Gharqad Trees & the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Aabid Mir et al., 2024 ✉

Awsaj, the Arabic name of Garqad, also known as, Box thorn tree or Lycium shawii is a thorny tree known for medicinal uses in desert environments, particularly in Yemen where leaves of similar species treat eye ailments, (the antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein present in goji berries are known for protecting the eyes and may reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases). The Gharqad tree, a symbol of protection and concealment in Islamic eschatology, is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict narrative. It is often associated with the End Times and has become a powerful symbol in the Israeli-Palestinian discourse.


The representative picture generated using DALLE-3

Islam is the religion of mercy and peace & permits Jews and Christians to reside in Muslim lands without fear of expulsion or harm. This arrangement was formalized in the Pact of Omar رضي الله عنه, which outlined the rights and responsibilities of both parties. If Jews and Christians upheld the specified conditions, they were entitled to security and the right to remain in those lands. Hence, Islam offered protection to Ahl-adh-dhimmah in Muslim lands and defended their rights if they adhered to the conditions of residence, to the extent that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said:

 

مَنْ قَتَلَ مُعَاهَدًا لَمْ يَرَحْ رَائِحَةَ الْجَنَّةِ ، وَإِنَّ رِيحَهَا تُوجَدُ مِنْ مَسِيرَةِ أَرْبَعِينَ عَامًا

“Whoever kills a mu‘ahid (non-Muslim living under Muslim rule) will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, even though its fragrance may be detected from a distance of forty years.” Narrated by al-Bukhari (3166).

And he (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever wrongs a mu‘ahid, detracts from his rights, burdens him with more work than he can do or takes something from him without his consent, I will plead for him (the mu‘ahid) – or I will be the opponent of (the Muslim who wronged him) – on the Day of Resurrection.”

Narrated by Abu Dawood (3052); classed as hasan by Ibn Hajar in Muwafaqat al-Khabr (2/184); classed as saheeh by al-Albani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.

But if they break the conditions – such as if they commit acts of betrayal or treachery, or they prepare to fight us or help our enemies, and the like – then they have broken the treaty, and in that case, there is no treaty between us and them, and they do not deserve to reside in security as they did not uphold the treaty.

Some sheikhs firmly believe that Israel is strategically planting Gharqad trees around their settlements, creating a mystical shield against attacks. However, the pragmatic view which is far from reality reveals the tree's identity as the Nitraria retusa, a salt-tolerant shrub native to the region. The juxtaposition of symbolism and practicality surrounding the Gharqad tree reflects the complex layers of meaning and interpretation within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where narratives intertwine with historical, religious, and geopolitical realities.

The Gharqad or Boxthorn tree, is a species mentioned in the Hadith of Sahih Muslim The most direct reference to this is found in Sahih Muslim, one of the six major hadith collections in Sunni Islam, considered second only to Sahih al-Bukhari in terms of authenticity. The hadith follows as:


  عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ : أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللهِ ﷺ قَالَ: « لَا تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلَ الْمُسْلِمُونَ الْيَهُودَ فَيَقْتُلُهُمُ الْمُسْلِمُونَ، حَتَّى يَخْتَبِئَ الْيَهُودِيُّ مِنْ وَرَاءِ الْحَجَرِ وَالشَّجَرِ فَيَقُولُ الْحَجَرُ أَوِ الشَّجَرُ: يَا مُسْلِمُ يَا عَبْدَ اللهِ، هَذَا يَهُودِيٌّ خَلْفِي فَتَعَالَ فَاقْتُلْهُ، ‌إِلَّا ‌الْغَرْقَدَ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْ شَجَرِ الْيَهُودِ .» [صحيح مسلم، ‌‌كِتَابُ الْفِتَنِ وَأَشْرَاطِ السَّاعَةِ (٥٢)، حديث: 2922]

 Abu Huraira رضي الله عنه reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:

The last hour would not come unless the Muslims fought against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews. [Sahih Muslim, (The Book of Tribulations and Portents of the Last Hour), Book-52, Hadith- 2922]

The Gharqad tree is believed to protect Jews during an apocalyptic battle near the Day of Judgement. Abu Huraira's Hadith reveals that all stones and trees, except the Gharqad tree, will miraculously reveal the location of Jews seeking refuge.

