In Islam and the Qur’an: The Queen of Sheba


So tell the tale—perhaps they will reflect. (Qur’an 7:176)

There are several different accounts of the Queen of Sheba–in Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and I suspect in religions and cultures outside of these–for she was an extraordinarily intelligent and open-minded queen regnant, who ruled by her own right a flourishing kingdom with expansive international trade, exceptional agriculture, highly advanced irrigation systems, enormous water dams, and architecture of complex and breath-taking design. Oh, and magic.

Rumor has it that she also kind of got a kick out of invading other lands and constantly winning with her practically unconquerable army.

Despite the assertions of Muslim men that women should not be any type of leader, the Qur’an not only gives us the Queen of Sheba as an example of a powerful and successful ruler but also praises her individuality, intelligence, and politics. In fact, while some make the claim that the Queen married Solomon later, the Qur’an does not mention this part of the story–effectively preventing men from claiming that the only reason the Queen is praised even after her conversion is because she was a married woman, and reinforcing the idea that a woman can rule without ruling beside a man.

This is why you will rarely hear of the Queen of Sheba.

The Queen’s kingdom prospered in present day Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. It was not without social injustices, though at the time she met Solomon they were mild compared to what they would be toward the kingdom’s downfall. After returning from the meeting with Solomon, she soon repaired the inequities she discovered. Her kingdom flourished for about nine hundred years, and did not collapse until long after her death, when the social injustices reemerged and became so oppressive there were only two remaining classes: the very rich and the very poor.

Solomon was aware that the Queen had plans to attack his kingdom. Though he had not yet heard of her expedition as his own army marched to meet him, one of the birds in his army (yes, a bird–this was a time of magic! and his army contained all creatures, including jinn) informed him of her intentions. He was in the way of her expansion. The bird itself was late, and Solomon wonders allowed where he is:

As he examined the cavalry, he said, “How is it that I do not see the commander Al-hoodhood, the hoopoe-bird? Is he one of the absentees? Unless the commander presented a good reason I would punish him or demote him to a low rank.” (Qur’an 27:20–21)

But the bird showed up soon with important news: a Queen from the South was planning an attack. Also, she and her people worshipped the sun, so Solomon best not lose or his own people may face oppression. There is a subtle hint that great devastation is a possibility:

“Behold! The country is ruled by a Queen who has been given everything and she has a tremendous throne.” (Qur’an 27:23)

And so Solomon handed a letter to the commander of the calvary and ordered that it be delivered to her court.

Back at the Queen’s palace, she announces the arrival of the letter to her advisers:

The Queen said, “O Chiefs! Behold a very noble letter has been conveyed to me. It is from Solomon and it says, ‘With the name of God, the Instant and Sustaining Source of all Mercy and Kindness. Exalt not yourselves against me, but come to me in peace as those who submit to God.’ ” (Qur’an 27:30–31)

who then advise that she go to war:

They said, “We have the power, we are tough in warfare, and the command is yours.” (Qur’an 27:34)

But, disregarding the decision of her advisers, the Queen said:

“Behold, when kings invade a town, they ruin it and humiliate its dignitaries. This is what they shall do. Hence I am going to send a gift to them to see the response that our envoys bring.” (Qur’an 27:34–35)

The Queen demonstrated not only prudence but empathy: although she had more than enough might to win a battle against Solomon, she was aware that his army was strong enough to devastate her land and her people. She would not enter a war at a time unnecessary. And so she decides to send Solomon a gift. The Qur’an does not mention what this gift was, but some claim it was encrusted with rare and precious jewels.

For this the Queen is criticized, as men view this gift-offering as “feminine politics”; the Qur’an however, clearly prefers the Queen’s peaceful tactics and generosity, and praises her knowledge for giving time to hear Solomon’s message. The Queen at the height of her power is both gentle and wise, and although Solomon as a prophet is partly the focus of the Quranic story, it is revealing that the Qur’an places so much focus on the Queen herself and her benevolence and wisdom rather than her choice to convert. Through the Queen as a ruler, we view the Queen as a worshipper–the “feminine” traits of wisdom and truth and peace preferred by God, implying rash masculinity is an impediment.

