The Queen of Sheba: Who she really was?

Woman Zainab Sulaimon
Reading Corner
Queen of Sheba
Florence cathedral, Baptistry of Saint John, Gates of Paradise, Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, Florence, Italy. Photo : Dreamstime

The historical account of the life of the Queen of Sheba is a topic disputed by many historians. As a matter of fact, her story has many versions (the Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and even the Yoruba) which are considerably detailed. She is a woman whose story is shared by many tribes and religions of the world but, who was she really?

Most of the sources that lay a claim on the story of the Queen of Sheba are mostly based on legendary tales and assumptions. However, we will take a look at her authentic story from the angle of the Quran as Allah has informed us about her with a true and accurate account in Surah An-Naml (Quran 27: 20-44). Even a whole chapter (Surah Saba’) is named after the region that she ruled in Sheba.

The Narrative on Queen of Sheba

During one of Solomon’s travels, he built a beautiful temple, on a huge rock in Jerusalem, which is today known as the “The Dome of the Rock”. He moved on to perform the pilgrimage at the Holy Mosque in Mecca, after which he travelled to Yemen and arrived at the city of San’a. Solomon was deeply impressed by the clever method with which the city channeled its water system and he developed an interest to do the same for his country.

He began to look for the hoopoe bird because it could detect water underground, but it was nowhere to be found. Soon the bird came back to Solomon with news of what it had seen whilst flying. It related to Solomon that it had come from Sab’a (Sheba) which was ruled by a queen named Bilqees. She had plenty of everything including a splendid throne but in spite of all, she and her people were worshiping the sun instead of worshiping Allah.

Letter to Queen of Sheba

In order to confirm what the bird had relayed to him, he wrote a letter to the Queen and asked the bird to watch how she would react from a distance. The bird did as it was told and observed from a distance as Bilqees opened the letter from Solomon which read

“In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful: Be you not exalted against me but come to me as Muslims (true believers who submit to Allah with full submission)” Q27:30-31.

The letter disturbed her and she sought the counsel of her advisors. They interpreted the letter to mean that Solomon wanted to wage a war against them and ultimately asking them to submit to his conditions. She eventually decided to send gifts (with a motif) to Solomon as she always believed in peace and friendship rather than war. She told the messengers, who would deliver the gifts to Solomon, to learn about Solomon and his military might.

When the messengers got to Solomon’s kingdom, they were awed, amazed, and concluded that their wealth was nothing compared to that of Solomon’s. Solomon realized that Bilqees had sent the courtiers on a mission to scrutinize him and his kingdom. He rejected the gifts and said to them “Will you help me in wealth? What Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay, you rejoice in your gift!” Q27:36. He ordered them to take the gifts back and tell the Queen that if she does not stop her kind of worship, he would uproot her kingdom and drive its people out of the land.

Her meeting with Solomon

Queen of Sheba, Bilqees took no offense and instead decided to visit Solomon after the messengers related to her what their eyes had witnessed. She left Sheba and sent a message ahead of her to Solomon, to tell him that she was coming to visit him. Solomon asked his chiefs (the jinns) whether any of them could bring her throne to his palace before she got there. Ifrit, the strongest and most knowledgeable of the book, replied that he would get it for Solomon before the twinkling of an eye. Before Solomon knew what was happening, the throne was already in front of him. He disguised the throne to test the Queen if she would recognize it. Bilqees got to Solomon’s kingdom and was surprised to see her throne there.

Queen of Sheba was welcomed with pomp and ceremony and she was amazed. She realized that Solomon controlled a vast kingdom that no one before him had ever had and no one else will ever have. He could communicate with animals, control the wind, and the jinns were under his command. All of these impressed Bilqees as it was multiple times better than her own kingdom. She immediately gave up the worship of the sun and declared her worship for Allah alone, the One who had granted Solomon everything that he had.

Therefore, from this narrative, we can perceive that Queen of Sheba, Bilqees was a wise, knowledgeable, and noblewoman, a woman of character, an exemplary leader, and most of all, a servant of Allah (SWT), The Most High, The Most Great.

Fascinating Facts

  • None of these historical accounts states when she was born nor when she died. It’s of little or no importance.
  • Some say she was childless (eg the Yoruba narrative), others say she had a child (eg the Ethiopian narrative), while some didn’t mention at all (eg the Qur’an).
  • The other narratives- Jewish, Christian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Yoruba- claimed that she practiced their religion and/or way of life.
  • Three narratives agree on her name being Bilqees.
  • Almost all the narratives agree that she ruled in a region known as Sheba
  • The Barran temple is also known as “the throne of Bilqees” and archeologists are yet to decipher the connection between the Barran temple and Sheba.
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