The

السِّدْرَةَ

Sidrah  (Lote-Tree)

and

سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى

 the Sidrat al-Muntaha  (Lote-Tree of the Extremity)

Some Apects of their Islamic and Bābī-Bahā'ī Iintepretations.

Sidra Tree

NOW BEING REVISED AND EXPANDED IN TWO PARTS

Last revised 09/11/09


STEPHEN  LAMBDEN

Sūrat al-Sabā' ("The Surah of Sheba"), Qur'ān 34:16

    فَأَعْرَضُوا فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ سَيْلَ الْعَرِمِ وَبَدَّلْنَاهُم بِجَنَّتَيْهِمْ جَنَّتَيْنِ ذَوَاتَى أُكُلٍ خَمْطٍ وَأَثْلٍ وَشَيْءٍ مِّن سِدْرٍ قَلِيل           

 Yet they turned away [from God] so We sent the flood of `Iram [the dams] upon them, and substituted their two gardens for two "gardens" yielding bitter fruit, tamarisk and something from scattered lote-trees (shay' in min sidr qalīl)...   

Sūrat al-Wāqi'ah ("The Event"), Qur'ān 56:28

وَأَصْحَابُ الْيَمِينِ مَا أَصْحَابُ  الْيَمِين ِفِي  سِدْرٍ مَّخْضُود  وَطَلْحٍ مَّنضُودٍ  وَظِلٍّ مَّمْدُود   وَمَاء مَّسْكُوبٍ   

 And the companions of the right-hand! What then are the companions of the right-hand? [They are such as shall dwell amidst] thornless lote-trees (fi sidr makhḍūd)...

Sūrat al-Najm ("The Surah of the Star"), Qur'ān 53:13-16

 

(وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى (13) عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى (14) عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى (15) إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى  (16

I [Muhammad] had indeed seen him [Gabriel] descending another time, nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā (Lote-Tree of the Extremity"), nearby the Garden of Repose  (jannat al-māwā), when there encompassed the Sidrah (Lote-Tree) that which covered it...

 The qur'anic verses cited and loosely translated above are the only ones which make direct reference to sidrah ("lote trees") or to the Sidrat al-Muntaha ("Lote Tree of the Extremity") in the Arabic sacred book known as the Qur'ān. In summary, the term sidrah  (pl. [coll.] sidr),  "lote-trees" ) is used four times in three Meccan sūrahs of the Qur'ān (see above), twice in the singular (53:14,16) and twice in the plural (34:16 [15] and 56:28 [27]). Scattered lote-trees (sidr) formed part of what grew in the "bitter" substitute gardens of Sheba (34:16). According to the sūrah of "The Event" (al-wāqi`ah, 56) it seems to be implied that a select group of the righteous will, in the future paradise, dwell amidst "thornless lote-trees" (fī sidrin makhḍūd).  It is only in the Sūrat al-Najm (Surah of the Star) (Q. 53) in which reference is made to the Sidrat al-Muntahā  or to the "Lote-Tree" which is in some sense "beyond" or at "the extremity", "the limit", perhaps indicting an "ultimate location" in Paradise.

        The Arabic word  muntahā  is derived from the triliteral verbal root  N-H-W which in its VIIIth form  can, for example, mean, "to terminate, conclude, finish, etc" . The verbal noun muntahā  مُنْتَهَى could thus be literally translated  "termination", "limit", "extremity", "boundary"  or the like. In genitive relationship with sidrah as in the qur'anic phrase Sidrat al-muntahā =   سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى     (Q. 53:14 only), it could thus be literally translated "Lote-Tree of the Boundary", "Lote-Tree of the Limit" ,  "Lote-Tree of the Extremity" or "Lote-Tree beyond which there is no passing".  A modern, eminently straightforward Qur'an Commentary entitled Taisīr al-karīm al-raḥman fī tafsīr kalām al-manān by `Abd al-Rahman ibn Nāṣir al-Sa`idī (d. 1376/1956). puts the matter simply when commenting on Qur'an 53: 14 (=  "nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā", Lote-Tree of the Extremity) :

"It [the Sidrat al-Muntahā] is a very large Tree (shajarat) beyond the seventh heaven. It is named the Sidrat al-Muntahā because there terminates at it  whatever ascends from the earth and whatever descends [from heaven] including what comes down from God, including waḥy (divine inspiration) and other things besides. Alternatively, [it might be said that this name is due to the fact that]  it is the Uttermost Extremity [Boundary] (intihā') for the knowledge of the creatures approaching it, relative, that is, to its Existent Being [as located] above the heavens and the earth.  So it is al-Muntahā (the Extremity, Boundary) with respect to  [all human] modes of knowledge (`ulūm) or other things besides. And God is best informed [of this matter].  Thus [it was that] Muhammad saw Gabriel in that location (al-makān) which is the domain of the pure and beautiful, elevated [celestial] Souls (maḥall al-arwāḥ al-`uluwiyya al-zakiyya al-jamīliyya)... " (Sa`idi, Tafsir, 819).

        As the exact religious background to the motif of the  سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى  remains. however, unknown, such translations are tentative and inadequate. In could be seem to be the Islamic equivalent of the Sinaitic "buning bush" (Heb. Seneh,  Exod 3:2 ) where the divine theophany was to a degree earlier experienced by the Israelite prophet Moses. Arabian Jews at the time of the Prophet or the Prophet himself in Arabizing a  biblical tradition, might have identified the Sinaitic "burning bush"  with the Sidrah or Lote-Tree and associated his visionary experiences or prophetic call with it. In some Rabbinic traditions  the "burning bush" is a lowly thorn bush (e.g. Exodus Rabba II.2 cf. Philo Vita Mos. I. 67)  just as in terrestrial terms the Sidrat al-Muntahā  is a lowly, thorny bush. The Prophet transcendentalized it and located it in or near Paradise as the Garden of Repose  (jannat al-māwā). Just as the Burning bush was "not consumed" as a result of the divine theophany within it so was the Sidrat al-Muntaha enveloped by a mysterious covering (see Qur'an 53:16).

        It  might also be conjectured that this qur'anic "Lote Tree" marks the boundary of the transcendent Godhead whose divine theophany remains something of an apophatic  mystery. God is experienced at the very limit of knowing in the domain of "unknowing". Moses experienced God and spoke to Him but only saw his "back" (Exodus 33:20f), not His "face" (Heb. panim) ( ibid). The Israelite prophet Moses only indirectly experienced God in mysterious and terrifying circumstances. The visionary experience of Muhammad was in some respects similar. While the biblical "burning bush" was not consumed, the qur'anic Lote-Tree could not be bypassed. As will be seen it is the case that in various Tafsir literatures ( such as that of al-Tabari ) Moses' encounter with God and the Mi`rāj vision of Muhammad are compared and contrasted (see below). 

 Select English translations of Qur'an 53:13-16:

       The following are a few examples of English translations of Qur'an 53:13-16 (or `Sidrat al-Munataha' rooted in Qur'an 53:14b) arranged in loose chronological order. Some are quite good translations, others less so thought most are highly speculative since the exact sense of these qur'anic verses is far from clear.

  •  George Sale (1734):  [13] He also saw him another time, [14] by the lote-tree beyond which there is no passing: [15] Near it is the garden of [eternal] abode.  [16] When the lote-tree covered that which it covered..

  •  J. M. Rodwell (1861): [13] He had seen him also another time, [14]  Near the Sidrah-tree, which marks the boundary. 3 [15] Near which is the garden of repose. [16] When the Sidrah-tree was covered with what covered it,

  • Wensinck, A. J.  (1921 [1978])  [14] "the sidra / lotus of the utmost limit"

  •  E. H. Palmer (1880): [13] And he saw him another time, [14] by the lote tree none may pass; [15] near which is the garden of the Abode! [16] When there covered the lote tree what did cover it ! 

  •  Marmaduke Pickthall  (1930) : [13]. And verily he saw him yet another time [14]. By the lote-tree of the utmost boundary, [15]. Nigh unto which is the Garden of Abode. [16]. When that which shroudeth did enshroud the lote-tree.

  • Abdullah Yusuf Ali ( 1938): [13] For indeed he saw him at a second descent, [14] Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass: [15]  Near it is the Garden of Abode. [16]  Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!)

  • Arthur J. Arberry (1956): [13] Indeed, he saw him another time [14] by the Lote-Tree of the Boundary [15] nigh which is the Garden of the Refuge, [16] when there covered the Lote-Tree that which covered...

  • Helmut Gätje (19XX [71]) : [13] "the Zizyphus Tree at the far end of heaven (Sidrat al-muntaha)".

  • M. H. Shakir (1983) :  [13] And certainly he saw him in another descent, [14] At the farthest lote-tree; [15 ] Near which is the garden, the place to be resorted to. [16] When that which covers covered the lote-tree

  • W. Montgomery Watt & M. V. McDonald (1988) [13b], Sidrat al-Muntaha] "lote tree of the utmost boundary" (Tabari, Tarikh/ History VI: 79 fn.).

  • Andrew Rippin [EI2 IX:550] (1997) : "Indeed he [Muhammad] saw him [Djibrīl] another time by the lote tree of the boundary nigh which is the garden of the refuge". 

  • M.A.S Abdel Haleem (2004) : "[13] A second time he saw him: [14] by the lote tree beyond which none may pass [15] near the Garden of Return, [16] when the tree was covered in nameless splendour [fn. `something unimaginable'." (`The Qur'an, A new translation, OUP.,: 2004, 347).

  • Tarif Khalidi (2008) : "[13] And he saw him a second time, [14] By the lote-tree of the Extremity, [15] Near which is the Garden of Refuge, .  [16] When there covered the lote-tree that which covered it." (Penguin Books, 2009, 435).

        As far as the concrete significance of the word sidrah goes, Islamic sources often identify it as the  shajarat al-nabq (= Per. darakht-i  kunār), the "tree of the nabq  (fruit)". This is apparently the wild jujube or  zizyphus spina-christi  (Christ's thorn).  a tall, stout, tropical tree (see image above) with dense prickly branches which produces a sweet reddish fruit similar to that of the jujube (the `unnāb  = zizyphus vulgaris / fruit) (Qarshayy 3:246f.; Ṭabarī, Jāmi` al-bayān 13:52f.; Lane 1:1331 ; Wehr 1103; Lambden, Sinaitic Mysteries : 68-9, 163 fn.32). If the qur'ānic mention of the Sidrat al-Muntahā has these mundane implications, this may well echo Rabbinic viewpoints about God's having (indirectly) manifested Himself in a lowly thorn-bush, the "burning bush" of Exodus 3:2 (cf. Deut. 33:16). It is interesting to note in this connection that on occasion in certain of his scriptural Tablets  Bahā'-Allāh himself conflated the motifs of the "Lote-Tree" and the "Sinaitic Tree" (shajarat al-ṭūr) or "Burning Bush" (see Pt. 2 below). 

         It is the references to the sidrah / sidrat al-muntahā in the sūra of The Star (53) which are of particular importance as far as the background to the  Bābī-Bahā'ī use of the "Lote-Tree" motif is concerned. In Islamic literatures  Qur'an 53:13ff   is frequently interpreted relative to a mystical vision which the Prophet Muhammad experienced during the course of his isrā ("Night journey") and related  mi`rāj  ("Ascension") (see the Qur'ān commentaries on 17:1f  and 53:13ff. and, for example, Montgomery Watt, 1988:54f). 

        It will be appropriate to cite here  Q. 17:1 as well as 53:1ff (cf. 53:13-16 quoted above) since passages in these texts are closely related in their traditional Islamic understanding relative to the one or two  visions,  most centrally the  Mi`raj vision of the Prophet and (for some) another vision associated with the Sidrat al-Muntaha. The qur'anic texts to be cited are interpreted in terms of the Prophet Muhammad's ascension to Paradise where he met various prophets and, among other things, viewed the Sidrat al-Muntahā'  as well as  his seeing "Him" ( God or Gabriel) another time by the Lote-Tree of the Boundary".  In various  ḥadith accounts of the Mi`raj these probably originally two visions are merged into one.    In the excellent mid. 1950s translation of Arthur .J. Arberry (d. 1969) -- transliteration and notes added -- they are translated as follows: 

XVII THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
________________________________________

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَى بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلاً مِّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ البَصِيرُ

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

17:1 Glory be to Him who carried His servant [Muhammad] by night (asra bi-`abdihi layl an) from the Holy Mosque (masjid al-ḥaram)  [traditionally located in Mecca] to the Further Mosque (masjid al-aqsā) [traditionally located in Heaven or in Jerusalem] the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him [Muhammad] some of Our signs. He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing.

