Sidrah (Lote-Tree) and
the Sidrat al-Muntaha (Lote-Tree of the Extremity),
Some Apects of their Islamic and Bābī-Bahā'ī Iintepretations.
Stephen N. Lambden
In progress - last revised 9th September 2009.
The three main Qur'anic texts:
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  and 56:28 ). 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):  He also saw him another time,  by the lote-tree beyond which there is no passing:  Near it is the garden of [eternal] abode.  When the lote-tree covered that which it covered..
- J. M. Rodwell (1861):  He had seen him also another time,  Near the Sidrah-tree, which marks the boundary. 3  Near which is the garden of repose.  When the Sidrah-tree was covered with what covered it,
- Wensinck, A. J. (1921 )  "the sidra / lotus of the utmost limit"
- E. H. Palmer (1880):  And he saw him another time,  by the lote tree none may pass;  near which is the garden of the Abode!  When there covered the lote tree what did cover it !
- Marmaduke Pickthall (1930) : . And verily he saw him yet another time . By the lote-tree of the utmost boundary, . Nigh unto which is the Garden of Abode. . When that which shroudeth did enshroud the lote-tree.
- Abdullah Yusuf Ali ( 1938):  For indeed he saw him at a second descent,  Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass:  Near it is the Garden of Abode.  Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!)
- Arthur J. Arberry (1956):  Indeed, he saw him another time  by the Lote-Tree of the Boundary  nigh which is the Garden of the Refuge,  when there covered the Lote-Tree that which covered...
- Helmut Gätje (19XX ) :  "the Zizyphus Tree at the far end of heaven (Sidrat al-muntaha)".
- M. H. Shakir (1983) :  And certainly he saw him in another descent,  At the farthest lote-tree; [15 ] Near which is the garden, the place to be resorted to.  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) : " A second time he saw him:  by the lote tree beyond which none may pass  near the Garden of Return,  when the tree was covered in nameless splendour [fn. `something unimaginable'." (`The Qur'an, A new translation, OUP.,: 2004, 347).
- Tarif Khalidi (2008) : " And he saw him a second time,  By the lote-tree of the Extremity,  Near which is the Garden of Refuge, .  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
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
[53:1f] 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?
 Indeed, he saw him another time  by the Lote-Tree of the Boundary
[53:15] 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. 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.
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). 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).
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:
"And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  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.  And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.  The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah [ = SW Arabia], where there is gold;  And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.  And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia (Cush)  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.  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":
 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  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
 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:  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.
The Background for the Qur'anic motif of the Tree
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,  until the time of their deaths, but Eve, Cain, and the Daughter of Corruption went to Hell "  (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 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
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?  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
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  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).
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).