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Sidra 5A

Shī`ī Ḥadith and Qur'ān commentary.

Stephen N. Lambden

In progress and under extensive revision and supplementation

2007-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) cite the prophet Muhammad as follows:

"The Messenger of God -- upon him and his family be peace -- used to ritually wash his head with the [leaves 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)

 Cite source and update ...
        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 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), Kitab al Ma`ārif ("Book of Knowledge").

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).