The actual quote in Arabic is: "إِلاَّ الْغَرْقَدَ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْ شَجَرِ الْيَهُودِ" which translates to "but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews" in English. This Hadith describes a scenario where during a great apocalyptic battle, all stones, and trees, except for the Gharqad tree, will speak to reveal the location of Jews seeking refuge behind them.

Context of Hadith

Abu Huraira رضي الله عنه, one of  Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ companions, mentions the Gharqad tree in the context of a prophecy about a great apocalyptic battle known as al-Malhamat al-Kubra, which is prophesied to occur close to the Day of Judgement. This prophecy involves the Gharqad tree protecting the Jews from the Muslims during this significant event. This hadith is one of the narrations that discusses events related to the end times within Islamic eschatology. It is important to approach such texts with a nuanced understanding of their historical, theological, and contextual significance.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

اليهود: إِنَّمَا يَنْتَظِرُونَ الْمَسِيحَ الدَّجَّالَ، ‌فَإِنَّهُ ‌الَّذِي ‌يَتْبَعُهُ ‌الْيَهُودُ وَيَخْرُجُ مَعَهُ سَبْعُونَ أَلْفَ مُطَيْلَسٍ مِنْ يَهُودِ أَصْبَهَانَ وَيَقْتُلُهُمُ الْمُسْلِمُونَ مَعَهُ حَتَّى يَقُولَ الشَّجَرُ وَالْحَجَرُ يَا مُسْلِمُ هَذَا يَهُودِيٌّ وَرَائِي تَعَالَ فَاقْتُلْهُ . [الجواب الصحيح لمن بدل دين المسيح لابن تيمية 2/ 30]

The Jews are in fact awaiting the false messiah (al-maseeh ad-dajjal), for he is the one whom the Jews will follow. Seventy thousand of the Jews of Isfahan wearing tayalisah (a kind of head covering) will emerge with him. The Muslims will fight them with him, to the extent that trees and rocks will say: “O Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.”

Interpretations

Interpreting hadiths, especially those with eschatological themes like the one about Muslims fighting Jews and the speaking stones and trees, through a metaphorical, symbolic, or allegorical lens is an approach taken by some scholars and thinkers within the Islamic tradition. This interpretive approach suggests that the hadith's imagery and scenarios should not necessarily be understood as literal future events but rather as symbols carrying deeper moral, spiritual, or ethical meanings.


Perspectives on how this hadith could be interpreted metaphorically, symbolically, or allegorically:

 1. Moral and Ethical Vigilance

The scenario described in the hadith may symbolize the eternal struggle between truth and falsehood, righteousness, and wickedness. From this viewpoint, the confrontation between Muslims and Jews might represent the broader conflict between believers upholding divine guidance and those opposing it. The speaking stones and trees might symbolize the natural world bearing witness to the truth and the ultimate triumph of divine justice.

 

2. Unity and Division

The distinction made between the Gharqad tree and other trees could symbolize the nature of unity and division among people based on their moral choices and allegiances. This interpretation might suggest that in times of moral and ethical trials, one's true allegiance—whether to principles of truth and justice or falsehood and injustice—will be revealed, just as the trees reveal the hiding individuals in the hadith.

 

3. Divine Support and Witness

The aspect of nature (stones and trees) speaking could be understood as symbolizing the idea that all of creation is aware of and responds to the moral order established by God. This could underscore the belief that divine support and witness are always present and that the natural world itself is a participant in the unfolding of divine will.

 

4. Allegory of End Times

In a broader eschatological context, the hadith might be seen as part of the allegorical imagery that characterizes many religious traditions' visions of the end times. This perspective would interpret the events described as part of the complex weaving of signs and trials that will precede the Day of Judgment, emphasizing the need for moral readiness and spiritual awareness.

 

5. Call to Ethical Conduct

Some might interpret the hadith allegorically as a call to ethical conduct and steadfastness in faith, rather than a call to conflict. This interpretation focuses on the moral and spiritual preparation believers must undertake to navigate the trials of the world, including standing firm in the face of injustice and falsehood.

