When they came to the Valley of the Ants — which is [located] either in Tā’if or in Syria, and whose ants are either small or large — an ant, the queen ant, who had seen Solomon’s hosts, said, ‘O ants, enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you while they are unaware!’ — the ants are likened to rational beings in their use of the latter’s speech.
Dawud and Sulayman (peace be upon them), the organization of Sulayman's Troops and His passage through the Valley of the Ants
Here Allah tells us about the great blessings and favors which He bestowed upon two of His servants and Prophets, Dawud (David) and his son Sulayman (Solomon), peace be upon them both, and how they enjoyed happiness in this world and the Hereafter, power and authority in this world, and the position of being Prophets and Messengers. Allah says:
(And indeed We gave knowledge to Dawud and Sulayman, and they both said: "All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has preferred us above many of His believing servants!'')
وَوَرِثَ سُلَيْمَـنُ دَاوُودَ
(And Sulayman inherited from Dawud.) means, in kingship and prophethood. What is meant here is not wealth, because if that were the case, Sulayman would not have been singled out from among the sons of Dawud, as Dawud had one hundred wives. Rather what is meant is the inheritance of kingship and prophethood, for the wealth of the Prophets cannot be inherited, as the Messenger of Allah said:
(O mankind! We have been taught the language of birds, and we have been given from everything.) Here Sulayman was speaking of the blessings that Allah bestowed upon him, by giving him complete authority and power, whereby mankind, the Jinn and the birds were subjugated to him. He also knew the language of the birds and animals, which is something that had never been given to any other human being -- as far as we know from what Allah and His Messenger told us. Allah enabled Sulayman to understand what the birds said to one another as they flew through the air, and what the different kinds of animals said. Sulayman said:
(And there were gathered before Sulayman his hosts of Jinn and men, and birds, and they all were set in battle order.) means, all of Sulayman's troops of Jinn, men and birds were gathered together, and he rode with them in a display of might and glory, with people marching behind him, followed by the Jinn, and the birds flying above his head. When it was hot, they would shade him with their wings.
(and they all were set in battle order.) The first and the last of them were brought together, so that none of them would step out of place. Mujahid said: "Officials were appointed to keep each group in order, and to keep the first and the last together so that no one would step out of line -- just as kings do nowadays.''
حَتَّى إِذَآ أَتَوْا عَلَى وَادِى النَّمْلِ
(Till, when they came to the valley of the ants,) meaning, when Sulayman, the soldiers and the army with him crossed the valley of the ants,
(So he smiled, amused at her speech and said: "My Lord! Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your favors which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, ) meaning: `inspire me to give thanks for the blessings that You have bestowed upon me by teaching me to understand what the birds and animals say, and the blessings that You have bestowed upon my parents by making them Muslims who believe in You.'
وَأَنْ أَعْمَلَ صَـلِحاً تَرْضَـهُ
(and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You,) means, `deeds that You love which will earn Your pleasure.'
(and admit me by Your mercy among Your righteous servants.) means, `when You cause me to die, then join me with the righteous among Your servants, and the Higher Companion among Your close friends.'
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
That is, the knowledge of the Reality, the knowledge that whatever they have is not theirs but the gift of Allah and whatever rights they have been granted over those things should be used strictly according to Allah's will, for they will be held answerable before Allah, the real Owner, for the right and wrong use of those rights. This knowledge is the opposite of the ignorance in which Pharaoh was involved. The type of character built on the ignorance has been presented in the preceding verses. Now, in the following verses, the model of the character built on the knowledge is being presented. The sort of kingdom, wealth, power and grandeur were common on both the sides. The Pharaoh had been given these as well as the Prophets David and Solomon. But the distinction of the ignorance and the knowledge built and molded them into entirely different personalities.
That is, "There were other believing, servants as well, who could be blessed with vicegerency. But it is only Allah's favor, not due to any special quality in ourselves, that He has chosen us to be rulers over this kingdom."
Succession here does not mean inheritance of wealth and properties, but the succession to the Prophet David in the Prophethood and vicegerency. For the wealth and possessions, if at all transferred, could not be transferred to the Prophet Solomon only, because Prophet David had other children also. Therefore, this verse cannot be cited to refute the Hadith reported from the Holy Prophet, saying, "The inheritance left by us, the Prophets, is not divided as such. whatever we leave behind is charity." (Bukhari) And: "There is no heir to a Prophet. Whatever he leaves behind, is divided among the needy and the indigent of the Muslims." (Musnad Ahmad. Traditions from Abu Bakr, Ahadith No. 60 and 78).
