I continue here with a folkloric account, recorded in the eighth century AD, of the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. (For the earlier portion, see “How Solomon Built His Temple.”) The tale comes from Ma‘mar ibn Rashid, The Expeditions: An Early Biography of Muhammad, translated by Sean W. Anthony (New York and London: New York University Press, 2015), 106-108. Centuries after its destruction, that famous building seemed literally magical to many.
When this part of the story opens, the temple has already been completed — with the indispensable aid of a powerful demon or jinni whom Solomon controlled by means of a magic ring — and Solomon has gone to relax at “the bathhouse.”
When he entered the bathhouse, that demon entered with him. When the demon entered the bathhouse, he stole Solomon’s ring and threw it into the sea. Then the demon cast a human cast a human form on his throne — his footstool — in the shape of Solomon, and Solomon’s power to rule abandoned him. Thus the demon sat on Solomon’s footstool forty nights, but Solomon’s aides did not realize this and said, “Solomon has succumbed to temptation and neglected his prayers!” — but it was the demon who neglected the prayers and other matters pertaining to religion. Now among the companions of Solomon was a man of perseverence and strength, much like ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, and he said, “Indeed, I will ask Solomon about this on behalf of you all.”Thus he came to him, saying, “O Prophet of God, what would you say to one of us who enjoys his wife on a cold night, then sleeps until the sun rises — but he neither does his ablutions [required by Islam before prayer and especially after “pollution”] nor prays. Do you find any fault with him?”
“No,” the demon answered, “he committed no fault.”
The man returned to his companions and declared, “Solomon has been led astray!”
While Solomon traversed the earth he took shelter with a woman, and she placed before him a whale — or he said: she brought him a whale — and split open its belly. Solomon saw his signet ring in the belly of the whale. He removed it from its belly and put it on again. From then on, all the creatures he encountered prostrated themselves in obedience to him, whether beast or fowl, or any other creature, and God restored Solomon’s power to rule. About this, God has said:
“He turned to us and prayed: ‘Lord forgive me! Grant me such power to rule as none after me will possess.'” [Qur’an 38:35]
Qatadah said: Solomon was asking God not to dispossess him of his power to rule ever again. . . .
At that time the demons and birds were made subservient to Solomon.