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PRACTICAL WISDOM

King Solomon, who lived in ancient times, was the ruler of Palestine and Syria. He was also an Israelite prophet. One of his contemporaries was the Queen of Sheba, who ruled Yemen from circa. 1100 to 900 B.C. According to Biblical and Qur’anic accounts, she received a letter from the powerful King Solomon in which he demanded that she surrender to him. What happened after she received the letter is thus recorded in the chapter Al-Naml (The Ants) of the Qur’an: The Queen of Sheba said, ‘O Counsellors, an honorable letter has been delivered to me. It is from Solomon. It reads, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, do not exalt yourselves above me, but come to me in all submission.” Now advise me in this, Counsellors. I never decide any affair till I have conferred with you.’ They said, ‘We are strong and our prowess in battle is great, but the decision is in your hands, so consider what you will command.’  She said, ‘Surely when mighty kings invade a country,  they despoil it and humiliate its noblest inhabitants—these men will do the same.’ (27:29-34)

Then according to the tradition, the Queen of Sheba avoided confrontation by opting for surrender. Thus she saved her country from invasion by Solomon’s army. This surrender was only in the political sense; in all other senses, she was able to continue to rule autonomously. The people of Sheba were a trading nation. By this partial political surrender, they were also able to continue trading as before.  Practical wisdom means: opting for the less than ideal when the ideal is not achievable. This kind of act was not surrendered, but a good example of practical wisdom. Practical wisdom means: opting for the less than ideal when the ideal is not achievable. King Solomon was very strong in terms of military power, while the Queen of Sheba was not nearly so strong. Moreover, the interests of her people lay in trading and not in developing their homeland into military power. So by the strategy of a political surrender, which was of a partial nature, the Queen of Sheba was able to save her regime as well as her trade.

This practical wisdom is indispensable not only for rulers but for every individual, for controversy is a part of life. In the midst of controversy, everyone tries to produce an ideal solution. But the fact is that, in most cases, the ideal cannot be achieved. The best formula, therefore, is for everyone to opt for the possible. Don’t run after what is clearly impossible or likely to have a disastrous outcome.

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