The Prophet Solomon was the youngest son of the Prophet David. His Hebrew name Solomon is a synonym of Salim (right-minded, affable). He succeeded the Prophet David in 965 B.C. and ruled his kingdom for forty years, till 926B.C. For other details of his life and works, see E. N.'s 74-75 of Al Anbiyaa in The Meaning of the Qur'an, Vol. VII). Our commentators have greatly exaggerated' the vastness of his kingdom, and have held that he ruled over a large part of the world. The fact, however. is that his kingdom comprised only the present Palestine and Transjordan and a part of Syria. (See Map: Kingdom of the Prophets David and Solomon, The Meaning of the Qur'an, Vol. II, Bani Israel E. N. 7).
There is no mention in the Bible that the Prophet Solomon had been taught speech of the birds and animals, though the Israelite traditions contain a reference to it. (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. Xl.p. 598)
That is, "Allah has bestowed on us all sorts of things." This, however, should not be understood literally; it only means the abundance of the wealth and the means of life granted by Allah. This was not said proudly by Prophet Solomon but only to express his gratitude to Allah for His grace and bounty and favors.
The Bible does not either make any mention that there were jinns also in the Prophet Solomon's armies, and he took service from them; but the Talmud and the rabbinical traditions contain details of this. (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. XI, p. 440). Some of the present-day writers have strained every nerve to prove that the words jinn and fair do not refer to the jinns and birds but to men who performed different duties in the Prophet Solomon's army. They say that the Jinn haply the people of the mountain tribes whom Prophet Solomon had subdued and who performed teats of great strength and skill under him; and fair implies cavalry which could move much faster than the infantry. But these are indeed the worst examples of misinterpreting the Qur'an. The Qur'an here mentions three distinct kinds of the army consisting of the men, the jinns and the birds, and all the three gave been qualified by the prefix a1 (alif-lam) to denote a class. Therefore, al jinn and al-tair could not be included in al-ins (the men), but could be two separate and different classes from the men. Moreover, a person who has a little acquaintance with Arabic cannot imagine that in this language the mere word a/ Jinn could ever imply a group of the men, or al-tair troops mounted on horses, nor could any Arab understand these meanings from these words. Calling a man a jinn only figuratively because of some supernatural feat of his, or a woman a fairy because of her beauty, or a fast moving person a bird dces not mean that the words Jinn and fairy and bird will henceforth be taken to mean a powerful man and a beautiful woman and a fast moving person respectively. These are only the metaphoric and not the real meanings of these words. In a discourse, a word is used in its figurative instead of its real meaning, and the listeners also will take it in that meaning, only when there exists in the context a clear pointer to its being figurative. What, after all, is the pointer in the context here from which one may understand that the words jinn and tair have been used not in their real and lexical meaning but in their figurative meaning? Contrary to this, the work and the state of a member each of the two groups that have been mentioned in the following verses, fall entirely against the purport of this interpretation. If a person does not want to believe in something stated in the Qur'an, he should frankly say that he does not believe in it. But it would be moral cowardice and intellectual dishonesty if one should force the clear words of the Qur'an to give the meaning that he wants them to give, and tell the world that he believes in what the Qur'an says, whereas he does not, in fact, believe in it but believes in his own distorted meaning.
