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قَالَتْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَابٌ كَرِيم
Qālat yā ayyuhal-mala’u innī ulqiya illayya kitābun karīm.
She said, “O chiefs, indeed, to me has been delivered a noble letter
(Surat al-Naml, No.27, Āyat 29)
Long distance communication has always been an important part of human societies. One of the basic forms of sending and receiving messages in the past was through letter writing. Historically letters were used to convey short, important messages. The attention and importance given to the letter by the receiver depended on the sender. Birds, or specifically pigeons, are said to be the first carriers of handwritten letters. Gradually it shifted to animals like horses, and eventually became a human system done through ‘postmen’.
Prophet Sulaymān ‘alayhis-salām wrote a letter to Bilqīs, the queen of Sheba, inviting her to submit to One God. When she received the letter, the queen went through the contents and realized it was a serious message. She had heard of the Prophet and knew of his large kingdom. She was aware that he was held in high respect and his words carried weight. He would not have written to her unless he wanted to convey an important message. She was unsure of what to do. As was her practice, she decided to consult with her ministers. She called them for a meeting.
She told them she had received an honorable letter. Using the word honorable could be because:
a) It was sent by a person who was well respected.
b) It began in the name of Allah, so it was a sacred letter.
c) It had a serious message.
d) It was stamped with a royal seal – a distinct stamp used to seal letters was an important practice in the past and showed the distinguished personality of the sender.
Letters in the past were sent with a seal that identified the sender. When the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam wanted to send letters to rulers in other parts of the world to invite them to Islam, he was told he should have a distinctive seal. He asked for a ring to be made with the Arabic writing of ‘There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger’. This was then used to stamp the documents that were sent.
The letter of Prophet Sulaymān invited the Queen, and through her, her people to the truth. Believers have the duty of inviting others to the truth when it is possible to do so and when doing so might have a positive effect. Many verses of the Quran talk about this noble duty. The Almighty says:
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
And let there be from you a nation inviting to good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful (Q 3:104). He instructs Prophet Yusuf (a):
قُلْ هَٰذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُو إِلَى اللَّهِ ۚ عَلَىٰ بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَا وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي ۖ
Say, “This is my way; I invite to Allah with insight, I and those who follow me (Q 12:108).
Of course, there must be certain etiquette maintained when inviting others to the truth. Allah ‘azza wajall says:
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ
Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in a way that is best (Q 16:125).
The letter of Prophet Sulayman (a) is an example of how to use the communication method of your time to invite towards Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā. When it is done in the right way it can be effective, as was the case with Queen Bilqīs. Today’s modern age offers many different forms of communication. We need to utilize them to invite to the right path and send out honorable messages that reflect our own virtue and integrity as well as trigger awe for what we are inviting towards.
Source: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shīrāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.