It started with a metaphor: The El-Zekkum is a thorny tree which symbolizes a very severe punishment and bitter remorse for those who lack spiritual discernment. By deceiving themselves and choosing an unhealthy path, they prefer an illusion of reality— a tree whose fruit resembles the almond but is extremely bitter– to the delicious, merciful and spiritual food of Divine Reality.

So I tried to map the metaphor.

See My Google Map entitled Mapping Metaphors: Zeqqumhere. This map will be updated as I find new relevant links.

Metaphor (metapherein Gr. meta: between phero:to bear) the description of one thing as something else, can be traced as far back as Ur. Since the 1960s and 1970s continental philosophers such as Derrida and Ricoeur have revisited the term.

A friend who has lived in Saudi Arabia has seen this plant which is also referred to in the Koran the as Tree of Zaqqum ( Surah 44 verse 43). And she found this photo of of a Zaqqum Tree in At Ta’if by Naseem Najd whose site includes great travel photos of Ta’if.

Then I found this photo of the similar Eltham Indian Fig, or Sweet Prickly Pear (Opuntia dillenii) with the fruits. Coastal semidesert altitude zone, Teno peninsula. North-west coast of the Tenerife Island, Canary Archipelago taken by Alexander Bogolyubov, January, 2008.

In wikipedia the reference claims that Zaqqum (Arabic: زقوم‎) is a tree that Muslims believe grows in Jahannam (hell). The Khati’un are compelled to eat Adh-Dhari, bitter fruit, to intensify their torment (Qur’an 69:36-37). The Khati’un may eat only the fruit or Ghislin (foul pus from the washing of their wounds) (Qur’an 69:36). Its fruits are shaped like devils’ heads (Qur’an 37:62-68). According to Shaykh Umar Sulayman Al-Ashqar, a professor at the University of Jordan, once the palate of the sinners is satiated, the fruit in their bellies churns like burning oil. Some Islamic scholars believe the fruit tears their bodies apart and releases bodily fluids. The Qur’an says: [44.43] Surely the tree of the Zaqqum, [44.44] Is the food of the sinful [44.45] Like dregs of oil; it shall boil in (their) bellies,
[44.46] Like the boiling of hot water.[1] The name zaqqum has been applied to the species Euphorbia abyssinica by the Beja people in eastern Sudan.[2] In Jordan, it is applied to the species Balanites aegyptiaca.[3]

“Is that better entertainment or the Tree of Zaqqum? For We have truly made it (as) a trial for the wrongdoers. For it is a tree that springs out of the bottom of Hellfire: The shoots of its fruit-stalks are like the heads of devils: Truly they will eat thereof and fill their bellies therewith. Then on top of that they will be given a mixture made of boiling water… (Surah Al-Saffat Those Ranged in Ranks Surah 37:Verse 62 – 67)”

“Verily the tree of Zaqqum will be the food of the sinful, -like molten brass; it will boil in their insides, like the boiling of scalding water. (Surah Al-Dukhan – Smoke – Surah 44:Verse 43 – 46)”

“Then will you truly, O you that go wrong, and treat (Truth) as falsehood! ‘You will surely taste of the Tree of Zaqqum. Then will you fill your insides there with. (Surah Al-Waqi’ah-The Inevitable Event-Surah 56:Verse 51 – 53)”

Zakkum is listed by L. J. Musselman (2003) in his publication entitled “Trees in the Koran and the Bible.” Of the 22 trees of the Bible, the date palm, fig, olive, pomegranate and tamarisk are also included in the Koran. Unique to the Koran are the talh (scholars are undecided as to whether this is the banana plant, which is not a tree, or a species of the widespread genus Acacia), the sidr (a thorn bush, probably Zizyphus spina-christi) and the mysterious and foul “tree of Hell”, or zaqqm (As-Saffat 37:65, Ad-Dukhn 44:49, Al-Waqi’a 56:51): “Is this not a better welcome than the zaqqm tree? We have made this tree a scourge for the unjust. It grows in the nethermost part of Hell, bearing fruit like devils’ heads: on it they shall feed, and with it they shall cram their bellies, together with draughts of scalding water. Then to Hell shall they return.” Musselman also noted that “Similarly, in eastern Sudan, the Beja people call the large, arborescent cactus Euphorbia abyssinica “zaqqm” after the tree of Hell mentioned in the Koran. It is unlikely that the conception of the zaqqm in the Koran was based on this succulent, since the zaqqm fruit was described as resembling a devil’s head, for instance. It is perhaps owing to its very bitter sap that Euphorbia abyssinica has been likened to the zaqqm.” He also added that, “In the Koran, trees are most frequently cited as gifts of a beneficent Creator, with the notable exception of the tree of Hell, zaqqm. In both scriptures, fruits from trees are highly valued (Musselman 2003:45-7) .”