Solomon did not accept the gift. God had given him all he needed. He was also shocked and put-off, as he had expected the Queen to denounce her intentions for war and convert to the religion. If it weren’t for the patience of the Queen and the fact that she was intrigued by his message, Solomon’s hasty and reckless actions would have begun a catastrophic war. However, the Queen was intrigued enough to visit, and when Solomon heard the news he sent for one of his subjects to retrieve her throne before her arrival as a sign from God.

But by the time she had arrived, she was already won without Solomon’s efforts:

“We already knew the Truth was on your side and my chiefs and I have surrendered to God.” (Qur’an 27:42)

She was incredibly knowledgeable, and had concluded that this was the truth from having knowledge of the past and critiquing Solomon’s kingdom and distinguished letters against her expectations of a Prophet of God. And at the end of the Quranic story, as she is escorted to the palace–

When she saw the smooth polished glass floor, she thought that it was a pool of water and she was spellbound. (Qur’an 27:44)

The floor was made of clear glass, so that it looked like water. It is here that she says to herself that she submits to God, realizing that this would provide her with not only happiness in the Hereafter but greatness in this life as well.

And here the story ends, and the Qur’an makes no mention of whom she marries, makes no implication that she should not have ruled or was wrong to continue ruling, and instead praises her political and spiritual independence as well as her intelligence and open-mindedness.

37 thoughts on “In Islam and the Qur’an: The Queen of Sheba

  1. Excellent piece, Masha'Allah. I really like the story of the Queen of Sheba (who I think is referred to as "Bilqis" in Muslim tradition). If I ever have a daughter Insha'Allah, I would consider naming her Bilqis in honor of this strong queen.

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  2. Mohammed

    The reason women inherit half in islam is that they also earn half from the husband/ inlaws to giver her one whole portion…

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    1. farah

      At the time of her kingdom there was no Ethiopia or Somali or Yemen, so without those borders, she could also be considered Somali, too. (Because of the sea that separates Somalia and Yemen, she was most likely born on African soil.) It’s the rare thing that Ethiopians and Somali can be happy about together, lol :) A girl from our home making history, lol.

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  3. King

    Please correct the following:
    But by the time she had arrived, she was already won without Solomon’s efforts:
    “We already knew the Truth was on your side and my chiefs and I have surrendered to God.” (Qur’an 27:42)

    The queen was not won over until verse 44. The correct translation of S 27:42 is:
    Sahih International
    So when she arrived, it was said [to her], “Is your throne like this?” She said, “[It is] as though it was it.” [Solomon said], “And we were given knowledge before her, and we have been Muslims [in submission to Allah ].

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    1. How do you know from the Arabic that Solomon is speaking?

      For example, here is Yusuf Ali’s translation:

      So when she arrived, she was asked, “Is this thy throne?” She said, “It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to Allah (in Islam).”

      It is the Queen who says that knowledge was already bestowed on her. The Qur’an is not explicit about who is speaking and there appears to be disagreement between translators.

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      1. Mariam

        No, in fact it was Prophet Sulaymaan speaking as he says “qablihaa” which literally translates as “before her”. Why would she say, “And we were given knowledge before her..”?
        That translation is inaccurate as the Arabic would’ve said “qabli haathaa” in order to translate as “before this”.
        This doesn’t take from the fact that she was still an intelligent and powerful Queen which is beautifully captured in the Qur’aan. And besides she did accept Islaam and submit to Allah in the end anyway.
        ‘She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself and I submit along with Sulaymaan to Allaah, the Lord of the ‘Aalameen (all the worlds and all that exist)”‘ – 27:44

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    2. You guys (“King” & Mariam) speak like it’s as clear-cut as you want to believe. It’s not.
      In verse 27:42, the “haa’ (feminine pronoun) may refer to Bilqees, but then why would Solomon say “and we have been Muslims [in submission to Allah]”? I don’t have any reasons to trust anyone’s claim to what the “haa” in “min qabliha” means. Several translators of the Qur’an have translated the “haa” as “this” instead of “her.” Yusuf Ali’s translation even says that it is Bilqees speaking the whole time at the end of verse 42 (i.e., “So when she arrived, she was asked, “Is this thy throne?” She said, “It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to God (in Islam).”
      Yusuf Ali’s translation makes the most sense to me. No reason to believe that Solomon starts speaking after she says “ya, man, my throne’s like this, too.”

