The Story of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) with the Hoopoe
وَتَفَقَّدَ الطَّيْرَ فَقَالَ مَا لِيَ لَا أَرَى الْهُدْهُدَ أَمْ كَانَ مِنَ الْغَائِبِينَ
“He inspected the birds, and said: ‘What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?’
لَأُعَذِّبَنَّهُ عَذَابًا شَدِيدًا أَوْ لَأَذْبَحَنَّهُ أَوْ لَيَأْتِيَنِّي بِسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ
I will surely punish him with a severe torment, or slaughter him, unless he brings me a clear reason.”
Shaikh As-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said: “Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) inspected the birds, which indicates his perfect resolution and firm will (prudence), perfect intelligence. He had the ability to organize his soldiers, and manage both major and minor affairs by himself, such that he did not neglect this matter of inspecting the birds and checking whether they were there or not or if there were some missing. This is the meaning of the verse.
The statement which says that the hoopoe used to look for water for Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) in the various strata of the earth and that the hoopoe is able to see the water beneath the surface of the earth is baseless. There is no intellectual nor verbal evidence for it. Rather, he inspected the birds to know who was present and who was absent and whether they were adhering to their appointed places or not. In addition to that, Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) did not need the hoopoe to search for water for him because he had some mighty devils among other devils to do any ground digging he might want, no matter how deep. And Allaah (Ta’ala) subjected the wind for him by which he could travel a two months’ journey in one day; so why would he need the hoopoe? Most of these interpretations are transmitted from Bani Isra’eel without checking any contradictions as to the correct meanings…” [Tayseer Al-Kareem]
Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) inquired: “Why don’t I see the hoopoe? Is there any obstacle preventing me from seeing him or is he not present? Is he absent without my permission and command?” Here, Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) threatened him when he became sure of his absence and said:
لأعذبنه عذابا شديدا
“I will surely punish him with a severe torment
Allaah (Ta’ala) did not mention the description of this punishment; it is only mentioned that it is a severe torment.
Or slaughter him, i.e. kill him.
أو ليأتيني بسلطان مبين
Unless he brings me a clear reason, i.e. a valid excuse for his absence.”
This proves the perfect piety and justice of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam), for he did not only swear to mere punishment with torment or killing, because this would not be except due to a sin. His absence could be due to another clear excuse, so he exempted him out of his piety and insight.
فَمَكَثَ غَيْرَ بَعِيدٍ فَقَالَ أَحَطتُ بِمَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ وَجِئْتُكَ مِن سَبَإٍ بِنَبَإٍ يَقِينٍ
“But the hoopoe stayed not long, he (came up and) said: ‘I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba’ (Sheba) with true news.’”
This means that he was only absent for a short time. The troops and soldiers of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) were in awe of him and complied strongly with his command, to an extent that the hoopoe, which was detained by a genuine cause, did not stay behind for a long period of time.
The hoopoe said to Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam):
أحطت بما لم تحط به
“I have grasped which you have not grasped”
Meaning, I have come to know of something that you and your troops do not know.
Shaikh As-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) explained that as meaning: “I have knowledge of what you do not know, despite your vast knowledge and high eminence.” The hoopoe assured Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) of the following:
و جئتك من سبا بنبأ يقين
“And I have come to you from Saba’ with true news”
Meaning, with true and certain news. Saba’ refers to Himyar, which was a dynasty in Yemen.
Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaimeen (Rahimahullaah) said: “The hoopoe did not speak to Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) with an expression of honor and glorification, although the hoopoe was one of the weak soldiers of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam). He said:
أحطت بما لم تحط
“I have grasped which you have not grasped”
However, when humans talk to their bosses or those who have a higher status, they address them with an expression of respect and honor, even though they are humans like them. The Sahaabah never talked to the Prophet with the speech of distinction, despite his nobility and excellence above every human. Similarly, the rightly guided Caliphs were not addressed with such eminent speech.
One may wonder how some of those who use these expressions can hold grudges in their heart against those to whom they address, so this expression would be in the way of mockery and disdain. It is better for people to talk to each other politely.
His statement, however, was comprised of good manners, because he did not say, ‘You are ignorant and you do not know and I know, and I searched and found something which you are unaware of.’ Rather, he said: ‘I have grasped which you have not grasped.’
This is in order for Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) to give him his due estimate and to draw his attention to the fact that he does not encompass everything. Man is weak in all things; man did not know how to bury his dead except from a crow. This indicates that he is in fact nothing.” [Summarized and paraphrased from Tafseer Surat An-Naml]
Then the hoopoe elaborated the news, saying:
إني وجدت امرأة تملكهم
“I found a woman ruling over them,”
i.e. Ruling the tribe of Saba’ and she is a woman.