LIII THE STAR
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In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

53:1 By the Star [the Pleiades or Venus] when it plunges, your comrade [Muhammad] is not astray, neither errs, nor speaks he out of caprice. This is naught but a revelation revealed,
53:5 taught him by one terrible in power,
very strong; he stood poised,
being on the higher horizon,
then drew near and suspended hung,
two bows'-length away, or nearer,

53:10 then revealed to his servant that he revealed.
His heart lies not of what he saw;
what, will you dispute with him what he sees?
[13] Indeed, he saw him another time [14] by the Lote-Tree of the Boundary
53:15 nigh which is the Garden of the Refuge, [16] when there covered the Lote-Tree that which covered; [17] his eye swerved not; nor swept astray. Indeed, he saw one of the greatest signs of his Lord.

(See further: http://www.quranm.multicom.ba/translations/Arberry.htm)

 

The cosmogonic "Tree" of Light and Life and the  Lote-Tree of Paradise motif in the History of Religions

afbeelding van Wensinck, Arent Jan

 

 

 

A.J. Wensinck

        The great Swedish Islamicist  and Professor of Semitic languages Arent Jan Wensinck (1882-1939) made  a special study of the Tree motif in the history of religions. In 1921 he wrote his Tree and Bird as cosmological Symbols in Western Asia  which is reprinted in English translation in the 1978 compilation Studies of A. J. Wensinck (Pt. III pp.1-35[47]). In this study he refers to the evolving and complex ancient Mesopotamian  Epic of Gilgamesh, an Old Babylonian epic versions of which date from around 1,250 BCE (refer Sparks, 2005, pp. 275-278).  Among other things, versions of this Epic  feature legends illustrating the heroic deeds and quest for immortality and wisdom of the heroic king of ancient Uruk named Gilgamesh (fl. 2,600 BCE??).  Wensinck observes that an inadequate version of the Epic indirectly available to him had it that, "in the Eastern end of the earth, Gilgamesh sees a tree (IX 164 sqq.) :

"Cornelian it bears as its fruit
Bunches depend from it, beautiful to the eye ;
Lapislazuli it bears as its twigs (?)
Fruit it bears desirable to sight."

He writes that this "tree"  has "a cosmological significance, for it stands at the Eastern end of the earth and marks the East." adding that "The whole tree consists of precious stones, pink and blue, the colours of the sky and of the sun rising behind the morning clouds. It is placed on the shore of the ocean where the sun begins its course ; so it is the tree of light." It is, furthermore, identified by Wensinck as a tree of light and of life:

"Perhaps the fragmentary description in the epos contained an enumeration of the kinds of its fruits. But whether this was the case or not, the tree is represented as the tree of life on account of its being the tree of light ; for in the Oriental conception light and life are ideas which cannot be separated from each other" (1978:3).

ADD

        The motif of the terrestrial-celestial, cosmological "Tree" is important in Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical and associated Abrahamic and related religious scripture and tradition. The "Tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and the "Tree of Life" mentioned in Genesis 2-3 and in the Qur'an are foundational (Genesis 2:9, 3:22; Q. Add.). Genesis 2: 8-15 reads in the classic AV (King James) translation:

"[8]And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. [9] And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. [10] And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. [11] The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah [ = SW Arabia], where there is gold; [12] And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. [13] And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia (Cush)  [14] And the name of the third river is Hiddekel [Tigris] : that is it which goeth toward  the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is  Euphrates.  [15] And the LORD God took the man (= Adam), and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" .  

It will be seen below that the major "river" or cosmic waterway  going out of Eden  is divided into four "heads" (further source rivers) which are  described in terms of major terrestrial "rivers" or waterways in Genesis 2: 11-14. They are, summing up their probable basic senses, the

  • (1) פִּישֹׁון   Pison,  located in SW Arabia?]

  • (2) the  גִּיחֹון Gihon   = the Egyptian river Nile (?) or a wellspring or river flowing through Jerusalem-Zion?

  • (3) the חִדֶּקֶל , Hiddekel  = Tigris and

  • (4) the פְּרָת ,   Euphrates.

 In Islamic tradition and related literatures  these four secondary rivers of Paradise are variously (often non-literally) interpreted and associated with the (roots or base) of the cosmic qur'anic Sidrat al-Muntahā ("Lote Tree of the Boundary"). They are further non-literally interpreted as rivers of divine providence sometimes as associated with bodies of Abrahamic sacred writ or sacred texts (see below).  ADD

         Immediately following the Genesis verses cited above reference is made in Genesis 2: 16-17 to the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" from which man-Adam was forbidden to eat lest he "die":

[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  [17] But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die".. 

    The Edenic "Tree of Life" ultimately protected by cherubim with a "flaming sword" is mentioned in Genesis 3:22-5

[22] And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: [23] Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."

The Genesis "Tree" of Paradise and related motifs have a very long history of interpretation and something of a pre-history  spanning several millennia. Such works as the Syriac book of The Cave of Treasures ( 4th-7th cent. CE?)  contain  some interesting post-biblical and perhaps pre-Islamic Christian interpretations of  Eden and the Tree of Life motif  varieties of which may directly or indirectly (through deliberate alteration) have contributed to the qur'anic Paradise and related Lote-Tree motifs:

"Now Eden is the Holy Church, and the Church [Fol. 6a, col. 2] is the compassion of God which He was about to extend to the children of men. ... Eden is the Holy Church, and the Paradise which was in it is the land of rest and the inheritance of life, which God hath prepared for all the holy children of men. And because [Fol. 6b, col. I] Adam was priest, and king, and prophet, God brought him into Paradise that he might minister in Eden, the Holy Church, even as the blessed man Moses testifieth concerning him, saying, " That he might serve God by means of priestly ministration with praise, and that he might keep that commandment which had been entrusted to him by the compassion of God" [ Gen 2:15 ] . And God made Adam and Eve to dwell in Paradise. True is this word, and it proclaimeth the truth: That Tree of Life which was in the midst of Paradise prefigured the Redeeming Cross, which is the veritable Tree of Life, and this it was that was fixed in the middle of the earth."

There exist other versions of the `Book of the Cave of Treasures' in Ethiopic (= Qalamentos), Karshuni (Arabic in Syriac script) and Arabic including the Arabic `Kitab al-Magal', or "Book of the Rolls" attributed to Clement of Rome (late 1st cent. CE). They  contain  some very interesting rewritten versions of the above  Genesis texts and related traditions. ADD

The motif of the Tree ADD

        The exact background to the Qur'anic Sidrat al-Muntahā has yet to be satisfactorily pinned down though it is likely to be related to the biblical "Tree of Life" and/ or to the the "Sinaitic Tree" or "Burning Bush" (Exodus 3:2 cf. Deut. 33:16). Like Moses Muhammad had vision of  a "Tree" redolent of the divine mystery. Worth noting is the fact that in the Manichean account of the origin of the world as related in the Arabic Fihrist (Index) of Abu'l-Faraj Isḥāq b. Warraq Ibn Nadīm (d.308/990), it is stated that after Eve had intercourse with Adam Shātil (= Seth cf. Mandaen, Shitil = Seth) was born. Eve was antagonistic towards this son but Adam fed him from a lotus-tree" (see Klijn, 1977 [Seth] 109f, 111f):

He [ Mānī] said, "Then there appeared to Adam a tree called the lotus, from which came forth milk with which he nourished the boy. He [at first] called him by its name, but later he called him Shātil. [fn.203] Thereupon  al-indÿd declared hostilities against Adam and those who had been born, saying to Eve, 'Show yourself to Adam, that perchance you may bring him back to us.' So she dashed off and aroused the passion of Adam, who had lustful intercourse with her. When Shatil saw him, he admonished him [Adam] and reproached him, saying, 'Come, thou shalt go forth to the East, to the light and wisdom of God !' So he departed with him and dwelt there until he died and went to the Gardens [of Paradise]. Then Shatil with Faryad (Lamentation) and Pur-Faryad (Laden with Lamentation) and their mother, Wise of the Ages, accomplished good works, with one idea of right and one way of life, [204] until the time of their deaths, but Eve, Cain, and the Daughter of Corruption went to Hell " [205] (The Fihrist,  786). 

It is presupposed here that Seth could be fed from a lotus-tree which existed in a primordial Paradise. This might be taken to imply that the Lote-Tree or qur'anic Sidrat al-Muntaha motif might have pre-qur'anic Manichaean origins or roots  in teachings going back to the movement founded by the Persian figure Mani (216-276 or 277 CE).  The Manichaean background to the Qur'an has yet to be comprehensively set forth and is problematic. Unfortunately,  Manichaean canonical literatures and related  sources are only fragmentarily extant. Worth noting at this point, however,  is that in the Ṭibb al-nabī ("Medicine of the Prophet") of Jalāl al-Dīn `Abd al-Raman al-Suyūṭī (d.911/1505), the Nabeq (Jujube) is described as "the fruit of the Sidr, or Lote trees" and to have various medicinal properties. al-Suyūṭī also records that  Ahmad ibn `Abd-Allah Abū Nu'aym al-Isfahani (d. 430/1038) in his book al-Ṭibb al-Nabbawi ("The Medicine of the Prophet") records a well-known ḥadith in which it is stated that when Adam was sent down to earth, "the first fruit that he ate was a jujube" (Suyuti, 1994:105). This may well echo the Manichaean tradition indicated above.

The Mi`rāj and the Sidrat al-Muntahā in select Hadith literatures or Islamic traditions.

      Bowering has provided an excellent basic over wiew of the Mi`raj:

MIRĀJ. The belief that Muhammad ascended to heaven in the course of his life and beheld the secrets of the otherworld as no other person had ever beheld them is shared by all factions of Islam. In Muslim religious literature, the idea of the Mi'rāj, Muhammad's ascension to heaven, is closely associated with that of the Isra', his nocturnal journey. Neither term appears as such in the Qur'an, yet both developed in close connection with crucial, though ambiguous, Qur'anic passages. (Enc. Rel. 9:552).

In his article `Sidrat al-Munatahā (Α.), "the lote tree on the boundary"' ( in the 2nd ed of the Encyclopedia of Islam), Rippin notes the important early place of the 'Lote-tree' motif in early Sunni ḥadith literatures registering the mi`rāj of the prophet Muhammad. He writes:

"The full exegesis of this passage [= Qur'an 53:14] arises in a prominent ḥadīth’s report (repeated, for example, in al-Bukhārī, K. manākib al-anşar and K. bad' al-ķhalķ՛, Muslim, K. al-īmān; also see al-Ţabarî, i, 1158-9) which speaks at length of the mi'radj. After Muhammad (who was accompanied by Djibrîl) met with Ibrahim in the seventh heaven, he went on as far as sidrat al-muntahã (also al-sidra 'l-muntahã in hadlth] beyond which no one can pass, and there he gazed upon God (this being "one of the greatest signs of his Lord"). This lote tree is described as having fruits the size of earthenware jars, leaves as big as the ears of elephants and composed of many indescribable and unknown colours. The four rivers of Paradise flow from under it. The idea of a tree being at the apex of the pyramid-shaped mountain of created worlds goes back to ancient Sumerian mythology, and the motifs of receiving food (as in the drinks from which Muhammad may choose in some versions of the story) and having a vision of the divine are all integral parts of the same mythic structure". 

                The Mi`raj or night ascent of Muhammad is mentioned in numerous ḥadīth (Islamic traditions) as is  the Sidrat al-Muntahā  which is   sometimes associated with the sixth heaven though more often with the seventh heaven as in the Kitab al-īmān (Book of Faith) within the Saḥīḥ (the "Sound" compilation) [of] Muslim  the Sunnī ḥadith compilation of  Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 261/875):

ثم عرج إلى السماء السابعة فاستفتح ‏ ‏جبريل ‏ ‏فقيل من هذا قال ‏ ‏جبريل ‏ ‏قيل ومن معك قال ‏ ‏محمد ‏ ‏صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ ‏قيل وقد بعث إليه قال قد بعث إليه ففتح لنا فإذا أنا ‏ ‏بإبراهيم ‏ ‏صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ ‏مسندا ظهره إلى ‏ ‏البيت المعمور ‏ ‏وإذا هو يدخله كل يوم سبعون ألف ملك لا يعودون إليه ثم ذهب بي إلى السدرة المنتهى وإذا ورقها كآذان الفيلة وإذا ثمرها كالقلال قال فلما ‏ ‏غشيها ‏ ‏من أمر الله ما غشي تغيرت فما أحد من خلق الله يستطيع أن ‏ ‏ينعتها ‏ ‏من حسنها.

