Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī (d. 853 / 1449) on the Sidrat al-Muntahā
Stephen N. Lambden
In progress, under revision, completion and updating.
Last posted 9th September 2009.
Other key Islamic traditions (ḥadith) found in both Sunni and Shi`i literatures expand and supplement the aforementioned examples. In connection with Sunni hadith texts it will be relevent to mention the prolific and erudite Egyptian hadith scholar Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī (d. 853 / 1449). In his bulky commentary on the famous Ṣaḥīḥ ("Sound") ḥadith compilation of Muhammad ibn Ismā'īl al-Bukharī entitled Fatḥ al-bārī (completed in 813/1410-11), he mentions some interesting traditions about the Sidrat al-Muntahā and the rivers associated with it :
The Sidrat al-Muntaha
"The reason why it is called "the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass" (al-Muntaha lit. = utmost limit) is given in the Hadīth as Mas'ūd narrated by Muslim: "(Gabriel) took me up as far as the Lote-tree, beyond which none may pass, which is in the sixth heaven. Anything which comes up from earth stops there and is taken from there, and anything which comes down from the region beyond stops there."
AI-NawawT said: "It is called the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass because the knowledge of the angels stops there: no-one has gone beyond it except the Prophet (S)."
AI-Qurtabī said in al-Mufahham: "The Hadīth of Anas would seem to indicate that it is in the seventh heaven, because after mentioning the seventh heaven, the Prophet (S) said: "Then he took me up to the Lote-tree ..." The Hadīth of Ibn Mas'ūd states that it was in the sixth heaven. This is undoubtedly a contradiction, but Anas' statement is favoured by the majority. Anas' Hadīth states clearly that the Lote-tree is the point where the knowledge of every Prophet and angel ends, according to Ka'b's statement. Whatever is beyond the Lote-tree is hidden and known only to Allah SWT, and who has more knowledge than He?
According to the Hadīth of Abu Dharr, it was "veiled in colours indescribable." According to report of Thabit from Anas, narrated by Muslim, "When it was veiled with whatever it was veiled with by the command of Allah, it changed, and no creature of Allah can describe it because it is so beautiful."
Ibn Dahyah said: "The Lote-tree alone was chosen, because it has three attributes: extensive shade, delicious food and beautiful scent. These attributes symbolize faith, which combines speech, actions and intentions. The shade represents action, the food represents intention and the scent represents speech."
 The Rivers seen by the Prophet (S)
According to Malik ibn Şa'şa'ah's report, narrated by BukharT: "(Gabriel) said, 'This is the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass.' There were four rivers, two hidden and two visible. I asked, 'What is this, O Gabriel?' He said, 'The two hidden rivers are rivers in Paradise. The two visible rivers are the Nile and the Euphrates.'"
Another report from Malik says: "At the foot of the Lote-tree were four rivers."
According to Shank's report: "There were two rivers running through the first heaven. The Prophet (S) asked, 'What are these two rivers, O Gabriel?' Gabriel answered: 'They are the essence of the Nile and Euphrates.' Then Gabriel took him through the first heaven, where they saw another river, above which stood a castle made of pearls and chrysolite. The Prophet (S) struck it with his hand and saw that it was pungent musk. He asked, 'What is this, O Gabriel?' Gabriel answered, 'This is al-Kawthar, which your Lord is keeping for you' ..."
AI-Hafiz said: "Muslim transmitted a Hadīth of Abu Hurayrah which said: 'Four of the rivers in Paradise are: the Nile, the Euphrates, Sīhān and Jīhān.'"
Ibn Abī Hatim transmitted a report of Yazîd ibn Abī Malik, from Anas, which says: "After the Prophet (S) mentioned that he had seen Abraham, he said: 'Then (Gabriel) took me up beyond the seventh heaven, until we reached a river on which stood tents made of pearls, sapphires and chrysolite and above which were green birds — the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. Gabriel said, 'This is al-Kawthar, which Allah has given to you.' In the river were vessels of gold and silver; it ran over pebbles of sapphire and chrysolite, and its water was whiter than milk. I took one of the vessels, scooped up some of that water and drank it. It was sweeter than honey and had a scent more beautiful than that of musk.' "
 It was suggested that the Nile and the Euphrates were described as rivers of Paradise because they resemble the rivers of Paradise in that they are so sweet, so beautiful and so blessed. And Allah knows best" (al-`Asqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī from comp. `Abd-Allāh Hajjaj, trans. Khaṭṭāb, 1989: 38-40). CHECK WITH ARABIC TEXT.