This verse also has been greatly misconstrued by some commentators of the present day. They say that wad-in naml does not mean "valley of the ants", but it is the name of a valley that was in Syria, and namlah does not mean an ant but it is the name of a tribe. Thus, according to them, the verse means this: "When the Prophet Solomon reached the valley of the ants, a Namilite said, 'O people of the Naml tribe......" But this also is an interpretation which is not supported by the words of the Qur'an. Even if we took wad-in-naml to be the name of a valley and supposed that it was inhabited by the tribe of Bani an-Naml, it would be against the Arabic idiom and usage to speak of a member of the tribe as namlah. Although there are many Arab tribes which have been named after the animals, e.g. Kalb (dog), Asad (lion), etc"., yet no Arab would ever say in respect of a member of the Kalb or the Asad tribe: "A dog said, or a lion said, etc. Therefore, it would be against the Arabic idiom to say in respect of a member of the Naml tribe: "A namlah (ant) said this." Then a member of the Naml tribe's warning the people of his tribe, saying, "O Namilites, get into your houses lest Solomon's hosts should trample you down without even knowing it," becomes meaningless, It has never happened that an army of men should have trampled down a group of men without knowing it. If the army has come with the intention of an attack, it would be useless for the other side to get into their houses, for in that case the invaders would follow them into their houses, and trample them more ruthlessly. And if the army is only on the routine march, it is just enough to clear off the way for it. Human beings may be harmed by the marching columns, but it can never happen that the soldiers on the march would trample down other men without knowing it. Therefore, if Bani an-Naml were a tribe of human beings, and one of its members were to warn his people, then in case of an attack, he would have said, "O Namilites, flee your houses and take refuge in the mountains lest Solomon's armies should destroy you. " And in case there was no danger of an attack, he would have said, "O Namilites, clear off the way lest one of you should be harmed by the marching columns of Solomon's armies."
This error in the interpretation is on account of the Arabic idiom and the subject-matter. As for the name of the valley and the tribe of Bani an-Naml inhabiting it, it is a mere hypothesis for which there exists no scientific proof. Those who hold that wad-in -naml was the name of a valley have themselves pointed out that it had been so named because of the abundance of ants in it. Qatadah and Muqatil say, "It is a valley in the land of Syria where ants are found in abundance. But in no book of history and geography and in no archaeological research it is mentioned that it was inhabited by a tribe called Bani an-Naml. Thus, it is merely a concoction that has been invented to support one's own interpretation.
This story is also found in the Israelite traditions but its latter portion falls against the Qur'an as well as against the regal dignity of the Prophet Solomon. According to it, when the Prophet Solomon was passing through a valley which abounded in ants, he heard an ant calling out to the other ants to say, "Get into your holes, otherwise you will be trampled down by Solomon's hosts." At this, Prophet Solomon displayed great vanity before the ant to which the ant rejoined, " What are you?-the product of a mere sperm-drop! " Hearing this the Prophet Solomon felt greatly ashamed. (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. X1, p. 440). This shows how the Qur'an corrects the wrong traditions of the Israelites, and cleanses the filthy spots with which they had themselves branded the characters of their Prophets. It is these traditions about which the Western orientalists shamelessly claim that the Qur'an has plagiarized them for its narratives.
Rationally also it is not at all inconceivable that an ant should warn members of its' own species of an impending danger and tell them to get into their holes. As for the question as to how the Prophet Solomon heard it, the answer is: It is not all difficult to understand the crude speech of an ant for a person whose senses can comprehend and receive a subtle message like the Word of Revelation
"Restrain me...thanks to Thee" means this: "O my Lord! the wonderful powers and abilities that You have given me are such that if I become even a little forgetful and heedless, I might transgress the bounds of service and be puffed up with pride and go astray. Therefore, O my Lord, restrain me so that I may remain grateful to You for all Your blessings instead of being ungrateful."
"Admit me..righteous servants" probably implies this: "I should be included among the righteous in the Hereafter and should enter Paradise along with them." For a person who does righteous acts will automatically be righteous, but one's entry into Paradise in the Hereafter cannot come about merely on the strength of one's good works, but it will depend on Allah's mercy. According to a Hadith, the Holy Prophet once said, "Merely the deeds of any one of you will not enable him to enter Paradise." It was asked, "In your case too, O Messenger of Allah?" He replied, "Yes, I also shall not enter Paradise only on the strength of my deeds, unless Allah Almighty covers me with His mercy."
This prayer of the Prophet Solomon on this occasion becomes irrelevant if an Naml is taken to mean a vibe of human beings and namlah a member of that tribe. After all, there could be nothing extraordinary in the warning given by a member of a human tribe to the people of his vibe about the approaching troops of a powerful king that it should have induced the king to make such a prayer to Allah. However, a person's having such a wonderful power of comprehension that he may hear the speech of an ant from a distance and also understand it, is certainly something extraordinary, which can involve a person in self-conceit and vanity. In such a case only the prayer of the Prophet Solomon can be relevant."