Sidra 5B



Stephen N. Lambden

Last updated 1990s - being revised and corrected April 2014. 

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 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).

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... of 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.