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11 November 2012

Cedar or Lote tree in the light of Al-Quran: A Scientific Study

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By Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi

Quranic Name : Sidr

Common Names

1. Shajaratul-Allah, Arz, Arz al-Rab, Arz al-Lebanon (Arab.),Cedar (Eng.), Zizafun, Zizfum. Sedr (Pers.), Sedir (Turk.), Cedre (Fr.), Zeder (Ger.), Cedrus (Lat.), Erez, Ahrazim (Heb.), Cedros, Kedros, (Gr.), Cedro (It & Sp.), Kedr (Russ) Pohon Cedar (Indon)

2. Nabbak, Sidra (Arabic); Dian ci zao (Chinese); Jujube,/Lotus (English); Jujubier/Loto (French); Jujube/Lotus (German); Natsume (Japanese); Bidara (Malay, Indonesian); Azufaifo (Spanish); Beri, Unnab (Hindi, Urdu).

Botanical Name: 1. Cedrus libani Loud. (Family : Pinaceae); 2. Ziziphus spina-christi / Z.lotus / Z.mauritiana (Family : Rhamnaceae)

Quranic References

SURAH XXXIV (Saba-The City of Saba). V:15 : 16

There was, for Saba aforetime, a Sign in their homeland-two Gardens to the right and to the left. ‘‘Eat of the Sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to him: a territory fair and happy, and a Lord Oft-Forgiving! (15) But they turned away (from God), and We sent against them the flood (released) from the Dams, and We converted their two Garden (rows) into ‘‘gardens producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks, and some few (stunted) Lote-trees. (16)

SURAH LIII (An-Najm-The Star). V : 7-18

While he was in the highest part of the horizon: (7) Then he approached and came closer, (8) and was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; (9) so did (God) convey the inspiration to His Servant (conveyed) what He (meant) to convey. (10) The (Prophet’s) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw. (11) Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw ? (12) For indeed he saw him at a second descent, (13) near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass: (14) Near it is the Garden of Abode. (15) Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (16) (his) sight never swerved nor did it go wrong! (17) For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord the Greatest! (18).

SURAH LVI (Al-Waqia - The Inevitable Event). V : 27 - 34

The Companions of the Right Hand,-what will be the Companions of the Right Hand ? (27) (They will be) among Lote-trees without thorns. (28) among Talh trees with flowers (or fruits) piled one above another, - (29) in shade long-extended, (30) by water flowing constantly, (31) and fruit in abundance, (32) whose season is not limited, nor (supply) forbidden, (33) And on Thrones (of Dignity), raised high. (34)

There are four references of the word ‘Sidrah’ in the Holy Qur’an. Twice it is mentioned in Surah Najm and once each in Surah Waqiah and Surah Saba. Of these four references, only one pertains to this earth (Surah Saba) while the rest three have been mentioned in the description of the paradise and the skies.

Most of the commentators and translators of the Qur’an in English have considered Sidrah to be the Lote-Tree which in Arabic is known as either Nabq or ‘Unnab and in European languages as jujube or Ziziphus. Maulana Usmani, however, states in his commentary of Quran, that Sidra al-Muntaha referred to in Verse 57 of Surah Najm should not be confused with Jujubes. Only God known what type of tree it is? It also reported through some Traditions of The Prophet (SAAS) that the roots of gigantic Sidrah would be in the sixth sky while its branches spread over to the seventh sky. Maulana Majid (Commentary of Quran) while describing the meaning of Surah Waqia, has stated that some well-known Arabic commentators of the Qur’an have expressed the opinion that Sidrah does not actually mean the Lote-Tree but “it is some other beautiful tree.” Several Arabia, English and Urdu commentators have stated that Divine Summons were received by Prophet Mosses near a celebrated tree and Prophet Muhammad had the God’s Vision also near a tree called in Quran as Sidrah.

In Lughat al-Qur’an, (Arabic Dictionary) Sidr is defined as a tree signifying the utmost boundary of human knowledge. Similarly Ghulam Ahmed Pervez in the Dictionary of the Quran, considered Sidrat-al-Munteha as a limit of Man’s perception. Maulana Maudoodi in his commentary of the Quran, says that it is actually a place where Holy Prophet met Gabriel for the second time in person and it is difficult to know the exact nature and description of this Sidrah tree. Nevertheless, in his opinion it was something for which the word Sidr was considered by God to be the most suitable word in human language. Hughes (Meaning of Quran), considered Sidrat al-Munteha as the tree of extremity.