Then I [Muhammad] was taken up to the seventh heaven.  There Gabriel requested an opening [of its celestial gate]. At this It was enquired: `Who are you?' And he replied `Gabriel'.  Then it was asked `And who is with you? He replied : Muhammad  (may peace be upon him). It was [then further] asked: `Has he been commissioned [by God]?' He [Gabriel] replied: He has indeed been raised up [commissioned as a Prophet]. At this [the gate] was opened for us  and there We encountered Abraham (peace be upon him) reclining against the Frequented Fane (al-bayt al-ma`mūr) wherein enter  seventy thousand angels every day, never to visit [this place] again.  Then I was taken to the Sidrat al-Muntahā (Lote-Tree of the Extremity) whose leaves were like elephant ears and whose fruit was like huge earthenware vessels. And when it was given a covering (ghasha) at the Command of  God (amr Allāh) (see Q. 53:16), it underwent such a change that none among the creatures of God  is capable of [befittingly] extolling [the magnitude of] its loveliness (ḥasan)" (from a ḥadith cited in the Saḥīḥ Muslim, iman).

 

Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī (d. 853 / 1449) on the Sidrat al-Muntahā

             Other key Islamic traditions (ḥadith) found in both Sunni and Shi`i literatures expand and supplement the above examples (see Appendix). At this point it must  suffice to mention that  the Egyptian hadith scholar Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī (d. 853 / 1449) in his  bulky commentary on the famous Ṣaḥīḥ ("Sound") ḥadith compilation of Muhammad ibn Ismā'īl al-Bukharī entitled  Fatḥ al-bārī  (completed in 813/1410-11) mentions some interesting traditions about the Sidrat al-Muntahā and the rivers associated with it :

The Sidrat al-Muntaha
"
The reason why it is called "the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass" (al-Muntaha lit. = utmost limit) is given in the Hadīth as Mas'ūd narrated by Muslim: "(Gabriel) took me up as far as the Lote-tree, beyond which none may pass, which is in the sixth heaven. Anything which comes up from earth stops there and is taken from there, and anything which comes down from the region beyond stops there."
AI-NawawT said: "It is called the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass because the knowledge of the angels stops there: no-one has gone beyond it except the Prophet (S)."
AI-Qurtabī said in al-Mufahham: "The Hadīth of Anas would seem to indicate that it is in the seventh heaven, because after mentioning the seventh heaven, the Prophet (S) said: "Then he took me up to the Lote-tree ..." The Hadīth of Ibn Mas'ūd states that it was in the sixth heaven. This is undoubtedly a contradiction, but Anas' statement is favoured by the majority. Anas' Hadīth states clearly that the Lote-tree is the point where the knowledge of every Prophet and angel ends, according to Ka'b's statement. Whatever is beyond the Lote-tree is hidden and known only to Allah SWT, and who has more knowledge than He?
According to the Hadīth of Abu Dharr, it was "veiled in colours indescribable." According to report of Thabit from Anas, narrated by Muslim, "When it was veiled with whatever it was veiled with by the command of Allah, it changed, and no creature of Allah can describe it because it is so beautiful."
Ibn Dahyah said: "The Lote-tree alone was chosen, because it has three attributes: extensive shade, delicious food and beautiful scent. These attributes symbolize faith, which combines speech, actions and intentions. The shade represents action, the food represents intention and the scent represents speech."
[38]  THE RIVERS SEEN BY THE PROPHET (S)
According to Malik ibn Şa'şa'ah's report, narrated by BukharT: "(Gabriel) said, 'This is the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass.' There were four rivers, two hidden and two visible. I asked, 'What is this, O Gabriel?' He said, 'The two hidden rivers are rivers in Paradise. The two visible rivers are the Nile and the Euphrates.'"
Another report from Malik says: "At the foot of the Lote-tree were four rivers."
According to Shank's report: "There were two rivers running through the first heaven. The Prophet (S) asked, 'What are these two rivers, O Gabriel?' Gabriel answered: 'They are the essence of the Nile and Euphrates.' Then Gabriel took him through the first heaven, where they saw another river, above which stood a castle made of pearls and chrysolite. The Prophet (S) struck it with his hand and saw that it was pungent musk. He asked, 'What is this, O Gabriel?' Gabriel answered, 'This is al-Kawthar, which your Lord is keeping for you' ..."
AI-Hafiz said: "Muslim transmitted a Hadīth of Abu Hurayrah which said: 'Four of the rivers in Paradise are: the Nile, the Euphrates, Sīhān and Jīhān.'"
        Ibn Abī Hatim transmitted a report of Yazîd ibn Abī Malik, from Anas, which says: "After the Prophet (S) mentioned that he had seen Abraham, he said: 'Then (Gabriel) took me up beyond the seventh heaven, until we reached a river on which stood tents made of pearls, sapphires and chrysolite and above which were green birds — the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. Gabriel said, 'This is al-Kawthar, which Allah has given to you.' In the river were vessels of gold and silver; it ran over pebbles of sapphire and chrysolite, and its water was whiter than milk. I took one of the vessels, scooped up some of that water and drank it. It was sweeter than honey and had a scent more beautiful than that of musk.' "

[40] It was suggested that the Nile and the Euphrates were described as rivers of Paradise because they resemble the rivers of Paradise in that they are so sweet, so beautiful and so blessed. And Allah knows best" (al-`Asqalānī,  Fatḥ al-Bārī  from comp. `Abd-Allāh Hajjaj, trans. Khaṭṭāb, 1989: 38-40).  CHECK WITH ARABIC TEXT.

The Sidrat al-Muntahā in select Islamic Tafsīr works

       The term sidrah  and the genitive phrase Sidrat al-muntahā have been the subject of diverse literal, allegorical and mystical interpretations among Muslim Qur'an commentators, including Sufis and philosophers standing within both the Sunnī and Shī`ī traditions. While a few have thought the "Lote-Tree" /  Sidrat al-Muntahā to be a mundane bush or tree in the environs of Mecca (Jeffery 1980: 35 fn.1) or one marking the end of a path (Holley comp. Baha'i Scriptures,  1923/1928 glossary, p.558;  ESW trans Shoghi Effendi, [glossary] 191), others have greatly elaborated upon the fantastic descriptions of it recorded in a plethora of Islamic traditions (Maybudī, 13:360 ff.; Mishkat al-Masābih [tr. Robson] II : 1201, 1208, 1266, 1268, 1270). Only a few notes deriving from the thousands of  Qur'an commentaries expounding the motif of the Sidrah/ Sidrat al-Muntahā. in Q. 53  can be noted here. 

Muqātil b. Sulayman, [al-Balkhī] al-Khurāsānī (d. Basra 150 /767),

       The early probably Zaydī (Shī`ī) commentator on  the Sūrat al-Najm (Q. 53)  Muqātil b. Sulayman  has it in his (orally transmitted)  Tafsīr  that verse 13 (وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى)  indicates that Muhammad saw or visioned his Lord  descending "in his heart" (fi qalbihi) "on another occasion" "near  the Sidrat al-Muntaha"  which tree is described as having branches (aghsan) of  precious substances including  "pearl" (al-lū'lū'), ruby (al-yāqūt) and chrysolite  (al-zabarjard)".  For Muqatil the Sidrat al-Muntaha is specifically identified as a "Tree" (shajara) located "at the  right side of the celestial Throne  (al-`arsh) above the elevated Seventh heaven" (Tafsir 4:160).  Muqātil relates Q. 53:15 (= عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى   =  "nearby the Garden of Repose  (jannat al-māwā) with the place of refuge or respose of the arwāḥ al-shuhada', the celestial spirits of the Muslim witnesses or martyrs who are regenerative or life-giving (iḥyā') and provide sustenance. He further explains that the Sidrat al-Muntaha is so named because there terminates at it the knowledge (`ilm) of "every created angel" (kull malak al-makhlūq) for "none knows what is beyond it save God". Every "leaf" (waraq) of the Sidrat al-Muntahā provides shade for one of the ummat  or communities. Above every one of its "leaves" an "angel" celebrates the "remembrance of God" (dhikr-Allah). Having said this Muqātil contines,

        "And if a leaf  from it [the Sidrat al-Muntaha') should fall down upon the earth ADD"

(Tafsir 4:160).

Sahl ibn 'Abd-Alları al-Tustarī  (d. 283/896 C.E.),

        Like other Qur'ān commentators the early Sufi exegete Sahl al-Tustarī (d. 283/896), reckoned that all human knowledge terminated at the Sidrat al-Muntahā (Tustari, 95). He associated verses from the Surah of the Star (Q. 53:13f translated above) with a pre-existent column of the "Light of Muhammad" evident in the vicinity of the primordial "Lote-Tree" (ibid):

ADD TRANS.

 

Abu Ja`far Muhammad b. Jarīr  al-Ṭabarī, (d. 310/922)

         The Tafsir  of the great Persian born Sunnī Qur'ān commentator and historian Abu Ja`far Muhammad b. Jarīr  al-Ṭabarī, (d. 310/922) was foundational for many subsequent exegetes of the Qur'an. Even the Shi`i sage Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1111/1699/1700) quite frequently cites his commentary in his huge encyclopedia the Bihar al-anwar (Oceans of Lights).  Commenting upon Q. 53:8 in this Tafsir entitled Jami' al-bayān 'an tā 'wīl āy al-qur 'ān  (The  Assembling of the Exposition of the Exegesis of the verses of the Qur'an)   al-Ṭabarī refers to a tradition relayed from Anas ibn Mālik about the night of the ascent or celestial mi`rāj. Gabriel is said to have ascended with the Messenger of God unto the seventh heaven such that they attained a level unknown to any except God. The Sidrat al-Muntahā appeared and thereby the Omnipotent  (al-jabbār) All-Powerful Lord (rabb al-`izzat) came close by and revealed what He willed to the Prophet about the obligatory prayers for the Muslim community (Jami' al-bayān, 13:45).  In the course of expounding Qur'an  53: 11 -- "His [Muhamad's] heart lies not of what he saw" -- al-Ṭabarī cited an Islamic tradition deriving from a certain Ibrahim ibn Ya`qūb al-Jūzjānī through (among others)  an `Abd-Allah (servant of God):

حدثنا إبراهيم بن يعقوب الجوزجانيّ، قال: ثنا عمرو بن عاصم، قال: ثنا حماد بن سلمة، عن عاصم عن رزّ، عن عبد الله، أن النبيّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: " رأيْتُ جِبْرِيلَ عِنْدَ سِدْرَةِ المُنْتَهَى، لَهُ سِتُّ مِئَةِ جَناح، يَنْفُضُ مِنْ رِيشِهِ التَّهاوِيلَ الدُّرَّ والياقُوتَ ".

The Prophet [Muhammad] ... said, "I saw Gabriel nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā. He had six hundred wings and from his beard were shaken off  embellishments of  pearls and ruby (al-tahawīl al-durr wa'l-yāqūt)" (al-Ṭabarī, Tafsir, 13 [27]:60).

 The vision of the Prophet was a vision of the amazing celestial form of Gabriel who is associated with the equally gigantic Sidrat al-Muntahā. This was a truthful glimpse of Gabriel whose wingspan, another tradition cited by al-Tabari had it, stretched between the East and the West of the cosmos (ibid).     

            It might be noted at this point that certain hadith recorded by Ṭabarī, establish a suggestive parallelism between Moses' and Muhammad's visionary and auditory experiences of God.

         عن كعب أنه أخبره أن الله تبارك وتعالى قسم رؤيته وكلامه بين موسى ومحمد، فكلَّمه موسى مرّتين، ورآه محمد مرّتين...

In his Tafsir on Qur'an 53:13ff he records that the Yemenite Rabbi and convert to Islam  Abu Isḥāq Ka`b al-Ahbar (d. 32/652) informed a contemporary that  "God apportioned vision (ru'yat) of Him and converse (kallām) with Him between Moses and Muhammad. This  such that Moses conversed with Him [God] on two occasions and Muhammad saw Him on two occasions" (Jami` al-Bayān  [13] 27: 62-63; cf. Qur'an 53: 13b = "another time", implying two visions).  It was much disputed whether Muhammad actually saw God directly or his vision was an indirect encounter with Gabriel. The former viewpoint came to be rejected although a variant of the above tradition from Ka`b  associated with  `Abd al-Ḥamīd ibn Bayān (d. ADD) had it that while Muhammad saw God once, Moses conversed with Him twice:

قال: سمعت كعباً، ثم ذكر نحو حديث عبد الحميد بن بيان، غير أنه قال في حديثه فرآه محمد مرّة، وكلَّمه موسى مرّتين.

"... So Muhammad saw Him once  and He conversed with Moses twice" (al-Tabari, [13] 27: 62-3).