وأوتيت من كل شيء
“She has been given all things,”
Meaning; all the conveniences of this world that a powerful monarch could need of wealth, weapons, soldiers, fortresses, and so forth.
و لها عرش عظيم
“And she has a great throne,”
Meaning; she has a tremendous chair which she sits on, and a great throne indicates the greatness of the kingdom, strong power, and abundant male consultants.
The hoopoe proceeded and said:
وَجَدتُّهَا وَقَوْمَهَا يَسْجُدُونَ لِلشَّمْسِ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فَصَدَّهُمْ عَنِ السَّبِيلِ
“I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allaah, and Shaytaan has made their deeds fair seeming to them and has prevented them from the way,”
Meaning, from the way of truth,
فهم لا يهتدون
“So they have no guidance.”
Allaah (Ta’ala)’s says:
وزين لهم الشيطان أعمالهم فصدهم عن السبيل فهم لا يهتدون.
ألا يسجدوا لله
“And Shaytaan has made their deeds fair seeming to them, and has prevented them from the way, so they have no guidance. So they do not prostrate themselves before Allaah.”
They do not know the way of truth, which is prostrating to Allaah (Ta’ala) alone and not to anything that He has created, whether heavenly bodies or anything else.
The hoopoe said that they were polytheists worshipping the sun, and the Shaytaan made them see what they did as fair-seeming and as the truth. And whoever sees that what he does is the truth, there is no hope in his guidance, unless he changes his ‘Aqeedah.
Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaimeen (Rahimahullaah) said: “Creatures are naturally created on denial of Shirk. This is because the hoopoe denied the Shirk, although the hoopoe is not one of the rational creatures. In fact, all animals and other than them are naturally created on Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism), as Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat al-Israa’ [17:44]:
تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ السَّمَاوَاتُ السَّبْعُ وَالْأَرْضُ وَمَن فِيهِنَّ ۚ وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَلَٰكِن لَّا تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبِيحَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
‘The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein, glorify Him and there is not a thing but glorifies His Praise. But you understand not their glorification. Truly, He is Ever Forbearing, Oft-Forgiving.’
This verse also indicates that the polytheists are the worst of creatures. This is because if these simple and inanimate creatures glorify Allaah (Ta’ala) and know His right, while the sons of Adam associate others in worship with Allaah (Ta’ala), they become the worst of creatures, as Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat al-Bayyinah [98:6]:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ وَالْمُشْرِكِينَ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمْ شَرُّ الْبَرِيَّةِ
‘Verily, those who disbelieve [in the religion of Islam, the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)] from among the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) and Al-Mushrikun will abide in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures.’
This verse indicates that evil deeds are beautified by the Shaytaan. And if one’s evil deeds are beautified for him and as a result of that he is hindered from the path of Allaah (Ta’ala), he will not be guided. This is a great affliction in which one sees the ugly as good so he does not cease or desist. However, when one sees evil as evil, he will be able to leave it.” [End quote]
Then the hoopoe said:
ألا يسجدوا لله الذي يخرج الخبء في السماوات والأرض ويعلم ما تخفون وما تعلنون
“So they do not prostrate themselves before Allaah, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you conceal and what you reveal.”
Meaning, He (Ta’ala) knows everything that is hidden in the heavens and on the earth. He knows what His servants say and do in secret and what they say and do openly. He (Ta’ala) is the One Who brings forth what is hidden in the earth by sending down rain and causing plants to emerge, and He (Ta’ala) will bring out what is hidden in the earth of the dead when the trumpet is blown to recompense them for their deeds.
الله لا إله إلاهو رب العرش العظيم
Allaah, La Ilaaha Illa Huwa, the Lord of the Supreme Throne!”
Ibn Katheer (Rahimahullaah) said: “He is the One to be called upon, Allaah (Ta’ala). He is the One other than Whom there is no god, the Lord of the Supreme Throne, and there is none greater than Him in all of creation.”
Shaikh As-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said: “It is not appropriate to direct worship, Inaabah (turning to Allaah in obedience), humility, love, etc. except to Him. This is because He is the God (Who deserves to be worshipped) due to what belongs to Him of perfect Attributes and because all favors are from Him. [The Lord of the Supreme Throne] which is the roof of the creatures and extends over the heavens and the earth. This great King Whose supremacy is the greatest, is the One Who deserves to be shown humility to and submitted to, to be prostrated and bowed to. So the hoopoe was saved when he conveyed this news to Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) and he wondered how this matter had been hidden from him.” [Tayseer Al-Kareem]
Allaah (Ta’ala) tells us what Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) said to the hoopoe when he told him about the people of Saba’ and their queen:
قال سننظر أصدقت أم كنت من الكاذبين
“We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars.”