Allama Yusuf Ali (Meaning of the Glorious Quran) has identified Sidrah as Lote-Tree of the genus Ziziphus that occurs in Arabia in wild states as well as in cultivation (Note No. 3814, 5092). Inspite of the fact that some commentators of the Qur’an have identified Sidra as the possible Lote-Tree (Ziziphus Species), it is important to note that majority of them have retained the original word Sidrat al-Munteha or Sidrah in their translations of Surah Najm (V.57). Dawood has translated Sidrat al-Munteha as Sidrah tree and Sidre-Makhzud as a thornless Sidrah.

In order to establish the actual identity and true nature of Sidrah, one must take into account very carefully the purpose of the Quranic reference of this tree. Of all the four references of the word Sidrah, not even a single Verse describes or indicates the occurrence of its fruit. Furthermore, in none of the verses of the whole Qur’an, one finds the mention of Sidr along with other fruit bearing trees, namely Date (Nakhl), Olive (Zaitun), Fig (Teen), Grape (‘Inab), and Pomegranate (Rumman). All these fruits and fruit bearing trees have been mentioned together several times in many verses but in none Sidr has been clubbed with them. Thus, it is evidently clear that by mentioning Sidrah, Allah has actually emphasized the beauty, strength and grandeur of some tree and not the fruit. For instance, in Surah Najm and Surah Waqiah, a spectacular and panoramic view of Skies and Paradise has been described mentioning Sidrah, whereas in Surah Saba, Sidr is mentioned as one of the devastating floods of Eram (the other two trees being Tamarisk i.e. Athal and Mustard tree i.e. Khamt).

Before trying to identify true Sidrah, let us consider the opinion of those who claim it to the Lote-Tree of the genus Ziziphus. According to Paxton, the name Ziziphus has been derived from the Arabic word Ziziofun, which means a spiny shrub. In fact all the species of Ziziphus are armed with spines or thorns and are not deep-rooted plants. The three species of Ziziphus occurring in Arabia are Z.mauritiana, which is the source of jujube fruits, Z.lotus, which produces the edible fruits known as ‘Unnab (in Arabic), and Z.spina-christi, thorns of which are said to have been used to make the crown for Holy Christ. These species are generally spiny shrubs but sometimes attain the size of a small tree. All of them do produce edible fruits although in taste none can be rated as good as the ones described in the Qur’an, namely date, grape, figs, pomegranate and olive. Ziziphus trees are good source of fuel but by no measures any of the three is held suitable for timber. All these plants are found in tropical regions of Africa and Asia and are not found in hilly regions having a cool climate. Orchards of pure Ziziphus are seldom planted. These are either found wild or cultivated in patches or around gardens as protective barriers or hedges.

Now taking into account the characteristics of Ziziphus, one is led to the conclusion that Sidrah of the Qur’an may not be any of its species because in Surah Najm and Surah Waqiah, beauty of the Sidrah plants has been described while in Surah Saba, it is mentioned in the cool environment of the hilly regions of Yemen which is about 4000 ft. above sea level. At such heights Ziziphus are not supposed to grow, at least not wild. Ziziphus cannot be taken as a graceful and useful tree so as to deserve its description in the Verses regarding Sidratul-Muntaha and Paradise. One must also remember that there is no mention of Sidrah fruits in the said verses. Under the circumstances, one is compelled to analyze the comments of those scholars who have stated that Sidrah may be some “other good tree”. This prompts us to consider the possibility of the Cedar of Lebanon as the true Sidr of the Quran. This majestic tree is botanically known as Cedrus libani commonly called in Arabic as Arz al-Rab (Arz of the God) or Shajaratul -Allah (Tree of the Lord) or Arz al-Lebanon. It is not only the most beautiful and imposing tree of Arabia but probably the grandest amongst the entire plant kingdom. Cedrus libani is a very tall tree reaching the height upto one hundred fifty feet with a trunk of about eight feet diameter and often having a girth of as much as forty feet. It has a thick growth of dark green foliage with spread out branches. The whole plant with its terraced effect of the foliage imparts the tree a dignity and grandeur of a big pyramid when seen from a distance. Moldenke (Plants of Bible) has very rightly stated that by looking at the Cedar tree (or its forest) one is lost by its beauty.

The wood of the Cedar is a quality timber. It is shiny, light, durable and pleasant smelling because of the presence of a resin known as Cedar oil. These were the reasons that big Prayer Halls were made by Cedar wood during pre-Christian era. Such structures did not require much attention for their cleanliness and washings. It is said that the great Palace of Solomon was built by the timber of this marvelous tree and for which one hundred eighty thousand labourers were employed to cut down the huge trees and transported to the capital Jerusalem. During the period of Pharaohs too, large forests of Cedar of Lebanon were cut down and its timber was transported to Egypt to build Palaces and Temples, which lasted for several centuries. Cutting of Cedar trees became so frequent that a stage was reached during the time of Holy Christ when these trees became scarce and in some regions their cutting and destruction was very much discouraged and disliked.