Moses' Sinaitic experience of God and/ or converse with God is contrasted with Muhammad's  Mi`rāj generated vision of His Lord or "one terrible in Power" (Gabriel?) (Qur'an 53:5b).  Muhammad, it seems to be presupposed,  had a more intimate visionary experience. al-Tabari records that commentaing upon Qur'an 53:11   the greatly respected Ibn `Abbas ( d. 68 / 687) affirmed the veracity of the Prophet's vision. :   قال ابن عباس قد رآه النبيّ صلى الله عليه وسلم.   "Ibn `Abbās said, `The Prophet -- may be blessings and peace of God be upon him -- did indeed see Him [God-Gabriel]

        Commenting upon Qur'an 53: 14 =  عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى ("nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā")  in his Tafsir al-Ṭabarī writes records:

وقوله: { عِنْدَ سِدْرَةِ المُنْتَهَى } يقول تعالى ذكره: ولقد رآه عند سدرة المنتهى، فعند من صلة قوله: [ رآهُ ] والسدرة: شجرة النبق. وقيل لها سدرة المنتهى في قول بعض أهل العلم من أهل التأويل، لأنه إليها ينتهي علم كلّ عالم     

And His speech [in Q. 53:14], "nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā";  He says, exalted be His mention, "And he indeed saw Him nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā" ... And the Sidrat [al-Muntaha] is the tree of the nabq [Jujube Tree] (shajarat al-nabq). And it has been said regarding it, "Sidrat al-Muntahā, in the opinion of some of the educated among the exegetes (ahl al-`ilm min ahl al-ta`wil), is that at which the knowledge of every world terminates..." (Jami` al-Bayan,  13 27:63).

Following this al-Tabari records a tradition again stemming from the fountainhead of Isrā'īliyyāt  Ka`b al-Ahbar:

حدثنا ابن حُميد، قال: ثنا يعقوب، عن حفص بن حميد، عن شمر، قال: جاء ابن عباس إلى كعب الأحبار، فقال له: حدثني عن قول الله: { عِنْدَ سِدْرَةِ المُنْتَهَى عِنْدَها جَنَّةُ المَأْوَى } فقال كعب: إنها سدرة في أصل العرش، إليها ينتهي علم كلّ عالم، مَلك مقرّب، أو نبيّ مرسل، ما خلفها غيب، لا يعلمه إلا الله.
 

At this point al-Ṭabari records another  tradition again stemming from Ka`b al-Ahbar as relayed to Ibn `Abbās:

"Ibn `Abbās came to Ka`b al-Aḥbar and said to him, "Narrate for me about the saying of God [in the Qur'an], ""nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā, nearby the Garden of Repose (jannat al-māwā)" [Q. 53:14-15] whereupon Ka`b replied, "Such refers to a Lote-Tree (sidrat) at the foundation [base]  of the Divine Throne (fī aṣl al-`arsh). Thereat terminates the knowledge of every world [including]  an angel brought nigh unto God [cherub] (malak muqarrib) or a Prophet who is a sent Messenger  (nabī mursal). Whatsoever lieth beyond it is hidden for none knoweth it save God" (Jami` al-Bayan, 27:63).

                Another similar tradition is recorded immediately after the above and again refers to the authority of Ka`b al-Ahbar:

                    حدثني يونس، قال: أخبرنا ابن وهب، قال: قال أخبرني جرير بن حازم، عن الأعمش، عن شمر بن عطية، عن هلال بن يساف، قال: سأل ابن عباس كعباً، عن سدرة المنتهى وأنا حاضر، فقال كعب: إنها سدرة على رؤوس حملة العرش، وإليها ينتهي علم الخلائق، ثم ليس لأحد وراءها علم، ولذلك سميت سدرة المنتهى، لانتهاء العلم إليها.
 

 "... We informed the son of Wahb [ibn Munabbih] [and] he said `I was informed by ..... that Ibn `Abbās asked Ka`b [al-Ahbar] about the Sidrat al-Muntahā and I was present [witnessing that] Ka`b said. "It is a Lote-Tree (sidra) above the heads of the bearers of the Throne. At it terminates the knowledge of all the creatures. It is thus not for anyone to claim knowledge of what is beyond it. Wherefore is it named the Sidrat al-Muntahā (Lote-Tree of the Extremity) for knowledge terminates about it".

وقال آخرون: قيل لها سدرة المنتهى، لأنها ينتهي ما يهبط من فوقها، ويصعد من تحتها من أمر الله إليها. ذكر من قال ذلك:
          Others al-Tabari notes (see above) reckoned that the Sidrat al-Muntahā is so called because it "terminates whatever descends from above it".

  

             Tabari on Qur'an 53:16  إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى    In context this verse reads in translation.                     

 "[14] Indeed, he saw him another time by the Lote-Tree of the Boundary [15] nigh which is the Garden of the Refuge, when there covered the Lote-Tree that which covered; his eye swerved not; nor swept astray. Indeed, he saw one of the greatest signs of his Lord.

            The key root-verb gh-sh-a indicating, to cover, envelop, enshroud...  is also used in the oath opening the Surat al-Layl,  the Surah of the Night which (Q. 92) which commences:

وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَى  وَالنَّهَارِ إِذَا تَجَلَّى

Arberry translates these two verses [my transliteration added] of Qur'an 92:1-2 as

 [1] By the night enshrouding (wa'l-layl idha yaghshā) [2] and the day in splendour (wa'l-nahar idhā tajalla).

Reminiscent of the biblical burning bush being "covered" or enveloped by the divine ADD

On al-Tabari and the `Sidrat al-Munataha' see below on the Tarikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk ("The History of Prophets and Kings").

 

The Persian receation of al-Tabari's Tafsir by Bal`ami and others

        A very early Persian quasi-Tafsir work is the highly creative and Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā' (stories of the prophets) oriented translation (actually a recreation!) of the abovementioned Jami` al-Bayān Tafsir of al-Tabarī . This was accomplished by a group of `ulamā including Abu `Ali Muhammad Bal`amī (d. 387/997)  for Manṣūr ibn Nūḥ (d.365/976), the Samānid ruler of Transoxiana and Khurasan who found the Arabic difficult. While the qur'anic Sūrat al-Nūr (Q. 24) all but becomes a Persian account of the `Slander of `Ā'isha' (Ayesha), the translation-recreation of the Sūrat al-Bani Isra'il (17) here named the Sūrat al-Isrā' (the `Surah of the Night Journey') and the (Per.) Sūrat-i Subḥān (Surah of Glorification) (see Q. 17:1 opening),  includes a quite lengthy and unusual account of the Mi`rāj of the Prophet (Bal`ami, Tafsir, 909-918). The Sidrat al-Muntahā is not mentioned in this extended and sometimes eccentric Persian  account of the ascent of the Prophet in which attention is often focused upon the "fourth heaven". Located therein the Sidrat al-Muntaha seems to be conflated with the  Shajarat al-ṭūbā (Tree of Blessedness) (cf. Q. 13:29): 

"And also in the fourth heaven I [Muhammad] saw all of the Spirits of the Prophets (hamih arvaḥhā-yi payghambarān) and saw and experienced the proximity therein of the Shajarat-i Ṭūbā (Tree of Blessedness) and Bayt-i Ma`mur (Frequented House)" (Tafsir, 914).

_____________________________

al-Rāzī, Fakhr al-Dīn (d. 606/1209)

        In his al-Tafsīr al-kabīr  (Mighty/ Comprehensive Tafsir) or Mafātīḥ al-Ghayb ( Keys of the Unseen)  Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,

 

Abu al-Ḥasan `Ali Izz al-Din Ibn al-Athīr (d.1234 CE)

         The famous historian and author of al-Kamil fī al-ta'rikh ("The Complete History")  Ibn al-Athīr (d.1234 CE.) taught that the Sidrat al-Muntahā "is in the furthest part of Paradise to which, as its furthest limit, extends the knowledge of ancients and moderns" (cited Lane Vol. 1:1331). Many Muslims reckon that even such exalted angels as Gabriel cannot bypass it (Jeffery 1980: 35 fn.1).

 

'Abd-Allāh ibn 'Umar al-Bayḍāwī (d. c. 700/1300).

        The  very widely read Sunni Tafsir work  Anwār al-tanzīl wa-asrār al-ta'wīl (The Lights of Disclosure and the Mysteries of Exegesis) of al-Bayḍāwī , a native of a small town near Shiraz (Persia-Iran), offers a succinct and clear interpretation of Qur'an 53: 14-16 though details are lacking:

عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى ("nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā, the Lote-Tree of the Extremity"=  Q. 53:14). At this terminates  the knowledge of all created beings (`ilm al-khalā'iq) or their activities, or [furthermore]  whatsoever descends from above it [ the Sidrat al-Muntahā ]or ascends from beneath it.  And it would seem that the Sidrah is the tree of the nabq (fruit) (shajarat al-nabq) for they are gathered up in its shadow. It has been relayed that its uppermost heights (marfū`āt) are [located] in the seventh heaven. عِنْدَها جَنَّةُ المَأْوَى   ("nearby the Garden of Repose, jannat al-māwā = Q. 53:15). The Garden (al-jannat), that is, nigh which find repose the righteous or the souls of the [martyred] witnesses (arwāḥ al-shuhadā').إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى  ("when there covered the Sidrah (Lote-Tree) that which covered it = Q. 53:16) It magnifies and multiplies when there covers it  ADD HERE

 

Tāqī al-Dīn Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328)

The polymathic controversialist

Ibn Kathīr, 'Imād al-Dīn Ismā'īl b. 'Urnar b. Kathīr ( d.774 / 1373).

        In his weighty Tafsīr al-Qur'an al-'azīm Ibn Kathir

Tafsīr Jalalayn: the Tafsir of the two Jalāls.

         This Qur'an commentary of the two Jalāls (Jalālayn) was jointly authored by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī (d. 864/1459)  who began it  and Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d.911/1505)  who completed it. What is stated here is very similar to the Tafsir of al-Baiḍawī and others:  

"I [Muhammad] had indeed seen him" (وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ) : that is to say, Gabriel (Jibrīl) according to his [own supernatural] "form-image"  (fī ṣūratihi) نَزْلَةً  (= "descending" Q. 53:13a)  one time [that was another] . أُخْرَى  (= "another" Q. 53:13b)   عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى ("nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā, the Lote-Tree of the Extremity" = Q. 52:14).  [This] when he [Muhammad] journeyed by night (asrā) unto it  [the sidrat al-muntahā] throughout the heavens.  It is the tree of the nabq (fruit) at the right-hand side of the [Divine] Throne (al-`arsh). No one has the ability to bypass it ( lā yatajāwuzihā [= j-w-z VIth verbal form ]) among the angels (aḥad min al-malā'ikat) or any others besides.  عِنْدَها جَنَّةُ المَأْوَى  ("nigh the Garden of Refuge" = Q. 53:15). Thereat seek refuge the angels (al-malā'ikat) or the souls of the [martyed] witnesses (arwāḥ al-shuhadā') [Ibn `Abbās said]  or the righteous Godfearing ones (al-mutaqūn), .إِذْ  ("when", = Q.53:16a)  [this has the sense of  the] moment (ḥīn) [when]. يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى  there covered the Sidrah (Lote-Tree) that which covered it = Q. 53:16b)[Indicating covering] with birds (min al-ṭayr) and other things besides.  ADD MORE     . (Tafsir Jalalayn [1984] p.XX).

        Worth noting here is a footnote (3) in the 19th century Rodwell translation of Q. 53: 14 (see above) which includes the following  comment on Q. 53:14 partly based on the Tafsir of the two Jalāls (Jalālayn) and registering various legendary traditions :

Footnote in Rodwell (ADD, p.69 fn.3). "That is, Beyond which neither men nor angels can pass (Djelal). The original word is also rendered, the Lote-Tree of the extremity, or of the loftiest spot in Paradise, in the seventh Heaven, on the right hand of the throne of God. Its leaves are fabled to be as numerous as the members of the whole human family, and each leaf to bear the name of an individual. This tree is shaken on the night of the I5th of Ramadan every year a little after sunset, when the leaves on which are inscribed the names of those who are to die in the ensuing year fall, either wholly withered, or with more or less green remaining, according to the months or weeks the person has yet to live ".

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The "Great Shaykh" Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-'Arabī (d. 638/1240), his diciples and select Sufi interpretations of the Lote-Tree.

It might be appropriate here to cited Rippins' succinct  EI2 synopsis of the Sufi approach to the mi`raj-lote-tree story and motif:

 "In the Sufi՝ description of the quest for the experience of the divine as patterned on the story of the mi'radj, the "lote tree on the boundary" symbolises the point to which knowledge can take the mystic (and up to which point one needs a guide) but beyond which the true experience lies. Other speculations about the tree include the idea that Adam saw-Muhammad's name written on the tree and that the tree is actually composed of the "light of .Muhammad" (nur Muḥammadī")."

