The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn.
One thing I really like about the Qur'an is how it often takes familiar characters and stories from the Bible and adds a new twist to them. So it is with the 27th surah, The Ants, which tells a unique story involving King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Modern scholars today believe that Sheba was the Arabian Kingdom of Saba, centered around the oasis of Marib, in present-day Yemen. In the Bible, the story goes that the Queen of Sheba, recognizing Solomon's great wealth and wisdom, traveled to Jerusalem to pay her respects and give tribute. This is the basic storyline in the Qur'an, with some notable Arabian flourishes.
In the Qur'an, Solomon is not only wealthy and powerful, he can also talk with animals! He says, "People, we have been taught the speech of birds, and have been given a share of everything: this is clearly a great favor." Solomon also has a posse that consists of men, talking birds, and jinn, which are basically genies. That's right--Solomon has genies in his crew!
One day, when Solomon and his amazing posse are traveling through the Valley of the Ants, one ant calls out to his fellow bugs: "Ants! Go into your homes, in case Solomon and his hosts unwittingly crush you." Solomon gets a kick out of this.
Then king Solomon realizes that one of his birds is missing--the hoopoe. He angrily shouts: "Why do I not see the hoopoe? Is he absent?" Just then, the hoopoe arrives and says he's been visiting the Queen of Sheba. He says the queen and her people are polytheists and idolaters, which upsets Solomon, and prompts him to send her a letter, asking her to pay a visit.
After a bit of correspondence back and forth, Sheba agrees to visit Solomon, who plans two tests for her, which are meant to teach her the difference between false appearances (i.e. her false gods) and reality (i.e. the one true God). Solomon asks one of his genies to build a throne that looks exactly like the queen of Sheba's. He also creates a false pool of water that is actually made of glass. When the queen arrives, Solomon is like, "Recognize your throne?"
"Yeah," she says, "That looks just like my throne."
"But it isn't!" Solomon says. The big reveal.
Then Solomon says, "Why don't you take a swim in my pool?"
The queen gets ready for a swim, and then Solomon is like,"Ha! It's only glass!"
Based on these optical illusions, the Queen of Sheba agrees to give up her traditional dieties and worship Solomon's God. Mission accomplished, Solomon!