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