war only brings humiliation, enslaves people and destroys the country. She thus sent precious gifts to Solomon and told her messengers to find out about his military mighty.
When the envoys of Bilqis reached Palestine and presented the precious gifts, they were surprised to see that Solomon not even bothered to open the containers to see the priceless objects. He said: Are you enticing me with wealth, while Allah has given me plenty of wealth, a large kingdom, and Prophethood. My only objective is to spread the message of Towheed, or monotheism by inviting people to worship the One and Only Creator. He told the Yemeni envoys to take back the gifts to Bilqis and tell her that if she did not stop her deviated form of worship he would be forced to descend upon her kingdom for the sake of rectifying the wrongs being committed by the ignorant and arrogant people. Ayahs 36 and 37 of Surah Naml refer to this account.
In order to show Bilqis the miraculous powers bestowed upon him by God, Solomon asked the genies whether anyone among them could bring her throne to the palace before she arrived. One of them said: "I will bring it to you before this sitting is over." Solomon did not react and it appeared that he was waiting for a faster mean. Then Asef bin Barkhiya, who had the knowledge of the Divine Book, said: I will fetch it for you in the twinkling of an eye! No sooner had he finished his phrase the throne stood before Solomon. The mission had, indeed been accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, although a distance of over two thousand kilometers separated Palestine from Yemen.
When Solomon found the throne of Bilqis before him, he said, as is mentioned in ayah 40 of Surah Naml: "This is by the grace of my Lord, to test me if I will give thanks or be ungrateful. And whoever gives thanks, gives thanks only for his own sake. And whoever is ungrateful [should know that] my Lord is indeed all-sufficient, all-generous."
Here it should be mentioned that Solomon as the Prophet of God had the power to perform such a miracle himself, but his enquiring of the audience of genies and men as to who would undertake the task at the greatest possible speed, was to show to the Israelites the God-given powers of his vicegerent and successor after him, Asef bin Barkhiya, who was a human being and therefore superior to other forms of life, including genies.
Back in Yemen, with her throne vanished from her palace, Bilqis was informed by her envoys of Solomon’s reply and his wondrous powers. The Queen was a prudent woman, and instead of taking offence or feeling scared, she decided to travel to Palestine to meet Solomon personally. When Bilqis and her entourage arrived at Solomon's palace, the Prophet of God pointing to the throne asked her whether it was hers.
She looked at it again and again, thinking how it was possible for her throne to be here, and noting the striking similarities, said: It is as if it were the very one, and resembles mine in every aspect. Solomon judged that she was intelligent and smart. Bilqis was amazed; she had never seen such miracles before.
Convinced that this is nothing but the power of the One and Only Creator, she decided to become a Muslim, that is, those who willingly submit to none but God, and asked her people to give up the sordid practice of idolatry and sun-worship.
Here it is worth noting that in contrast to the Egyptian Pharaoh, who did not believe in God despite witnessing the miracles performed by Moses, Bilqis at once realized the clear signs of Allah. The account of the Queen of Saba or Sheba is an invitation to all those with a grain of conscience to rectify their behavior and give up the misdeeds of the past to become devout and faithful persons.