      Here’s a website where you can compare the translations of verses 42 through 44 in surah 27: http://www.quranbrowser.org/quranbrowse.php

      Neither do I trust especially the interpolations in brackets. I especially don’t trust Sahih International’s translation. That’s one of the most extremist translations of the Qur’an there is.

      Keep in mind that in Arabic, the “her” (“haa” in Arabic) isn’t necessarily a human; it’s also sometimes an object or a concept, depending on the context.

      Also, 27:44 doesn’t necessarily mean that Bilqees did not believe/submit beforehand.

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      1. Mariam

        Please don’t depend on translations for tafsir, that’s very unreliable. We already have the works of many great Scholars such as Ibn Kathir, a famous mufassir whose exegesis of the Qur’aan is well known and accepted among the Scholars. He says in his tafseer that it is Prophet Sulaymaan (ra) who says, “And we were given Knowledge before her..”. And if you speak and understand Arabic you will realise that that makes the most sense.
        That verse in fact praises her intellect as Prophet Sulaymaan (as) is impressed with her judgement and wisdom. That’s why he said we were given knowledge ‘before her’ (showing that he aknowldges that she posses great knowledge), because she proved to be so smart.
        Besides, it wouldn’t make sense for her to say she submitted to Allah in that verse and to repeat the same thing a few verses down. The verse in which she stated her faith shows that it was through astonishment (at the buiding ‘Sarh’) that she quickly expressed her belief and realised that Sulaymaan (ra) was a blessed Prophet whose kingdom was granted to him from Allah (it was very majestic). This wouldn’t make sense if she was already a Muslim.
        Also, why would she say she and her people were already given knowledge before this and her and her people were Muslims? When did this happen? Why wouldn’t Allah mention at what point her people converted and why, surely that would’ve been a significant incident? Otherwise it seems very random and abrupt. Just to show you, this is how things played out according to your view: Prophet Sulaymaan (ra) sent a letter to the Queen telling her to surrender. She is on her way to his kingdom, meanwhile he wants to come up with a way to test her knowledge to see how wise she is. He asks his chiefs which of them will get him her throne and a jinn does so in a split second. Her throne is modified so that it looks a little different. She arrives and is asked if that is her throne, she answers wisely and says it seems as though it were the very same ( a very wise response!). She carries on to say that her and her people were granted knowledge beforehand and that they were Muslims before this (does this make sense?). Allah/Prophet Sulaymaan say that she was distracted from worshipping Allah by her false deity (the Sun) and that she was from a disbelieving people. She is told to enter the ‘Sarh’ (lofty building made from glass with water flowing below it) and she lifts her dress as she thinks the floor is water when in fact it is glass with water flowing beneath. She then says, “My Lord! I have wronged myself and I submit along with Sulaymaan to the Lord of the ‘Aalameen (all the worlds and all that exist)”.
        Taking the view that it was her who stated that part of the verse doesn’t add up nor does it make sense (such as creating a double conversion as she professes her faith at the end of the passage). It appears out of the blue and raises questions such as how and when did her and her people convert? Not to mention that the Scholars of Tafsir (Exegesis of the Qur’aan) have stated that it was Prophet Sulaymaan (ra) who makes that statement.
        Unless you can find reliable scholars and Mufassireen who support your view and explain that perspective?

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        1. There are multiple tafsirs out there, including Ibn Katheer. He’s okay sometimes, but not my favorite always. It’s useful to look at as many as possible but I’ve no reason to accept only one, so I’m gonna have to disagree with your suggestion to me.

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      2. Mariam

        But are there others that support your view? I have never come across a well known mufassir who held that view. Also, please avoid down playing scholars. Ibn Kathir is not “ok sometimes” (I suppose when his tafsir suits your perspective/what you want to hear). He is a great and well respected Scholar, may Allah reward him.
        And yes, let’s agree to disagree. The most important part is that we understand the moral of the narrative and are able to take lessons from it. Allah (SWT) tells us the stories of past nations and Prophets for a purpose (to learn from it/to warn us/to give us role models/to inspire us and so on) and not for entertainment.
        So in’shaa’Allah I hope we are both able to derive the moral amd purpose behind this incident that Allah so eloquently narrates to us.
        May Allah increase us all in knowledge. Āmeen.

