In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower.
Allaah [The Exalted] stated:
وَلَقَدۡ ءَاتَيۡنَا دَاوُ ۥدَ وَسُلَيۡمَـٰنَ عِلۡمً۬اۖ وَقَالَا ٱلۡحَمۡدُ لِلَّهِ ٱلَّذِى فَضَّلَنَا عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ۬ مِّنۡ عِبَادِهِ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ
وَوَرِثَ سُلَيۡمَـٰنُ دَاوُ ۥدَۖ وَقَالَ يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ عُلِّمۡنَا مَنطِقَ ٱلطَّيۡرِ وَأُوتِينَا مِن كُلِّ شَىۡءٍۖ إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَهُوَ ٱلۡفَضۡلُ ٱلۡمُبِينُ
And indeed We gave knowledge to Dawud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon), and they both said: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has preferred us above many of His believing slaves!” And Sulaiman (Solomon) inherited (the knowledge of) Dawud (David). He said: “O mankind! We have been taught the language of birds, and on us have been bestowed all things. This, verily, is an evident grace (from Allah).” [Surah An-Naml. Aayaat 15-16]
وَحُشِرَ لِسُلَيۡمَـٰنَ جُنُودُهُ ۥ مِنَ ٱلۡجِنِّ وَٱلۡإِنسِ وَٱلطَّيۡرِ فَهُمۡ يُوزَعُونَ
حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَآ أَتَوۡاْ عَلَىٰ وَادِ ٱلنَّمۡلِ قَالَتۡ نَمۡلَةٌ۬ يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّمۡلُ ٱدۡخُلُواْ مَسَـٰكِنَڪُمۡ لَا يَحۡطِمَنَّكُمۡ سُلَيۡمَـٰنُ وَجُنُودُهُ ۥ وَهُمۡ لَا يَشۡعُرُونَ
فَتَبَسَّمَ ضَاحِكً۬ا مِّن قَوۡلِهَا وَقَالَ رَبِّ أَوۡزِعۡنِىٓ أَنۡ أَشۡكُرَ نِعۡمَتَكَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَنۡعَمۡتَ عَلَىَّ وَعَلَىٰ وَٲلِدَىَّ وَأَنۡ أَعۡمَلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا تَرۡضَٮٰهُ وَأَدۡخِلۡنِى بِرَحۡمَتِكَ فِى عِبَادِكَ ٱلصَّـٰلِحِينَ
And there were gathered before Sulaiman (Solomon) his hosts of jinns and men, and birds, and they all were set in battle order (marching forwards). Till, when they came to the valley of the ants, one of the ants said: “O ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Sulaiman (Solomon) and his hosts crush you, while they perceive not.” So he [Sulaiman (Solomon)] smiled, amused at her speech and said: “My Lord! Inspire and bestow upon me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves.” [Surah An-Naml. Aayaat 17-19]
The ant sought an excuse for the army if they would have harmed its colony due to being unaware of their presence and it blamed its colony if they failed to take precaution by not entering their dwelling place. And due to this, Sulaymaan [alayhis salaam] smiled because indeed it is something that should bring about amazement and make someone smile. (1)
The ant knew Sulaymaan’s [alayhis salaam] affair and that of his army, exalted Sulaymaan’s [alayhis salaam] authority and excused them if they crushed its colony because that would have occurred unintentionally.
Sulaymaan [alayhis-salaam] heard the ant’s speech and understood it, so he smiled due to being amazed by the ant’s eloquence, [good] advice and fine expression. This is how the Prophets were – perfect manners and expressing their amazement in the right circumstances. They do not laugh; rather they smile just as the Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] mostly used to smile, for indeed a loud burst of laughter is an indication of feeble mindedness and bad manners.
On the other hand, the one who does not become amazed by what should amaze a person, then this is an indication of ill-humour and haughtiness, and the Messengers of Allaah are free from that.