 

 This Spanish born central figure in Islamic mysticism was highly influential in numerous post 13th century CE and later Sufi and the Shi`i exegetical and mystical worlds of Islamic discourse.  In the lengthy Futuḥāt al-makkiyya (Meccan Disclosures) Ibn al-`Arabī  mentions the Sidrah/ Sidrat al-Muntahā around 30-40  times.

        The Shajarat al-kawn ("The Cosmogonical Tree")

         In his  Shajarat al-kawn ("The Cosmogonical Tree") the great mystic Ibn al-`Arabī (d. 1270)  has much to say  about the celestial universe and the symbolic relationship between aspects of its realities including the Sidrat al-Muntahā.  He speaks of the Sidrat al-Muntahā as a celestial tree which is one of the shoots of the  ideal, archetypal cosmogonical or cosmological Tree.  He further mentions  a fourth "vehicle" (markab) for actualizing a spiritual relationship between the reality of Muhammad and the celestial Throne of God (al-`arsh) aside from (1) the celestial steed Burāq, (2) the Mi`raj (ladder for ascent) and (3) the wings of angelic beings proceeding from heaven to heaven (ajnihat al-malā'ikat  min al-samā' ilā samā');  namely  (4) "the wing[s] (flight) of Gabriel"  (janāḥ jibrā'il) (which incline)  "towards (ilā) the Sidrat al-Muntahā". Having  stated this Ibn al-`Arabī pictures Gabriel as attempting to draw nigh to the Sidrat al-Muntahā (`indahā, cf. Q. 53;13a). The personified  Reality of the  "Lote Tree" then says to Gabriel, "We are the Night" (al-laylat), your guests  (aḍyāfika)". This perhaps indicates the appearance of spectral personifications of the  "darkness" of impenetrability (Shajarat, 350).  ADD

        The Sidrat al-Muntahā also appears as a Reality surrounded by a special class of angels.  All things mundane, the "fruits" of existence, are registered in a related celestial Book (Jeffery tr. 1980: 35). Drawing indirectly on Ibn a-`Arabī   Winter has written,

"it is said that it [the Sidrat al-Muntaha] is a symbol of faith and virtue, and that its fruit represents the experience of the mystic. From its foot four rivers, the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Qur'ān pour forth; beyond it lie the sphere of the fixed stars and, finally, the lumen gloriae" (Winter tr. 1989: 59 fn.c).

        The Kitāb al-isrā' ilā maqām al-asrā... (The Book of the Night Ascent....)

        The Kitāb al-isrā' ilā maqām al-asrā... (The Book of the Night Ascent unto the realm of the Night Ascent...) of Ibn al-`Arabi  (see Osman Yahya, Historie... vol.1: 320-322, no.313, sometimes also known as the  Kitāb al-mi`rāj) contains a brief section headed and entitled  Sidrat al-Muntahā. Partly cast in the form of an allegorical narrative closely related to the traditional accounts of the Isrā (night ascent) and Mi`raj of Muhammad this section is introduced as follows:

The mystic wayfarer ( al-salik) said: "So the Burāq (celestial steed) turned back and went forth from the seventh stratum [of Paradise] (al-sab` al-ṭāq) whereupon the Messenger [Muhammad] cast forth the [miraculous] writhing rod (`aṣā al-tasyār) (cf. Q.        ) into the Lote-Tree of Light (sidrat al-nūr). Then the mystic wayfarer said, `So I enquired of him, "What is this Light and Splendor (nūr wa'l-bahā')? And he replied, `It is the Sidrat al-Muntaha'! ... ADD  (Kitab al-isra, 193).

 

`Abd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī (d. 1330 C.E.)

      The Tafsīr al-Qur'ān al-Karīm  (Commentary upon the Noble Qur'an) attributed to Ibn al-Arabi reflects his often non-literal hermeneutic or mode exegesis  but is actually the work of  his major disciple by `Abd al‑Razzāq al‑Kashānī (d. 1330). The commentary on the Sūrat al-Najm ("The Surah of the Star" = Q. 53) verses 13-16   contains some interesting statements:

"I [Muhammad] had indeed seen him" (وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ) : that is to say, Gabriel (Jibrīl) in his "form-image"  which is his [elevated]  Reality (fī ṣūratihi al-ḥaqīqat). نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى  (= "descending another time") through a withdrawal from the Ultimately Real (`ind al-rujū` `an al-ḥaqq) and a descent unto  the realm of the Spirit (maqām al-rūḥ).

 عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى ("nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā, the Lote-Tree of the Extremity"). It is said that such is a Tree (shajarat)  in the seventh heaven at which terminates the knowledge of the angels (`ilm al-malā'ikat). And none knows what is beyond it for it marks the termination of the levels of Paradise (marā'tib al-jannat). The [celestial] spirits of the witnesses [martyrs] (arwāḥ al-shuhadā') do seek shelter about it for it is the Most Great Spirit (al-rūḥ al-a`ẓam). There is nothing apportioned beyond it, neither any level or thing placed above it, save the pristine [Divine] Ipseity (al-huwiyya al-mahḍa).  "Wherefore was there descent nigh unto it at the moment of the disassociation from the state of the pure nullification [of self] (al-fanā') unto that of  permanence [in God] (al-baqā'). And he saw nigh it, Gabriel (Jibrīl) -- upon him be peace -- in his form-image (ṣūrat) which he fashioned upon him.

عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى  ( jannat al-māwā = "nearby the Garden of Repose"), [indicating the place] wherein sought refuge the spirits of those who are nigh unto God (arwāḥ al-muqarrabin)".(cf. Tafsir Muqatil transalted above).

 إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ   (idh yaghsha al-sidrat = "when there encompassed the Sidrah (Lote-Tree)" [this covering was] on account of the Sublimity [Glory] of God (min jalāl Allāh) and His Grandeur (`aẓimat),  

  مَا يَغْشَى  (mā yaghsha = "that which covered it"). This in that he [Muhammad] saw it  [the Lote-Tree]  through the eye of God (bi-`ayn Allāh) proximate to (`ind) his own Reality (taḥqīq), [transfigured] in Ultimate Existence (bi'l-wujūd al-ḥaqqānī). He visioned the Real (al-haqq), Self-divulged-transfigured one (mutajalli an) in its-his  "Image-form" (ṣūrat). The Lote Tree (al-sidrah) was indeed enveloped on account of the Divine Self-disclosure [transfiguration] (al-tajallī al-ilāhī) which veiled it and resulted in  a mystical passing away [death] (fanā'). Thus he [Muhammad] saw it [the Lote-Tree] through the  vision which prompted by [his] mystical death (bi-`ayn al-fanā'). He was not veiled thereby for he [Muhammad] experienced its-his "image-form" (ṣūrat) though not through [the intermediary of] Gabriel (jibril)  nor  any Reality  contrary to the Ultimate Reality (al-haqq). ADD   

(Tafsīr al-Qur'ān al-Karīm, vol. 2 : 277-8).

        In the above paragraphs translated from the Tafsir of [Ibn al-`Arabi] al-Kashani, this devotee of Ibn al-`Arabi follows Islamic tradition in locating the Sidrat al-Muntahā in the seventh heaven where even angelic knowledge falls short. Celestial spirits seek refuge about the heavenly "Lote-Tree" since it is in reality the Most Great Spirit (al-rūḥ al-a`ẓam). beyond which there is nothing save the pristine Divine Ipseity , "He-ness" or Self identity (al-huwiyya al-mahḍa). For al-Kashani the qur'anic mention of  نَزْلَةً  "descent" (nazlat) in a visionary context at Q. 53:13, indicates a transition from the spiritual condition of fanā indicating the mystical "death" of the lower "self" to that of baqā' which is indicative of the mystical condition of "permanence" in God.  This verse indicates that the prophet Muhammad's experience of the  divine tajallī,  His self-disclosure or theophany,  was an experience of the divine "image" expressive of His Real Being (al-haqq) beyond the intermediary angelic figure Gabriel.

 

The  aforementioned `Abd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī (d. 1330 C.E.) wrote a lexicon of Sufi technical terminology entitled al-Iṣṭilaḥāt al-sūfīyyah) ("Sufi Lexicon"). Therein the Sidrat al-Muntahā is said to signify the greatest intermediate realm,  the al-barzakhiyya al-kubrā  or (loosely) "greatest isthmus" at which all knowledge and activity terminates. It is said to be the last of the named spiritual ranks (al-marātib al-asmāiyya) without superior ([p.60 Eng.] p. 83 Arabic [personal trans.]).

`Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. c.1428 C.E.),

        In his influential al-Insān al-kāmil. .. ("The Perfect Human" ) `Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. c.1428 C.E.), a visionary adherent of the school of the "Great Shaykh",  Ibn al-`Arabi,  has a section entitled "About the Sidrat al-Muntahā"  (see text and trans. Appendix below). Therein he writes that this "Tree" signifies the extremity of the locale which created beings reach  in their journey towards God. He, among other things, underlines the literal sense of the traditions about the "Tree of the sidrah" (shajarat al-sidrah) but interprets its esoteric meaning as religious "faith" (al-īmān). This, in the light of a prophetic tradition which reads, "Whoso filleth his belly with nabq  (the fruit of the sidrah)  God filleth his heart with faith [īmān] " (al-Insan,  2:12), (see further Appendix below).

 

The Sidrat al-Muntahā in Islamic Mi`raj related writings.

The chronologically arranged list of Islamic writings about the Mi`raj of the Prophet Muhammad many of which contain significant materials about the Sidrat al-Muntaha or Lote-Tree. ADD

URL =

 

Shī`ī Ḥadith and Qur'ān commentary.

 A statement of Imam `Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/ 661 CE.),

        Imam `Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/ 661 CE.), the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, is said to have responded to a question about the nafs  which term in qur'anic and post qur'anic times  has a wide range of meanings; including,  "identity", "person" "soul" and  "Logos-Soul". He identified a variety of meanings for this Arabic term  nafs including the individual human soul and the Divine Universal Logos-Soul'  -- this latter sense being frequently associated in Babi-Baha'i scripture with  the "Reality" or "Identity"  of the (per.) mazhar-i ilahi or "Manifestation of God". This first Shi`i Imam equates this nafs  as the  Divine Logos-Soul  with (among other things) the Sidrat al-muntahā) or the  "Lote-Tree of the Extremity" (see Mulla Muhsin Fayḍ al-Kāshānī, Kalimāt-i-maknūnih cited Fayḍī, La'āli' : 247-9). This tradition ascribed to Imam `Ali is referred to and variously interpreted by both the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh (refer ESW : 112; cf. the Bāb, Commentary on the Sūra of the Cow (Tafsīr Sūrat al-Baqara) Ms., 59-60).

Muhammad ibn Ḥasan al‑Ṭūsī  (d.460/1067)

        In his massive Shī`ī Qur'an Tafsir entitled al‑Tibyān fī tafsīr al‑Qur’ān  (The Clarification of Qur’ān Commentary) al‑Ṭūsī explains the verse "when there encompassed the Sidrah (Lote-Tree) that which covered it" (Q. 53:16) as  alluding to that which emanates from or covers the  Sidrat al‑muntahā.   He further has it that "the Sidra (Lote‑Tree) was covered with al‑nūr  (Light), al‑bahā’  (Splendour), al‑ḥusn  (Beauty) and al‑safā’  (Purity) so delightful that there is no end to its depiction" (Tibyān, 9:432). Such is in line with the implications of  Qur'an 53:18 which associates the visionary experience of the Lote-Tree and related things  as among the "greatest" (al-kubrā) of the  "signs" of  the "Lord" . 

Ṭabrisī [Tabarsī], Amīn al-Dīn,  Abū `Alī al-Faḍl ibn al-Ḥasan  (d. 548 /1154).

         In the Shī`ī Qur'ān commentary of al-Ṭabrisī   on Qur'an 53:14 entitled  Majma' al-bayān fi tafsīr al-qur'ān (6 vols. Beirut: Dar Maktabat al-Hayat, 1380)  an opinion is registered to the effect that the "Lote-Tree" is the shajarat al-nubuwwat, the "Tree of Prophethood" (vol. 5:175).  This non-literal interpretation foreshadows its primary Babi-Bahā'ī application to the locus of the maẓhar-i ilāhī , the Manifestation of God who represents the Divine theophany in every age.