Hadith interpretations, including allegorical, metaphorical, and symbolic readings, vary among scholars and Islamic intellectual traditions. They are influenced by theological, philosophical, and ethical frameworks. Context, scholarly consensus, and a nuanced understanding of language and history are crucial for interpreting these complex narratives.

 

Gharqad Plantation in Israel

The planting of the Gharqad tree (Boxthorn tree) by Israel is closely linked to interpretations of a hadith mentioning the tree in the context of a prophesied end-times battle between Muslims and Jews. This hadith prophesies that in the end times, all trees and stones will call out to Muslims to come and eliminate Jews hiding behind them, except for the Gharqad tree, which will not betray the Jews behind it, being termed "the tree of the Jews."

Symbolic Significance: The act of planting Gharqad trees by Israel is often interpreted symbolically, drawing on its mentioned protection in the hadith. This symbolism is frequently referenced in discussions and propaganda relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than indicating any strategic military or defensive objectives.

Practical Planting Reasons: Beyond any religious or prophetic narratives, the planting of Gharqad trees and other vegetation in Israel may serve various practical purposes. These include combating desertification, enhancing shade and greenery, and contributing to landscaping, indicating a range of motivations beyond religious texts.

Diverse Interpretations: The hadith's eschatological interpretations, especially concerning the Gharqad tree, are varied among Islamic scholars. This diversity ranges from metaphorical to literal understandings, reflecting the broad spectrum of theological perspectives within Islam.

Complexity and Sensitivity: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, marked by deep historical, political, and religious complexities, often sees such narratives being used to signal allegiances or levy criticisms. The deployment of religious narratives in the discourse surrounding this conflict highlights the multifaceted interplay between religion, politics, and history.

Understanding this narrative requires sensitivity and recognition of the multiple interpretations and viewpoints that exist, particularly given the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role of religious texts in contemporary geopolitical discussions.

 

Can this Hadith save humanity from conflicts?

Interpreting religious texts like hadiths to foster peace and resolve conflicts requires a nuanced understanding of their spiritual, moral, and social teachings. The hadith regarding the Gharqad tree, when viewed through a lens of peace and reconciliation, can offer several lessons that might contribute to saving humanity from conflicts.


Empathy and Understanding

The narrative can encourage believers to cultivate empathy and understanding towards others, including those from different faiths or communities. By recognizing the symbolic nature of such texts, individuals can focus on the shared values of compassion and mercy that are central to many religions.

 

Common Humanity

This hadith, like many religious texts, underscores the importance of recognizing our common humanity. Despite the conflicts depicted or predicted, the overarching message of peace present in the broader religious tradition can serve as a reminder of our shared goals of harmony and coexistence.

 

Stewardship of the Earth

The mention of trees and stones can be interpreted as a call to stewardship of the Earth, emphasizing the importance of preserving our environment. This shared responsibility can unite people across different backgrounds in a common cause, reducing conflicts arising from environmental degradation and resource scarcity.

 

Dialogue and Peacebuilding

The hadith’s context in eschatological narratives can inspire interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding efforts. Understanding the symbolic meanings and historical contexts of such texts can foster conversations about peace, tolerance, and coexistence, crucial for resolving conflicts.

 

Critical Thinking and Interpretation

Promoting critical thinking and nuanced interpretation of religious texts can prevent the misuse of scripture in justifying conflicts. By promoting education and scholarly debate, communities can better understand the allegorical and metaphorical aspects of these narratives, focusing on messages of peace and unity. This can be applied through interfaith initiatives, environmental conservation efforts, peace education programs, and advocacy for understanding and cooperation among diverse groups.


Conclusion

Religious texts, such as the Hadith of the Gharqad tree, can inspire actions and dialogues that promote peace, mutual understanding, and humanity's advancement. By interpreting these texts within Islamic eschatology and prophesied events, individuals can engage in discussions that promote tolerance, respect, and empathy towards different faith traditions. This narrative encourages believers to treat others with kindness and compassion, regardless of religious differences. By delving deeper into the meanings of these texts, individuals can transcend divisive interpretations and focus on building bridges of understanding and cooperation. Through education, dialogue, and mutual respect, these challenging aspects of religious texts can be reframed as opportunities for harmony, empathy, and peaceful coexistence among diverse communities.

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