Meaning, “Are you telling the truth?”
أم كنت من الكاذبين
“Or are you one of the liars.”
Meaning, “or are you telling a lie in order to save yourself from the threat I made against you?”
This verse indicates the perfect mindfulness of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) and his sobriety such that he needed to verify what the hoopoe said with proof. Although the hoopoe assured Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) that he brought true news, in reality, the statement of the hoopoe was in a state of self-defense because he was threatened to bring true news (i.e. a clear proof) or face a severe torment or be slaughtered.
Then Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) gave the hoopoe a sign and told him:
اذهب بكتابي هذا فألقه إليهم ثم تول عنهم فانظر ماذا يرجعون
“Go you with this letter of mine and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what they return.”
Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) wrote a letter to the queen (Bilqis) and her people and gave it to the hoopoe to deliver.
Benefits from the last Verse:
Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaimeen (Rahimahullaah) said:
1 – It is incumbent to verify news, especially during times of doubts. The doubt that was established was that the hoopoe could have said all that as a defense although that is a far possibility because he said: ‘I came from Saba’ with true news.’
This is like what happened to ‘Umar (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) when he (the latter) came asking him the permission three times then he turned away. When ‘Umar (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) later blamed him for it, Abu Musa (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) said: ‘This is how Allaah’s Messenger commanded me.’ ‘Umar (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) said: ‘Bring an evidence (a witness)’ so Muhammad ibn Maslamah (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) testified for him. [Al-Bukhaari, no. 195]
In such cases, even when the news is certain, there is nothing wrong for one to verify the matter.
2 – One should be tactful in his expression, even with non-humans. This is shown in the statement of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam):
Whether you speak the truth
And he did not say, “كذبت” (you lied), rather he said:
أم كنت من الكاذبين
Or if you are one of the liars
3 – Animals comprehend the commands and prohibitions and the tests that are directed to them. In the statement of Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam) is what indicates that, when he commanded the hoopoe saying:
Go with this letter of mine
And deliver it to them
ثم تول عنهم
Then draw back from them
And see what they return
These were commands to the hoopoe, which indicates these animals understand. But this does not mean that they can understand everyone. Its realization is limited, but this was not how they were subjected to Sulayman (‘Alayhis-salaam). They were subjected to him like any other mindful understanding human in all aspects.
4 – It is incumbent to make inquiries and seek information about news when there is a need for it. This is called following up matters. This is indicated by Allaah’s (Ta’ala) Statement:
فانظر ماذا يرجعون
And see what they return
This is because if he drew back and looked, the news would surely appear to him.
So when one delegates someone to do a job (work), he should seek information, and one should not do that directly because it will not give him the required result. Nor should he turn away completely because this means that he did not follow up or give importance to the matter. So every time one delegates someone to do a job (work), he should follow it up and inquire about it.
E.g. One commands his family with a command, and he is responsible and a guardian over them, so he should observe them and not leave it. One should not observe it whilst he is present at the time of their actions because they will then execute his command; rather one should observe from a distance in order for him to see if they executed the command or not. This is a policy one should follow in order to know to what extent the one who is commanded, accepted the command. [Tafseer Surat An-Naml]
Since the hoopoe was calling to what is good, and for people to worship and prostrate to Allaah (Ta’ala) alone, it would have been forbidden to kill him.
Imaam Ahmad, Abu Dawoud, and Ibn Maajah recorded that Abu Hurairah (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) said that the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) forbade the killing of four kinds of animals: ants, bees, hoopoes, and sparrow hawks. Its chain of narration is Saheeh.
📚 Tayseer Al-Kareem by Shaikh As-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah)
📚 Tafseer Ibn Al-Katheer
📚 Tafseer Surat An-Naml by Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaimeen (Rahimahullaah)
Check out these related posts:
- Truthfulness (Part 5) : The Categories of As-Sidq (Truthfulness)
- Truthfulness (Part 4) : The Categories of As-Sidq (Truthfulness)
- Truthfulness (Part 3) : The Merits of Truthfulness
- Truthfulness (Part 2) : The Importance of Truthfulness
- ‘Truthfulness’ in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Part 1)
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