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Sulaymān: The Excellent Slave

When we speak of Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām), we often think of a mighty king and an individual blessed with tremendous knowledge, wisdom, and justice. Rightly so, Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) presided over a kingdom unlike any other ruler before or after him. Furthermore, he was praised for his ability in delivering just verdicts by Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) in the Qur’an. There is, however, another quality which Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) shares with a number of other Prophets, which Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) majestically highlights in Sūrah Ṣād. it is the quality of being awwāb, that is, often returning back to Allah in repentance.

Sūrah Ṣād is the 38th chapter of the Qur’an and a late Makki Sūrah. It is a chapter which touches on many topics, including some significant incidents revolving around the lives of the famous Israelite prophets Dāwūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām).

ٱصبر على ما يقولون واذكر عبدنا داود ذا الأيد إنه أواب

“Be patient with what they say. And remember our slave Dāwūd, the possessor of strength, for he was often returning back to Allah.’’[1]

Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) instructs the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to be patient with what the polytheists of his time were saying against him. Allah instructs him to remember Dāwūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām), who He describes as possessing strength and being awwāb. To be awwāb means to be constantly turning back and returning to Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). It is interesting that in an article discussing Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) we are bringing into the discussion a verse regarding his father Dāwūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām). This is not a random tangent, but an important point regarding education. Through his actions, conduct, and manners, Dāwūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām) had a direct impact on his son Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām). Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) had an excellent example in his father Dāwūd, and there are many similarities between the two. The matter is as the popular saying states, ‘like father, like son’.

Now that we have the above qualities of strength and returning back to Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) in mind, let us see how Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) introduces Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) in Sūrah Ṣād. An important verse in this chapter states the following:

وَوَهَبْنَا لِدَاوُودَ سُلَيْمَانَ ۚ نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ ۖ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ

And to Dāwūd We gave Sulaymān. What an excellent servant! He was one who repeatedly turned back [to Allah].”[2]

Ibn Kathīr mentions that in addition to Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) inheriting prophethood from Dāwūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām), there also is a clear link between the two insofar as both are described as being awwāb. In reality, they are not the only prophets to be described with this trait. A little later in this same Surah, Ayūb (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is also described with the same term. This is clearly a common characteristic of the Prophets, which means that they often turn back to Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Ibn Kathīr adds that it also means that they remember Allah a lot in their prayers and words of remembrance. In sum, these were individuals with the best character, conduct, and quality of worship. They were chosen and inspired by Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), yet they still came before the Lord in humility and servitude, regardless of the powerful positions they may have possessed in the world. Interestingly, Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) refers to Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) as being an ‘excellent slave’. Being referred to as a slave of Allah is the greatest and most prestigious title one can attain in this world. Allah is al-Malik (The King), al-ʿAẓīm (The Greatest), al-Rabb (The Lord), and al-Ḥayy (The Ever-Living), so to be recognised as His dutiful slave is a title of honour. How tragic is it that so many are unaware of this reality, seeking instead fame, fortune, and recognition from everyone else except their Creator?

Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) then goes on to mention two specific incidents that occurred during the life of Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) in the following verses of Surah Saad.

إِذْ عُرِضَ عَلَيْهِ بِالْعَشِيِّ الصَّافِنَاتُ الْجِيَادُ

[Mention] when in the afternoon the poised [standing] racehorses were presented before him.[3]

Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was inspecting his army one day by observing 1000 of these poised racing horses (al- ṣāfināt al-jiyād). These horses were described as remaining very tranquil, but were also capable of running very fast. They were in fact bred for war and were a key component of his cavalry.

فَقَالَ إِنِّي أَحْبَبْتُ حُبَّ الْخَيْرِ عَنْ ذِكْرِ رَبِّي حَتَّىٰ تَوَارَتْ بِالْحِجَابِ

And he said, “Indeed, I gave preference to the love of good [things] over the remembrance of my Lord until the sun disappeared into the curtain [of darkness].”[4]

رُدُّوهَا عَلَيَّ ۖ فَطَفِقَ مَسْحًا بِالسُّوقِ وَالْأَعْنَاقِ

[He said], “Return them to me,” and set about striking [their] legs and necks.[5]

His inspection of the horses and delight with them distracted him from a particular act of worship that he would usually perform at that time. Some have said that this was ṣalāt al-ʿaṣr. But there is a difference of opinion whether it was a prayer, a portion of dhikr, or another act of worship that he would regularly offer. In any case, he called for the horses to be brought back to him. He then set about offering them as a sacrifice to Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). It is incorrect to suggest that he may have sacrificed them due to being angry with the horses. Instead, since something from the worldly affairs had distracted him from performing his worship, he was quick to sacrifice it for the pleasure of Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). This is much like how one might sacrifice a cow, lamb, or another animal for the annual uḍḥiyah.

Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) sets an incredible example for us all by giving up that which he loved for the sake of Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). His expression of pleasure with the horses was in itself for the sake of Allah, as these horses were part of his army and would be used in the path of Allah. However, he had a defined set of priorities. Once it became clear that these majestic beasts distracted him from his acts of worship, he did not hesitate to give them up for Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Now it is incumbent upon us to reflect upon our own states. How quick are we to give up that which we love for the sake of Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)? What about giving up all of those things that are distracting us from our relationship with Allah and instead seeking His forgiveness?  This is also not to mention the vile nature of the things that distract us in the first place. We excessively indulge in social media platforms, Netflix, video games, late night gossip sessions, sports matches, and amassing material possessions. All of these things are done to boast in front of the people, and hope that they look upon us with yearning and jealousy.

وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا سُلَيْمَانَ وَأَلْقَيْنَا عَلَىٰ كُرْسِيِّهِ جَسَدًا ثُمَّ أَنَابَ

And We certainly tried Sulaymān and placed on his throne a body; then he returned in repentance.[6]

قَالَ رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَهَبْ لِي مُلْكًا لَا يَنْبَغِي لِأَحَدٍ مِنْ بَعْدِي ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

He said, “My Lord, forgive me and grant me a kingdom which no one after me will be worthy of having. Indeed, You are the Bestower.”[7]

Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is then tested with a second trial in this series of verses. Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) tests him with a body which usurps his throne. The nature of this body, who it was, and the background story with regards to how it rose to prominence are issues which are not addressed in any authentic narrations. Almost all of the narrations regarding this matter are commonly cited from the Isrā’īliyyāt, which do not constitute sufficient evidence. What we do know with certainty is that Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was tested with this body presiding over his throne. The Qur’an is a book of guidance for us and if it leaves out details, then we should know that it only does so owing to the lack of benefit in mentioning those minutiae. Here the benefit that we can learn the most from here is the reaction of Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) upon being tested. Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) mentions that Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) returned back to His Lord in a state of repentance (thumma anāb). Despite losing his throne, his immediate reaction is to come back to Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and seek His forgiveness, knowing that he is being tested. As he says, “My Lord, forgive me and grant me a kingdom which no one after me will be worthy of having. Indeed, You are the Bestower.”

We learn here the etiquettes of how duʿā’ is to be made. First and foremost, seek forgiveness from Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) at the first sign of being tested. Then, do not be shy to combine with this repentance a request for whatever you wish. Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) asks for a kingdom granted to no authority before or after him. This would be a kingdom that would establish the law of Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and spread His message of tawḥīd, as we see explained in other chapters of the Qur’an.

Finally, Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) concludes his duʿā’ by calling upon Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) with one of His names that indicate His ability to grant graces and bounties. This is the name al-Wahhāb (The Bestower)! When we ask of Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), we are instructed to call upon Him with his beautiful names and to use the titles that are most appropriate to the nature of the needs we request.

فَسَخَّرْنَا لَهُ الرِّيحَ تَجْرِي بِأَمْرِهِ رُخَاءً حَيْثُ أَصَابَ

So We subjected to him the wind which would blow by his command, gently, wherever he directed it,[8]

وَالشَّيَاطِينَ كُلَّ بَنَّاءٍ وَغَوَّاصٍ

And [also] the devils [of jinn] – every builder and diver,[9]

وَآخَرِينَ مُقَرَّنِينَ فِي الْأَصْفَادِ

And others, bound together in shackles.[10]

هَٰذَا عَطَاؤُنَا فَامْنُنْ أَوْ أَمْسِكْ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

[We said], “This is Our gift, so grant or withhold without account.”[11]

Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) responds to the duʿā‘ of Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and grants him a unique and unprecedented kingdom. Among the unique qualities of this kingdom was the wind that was subjected to him and would blow wherever he wished. Furthermore, Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was granted full control over the jinn. Some functioned as builders and divers who worked under his supervision. In addition, the rebellious ones were apprehended and shackled under his authority. Recalling earlier that Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) gave up the swift horses for the sake of Allah, we notice now how Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) replaced them with something better, such as the swift wind and other forces subjected to his control.

The grandeur and status of the kingdom of Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) even influenced our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).

Imam al-Bukhārī narrates on the authority of Abū Hurayrah the following report from the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):

“An ʿIfrīt from among the jinn came and bothered me last night to stop me from praying, or he said something similar to that effect. Allah enabled me to overpower him, and I wanted to tie him to one of the pillars in the masjid so that you could witness it this morning. Then I remembered what my brother Sulaymān said, ‘My Lord, forgive me and bestow upon me a kingdom which no one after me will have.’ So the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallamlet him go while being humiliated.”[12]

If we were to implement the example of Sulaymān (ʿalayhi al-Salām) from these few short verses, we would learn the importance of turning back to Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Furthermore, we would consider giving up some good things that distract us from His worship, and even more so the prohibited things that distract us from Him. Also, we should recognise when we are being tested by Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and respond in the manner that His noble Prophet responded, which entails turning back to Allah in repentance. One can combine this moment of sincerity and humbleness with requests for the good of this world and the hereafter by beseeching Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) with His beautiful names and lofty attributes.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Al-Qur’ān, 38: 17

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 38: 30

[3] Al-Qur’ān, 38:31.

[4] Al-Qur’ān, 38:32.

[5] Al-Qur’ān, 38:33.

[6] Al-Qur’ān, 38:34.

[7] Al-Qur’ān, 38:35.

[8] Al-Qur’ān, 38:36.

[9] Al-Qur’ān, 38:37.


[11] Al-Qur’ān, 38:39.

[12] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 3423

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