One of the endearing motifs of higher spiritual consciousness in Islam is al-Sidrat al-Muntaha, the Lote Tree of the Furthest Boundary – which represents both the peak and the limitations of human intellect, the point where mind must surrender to heart and soul, in submission to the Unseen.
The Lote Tree with its extensive shade, its delicious fruit and exquisite fragrance, traditionally symbolizes Iman (secure faith). The shade of “action” represents rahmah (mercy); the fruit represents “intentions” and any productive consequence that may result from that intention; while the “fragrance” of the tree represents speech and communication infused with wisdom and knowledge – a wisdom and a knowledge that refuse to engage other than the very best and most endearing ways and means of debate and argumentation.
From the base of this mystical Lote Tree gush four rivers of exquisite beauty. These rivers are variously known as Kawthar, Rahmah, Ni’mah, Salasabil, Zanjabil, the Nile and the Euphrates. Two of them are hidden while another two are visible. It is generally believed that the images of the Nile and the Euphrates are the visible (Zahir) ones known for their purity, sweetness and the radiant flux of its waters; while the other two are the inner (Batin) ones.
While there are a number of names for these four rivers there is little dispute about their composition. These four rivers are rivers of milk, water, wine and honey. When the Prophet (pbuh) was asked to choose from among the four elixirs, he chose milk and was told by Jibril (as) that he had chosen well. He had chosen the Way of the Fitrah – the superlatively natural way of all authentic religions. Among many other meanings, “wine” represents a state of heavenly intoxication; “water”, purity in its most natural form, and “honey”, the sweetness of the Sunnah (the Prophetic Way).
From the life-giving essence of the distilled perfection of the mother’s milk, we look at purity and innocence in its most original form – that original condition of the human being. It is in this purity and innocence that the notions of justice and hence equilibrium and balance emerge so strongly in Islam. Notions too, that tell us that Islam is much more than a Way of Living; but that it is, in truth a Way of Being.
From the mother’s breast to the bosom or “nearness” (qurbah) of Allah, the Most High, stretch a journey of knowing and knowledge both Odyssean and illuminating in its path – the Path of Istiqamah – the Path of Spiritual Rectitude and Liberation.
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks