﴿20﴾ وَتَفَقَّدَ الطَّيْرَ فَقَالَ مَالِيَ لآ أَرَي الْهُدْهُدَ أَمْ كَانَ مِنَ الْغَآئِبِينَ
﴿21﴾ لاُعَذِّبَنَّهُ عَذَاباً شَدِيداً أَوْ لاَذبَحَنَّهُ أَوْ لَيَأْتِيَنّـِي بِسُلْطَانٍ مُبِينٍ
﴿22﴾ فَمَكَثَ غَيْرَ بَعِيدٍ فَقَالَ أَحَطتُ بِمَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ وَجِئْتُكَ مِن سَبإٍ بِنَبَإٍ يَقِينٍ
20. “ And he reviewed the birds; then he said: ‘How is it with me that I do not see the hoopoe? Or is it that he is of the absentees?’”
21. “ Certainly will I chastise him with a terrible chastisement, or will I slaughter him, or he brings me a clear reason (for his absence).”
22. “ But the hoopoe tarried not long, then he (came and) said: ‘I have comprehended that which you have not comprehended, and I have come to you from Sheba with a sure tiding’.”
Through this group of verses, the Qur’ān has pointed to another height of the amazing life of Solomon, and reiterates the event of hoopoe, and the Queen of Sheba. At first it speaks about Solomon (a.s.) and hoopoe, whom he (a.s.) sought after but he did not see it. The verse says:
This phrase clearly indicates that Solomon (a.s.) was carefully observing the circumstances of the country and his government in a manner that even the absence of a bird was not concealed before his eyes.
No doubt that the purpose of the bird, here, is the hoopoe, since in the continuation of the statement the Qur’ān adds:
“… then he said: ‘How is it with me that I do not see the hoopoe? …”
Concerning the fact that how Solomon recognized that hoopoe was not present among the gathering of birds, some commentators have said: that it was for the sake that, at the time of his traveling, birds did cast a shadow over his head and, because of the existence of an opening (hole) in that vast canopy, he found out the absence of the hoopoe.
Some others have considered a mission for the hoopoe in his organizations and they have said that the hoopoe was commissioned to find the places where there was water and when the bird had gone to search for water, he (a.s.) found it absent.
However, this statement that at first he said: “… I do not see the hoopoe …” and then he added “… Or is it that he is of the absentees …” may point to this matter that whether the hoopoe is absent without having a plausible excuse or it has been absent with a plausible excuse.
An way, an organized, ordered, and powerful government has to put all movements, activities, and actions and reactions that happen in its country and realm under consideration; and it must not neglect even the presence and absence of a bird, an ordinary agent, and this is a great lesson.
Finally, some other commentators have said that the objective of hoopoe, here, is a particular ‘Hoopoe’. Their reference is the existence of Alif and Lām at the beginning of the Arabic word, ‘Al-Hudhud’, as well as the hoopoe’s power of anthropology and its theological ability. The explanation of
this meaning will be offered later. (the commentary of Furqān, and Fi-Zilāl)
Once Abūhanifah asked Imam Sādiq (a.s.): “Why did Solomon ask only about hoopoe among all birds?” The Imam (a.s.) said: “Its reason is for the fact that a hoopoe sees the existence of water inside the earth, the same as we see oil in a crystal container.” (Majma‘-ul-Bayān, the Commentary)
As for the punishment of the hoopoe, some commentators have mentioned a few examples; including separating it from its fellow, pulling off its feathers, putting it under sunshine, banishing it from Solomon’s court, or putting it in the same cage with an enemy. (The commentaries of Rūh-ul-Bayān and Kanz-ud-Daqā’iq)
One point, however, must be noted that reviewing and being kind to inferiors, visiting their work, and asking about their affairs are among the Islamic, ethical, social, educational, and administrative principles.
* * * *
Then, in order not to judge in its absence, and in the mean-while the absence of the hoopoe does not affect other birds, still less the persons who undertook some sensitive and important jobs, Solomon added:
The purpose of the Arabic word /sultān/, here, is a reason which causes one’s authority and ability to prove one’s mind, and the Arabic word /mubīn/ is an emphasis on the matter that this faulty one must certainly bring a clear reason for his own fault.
Solomon (a.s.), in fact, without judging in its absence, threatened the offender by the necessary chastisement if the fault is proved. He even considered two stages for his threat in order that it could be proportional to the kind of the sin: the stage of punishment without execution, and the stage of execution.
By the way, he showed that he surrendered to proof and logic even in front of a weak bird and he would never rely on his power and abilities.
* * * *
The hoopoe returned and, addressing Solomon, said that it had known something which he (a.s.) did not know and it was an assured news from the land of Sheba. The verse says:
As if the hoopoe has seen the signs of anger in Solomon’s face. Then, in order to remove his distress, the bird shortly and closely announced of an important matter that Solomon, even with his whole knowledge, was not aware of it. Then, when the anger of Solomon was lightened, Hoopoe began explaining it, which will be described through later verses.
It is worthy nothing that Solomon’s troops, and even the birds that obeyed him, had felt such a freedom, security, and daring in Solomon’s justice that, without any fear Hoopoe frankly and explicitly says: “… ‘I have comprehended that which you have not comprehended, …”
The Hoopoe’s treatment with Solomon was not like the treatment of the flattering men of courts with the tyrannical kings, who, for communicating a fact at first flatter and make
themselves so low before them as an insignificant atom. Then they humbly state their aim inside many sorts of flatteries and never try to deliver a definite statement; so they always use some delicate allusions lest the king’s feeling be a little injured.
Yes, the hoopoe clearly said that its absence was not unreasonable and he had brought Solomon some news that he was not aware of it.
By the way, this meaning is a great lesson for all human beings that there may be a small creature, like hoopoe, which knows a matter that the most knowledgeable man of the people of the time is unaware of it; and no one should be proud of his knowledge even he is Solomon with that vast knowledge of prophecy.
* * * *