In the Shade of a Tree

May 17, 2001

A couple days ago I set off with a group of eight friends, six of them visitors from the UK, in search of a tree in the northern desert of Jordan. We took two cars and headed out from Amman to the city of Azraq, on the way to Iraq. After reaching Azraq we drove twenty-five kilometers in the direction of Safawi, until we hit an ancient Roman road. It was a road built by a Roman emperor of North African descent: Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 C.E.), and went from Mecca to Bosra in Syria. We left the highway and drove on that Roman road, driving several kilometers south toward Mecca. In the distance we saw our target: a dark rectangular shape created by a massive tree, completely thick and green, in the middle of the desert. A Pistacia atlantica, one of eight species of pistacchio trees.

After more than twenty minutes of slow driving on bumpy terrain, we reached the tree on the side of the Roman road. From that site we looked north, south, east, and west, but there was not a single other tree in sight. Nothing as far as the eyes can see and undoubtedly much further- it was a very harsh terrain where the rocks were black. But there was this grand majestic tree: not just alive but in full blossom. And we knew the reason behind this clear miracle: the touch of a twelve year old child who had travelled upon this very same road, but in the opposite direction, almost 1500 years ago. His name was Muhammad ibn Abdallah, may Allah’s peace and blessings shower him and his family and all the prophets and messengers who came before him, and he was travelling with his uncle Abu Talib in the direction of Bosra for trade when they rested beneath that tree.

The beauty of that place cannot be described. As soon as we reached the tree we held its leaves with our hands, unable to believe that we were holding a living thing that was held by our Prophet, and brought those beloved leaves to our faces. Stretching far into each direction and giving generous shade, we all sat underneath that tree let it shade us from the sun as it shaded the beloved of all of Allah’s creations. We prayed the obligatory dhuhr (noon) prayer together, then we prayed two extra cycles of prayer individually, to honor that place and seek its blessings. In this we were following the example of the Messenger of Allah himself, peace and blessings be upon him and all other prophets and their families and followers.

The Prophet’s Prayer

The Prophet’s companion Shaddaad ibn Aws relates,

We said: Oh Messenger of Allah, how were you taken on the Night Journey?

He said: I prayed the night prayer in Mecca, in the dark, with my companions. After that Gabriel – peace be upon him – came to me with a white creature, larger than a donkey and smaller than a mule. He said: Ride it! It found it difficult to bear me, but he held it by its ear then carried me onto it. It set off with us, its hoof touching where its eyesight  reaches, until we reached a land of palm trees.  He helped me dismount then he said: pray! So I prayed then I rode it again. He said: Do you know where you prayed? I said: Allah knows! He said: You prayed in Yathrib, you prayed in Tayba!

Then he set off with us, its hoof reaching where its eyesight reaches, until we reached a land. He said: Descend! Then he said: Pray!  So I prayed. Then we rode again. He said: Do you know where you prayed? I said: Allah knows! He said: You prayed in Madyan, at the tree of Moses.

Then it set off with us, its hoof reaching where its eyesight reaches. Then we reached a land from which we could see mansions in the distance. He said: descend. So I descended. Then he said: Pray! So I prayed. Then we rode it again. He said: Do you know where you prayed? I said: Allah knows! He said: You prayed in Bethlehem were the messiah Jesus son of Mary was born.

Then he took me until we entered the city (of Jerusalem)….”

This narration of the companion Shaddaad was narrated by al-Tirmidhi. Al-Bayhaqi also narrated it in his book The Proofs of Prophecy and said: its chain of narrators is authentic.  A similar narration was related by the Companion Anas ibn Malik, and narrated by al-Nasaa’i in his Sunan.

“The Scholars said: Buraq was not (at first) able to bear the strength of the Muhammadan lights.”- Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari.

But then it carried him until the angel Gabriel, following the commands of Allah, instructed the Messenger of Allah to pray in a land full of palm trees: Yathrib, which would be renamed as Tayba by the Prophet when he would migrate to it, and would later be known as al-Madina al-Munawwara: The City Illumined (by the lights of the Prophet).

After praying there, he was then told to pray underneath the tree in Madyan, in present day Jordan, where the Prophet Moses rested. He watered the flock for the two daughters of the Prophet Shu’ayb, “then he withdrew into the shade (of the tree) and prayed, ‘My Lord, I am in need of whatever good You may send me.’” (Q 28:24)

Finally, he was taken to the outskirts of Bethlehem to pray on the spot where  the Prophet Jesus was born, and he was also born beneath a tree:

“She withdrew to a distant place and, when the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree, she exclaimed, ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before all this!’ but a voice cried to her from below, ‘Do not worry: your Lord has provided a stream at your feet and, if you shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you, it will deliver fresh ripe dates for you, so eat, drink, and be glad….’” (Q19: 22-6).

The great Maliki scholar  shaykh Ahmad al-Dardir said in his commentary on the story of the Night Journey and Ascension by the great Shafi’i  Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Ghayti:

“From this Prophetic report is taken the permissibility of seeking blessings from the traces of the prophets and the righteous.”

Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari explains: “That is because the Chosen One, peace and blessings be upon him, descended from the Buraq for the sake of the piece of land where Moses sat, to honor it and show his respect.” Likewise the piece of land where Jesus was born, and the piece of land to which he himself will migrate and will be buried. He showed respect and honor to these places and thanked Allah Most High there and prayed to Him. And all these places where he prayed, he was in the shade of trees.

And so we thank Allah Most Generous for allowing us to follow the Prophetic example and to reach the most blessed tree of them all, the one honored -and given long life –  by the touch of the imam of all the prophets and messengers and their seal: Muhammad ibn Abdallah, peace and blessings be upon him and all the prophets. There did we seek his blessings, and there did we thank Allah and pray to Him alone, and there did we ask Him for nearness to His beloved and the beloved of all His creations, peace and blessings be upon him.

And from that pistacia tree we took some small unripe pistachios to eat, hoping that the prophetic blessings would illuminate us  and heal us outwardly and inwardly, body and soul. And though the fruits of the  pistacia atlantica are not usually eaten because they taste like turpentine, this was not the case for this blessed tree. We simply tasted a faint taste of the common pistacia vera, or pistachio. I have thus interacted with a living being that has interacted with the soul of all creations! Praise be to Allah Most Gracious!

———————

To learn more about the story of that blessed tree: the Prophet’s sitting under it, it’s reacting to him and shading him, and the encounter with the Monk there, watch this most beautiful film: The Blessed Tree

Blessed Tree BW

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