        The well-known and massive  Shī`ī encyclopedia Biḥār al-anwar ("Oceans of Lights") of Muhammad Baqir Majlisī (d.1111/1699-1700) includes a section (Bab 6, pp.48-61) in the volume  Kitāb al-samā' wa'l-a`lam ("The Book of Heaven and the World"; in vol. 58:48-61 of the 2nd edition) entitled "Sidrat al-muntaha wa ma`ani `Aliyyīn wa Sijjin" ( "The Lote-Tree of the Extremity and the meaning of `Aliyyīn wa Sijjīn - Elevated Ones and Depraved Beings"). It is headed with a citation of Qur'an 53: 13-16 (see above). The Tafsir of Amīn al-Dīn [Amīn al-Islām] Abū `Alī al-Faḍl ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ṭabrisī  [al-Tabarsi] (d. 548 /1154)is cited: 

The Tafsir of Abū `Alī al-Faḍl ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ṭabrisī  [al-Tabarsi] (d. 548 /1154

"I [Muhammad] had indeed seen him" (وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ) : that is to say, Gabriel (Jibrīl) in his [real] "form-image" (surat)  which He created about him such that it was descending from heaven   نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى  (= "descending another time"). It was such that he [Muhammad] saw him [Gabriel] on two occasions according to his [real] "form-image" (surat)  عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى ("nigh the Sidrat al-Muntahā, the Lote-Tree of the Extremity"). It is a Tree (shajarat) nigh the right-hand side of the Divine Throne (al-`arsh) above the seventh heaven. Thereat terminates the knowledge of every angel ( from al-Kalbi and Muqātil). It is said that there terminates what arises from heaven and what descends from above  at the command of God (so Ibn Mas`ūd and Ḍhaḥḥāk). It is also said that there terminates thereat the souls of the martyrs (arwāḥ al-shuhadā'). And it is said that `Thereat terminates that which descends above it for such is appropriated thereby.  Thereat terminates what ascends of the souls (arwāḥ) which  are constrained thereby for the Extremity (al-muntahā) is the locale of their termination (mawḍu` al-intihā').

        And this  Tree (al-shajarat)  is where the angels terminate for they are halted thereby. It is further said that this [Tree] is the Tree of Blessedness (shajat al-tuba) (so Muqātil). And the Sidrat is the Tree of the Nabq (shajarat al-nabq) [which is]  عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى  (jannat al-māwā = "nearby the Garden of Repose")That is to say, the Garden of the Locale (jannat al-maqām) which is the Garden of Eternality (jannat al-khuld) which is in the seventh heaven although it is also said to be in the sixth heaven. Furthermore, it is said that it is the Garden (al-jannat) whereat Adam sought refuge and unto which  the souls of the martyrs (arwāḥ al-shuhadā') proceed (so al-Jubbā'ī and Qatādah). It is further said that it [the Jannat al-Māwā] is the [locale where] the inhabitants of the Garden [of Paradise] (ahl al-jannat) seek refuge  (from al-Ḥasan). It is also said that it [the Jannat al-Māwā] is the [locale whereat] Gabriel and the angels  (jibr'īl wa'l-malā'ikat) seek refuge (from `Aṭā' and  Ibn `Abbās).

     إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى  (Q.53:16 = "When there encompassed the Lote Tree that which covered it"). It is said that angels (al-malā'ikat) encompassed [covered] it [the Lote Tree] having the likenesses of something obscure (amthāl al-ghurbān)  such that they settled down upon the Tree  (from Ḥasan and Muqātil). It is related that the Prophet [Muhammad] said, "I saw upon every one of its [the Lote Trees'] leaves an upright angel (malak an qā'im an) which glorified God, exalted be He". And it is [also] said, `It [the Lote Tree] was covered (yaghsha-hā) with Light (al-nūr), Glory-Beauty (al-bahā'), Excellence (ḥasan) and Purity (al-safā') such that it so delighted the eyes that there was no limit (muntahā) to its depiction (from al-Ḥasan). And it is [also] said, `It [the Lote Tree] was covered (yaghsha-hā)  with a canopy [blanket] of gold (farāsh al-dhahab) (so Ibn `Abbās and Mujāhid). Its very being was even as angels (al-malā'ikat) having the form of a cupola [blanket] (`alā ṣūrat al-farāsh) wherewith they served God, exalted be He. The meaning is that he envisioned Gabriel according to his own image (`alā ṣūratihi) in the state in which  he encompassed the Sidrah-Lote-Tree  at the command of God (amr Allāh) and expressed the perspicuous wonders of the fullness of the Power of God (`alā kamāl qudrat Allāh), exalted be He, wherewith He encompassed it [the Lote Tree]. Wherefore was this matter especially obscure as regards  [the sense of] "there encompassed it" (fi ma yaghsha) for it was somehow made mighty and magnificent (?)." (Majma` al-Bayan 9:175 cited Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar 2nd ed. Vol. 58:49-50).

The following paragraph cited in the Bihar al-anwār  comments upon Qur'an 83:7-8 and 18-19 (cf. verse 20) which reads,

إِنَّ كِتَابَ الفُجَّارِ لَفِي سِجِّينٍ   *  وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا سِجِّينٌ

"The book of the ledger (kitāb al-fajjar) will assuredly be [preserved] in Sijjīn ("Abysmal Depths"). And how indeed shall Sijjīn ("Abysmal Depths") be comprehended?..."

إكَلَّا إِنَّ كِتَابَ الْأَبْرَارِ لَفِي عِلِّيِّينَ  *  وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا عِلِّيُّون   *  َكِتَابٌ مَّرْقُومٌٌ

"The Book of the Ledger of the Pious (kitāb al-abrār) is assuredly [preserved] in `Illiyīn ("Elevated Heights"). And how indeed shall `Illiyīn ("Elevated Heights") be comprehended? [20] It is a Register [Book] Inscribed (kitāb marqūm] !

Majlisī continues by citing the abovementioned Tafsīr of  al-Ṭabrizī  [al-Tabarsi] (d. 548 /1154) as it expounds the qur'anic references to the Kitāb al-Sijjīn in Q. 83:7-8  (above) and the related verses Q. 83:18-19. The former verses contain reference to the "Ledger" or "Book of Sijjin ("Book of the record of wicked actions") traditionally said to be located in the lowest subterranean "earth" named Sijjīn (loosely, an "abysmal depth"). Attention is then given to  Q. 83:18-19,  to the إِنَّ كِتَابَ الْأَبْرَارِ لَفِي عِلِّيِّينَ  the "Book" or "Ledger of the Pious"  located in a most elevated realm mysteriously named `Illiyīn (loosely, "the Elevated Heights"). Q.   83:18b  لَفِي عِلِّيِّينَ   ("assuredly located in elevated realms") is glossed in the Tabarsi Tafsīr as  "elevated zones (marātib `aliyya) which realms encompassed with the Divine Majesty (maḥfūfa bi'l-jalāla)".  And such [`Illiyīn "Elevated Heights"] are said to be located in the seventh heaven wherein are found  the souls of the believers (arwāḥ al-mu'minīn). It is further noted that "they [the `Illiyīn "Elevated Heights" are found]  in or relative to the Sidrat al-Muntahā ("Lote-Tree of the Extremity") at which everything terminates with the command of God, Exalted be He" (Bihar2 58:50).

 

 

Lote-Trees in the Thawāb al-a`māl...Ibn Babūyā [Babawayh] al-Ṣadūq al-Qummī (d. 381/991)

            An interesting ritualistic or ethical  Shī`ī reference to the leaves of the Lote-Tree (waraq al-sidr)  is found in a few Islamic traditions cited and summarized in the Arabic Thawāb al-a`māl...   of Muhammad ibn Babūyā [Babawayh] al-Ṣadūq al-Qummī (d. 381/991) who is well known as the author of the several seminal Shi`i ḥadīth compilations including the [Kitab] Man lā yaḥḍuruhu al-faqīḥ  ("[The Book for] whomsoever is without a Jurist"). Under the heading,  `The Robe of the Washing of the Head with the leaves of Lote-Trees' (thawāb ghusl al-rā'as bi-waraq al-sidr) a tradition is relayed to the effect that a certain person heard Abi `Abd-Allāh or the sixth Imam Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d. c. 148  / 765) cited the prophet Muhammad,

 "The Messenger of God -- upon him and his family be peace -- used to ritually wash his head with the [eaves of ] lote-trees (al-sidr). And he said, "Perform ye ritual ablution on your heads with the leaves of lote-trees (bi-waraq al-sidr) for He indeed sanctified them through every angel brought nigh (malak muqarrib) [cherub] and every prophet, a sent Messenger (nabi mursal). And whomsoever  performs ritual ablution on his head with the leaves of lote-trees (bi-waraq al-sidr) will be purified by God from the whisperings of Satan for seventy days. And whomsoever hath been sanctified by God from the whisperings of Satan for seventy days will never rebel [against Him]; and whomsoever never rebels [against God] will enter the Garden  (al-jannat) [of Paradise]." (Ibn Babuya, Thawab, 43).

        Another prophetic ḥadīth cited in the same source by Ibn Babuya has it that when Muhammad was  sad-gloomy-distressed (gh-m-m,  VII) Gabriel commanded him that he should "perform the ritual washing-ablution of his head with [the leaves of] lote trees (bi'l-sidr)". (Thawab, 43). Once again the terrestrial lote tree assumes something of the spiritual power of the lote-trees or Lote-Tree of Paradise. It has therapeutic powers so as to dissipate the sadness or distress of even the prophet of God. 

 

al-Simnānī  : Aḥmad ibn Muhammad ibn Aḥmad Biyānbānkī, or `Alā al-Dawlah Simnānī (d. XXX/ 1336)

        A Kubrāwī, `Alā al-Dawlah Simnānī (d. 1336) spent his youth at the Ilkhanid court, a poet and mystical philosopher who modified Ibn `Arabi's concept of wahdat al-wujud. A favorite saint of the later Naqshbandiyya  he composed a number of Arabic and Persian writings, including an important though unpublished Tafsir work, the Tafsir Najm al-Qur'an (in mss. see Elias, 1995, index). In his book The Throne Carrier of God, Elias has noted some aspects of Simnānī's exegesis of the Sidrat al-Muntaha motif when he writes:

The subtle substance of the "real" is separated from God by a boundary called the clear horizon (al-ufuq al-mubīn}?B In fact, it is itself the clear horizon of the Real (al-haqq} which cannot be traversed by any human being or other created entity.29 All subtle substances and other entities are separated from each other by a boundary or horizon. Thus mineral elements have a horizon separating them from plants, plants have a horizon separating them from animals, and animals have a horizon separating them from human beings.30
Within the human being there are horizons separating one subtle substance from the next, just as each successive prophet has a boundary delineating his status and function from the next prophet. Each DÌ these prophets and corresponding subtle substances therefore has two horizons: one separating it from the previous one and the other from what lies above. In the case of Muhammad and the subtle substance of the "real," the upper boundary is the clear horizon which separates the subtle substance from God (al-haqq}. The lower boundary directed towards the created realm is the highest horizon, so named because it is the limit of attainment for the other subtle substances. 31
28. Ibid., ISb-røa. / 29. "Muqaddima tafsīr al-qur'an," 150. / 30. Nairn, 131b. / 31. Ibid., ISb-lPa; 131Ե. / The Spiritual Body and the Mirror of God
91
        Simnani uses Qur'anic symbols to name these boundaries. The highest horizon is the boundary separating the subtle substance of the "real" from that of the mystery. It is the point at which Muhammad stood when Gabriel came to him with the first revelation.32 The horizon which separates the subtle substance of the mystery from the subtle substance of the spirit lying below it is called the Lote-tree of the Boundary (sidrat al-muntahā}, while the one separating the subtle substance of the spirit from that of the inmost being is the Garden of Abode (jannát al-ma'wã}33 The Garden of Abode represents a heavenly garden lying within a human being, in which a person might reside forever if he or she were to manage it properly and sow good seeds (of action) in it. However, if one were to despoil it and plant bad seeds in it, it would become hell, and that too exists within each person. Similarly, each person has a Lote-tree of the Boundary which symbolizes the limit of mystical attainment through the human intellect which only possesses created knowledge. This boundary, which represents the horizon between the Realm of Sovereignty and the Realm of Omnipotence, cannot be traversed without God's knowledge, mediation and attraction (jadhba}.34
Preeminence of the Subtle Substance of the "Real"
According to this scheme, the subtle substance of the "real" is not just superior to the other substances because it is the highest and lies closest to God. It is also categorically distinct because it is the only one which lies just beneath the Realm of Divinity in the Realm of Omnipotence, beyond the boundary of the Lote-tree which cannot be traversed without God's intercession. Although in Simnānī's scheme of mystical progress this represents the final stage of attainment, the subtle substance of the "real" is simultaneously the first of the subtle substances, residing with God before the appearance of the other substances. As such, it represents an archetypal substance, an idea similar to the notion of Muhammad as an archetypal being found in the writings of earlier mystics.35
32. Ibid., 18b. "He was taught by one mighty in power, imbued with wisdom: for he appeared while he was at the highest horizon" (53:5-7).
33. Ibid., 19b. "By the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary, nigh unto which is the Garden of Abode" (53:14-15).
34. Ibid. / 35. Cf. Michel Chodkiewicz, Le sceau des saints: prophétie et sainteté dans la doctrine d'Ibn Arabi (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1986); Henry Corbin, The

 


 

Historical, Qisas al-anbiyā' and other Islamic literatures

         In frequently popularly published  and uncritically edited versions of the  Kitāb al-isrā wa'l-mi`raj  (Book of the Night Journey and the Night Ascent) attributed to the father of Tafsir literature `Abd-Allah Ibn `Abbās  (d. 68/687) there is a very detailed account of the heavenly ascent of the Prophet Muhammad. ADD ? The Sidrat al-Muntaha' is not spoken about ? CHECK... 

