Sulaiman and the Queen Part II
April 29, 2011 3 Comments
In Part I I gave some of my thought on the story of Sulaiman and the Queen up to 27/44.
Part II is simply my ideas on 27/44.
27/44 It was said to her, “Enter al-sarha” Then when she saw it she thought it lujjatan and she uncovered from her saqayha. He said “Indeed it is mumarradun from/of qawarira. She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit in place with Sulaiman to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.
According to the traditional interpretation, the Queen was invited into Sulaiman’s palace, where the floor was so flawless that she imagined it to be water. She lifted her skirt to her knees, only to realize it was not water at all. Her surprise led her to becoming muslim.
I find this to be a little difficult to digest. What is the relevance of this detail? There is also a problem of having to fill in a few gaps. Was the entire structure made of glass? Read literally, Sulaiman describes the sarhan as glass, so presumably, yes. So would the floor not look like the walls? Why would she mistake the floor for water if the entire structure was made of the same material? If the entire sarhan was not of the same material, are we not simply assuming the floor is the only thing made of flawless glass? Where does it say that specifically the floor was made of glass?
So what is the sarhan?
According to Lane’s Lexicon, sarhan does have a meaning of palace or lofty structure:
Sad-Ra-Ha = to make manifest, explain, clarify. sarhun – palace, high tower, lofty structure, castle.
However, when examining the instances of sarhan in quran, I believe the word must either take a metaphorical meaning or the dictionary definition is not entirely accurate. “Allow the dhikr to define the words,” as a good friend once told me.
28/38 And said Firawn, “Oh you chiefs! Not I know for you any god other than me, so kindle/heat [awqid] for me, O Haman, upon the clay so make/constitute [ij’al] for me a grand-structure [sarhan] that I may rise up [attali’u] to [ila] the god of Musa. And indeed I think he is of the liars.
Is Firawn asking Haman to literally build him a palace from clay? If you look carefully at the structure of the words, it does not say “make me a sarhan from clay”. I think Firawn is asking Haman to think/innovate something or kindle an idea upon the clay. Clay is supple and malleable and is symbolic of making something from scratch. Firawn is demanding ideas from his chiefs.
Note the reasoning: so I may rise up to the God of Musa. The God of Musa was not sitting up in the sky, nor did He reside in a palace. So why is Firawn demanding a palace? The sarhan here is something that will make Firawn seem as godly as the God of Musa. This grand-structure [sarhan] may be a political/social system which revolves around creating a greater/transcendent image for himself in the minds of his people. Thus far he had ruled through tyranny and fear, which was not the way of the God of Musa. The sarhan would let him rise up to the God of Musa.
40/36 And said Firawn, “O Haman! Construct for me a sarhan that I may reach the means [al asbaba]
40/37 The means [al asbab] of the heavens [al samawat] so I may rise up [attaliʿa] to [ila] the god of Musa. And indeed I surely think him a liar. And thus was made attractive to Firawn the evil of his deed, and he was averted from the way. And the plan of Firawn was not except in ruin.
The sarhan is described as a means to the heavens. Does any physical structure provide the means of the heavens?
It is clear Firawn did not lack in material wealth or power over his dominion. What he lacked was the loyalty, affection and good faith of the people and a true God status. Firawn understood that the God of Musa had this from a section of his community i.e. the followers of Musa, and he desired this. He wished to rise to this status.
The sarhan would give him the means of the heavens i.e. encompass his kingdom like the heavens through being a transcendent god which would be like the true God. A physical structure can not achieve this but a political/social structure could.
Also note that Firawn wanted a sarhan whereas Sulaiman already had one (27/44). It seems odd that Firawn would only demand a physical palace after encountering Musa. Surely he had physical palaces already? How would another building counter the preaching of Musa?
If we take this understanding of sarhan, we can re-visit 27/44 and analyse the sarhan mentioned there.
27/44 It was said to her, “Enter the grand-structure/framework [al-sarha]” Then when she saw it she thought it lujjatan and uncovered [wakashafat] from her saqayha. He said “Indeed it is a structure/framework [sarhun] mumarradun from/of qawarira. She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit in place with Sulaiman to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.
Having lost her kingdom, the Queen is invited to enter the framework/sarhan of Sulaiman.
The sarhan is described as ‘lujjatan’. It is translated as deep pool, but examining other instances of word in quran does not suggest this is the appropriate meaning in this verse. See 23/75, 24/40 for variations of the same word where there is no connection with water. In 67/21 it is used as an adjective to describe the sea as ‘deep’. From Lane’s Lexicon we find the following:
Lam-Jiim-Jiim = To exceed the limit, persist obstinately, persevere, insist upon a thing, be querulous, continue in opposition/contention/litigation/wrangling.