The celebrated tree of Lebanon has been mentioned in the Bible by the name of Erez, which in the versions of Greek and other European languages has been translated as Kedros, Cedrus, Cedro, and Cedros etc. It has been claimed that the Hebrew names Erez and its equivalent in Arabic i.e. Arz have been derived from Sematic language. Similarly, its other names like Cedrus, Cedro etc. have also their origin in Sematic language. It is a historical fact that before the advent of Islam, the vast areas of Syria, Palestine and Iraq were under the Greek and Roman influence. Consequently many Roman and Greek names of the plants were adopted in Arabic language too, obviously with some changes in their pronunciation and format. Thus, it is very likely that Arz (Arabic) and Erez (Hebrew) also became known as Sidr or Sidrah in Arabic as a derivation of Cedrus, Cedro and Kedros. However, when the true Cedar i.e. Sidrah of the Qur’an became a scarce tree even in Lebanon and Syria, people started calling other trees also as Sidrah. For instance, Juniperus found in the hilly habitat of Hijaz and other high altitude areas of Arabia were also called Arz (Sidr) although its original Arabia name was ‘Ar’Ar. When the Juniper forests were also cut down, as was the fate of Cedrus libani, to meet out the population demand for timber and fuel, some other trees also became known as Sidrah. Ziziphus was foremost amongst them particularly in view of the fact that several species of this genus like Z.lotus (Arabic, Unnab) and Z.spina-christi were found wild in peninsular Arabia. That is how the true Sidrah of Cedrus libani i.e. Arz al-Rab was pushed to oblivion and instead the misapplied name of Sidrah for Lote-Tree (Ziziphus species) became popular and familiar with the masses. In fact, such changes in the local or vernacular names of the plants are a fairly common phenomenon in the floristic wealth of a country or in the linguistic regions. For example, Kinos, Copals, Teak etc. are applied for several altogether different plant species, which belong to different genera and even families. Hence, it may be easily concluded that the true Sidrah was the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus Iibani) though quite a few Juniperus and Ziziphus were also called Sidrah.

The photographs of true Cedar of Lebanon (Sidrah) given in this book are in itself the testimony of its grandeur, strength and majestic size of the tree of the Qur’an. Steingass (Persian-English Dictionary) has given the meaning of Sidrat Qamat as “tall stature” obviously referring to the meaning of Sidrah. In fact Cedar was once known as the king of the forests and there are several references of this very tree in the Holy Bible. It is also called the tree of God and is glorified in one of the Verses as under: The Tree of the Lord, the Cedar of Lebanon who he hath planted (Book of Psalm 104: 16).

In another verse, Cedar is mentioned in the following words: The Hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were goodly Cedars (Book of Psalm 80: 10).

It is interesting to note that the Cedar is known in Arabic as Shajar al-Allah or Shajar al-Rab and the allied species Cedrus deodara occurring in the Himalayas, is known in Sanskrit and Hindi as Deodar which means the wood or tree of God.

As already stated, during the period right form Holy Christ till the emergence of Islam, Al-Arz was known in Greek and other European languages by words quite akin to Sidrah and, therefore, if the Arz al-Lebanon is taken to be the Sidrah (Sidr) of the Qur’an, all the Quranic Verses describing Sidr become very clear and appropriate to the plant.

The tree of Sidrah on the sixth and seventh skies (Surah Najm) was the one, which was the tallest of the area and one of the most beautiful creations of God, and of course this plant was the subject of description and glory of most of the Prophet. The same tree has been mentioned in another Surah (Waqia) when Scene of Paradise is projected, and the word Sidre-Makhdud meaning thornless Sidrah, has been mentioned because in the next sentence of the same Surah, the tree named Talha is mentioned which is a thorny tree i.e. Acacia seyal. Obviously in Surah Saba, the description of Sidrah now becomes very clear when it is said that only three types of trees escaped devastation by floods, otherwise all the garden were completely destroyed. These were Khamt (Salvadora persica), Athl (Tamarix aphylla) and Sidrah (Cedrus libani), all of them being deep-rooted strong trees and hence their survival during the flood of Eram at Ma’arib is a most logical and natural episode. There is every possibility of the occurrence of Cedar (Cedrus libani) at Ma’arib because this hilly area is said to have a cold climate because of its height (about 4000 ft) and cedar is actually the plant of hilly areas and cold climate. It can be easily perceived that Cedar of Lebanon must have existed in Yemen, which was a highly civilized and wealthy kingdom during that time.

