Sidra 3A

 

The Sidrat al-Muntahā in select Islamic Tafsīr works

 

Stephen N. Lambden

In progress and updating - last revised 9th September 2009.

 

Qur'an XVII THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL ( 17:1).
 

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
 

ADD TEXT

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 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:

 thers 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 ".

`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).