Main sea or body of water, fathomless deep sea, great expanse of sea of which the limits cannot be seen, great & confused.
The framework was in her eyes excessive or deep or something beyond her comprehension. It doesn’t suggest she was witnessing a deep pool of water. Thus, ‘lujjatan’ may be translated as excessive/deep.
On seeing it as deep/excessive, we’re told of the Queen’s reaction:
‘And she uncovered [wakashafat] from her shanks [saqayha].’
Literally, this would imply she lifted her skirt. However, according to Lane’s Lexicon, this was a common phrase which denotes getting ready for an argument. Similar to the English expression of ‘baring ones teeth’ to denote being angry.
Siin-Waw-Qaf = to drive/impel/urge. yusaquna – they are driven or led. saiqun – driver. suq (pl. aswaq) – market, stem, leg, kashafat an saqaiha (27:44) is a well known Arabic idiom meaning to become prepared to meet the difficulty or to become perturbed/perplexed or taken aback, the literal meaning is “she uncovered and bared her shanks”. yukshafu an saqin (68:42) means ther eis severe affliction and the truth laid here, it is indicative of a grievous and terrible calamity and difficulty. masaq – the act of driving.
The underlying meaning of ‘saqaya’ being to urge or drive lends support to the expression. ‘Uncovering her urge’ suggests she was not happy with the framework she was invited into by Sulaiman, and thus prepared to argue her case.
The Queen considered the framework excessive so she bared her shanks to argue against it.
Sulaiman then responds to her reaction:
He said “Indeed it is a framework [sarhun] mumarradun from/of [min] qawarira. She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit in place with Sulaiman to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.
The phrase ‘mumarradun min qawarira’ is usually translated as ‘made smooth from glass’. Mumarradun has a meaning of becoming soft or smooth or refined. The word qawarira is usually translated as glass or crystal.
My friend Asfora pointed out that the root meaning of the word qawarira revolves around something being firm or stable. This is confirmed from Lane’s Lexicon:
Qaf-Ra-Ra = to be or become cool, remain quiet, be steadfast, be firm, refresh, be stable, be firm, receive satisfy, affirm, agree, settle, last. qarar – stability, a fixed or secure place, depository, place ahead. qurratun – coolness, delight. aqarra (vb. 4) – to confirm, cause to rest or remain. istaqarra (vb. 10) – to remain firm. mustaqirrun – that which remains firmly fixed or confirmed, in hiding, is lasting, which certainly comes to pass, which is settled in its being/goal/purpose. mustaqar – firmly fixed/established, sojourn, abode. qurratun – coolness, refreshment, source of joy and comfort. qawarir (pl. of qaruratun) – glasses, crystals.
I’m not entirely sure if qawarira actually means glass/crystal. It’s used in verses 76/15-16 in an odd way. Verse 15 gives the phrase ‘akwabin kanat qawarira’ – cups that are glass, and then immediately after in verse 16 we get, ‘qawarira min fiddatin’ – glass of silver. I’m not sure yet what to make of ‘glass of silver’ which seems to me an awkward phrase. Seeing as I can’t yet pinpoint an exact meaning of the word, I’ve looked at the general root meaning to see if it fits with the context of 27/44.
He said “Indeed it is a framework [sarhun] smoothed/refined [mumarradun] from/of [min] firm-purpose [qawarira]. She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit in place with Sulaiman to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.
Whatever the exact phrase ‘mumarradun min qawarira’ is, it is obviously a refutation of the Queen’s claim that the framework was excessive/deep. Sulaiman is assuring her that it has been refined and is firmly established i.e. it’s been working for a long time, and it is not what she claims it to be. On understanding this, the Queen regrets her mistake and becomes muslim.
27/44 It was said to her, “Enter the grand-structure/framework [al-sarha]” Then when she saw it she thought it excessive/deep [lujjatan] and uncovered [wakashafat] from her shanks [saqayha]. He said “Indeed it is a structure/framework [sarhun] smoothened/refined [mumarradun] from/of firm-purpose [qawarira]. She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit in place with Sulaiman to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.
This ties up my understanding of the story of Sulaiman and the Queen. The underlying theme/message of the story is about being grateful for the abilities and means we have been given by Allah. The Prophet Sulaiman gives us an excellent example of how to be grateful and how to treat people under our influence. The story shows us that for all her power and ability, the Queen was unable to hold her domain due to her ungratefulness. And we also see the mercy of Allah who guides her to the straight path through the guidance of the Prophet.