The botanical literature on the floristic of Arabia written by various experts during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century also indicate that the three species of Ziziphus, many Junipers as well as few species of Tamarix are still locally known as Sidr and Arz. This amply demonstrate that at the time of the advent of Islam, true Sidr must have been the al-Arz (Cedar) of Lebanon but both the names of Sidr and Arz would also have been in use for other trees of Juniperus (Arabic, ‘Ar’Ar) and Ziziphus too. However, in Greek, Italian and other languages, which had a great impact on Northern Arabia, Cedrus, Cedar etc. meant only the Cedrus libani and not Ziziphus.

Some of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad also prove that Sidr of the Quran must be the tall tree Cedrus and not a thorny shrub like Ziziphus. For instance, there is a Hadith (Tradition) in Abu Dawud according to which Prophet is reported to have said, “all those who would cut Sidr would be sent to Hell with their heads down.” Similarly, Hisham bin Urwah once stated, “I have heard in Mecca that Holy Prophet Muhammad has condemned those who cut Sidr”. Prophet said this in context of the practice of some people in Mecca who used Sidr timber for the Iraq. These Traditions (Abu Dawud) of the Prophet’s warning against the destruction and cutting of these trees was a part of his scientific attitude to conserve the vegetation wealth and to maintain the ecological balance. It may be said that is some forests of Cedar are still seen in Lebanon and Syria today, it must have been because of the general attitude of Muslims against their cutting. Otherwise, had the cutting of these forests been allowed, the Cedar would have been non-existent by now. The above referred to Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad are very relevant to Al-Arz and not the least to Lote-Tree. Cutting of wild and shrubby Lote tree may not be described as a big sin. As a matter of fact, the cutting of old Ziziphus help in its quick regeneration.

In another Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been reported to have told his companions that the Sidrat al-Muntaha was a huge tree with its leaves (branches) looking like the ears of an elephant and its fruits like the water pots of Hajr (a place in Arabia). Now, if the tree with branches and cones i.e. fruits (given in this book) are closely observed, one is bound to appreciate the simile given by the Prophet.

There are several Traditions given in Bukhari, Tirmidhi and other Traditions wherein advice has been given to mix Sidr leaves in the warm water meant for giving bath to the dead body. Here, the leaves of Cedrus libani and Juniperus oxycedrus are really most suitable as disinfectant because of the fact that both these plants contain an essential oil which is highly efficacious as deodorant and disinfectant. But in the absence of these two plants, Z.lotus or Z.spina-christi leaves are a poor substitute.

There are several Traditions transmitted by Ja’far Sadiq, in Sharai al-Islam etc, which indicate that the Sidr must have been the leaves having antibacterial and cleansing properties. For instance, it has been reported that Prophet used to wash his clothes with Ragvah (lather, foam) of Sidr and that this practice was followed by earlier Prophet too. The importance of Sidr is highlighted by another Tradition from the same source which says, ‘Watering the Plants of Sidr and Talh (Acacia species) is an equal to giving water to a thirsty Believer.” These Traditions also strengthen the proposition that Sidr was actually the tree Cedar and not Jujube.

According to Professor Lytton Musselman in his Treatise on Bible Plants, an old Cedar is noble in bearing. No wonder it is an image of a Mighty King— regal, strong, tenacious. It is also likened to an upright man. Noble as a timber, cedar is resistant to decay, fragrant, and has a beautiful grain. Apparently it could not be harvested without a royal decree.
A lesser known use of cedar was in oblations for purification. One example is the cleansing for leprosy. This offering required cedar wood. Details are not given, but it seems likely that small pieces of cedar were used for their fragrance.

In view of the facts described above the Quranic Sidrah (Sidr) is most likely the Cedar of Lebanon and to relate it with Lote-Tree seems to be a historical misunderstanding, which perpetuated till today in the prevalent local names of the plants.

According to Encyclopedia Mythica, Sidrat al-Muntaha-The furthermost tree or the last destination tree is a Divine tree in al-Jannah-the Paradise, seen by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during his trip of Meraj. (Lilut al-Isra wa al-Mi’raj-Night Journey & Ascension). Sidrat al-Muntaha is not the Lotus tree.

Micha F. Lindemans says that Sidrat Al-Muntaha —”Cedar of the end”. is the huge tree that stands in heaven on the seventh stratum, just under God’s throne.- (Encyclopedia Mythica).