Allaah said: [وَتَفَقَّدَ ٱلطَّيۡرَ -He (i.e. Sulyanmaan) inspected the birds]: This shows his perfect determination and jurisdiction, and the way in which he – himself – administered both the small and big affairs to the extent that he was not inattentive to this affair, which was to inspect the birds and find out whether all of them were present or any of them were not. This is the meaning of the verse. There is proof for those who say that he inspected the birds in order to see where the hoopoe, so that it guides him regarding the farness or closeness of where water could be found, as they claimed about the hoopoe that it could see water under a dense surface of land, because there is no proof for this statement; but rather the sound intellectual and textual proofs demonstrates it falsity.
As for the sound intellectual proof, it is known by way of experience, the norm and what is clearly seen that these animals were all present and none of them had a vision that was beyond what they naturally possessed that made them see water under a dense surface of land. If this was the case, Allaah would have mentioned it, because it would have been one of the greatest signs. As for the textual proof, if this was the meaning intended, the text would have been, “He looked for the hoopoe so that it searched water for him”, but when he could not find him, he would uttred what he did, or, “He looked for the hoopoe” or, “He searched for him” or expressions the like thereof. Rather he inspected the birds to find out which ones were present and which ones were absent, and whether they were in the places he specifically designated for them. Also, neither was Sulayman [peace be upon him] in need of water nor in dire need of water to the extent that he required the expertise of the hoopoe, because he had the devils and extremely strong jinn (who were subjugated to his service) who could have dig out water for him regardless its depth. Allaah subjugated the wind to him, whose morning (stride from sunrise till midnoon) was a month’s (journey), and its afternoon (stride from the midday decline of the sun to sunset) was a month’s (journey i.e. in one day he could travel two months’ journey). Then, why – with all this – would he have been in need of the hoopoe?! [فَقَالَ مَا لِىَ لَآ أَرَى ٱلۡهُدۡهُدَ أَمۡ ڪَانَ مِنَ ٱلۡغَآٮِٕبِينَ – and he said: What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?] – Meaning, is that I cannot see him because of me being unaware of his presence due to it being hidden among these numerous different groups, or because – with neither my permission nor command – it is absent?
So, he (Sulaymaan) got angry and issued a threat of punishment, and said: [لَأُعَذِّبَنَّهُ ۥ عَذَابً۬ا شَدِيدًا – I will surely punish him with a severe punishment]- Meaning, but will kill it. [أَوۡ لَأَاْذۡبَحَنَّهُ ۥۤ أَوۡ لَيَأۡتِيَنِّى بِسُلۡطَـٰنٍ۬ مُّبِينٍ۬ – or slaughter it, unless it brings me a clear reason]- Meaning, a clear proof for being absent. This shows Sulaymaan’s perfect Wara [i.e. being fearful of falling into a doubtful matter that would lead to harm in the Hereafter] and equity because he did not merely make an oath to punish or kill the hoopoe, as that can only be done if a sin or wrong doing was committed. It may be that there was a clear excuse for its absence, therefore he made this exception, because o f his Wara and sound perception.
[فَمَكَثَ غَيۡرَ بَعِيدٍ۬ – But the hoopoe stayed not long]. This shows the manner in which his troops venerated him and maintained them his command, to the extent that this hoopoe that was absent due to a valid excuse did not stay away for long time; so it said to Sulyamaan (i.e. after returning): [ أَحَطتُ بِمَا لَمۡ تُحِطۡ بِهِۦ – I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped]- Meaning, I have knowledge of something that you do not have, even though you possess vast knowledge and your elevated station in affairs of knowledge. [وَجِئۡتُكَ مِن سَبَإِۭ – and I have come to you from Saba’ (Sheba)]- Meaning, a well-known tribe in Yemen, [بِنَبَإٍ۬ يَقِينٍ – with true news]-Meaning, news based on certainty.