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        1. Yeah, I gave you multiple translations – you said not to accept those :) Obviously there is diversity for our benefit; we have the power and choice and right to accept what makes sense and reject what doesn’t. That’s going to be subjective, thankfully.
          By the way, I don’t need to accept only views that’ve been validated by others. No point in having the original text of the Qur’an to turn to then if we’re only to act like mindless followers of the mufassireen, reiterating what they themselves admitted were not necessarily facts and were not the only possible interpretations. The humility is something worth reflecting on.
          Aameen to your prayers.

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      3. Mariam

        Just a sincere advise: Islam is not about following our whims and desires, but obeying Allah and His Messenger (SAW), even if that goes against our wishes.
        This means you can’t pick and choose what meets your fancy and easily reject views that oppose your ideal. So if you know that one view is stronger than another (has greater evidence and/or more scholarly consensus), you can’t reject it because you ‘personally’ disagree with it. This defeats the purpose of Islam where we ‘submit’ to Allah and sacrifice our desires for His sake. It is meant to be a great test of faith.
        Also, I want to point out that translations are just translating from one language to another and tafsirs are scholarly explanations of the Qur’aan by Qur’aan scholars (Mufassireen). They are two very different things. Yusuf Ali is just a translator, not a Mufassir. Translations can be (and often are) inacurrate and therefore unreliable. That’s why Muslims are earnestly encouraged to learn Arabic so that they don’t have to rely on such an unreliable source. Just wanted to clear this up.

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        1. Quite the contrary; the first Muslims picked and chose all they wanted. Men appealed to God continuously for ridiculous things: the verse permitting a certain sex position was delivered because a man threw a hissy fit about it, men were allowed to engage in sex during war because they threw a hissy fit about it, they’re allowed to have four wives because the Prophet had four wives and they threw a hissy fit about it. They were quick to criticize the integration and engagement of women outside of domestic affairs. The one time a woman asked something of God was when Umm Salaama spoke up for all women and asked why we weren’t addressed directly in the Qur’an. Men have been “changing” Islam since it was first conceived–and before that. Everyone knows the infamous story of 100 prayers a day being prescribed to us until Prophet Musa (pbuh) intervened. What do you think that means?

          I believe it means we are, in fact, allowed to negotiate with God.

          You’re free practice Islam in your way, but I won’t allow you to lecture another one of my readers about how she should practice hers, especially under the assumption that she isn’t knowledgeable. This forum isn’t impressed with “scholarly consensus”–I encourage everyone to think for themselves, and to assume (in good faith) that other readers are arriving to their conclusions with just as much expertise.

          I can assure you that Orbala, incidentally a PhD student of Islamic Studies, knows well enough what she’s doing, and mansplaining is strictly against the comment policy.

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      4. Mariam

        In this world, you are free to do as you wish. But just remember, for everyone who is misguided by your preaching, you will carry their sins as well as yours on the day of judgement.
        I pray Allah guides you and other Muslim ‘feminists’.

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  4. King

    It’s the same in two more tafsirs in addition to ibn Kathir

    Muhsin Khan
    So when she came, it was said (to her): “Is your throne like this?” She said: “(It is) as though it were the very same.” And [Sulaiman (Solomon) said]: “Knowledge was bestowed on us before her, and we were submitted to Allah (in Islam as Muslims before her).”

    Pickthall
    So, when she came, it was said (unto her): Is thy throne like this? She said: (It is) as though it were the very one. And (Solomon said): We were given the knowledge before her and we had surrendered (to Allah).

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  5. sheeba

    Very Informative. And all the comments are respected as based on research. And finally, let’s try not to argue at each and every word, just for the sake to declare oneself right.we all know, Allah knows the best, and we are just trying, Allah is raheem and all knowing.

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  6. Imam Razi has discussed that both possibilities of Solomon peace be upon him or Balqis may Allah bless her with mercy saying those words are probable. If it is Solomon(s) it is an act of gratitude for being predecessors in submission, in case of Balqis(r) it means that she already had an implicit belief in God even prior to witnessing that miracle. http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=27&tAyahNo=42&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=1

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