Ibn Abbas narrated that the companion, Abu Bakur at the age of 18, accompanied the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to Cham for trade. Stopped at a Sidrah tree, the Prophet Muhammad sat under its shade while Abu Bakr went up to a friar called ”Bohaira”. The following discourse took place: “Who is that sitting under the Sidrah shade? ”Bohaira asked “Muhammad bin Abdullah” Abu Bakr replied. “I swear by Allah this is Allah’s Prophet! No one has sat under it since ”Jesus’ done except Muhammad. (Cf., al-Riyadh al-Natherah-The Ripe Meadows,Vol.1, P.419).

Originally native to Asia Minor. Currently found in the Jebel Alaonite mountains in Syria, and Lebanon , where it is now very rare but it is still plentiful in the Taurus and Cilician Taurus in Turkey. It grows between 1300 and 2100 m elevation. Quite hardy, this light-demanding and calciphile species grows rather slowly”.

More than 1000 years (This species is mentioned often in the Old Testament of the Bible. For example, the First Temple of Solomon was built of it (see 1 Kings 5:6). In modern times, Cedar of Lebanon is widely cultivated as an ornamental species The Cedar of Lebanon is cited numerous times in religion and mythology.

The Cedar of Lebanon aided society not only culturally but was the basis of numerous economies for ancient civilizations. The cedar had been used for the construction of temples, palaces, and boats. The export of cedar wood to Egypt was an important factor in the growth of Phoenician prosperity and provided capital to launch the more ambitious enterprises in international trading, navigation, and arts and crafts. The Phoenicians and the Egyptians were not alone in utilizing the cedar. The Assyrians, Nebuchdrezzar, the Romans, King David, King of Babylonia, Herod the Great, and the Turks in the Ottoman Empire all exploited the cedars. During the War of 1914-1918, most of the remaining stands were exploited and destroyed for railroad fuel. As a consequence, the extent of the cedars in Lebanon has dramatically declined. It is an evergreen coniferous tree growing up to 40 m (130 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) diameter. The leaves are needle-like, spaced out on the long shoots, and in clusters of 15-45 on the short shoots.

Cedar of Lebanon was important to various civilizations. The trees were used by the ancient Phoenicians for building trade and military ships, as well as houses and temples. The Egyptians used its resin for mummification, and its sawdust was found in the pharaoh’s tombs. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh designates the cedar groves of Lebanon as the dwelling of the gods to where Gilgamesh ventured. They once burned cedar in their ceremonies. Moses asked his followers to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world.

Historically, extensive deforestation has occurred, with only small remnants of the original forests surviving. Deforestation has been particularly severe in the Lebanon and Cyprus; on Cyprus, only small trees up to 25 m (82 ft) tall survive, though Pliny the Elder recorded cedars 40 m (130 ft) tall there. Extensive reforestation of cedar is carried out in the Mediterranean region, particularly Turkey, where over 50 million young cedars are being planted annually. The Lebanese populations are also now expanding through a combination of replanting and protection of natural regeneration from browsing by goats. The Lebanese flag, with the Lebanon Cedar in the middle The Lebanon Cedar has always been the national emblem of Lebanon, and it is seen on the Lebanese Flag. As a result of long exploitation, very few old trees remain in Lebanon, but there is now an active program to conserve and regenerate the forests. The forest of the Cedars in Bsharri and the Barouk forest are national reserves in Lebanon. Extensive replanting is taking place in Turkey, where approximately 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of cedar are planted annually. ( Christopher J. Earle, Gymnosperm Database).

Important Traditions (Ahadith) on Sidrah

‘Abd Allah Bin Habashi® reported the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) as saying: if anyone cuts the Sidr, Allah brings him headlong into hell.

Hussain Bin Ibrahim (R) said: I asked Hisham Bin ‘Urwah about the cutting of Sidr when he was leaning against the house of Urwah. He said- do you not see these doors? – These were made of the Sidr of ‘Urwah, which ‘Urwah used to cut from his land. He said there is no harm in it. Humaids version adds: you have brought an innovation, O’ Iraqi. He said: I said: this innovation is from you. I heard someone say at Mecca: the Apostle (PBUH) of Allah cursed him who cuts a Sidr. He then mentioned the rest of the Edition to the same effect.

(The above Article is one of the Chapters of PLANTS OF THE QURAN by Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi, 9th edition, 2011, Sidrah Publisher, Lucknow. email : mihfarooqi@yahoo.com)

[Dr. Mohammed Iqtedar Husain Farooqi is a Scientist. He is currently Deputy Director, National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow. He can be contacted at mihfarooqi@gmail.com or on his Mobile # +91 9839901066]

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