The al-Sira al-nabawiyya  ("Life of the Messenger of God") of Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150/767)

In the recension of Ibn Hisham  the above named work

فقال ابن إسحق إنه ورد في الأحاديث أن عائشة كانت تقول: «ما فُقد جسد رسول الله ص ولكن الله أسرى بروحه». وورد في الأحاديث أيضاً أن محمداً ذاته قال : «تنام عيني وقلبي يقظان» (سيرة الرسول ص 139

 

The Tarikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk of al-Tabari

        Numerous other Islamic literatures contain references to the Sidrah and / or the Sidrat al-Muntahā as the following few examples must suffice to illustrate.  Many historical sources which deal with the mission of Muhammad have occasion to mention his Mi`raj and in so doing refer in various ways to the Sidrat al-muntaha'. Especially important in this respect is a passage in the  Tarikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk ("The History of Prophets and Kings") of  al-Ṭabarī  where there is account of the prescription of the first Islamic rituals prescribed by God, notably worship or al-salat (ritual prayer). This is followed by an account of the ascent of the Prophet to the seventh heaven, a version of the mi`rāj story in which the Sidrat al-Muntaha and its fruits are described. Qur'an 53: 16 on the covering or enveloping of the Sidrat al-Muntaha,  is explained in the light of its nearness  of God to the Sidrat al-Muntahā.

Then he took him to Paradise, and there before him was a river whiter than milk and sweeter than honey, with pearly domes on either side of it. "What is this, Gabriel?" he asked. Gabriel replied, "This is al-Kawthar, which your Lord has given to you, and these are your dwellings." Then Gabriel took a handful of its earth and lo! it was fragrant musk. Then he went out to the Sidrat al-Muntahā, [tr.127] which was a lote tree bearing fruits the largest of which were like earthenware jars and the smallest like eggs. Then his Lord drew nigh, "Till he was distant two bows' length or  nearer." Because of  [1159] the nearness of its Lord the lote tree became covered by the like of such jewels as pearls, rubies, chrysolites, and colored pearls. God made revelation to his servant, caused him to understand and know, and prescribed for him fifty prayers (daily).

W. Montgomery Watt & M. V. McDonald, the English translators of this volume of al-Tabari have a footnote (p.     fn. 127) at the above refernce to the Sudrat al-Muntahā

"The "lote tree of the utmost boundary" is spoken of in the description of Muhammad's second vision in Surah 53:14. The following phrase about being "distant two bows' length or nearer" is from verse 9 describing the first vision. Though many Muslim scholars associate the second vision with Muhammad's "night journey" or ascent to heaven, this is improbable since the main verse referring to tlu· "night journey" (17:1) was revealed about the middle of the Meccan period, while the passage 53:13-18 almost certainly refers to a very early experience."

    The Kitāb al Bad’ wa’l tarīkh of al Maqdisī (c. 946-c. 1000)

        In his wide ranging Kitāb al Bad’ wa’l tarīkh (`The Book of Creation and History’)  which was written in 355/966, Muhammad ibn Ṭāhir al Maqdisī (c. 946-c. 1000) devotes a brief section to "what is stated regarding the Sidrat al-Muntahā  which is mentioned in the Book of God" (Kitab Allah), the Qur'ān. He states that it is reported that "it has the form of a tree (`alā hai'at al-shajarat) which [ever] bypasses the traveler (al-rākib) [who always remains] in the shadow of its [manifold] branch[es] (fi zill fanan in minhā)  ADD HERE                               (K. Bad` 1:183).

Ibn Qutayba’s (d. 276/889) early and wide ranging survey of world history, the Kitab al Ma`ārif ("Book of Knowledge")

  Certain of the many Islamic books about dreams contain references to dreams in which the Sidrah  /  Sidrat al-Muntaha is experienced. 

 

Select Qisas al-anbiya (Stories of the Prophets) literatures and related texts

Kisā'ī, Muhammad b. 'Abdallāh al-Kisā'ī, (     /      ).

  •  Vita prophetarum auctore Muhammed ben 'Abd-Allāh al-Kisā'ī,

Abū Isḥāq Aḥmad b. Muhammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Tha'labī (d. 427/ 1035).

        Tha`labī's bulky eleventh century CE collection of stories or tales of the pre-Islamic prophets entitled `Arā'ls al-Majālis fī Qiṣaṣ al-Anblyã'  or 'The Brides of the Sessions in the Lives of the Prophets' contains

The Sidrat al-Muntaha in the Uighar Mi'rāj-nāmah

The fifteenth-century Mi'rāj-nāmah translated into Eastern Turkish by Mır Haydar and calligraphed in Uighur script by Mālik Bakhshī of Herat (see Marie-Rose Séguy, The Miraculous Journey of Mahomet, New York, 1977).
 

 

 


 

URL

Back to :  Part Two  of this Essay

 

Appendix One:  Some Botanical aspects of the "Lote-Tree".

Extracts from Van-Ollenbach, Aubrey. Planting Guide p.32 ( Under Trees nb both classified under colour green [p.108])

 ZIZYPHUS spina-christi- Plate 15 (b) A small, slow growing deep rooted evergreen, 7-9 m in height. Branches armed with thorns, leaves grey/green. Saline tolerant, hardy and spreading in habit, fruit edible; suitable for screening or wind-breaks. Susceptible below 20 F Propagation: by seed or cuttings Saline tolerance: excellent Water requirements: regular watering during establishment, light watering after establishment Wind resistance: excellent

ZIZYPHUS spina-vulgare- A small, thorny tree, 4-6 m in height, does well under Middle East conditions. Suitable for windbreaks and screening. Susceptible below 20 F Propagation: by seed Saline tolerance: excellent Water requirements: regular watering during establishment, light watering after establishment Wind resistance: excellent

  The  ZIZYPHUS spina-christi  can be found in various Middle Eastern countries.  Greenwood in his  1997 book The Sinai, A Physical Geography writes, "Ziziphus spina christi [Rhammaceae ], Syrian Christ-thorn, Bedouin "sidir," Sudanean chorotype extending into Saharo-Arabian, Mediterannean, and tropical African, is highly scattered in Sinai" (p.100).

        As far then, as the concrete significance of the word sidrah  goes, Islamic sources  often identify it  as the  shajarat al-nabq ("tree of the nabq  [fruit]")  or Persian  darakht-i kunār  apparently signifying the  wild jujube or "Christ's thorn" (zizyphus spina-christi). This is a tall, stout, tropical tree with dense prickly branches which produces a sweet reddish fruit similar to that of the jujube  (the `unnÿb  [zizyphus vulgaris] fruit ; see Qarshayy 3: 246f.; Ṭabarī, Jāmi` al-Bayān  13:52f.; Lane 1:1331 ; Wehr  1103; Lambden, Sinaitic Mysteries : 68-9, 163 fn.32).

Appendix Two: 

A Selection of Sunni Islamic hadith (traditions) mentioning the Sidrah or Sidrat al-Muntaha ("Lote-Tree of the Extremity"). 

          In the Saḥīḥ ("Sound") of  Isma'il al-Bukharī,  Kitāb Manākib al-anşar and Kitāb  Bad' al-ķhalķ՛ it is recorded:

ثم صعد بي إلى السماء السابعة فاستفتح جبريل، قيل: من هذا؟ قال: جبريل، قيل: ومن معك؟ قال: محمد، قيل: وقد بعث إليه، قال: نعم، قال: مرحبا به فنعم المجيء جاء، فلما خلصت فإذا  إبراهيم، قال: هذا أبوك فسلم عليه، قال: فسلمت عليه فرد السلام، قال: مرحبا بالابن الصالح والنبي الصالح، ثم رفعت لي سدرة المنتهى فإذا نبقها مثل قلال هجر، وإذا ورقها مثل آذان الفيلة، قال: هذه سدرة المنتهى، وإذا أربعة أنهار: نهران باطنان ونهران ظاهران، فقلت: ما هذان يا جبريل؟ قال: أما الباطنان فنهران في الجنة، وأما الظاهران فالنيل والفرات، ثم رفع لي البيت المعمور، يدخله كل يوم سبعون ألف ملك ثم أتيت بإناء من خمر وإناء من لبن وإناء من عسل، فأخذت اللبن فقال: هي الفطرة أنت عليها وأمتك، ثم فرضت علي الصلوات خمسين صلاة كل يوم، فرجعت فمررت على موسى، فقال: بم أمرت؟ قال: أمرت بخمسين صلاة كل يوم، قال: أمتك لا تستطيع خمسين صلاة كل يوم، وإني والله قد جربت الناس قبلك، وعالجت بني إسرائيل أشد المعالجة، فارجع إلى ربك فاسأله التخفيف لأمتك، فرجعت فوضع عني عشرا، فرجعت إلى موسى فقال مثله، فرجعت فوضع عني عشرا، فرجعت إلى موسى فقال مثله، فرجعت فوضع عني عشرا، فرجعت إلى موسى فقال مثله، فرجعت فأمرت بعشر صلوات كل يوم، فرجعت فقال مثله، فرجعت فأمرت بخمس صلوات كل يوم، فرجعت إلى موسى، فقال: بما أمرت؟ قلت: أمرت بخمس صلوات كل يوم، قال: إن أمتك لا تستطيع خمس صلوات كل يوم، وإني قد جربت الناس قبلك وعالجت بني إسرائيل أشد المعالجة، فارجع إلى ربك فاسأله التخفيف لأمتك، قال: سألت ربي حتى استحييت، ولكن أرضى وأسلم، قال: فلما جاوزت نادى مناد: أمضيت فريضتي، وخففت عن عبادي) [3035]

The Sidrat al-Muntaha in the Saḥīḥ ("Sound") hadith compilation of Muslim:

ADD HERE see above...

http://www.alnadawi.com/islam/search.php?action=startsearch&s=hadeeth

In the Sunni Hadith collection of Tirmidhi the following hadith is recorded:

  لما بلغ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم سدرة المنتهى قال انتهى إليها ما يعرج من الأرض وما ينزل من فوق قال فأعطاه الله عندها ثلاثا لم يعطهن نبيا كان قبله فرضت عليه الصلاة i خمسا وأعطي خواتيم سورة البقرة وغفر لأمته المقحمات ما لم يشركوا بالله شيئا قال بن مسعود  إذ يغشى السدرة ما يغشى  قال السدرة في السماء السادسة قال سفيان فراش من ذهب وأشار سفيان بيده فأرعدها وقال غير مالك بن مغول إليها ينتهي علم الخلق لا علم لهم بما فوق ذلك قال أبو عيسى هذا حديث حسن صحيح حدثنا بن أبي عمر حدثنا سفيان عن مالك بن مغول عن طلحة بن مصرف عن مرة عن عبد الله قال لما بلغ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم سدرة المنتهى قال انتهى إليها ما يعرج من الأرض وما ينزل من فوق قال فأعطاه الله عندها ثلاثا لم يعطهن نبيا كان قبله فرضت عليه الصلاة خمسا وأعطي خواتيم سورة البقرة وغفر لأمته المقحمات ما لم يشركوا بالله شيئا قال بن مسعود " إذ يغشى السدرة ما يغشى قال السدرة في السماء السادسة قال سفيان فراش من ذهب وأشار سفيان بيده فأرعدها وقال غير مالك بن مغول إليها ينتهي علم الخلق لا علم لهم بما فوق ذلك قال أبو عيسى هذا حديث حسن صحيح

ADD TRANS.

When the Messenger of God arrived at the Sidrat al-Muntaha he said, `There terminated here what ascends from the earth and what descends from above.'.... Ibn Mas`ūd said, إذ يغشى السدرة ما يغشى ( "When there covered it that which covered" , Q. 53:16), the Sidrah is in the sixth heaven. Sufyan said, " [It is covered with]  a [blanket]  covering [cushion] of gold (farrāsh min dhahab).