Then the hoopoe explained the news and said: [ إِنِّى وَجَدتُّ ٱمۡرَأَةً۬ تَمۡلِڪُهُمۡ- I found a woman ruling over them]- Meaning, ruling over Saba, and she is a woman: [وَأُوتِيَتۡ مِن ڪُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ – and she has been given all things]- Meaning, the things given to kings, such as wealth, weapons, armies, fortresses, citadels etc. [وَلَهَا عَرۡشٌ عَظِيمٌ۬ – and she has a great throne]- Meaning, a throne on which she sits – huge and magnificent throne. The great size of the throne shows greatness of the kingdom, the strength of authority and the numerous men who were consultees.
[وَجَدتُّهَا وَقَوۡمَهَا يَسۡجُدُونَ لِلشَّمۡسِ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ – I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah] – Meaning, they were polytheists who worshipped the sun. [وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنُ أَعۡمَـٰلَهُمۡ – and Shaitan (Satan) has made their deeds fair-seeming to them]- Meaning, so they thought that what they were upon is truth. [فَصَدَّهُمۡ عَنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ فَهُمۡ لَا يَهۡتَدُونَ – and has barred them from (Allah’s) Way, so they have no guidance]- Meaning, because the one who thinks that what he is upon is truth, then there is not expectation that he will be guided until he changes his creed. Then it said: [أَلَّا يَسۡجُدُواْ لِلَّهِ ٱلَّذِى يُخۡرِجُ ٱلۡخَبۡءَ فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ – For what reason would they not prostrate before (i.e. worship) Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth]- Meaning, Allaah knows what is hidden and concealed in all regions of the heavens and o f the earth – the smallest creatures, the seeds and all that is hidden in the hearts. He brings to light what is hidden on earth and in heaven by sending rain and make plants to grow, and He will bring to light what is hidden in the earth when (He commands the angel to blow) the trumpet and the dead exit from the earth, so that they are recompensed for their deeds. [وَيَعۡلَمُ مَا تُخۡفُونَ وَمَا تُعۡلِنُونَ – and knows what you conceal and what you reveal]. [ٱللَّهُ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ – Allah, none has the right to be worshipped but He]- Meaning, worship, turning repentantly, humility and love (as an act of worship) is not to be devoted to anyone besides Allaah – the one and only true object of worship, because He alone possesses perfect attributes [free from all weakness, deficiencies, co-equals, shortcoming] and because He grants all blessings which necessitates that He alone is to be worshipped. [رَبُّ ٱلۡعَرۡشِ ٱلۡعَظِيمِ – the Lord of the Supreme Throne!] – Meaning, which is the roof of above all the creation and encompasses the earth and heavens. The King, who possesses this mighty authority and might [without any co-equal, weakness, likeness, shortcoming, deficiencies] is the one to whom (humankind and jinn) must humble themselves, prostrate and bow in His presence. So, the hoopoe was saved from punishment when he related this great news, and Sulayman was amazed regarding why this was hidden from him. So, due to his sound intelligence and judiciousness, he stated – whilst seeking to ascertain the news:
سَنَنظُرُ أَصَدَقۡتَ أَمۡ كُنتَ مِنَ ٱلۡكَـٰذِبِينَ
ٱذۡهَب بِّكِتَـٰبِى هَـٰذَا فَأَلۡقِهۡ إِلَيۡہِمۡ ثُمَّ تَوَلَّ عَنۡہُمۡ فَٱنظُرۡ مَاذَا يَرۡجِعُونَ
We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars. Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what (answer) they return.
It (the hoopoe) departed with the letter and delivered it. (2)
To be continued…InShaaAllaah
[Ref 1: An Excerpt from ‘Badaa’i At-Tafseer Al-Jaami Limaa Fassarahu Al-Imaam Ibnul Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’ Vol 2′ pages 279-282). Slightly paraphrased]. [Ref 2: An Excerpt from ‘Tayseer Al-Kareem Ar-Rahmaan Fee Tafseer Kalaam al-Mannaan’. Slightly paraphrased]