ADD MORE

http://www.alnadawi.com/islam/search.php?action=startsearch&s=hadeeth

In the Sunni Hadith collection of al-Nasa'i  the following hadith is recorded:

ADD MORE

http://www.alnadawi.com/islam/search.php?action=startsearch&s=hadeeth

The  are around ten ḥadith cited in the of Musnad of Aḥmad ibn Hanbal ( ADD)  which make mention of the Sidrat al-Muntaha'

حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي حدثنا ابن نمير أخبرنا مالك بن مغول عن الزبير بن عدي عن طلحة عن مرة عن عبد الله قـــــال:-لما أسري برسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم انتهي به إلى سدرة المنتهى وهي في السماء السادسة اليها ينتهي ما يعرج به من الأرض فيقبض منها واليها ينتهي ما يهبط به من فوقها فيقبض منها قال: إذ يغشى السدرة ما يغشى قال: فراش من ذهب قال: فأعطي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ثلاثا أعطي الصلوات الخمس وأعطي خواتيم سورة البقرة وغفر لمن لا يشرك بالله من أمته شيئا المقحمات.

ADD trans.

حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي حدثنا زيد بن حباب حدثني حسين حدثني عاصم بن بهدلة قال: سمعت شقيق بن سلمة يقول: سمعت ابن مسعود يقول: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : -رأيت جبريل على السدرة المنتهى وله ستمائة جناح قال: سألت عاصما عن الأجنحة فأبى أن يخبرني قال: فأخبرني بعض أصحابه أن الجناح ما بين المشرق والمغرب.

ADD summary  trans.

See : http://www.alnadawi.com/islam/search.php?action=startsearch&s=hadeeth

In the Sunni Hadith collection of   Walī al-Dīn ibn 'Abd Allah al-Tabrizī  (d.  749/1348)   entitled  Mishkat al-masabīḥ is recorded:

"Asmā' daughter of Abū Bakr told that she heard God's messenger say when the lote-tree of the boundary  [Q. 53:14] was mentioned to him, "A rider can travel in the shade of a branch of it for a hundred years," or "a hundred riders can take shelter in its shade (the transmitter being in doubt) ; in it there are golden butterflies and its fruit looks like earthenware jars." Tirmidhī transmitted it, saying this is a gharîb tradition..." (Mishkat al-masabih, trans Robson, vol. II p. 1201 = Bk. XXVI Fitan).
 

 

APPENDIX : THE BAYT AL-MA`MŪR

THE MUCH VISITED HOUSE OR "FREQUENTED FANE"...


THE MUCH-FREQUENTED HOUSE


        According to Bukhari's report from Malik ibn Şa'şa'ah, the Prophet (S) said: "When I entered, there was Abraham. Gabriel said, 'This is your father, greet him.' So I greeted him, and he returned the greeting, then said, 'Welcome to the righteous son and the righteous Prophet.' Then I was taken up to the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass; its fruits were like the pitchers of Hajar, and its leaves were like the ears of elephants. Gabriel said, 'This is the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass.' And there were four rivers, two hidden and two visible. I asked, 'What is this, O Gabriel?' He said: 'The two hidden rivers are rivers in Paradise. The two visible rivers are the Nile and the Euphrates.' Then I was taken up to the Much-Frequented House ..."
        Elsewhere, Bukhari narrates: "... We came to the seventh heaven. A voice asked, 'Who is there?' Gabriel answered, 'Gabriel.' The voice asked, 'Who is with you?' Gabriel answered, 'Muhammad.' The voice asked, 'Has revelation been sent to him? . . . Welcome to him; blessed is the one who has come.' There I found Abraham, so I greeted him, and he said, 'Welcome to you, the best son and the best Prophet.' Then I was taken up to the Much-Frequented House. I asked Gabriel about it, and he said, 'This is the Much-Frequented House. Every day seventy thousand angels pray in it, and when they leave another seventy thousand come.'"
        Bukharī narrated another Hadĩth from Qutādah via Sa'īd ibn Abī 'Urūbah, in which he said: "The Prophet (S) told us: 'The Much-Frequented House is a mosque in heaven, parallel to the Ka'bah. If it were to fall, it would fall onto the Ka'bah. Every day seventy thousand angels enter it, and when they leave, another seventy thousand come.'"
        Isḥāq, in his book al-Musnad, al-Ţabarī and others, transmitted a report from 'Ali via Khālid ibn 'Ar'arah, [36]  which says that when the Prophet (S) was asked about the "Canopy Raised High" [al-Saqf al-Marfū'; cf. ai-Ṭūr 52:5], he said: "It is the heaven", and when asked about the "Much-Frequented House" [al-Bayt al-Ma'mūr, cf. 52:4], he said: "It is a House in heaven which reflects the Ka'bah. Its sanctity in heaven is like the sanctity of the Ka'bah on earth. Every day seventy thousand angels enter it, and when they leave another seventy thousand come." Al-Ţabarī added, in his report, that the one who asked these questions was Abd Allah ibn al Kawwā"

(Extract from al-`Asqalānī, Fatḥ al-bārī,  in comp. `Abd-Allāh Hajjaj, trans. Khaṭṭāb, 1989: 36-37).

 CHECK TRANS.  WITH ARABIC TEXT.

 

Appendix: `Abd al-Karim al-Jili on the Sidrat al-Munahā.


 `Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. c. 832/1428), 'On the Sidrat al-Muntahā' in sect. 49  of the al-Insān al-kāmil...  (vol.2 pp.12-13)

trans. Stephen Lambden (1997)

  Towards the beginning of volume two of the celebrated  al-Insān al-kamil... (pp. 12-13)  `Abd al-Karim al-Jīlī (Gilānī) has a  section "On the Sidrat al-Muntahā" (sect. 49/1:12-13):

الباب ا لتاسع والأربعون: في سدرة المنتهى

اعلم أن سدرة المنتهى هى نهاية الكانت التى يبلغها المخلوق فى سيره الى الله تعا لى، و ما بعدها إلا المكانة المختصة بالحق  تعالى وحده  ليس المخلوق هناك قدم،  ولا يمكن البلوغ إلى ما بـعد سدرة المنتهى ، لأن المخلوق هناك مسحوق ممحوق وحوفما ومدموس مطموس ملحق بالعدم المحض لا وجود له فيما بعد السدرة.

Know that the Sidrat al-Muntahā  is the termination of the position which created things (al-makhlūq) reach  in their journey towards God, exalted be He. And whatsoever is after it is naught except the locale specialized to the True One (= God; al-ḥaqq) alone. It is not possible for created reality to proceed therein and impossible for it to attain unto what lies beyond the Sidrat al-Muntahā. This since therein created reality would be pulverized, exterminated, crushed , obliterated, tending to complete nullity. There is no existence [for created reality] relative to what is beyond the Sidrah  ("Lote Tree [of the extremity]"). Of this there is allusion in the utterance of Gabriel -- upon him be peace -- unto the Prophet [Muhammad] -- upon him be peace -- "If you step forward but a measure you would  be incinerated". The "if" here is a particle of prohibition.   Stepping forward is thus prohibited.

        The Prophet [Muhammad] -- blessings and peace be upon him -- transmitted that he found therein the Tree which is the Lote-Tree (shajarat al-sidr) which has leaves like the ears of elephants. It is thus necessary to have complete faith in that for he [Muhammad] transmitted it himself through personal experience. It is, furthermore, possible that the tradition (ḥadīth) [detailing this] is to be taken figuratively.  Such is what we discovered in our [own heavenly] ascent. It is [also] possible that it [the tradition] (hadith) is to be taken according to its concrete sense (ẓāhir). He [Muhammad ] would therefore have discovered its [the Lote-Tree's] symbolic dimensions and its divine, visibly apparent aspects.

         The Tree which is the Lote-Tree [of the Extremity] (shajarat sidra) was something perceived by his [Muhammad's] imaginative faculty, evident through the eye of his [Muhammad's] perfection. Wherefore was conjoined for him the definitive disclosure (al-kashf al-muḥaqqaq) both of form and of meaning. It was likewise with respect to all that he [Muhammad] transmitted in this connection and which he discovered in the course of his Night Journey (mi`rāj). And we have absolute faith in everything that he said. And if we should find it [him/ limited] in this respect we have vouchsafed to him but a limited unveiling.  This since our mi`rāj ("night journay") is not like his [Muhammad's] mi`rāj ("night journey"). We merely derive from his [Muhammad's] ḥadīth ("tradition") a [personal] construction not having been vouchsafed the unveiling (al-kashf). We acknowledge that for him [Muhammad] is what lies beyond that which our knowledge cannot attain.

        And whoso we have vouchsafed the unveiling (al-kashf) of this ḥadīth ("tradition"), realizes that the intention of the Tree which is the Lote-Tree [of the Extremity] (shajarat sidr) is faith. He [Muhammad] said -- blessings and peace be upon him -- "Whoever fills his interior with nabq  God has filled his heart with faith". For its [the Lote-Tree's] existent Reality there are "leaves like elephant's ears" wherefore is struck the similitude of the magnitude of and power of that faith. In every one of the houses of Paradise there hangs one of its leaves which is indicative of the faith of the owner of that house.

        And know that we allotted the Sidra ("Lote-Tree") a  "station" (maqam an) consisting of eight Presences; in every "Presence" that is of the Sublime observable aspects which cannot possibly be enclosed. That observable aspect may be contrasted with the inclinations of the denizens of these Presences.

        As for the [question of theophanic] status [of the Lote-Tree] (maqām). This concerns the appearance of the True One [Ultimate Reality, God] ( ẓuhūr al-ḥaqq) through His various manifestations (maẓāhir). They are an indication of His Self-Manifestation (tajalli) in what before Him consists of the realities of Reality (ḥaqīqat al-ḥaqqiyat) and the inner dimension of created reality.

[1]

The First Presence

is theophany therein of the True One (al-ḥaqq)  through His Name "the Evident" (al-ẓāhir) in view of the inner aspect of the human being

 [servant] (al`abd).

[2]

        The Second Presence

is the theophany therein of the True One (al-ḥaqq) through His Name "the Inward" (al-bāṭin)  relative to the exterior nature of the human being.

[3]

        The Third Presence

is the theophany therein of the True One (al-ḥaqq)  through His Name Allāh ("the Deity", "God") in view of the spiritual aspect of the human being [servant].

        [4]

The Fourth Presence

 is the theophany therein [of the manifestations] of True One (al-ḥaqq) through the Attribute "the Lord" (al-rabb) in view of the selfhood of the human being (`servant'; nafs al-`abd).

        [5]

The Fifth Presence

 is theophany of the [specified] degree (tajalli al-martaba) which is the Manifestation of the All-Merciful  (al-rahman) 

through the intellect of the human being (`servant'; `aql al-`abd).

[6]

        The Sixth Presence

 is the theophany therein of the True One (al-ḥaqq) through the imaginative faculty of the servant [human being] (wahm al-`abd).

[7]

        The Seventh Presence

is the gnosis of the Divine Ipseity (ma`rifat al-huwiyya) through the theophany therein  of the True One (al-ḥaqq)  through the "I-ness" (self-identity) of the name of the human being (aniyya ism al-`abd).

 [8]

The Eighth Presence

is the gnosis of the Divine Essence (ma`rifat al-dhāt) on account of the absoluteness of the human being (muṭlaq al-`abd) through the theophany of the True One (al-ḥaqq) in this mode (maqam) on accont of [the expression of] His Perfection (kamil) in the exoteric (outer) aspect of the human temple (ẓāhir al-haykal al-insānī) and [as well as] its esoteric (inward) dimension (wa bāṭinihi) -- it is esoteric by virtue of inwardness and exoteric by virtue of apparentness (bāṭin an bi-bāṭin wa ẓāhir an bi-ẓāhir) [as well as] Ipseity (huwiyya)  through "He-ness" (bi-huwiyya; "self-identity") and identity (aniyya) through "I-ness" (bi-aniyya).

            This is the most lofty of the Presences.  There is naught after it save "Oneness" (al-ahadiyya). For the created thing (li'l-khalq) there is not therein any scope [ for operating] for its nature is dependent upon the pristine nature of the True One;  dependent upon the necessarily existent properties of the Divine Essence (al-wajib al-wujūd). When, therefore, something emanates on account of the Perfect [One] we say that it is a divine disclosure (`manifestation', theophany' (tajall[in] ilahi) "unto it" (la-hi), "within in" (bi-hi). For in His creation (li'l-khalqihi) there is therein neither place nor any relationship with the thing created (al-khalq).   Nay, rather! it is [wholly] dependent upon the True One (huwa li'-ḥaqq). And it is for this reason that the people of God (ahl Allāh) are held back [from] the theophany of the Divine Oneness (tajalli al-aḥadiyya) before the creation (li'l-khalq). Wherefore does the appearance of the Divine Oneness (al-aḥadiyya) take precedence in what is realized. God is the cut off point for the [human] mind ....

 

 


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    Sidrat   / Sadrat / Sidrat al-Muntaha / Sadratu'l-Muntaha...   revised