1. Jean Léonard, whose work (1981-1992) entitled “Contribution à l’étude de la flore et de la végétation des déserts d’Iran (Dasht-e-Kavir, Dasht-e-Lut, Jaz Murian)” was published by the Jardin Botanique National de Belgique (The National Botanic Garden of Belgium) may have insight into the plant referred to be .

2. maps work on the basis of a totalizing classification (Anderson 1991 [1983]).

3. In her book entitled Naming Nature: the Clash between Instinct and Science, (2009) biologist, science writer (New York Times, Science, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times Carol Kaesuk Yoon calls for a reclamation of the scientific field of taxonomy, the ordering and naming of things. As science educator-consultant (Cornell University, Microsoft) she encourages critical thinking in biology.

4. “O thou who art partaking of the Heavenly Food! Know thou verily the Divine Food is descending from heaven, but only those taste thereof who are directed to the light of guidance, and only those can enjoy it who are endowed with a sound taste. Otherwise every diseased soul disliketh the delicious and merciful food and this is because of the sickness which hath seized him, whereby the El-Zekkum [1] is sweet (to his taste) while he fleeth from the ripe fruit of the Tree of the Living and Pre-existent God — and there is no wonder in that. [1 El-Zekkum — a thorny tree so called, which bears fruit like an almond, but extremely bitter. Therefore the tree symbolizes a very severe punishment and bitter remorse for the unbelievers.] In a similar way, thou beholdest some women who have abandoned the Testament, and to them the bitterness of discord is sweet. They keep aloof from the Extended Shadow and dwell under the shade of a “black smoke.” Alas for them and grief for them! They will surely lament and find themselves in loss. Verily, this is but an evident truth! (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 130-1).

5. “Yet I had planted thee, a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me?” Jeremiah 2:21. 21st Century King James Version. Try <a href="“>also

 21Yet I had planted thee, a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me?


6. For an image and botanical description of Euphorbia abyssinica [zaqqum]:“Montane vegetation of the Red Sea hills: Up to 2 260 m high, these hills are situated in the north-eastern edge of the Sudan. The seaward facing slopes of the hills have a winter rainfall, while those not facing the sea have a very low summer rainfall. Mist and clouds have an important effect on the vegetation. A few localities enjoy both summer and winter rains. Near the Eritrean border, forests of Juniperus procera are found, with a few well-stocked areas but most ravaged by fire and overgrazing. Associated with Juniperus is Olea chrysophylla. Characteristic plants of the drier parts of this range include Dracaena ombet and Euphorbia abyssinica [zaqqum].” (www.euphorbia.de/e_abyssinica).”

7. For a botanical illustration of Balanites aegyptiaca [zaqqum]

Paradeiooj Greek? – Garden

My Webliography and Bibliography

Tigay, Jeffrey Howard. Paradise.

Léonard, Jean. 1981-1992. “Contribution à l’étude de la flore et de la végétation des déserts d’Iran (Dasht-e-Kavir, Dasht-e-Lut, Jaz Murian). Jardin Botanique National de Belgique.

Jeffrey Howard Tigay’s Bibliography

J. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament, 1 (1919), 45–77; Th. C. Vriezen, Orderzoek naar de paradijs-voorstelling bij de oude Semietische Volken (1937), incl. bibl.;

P. Humbert, Etudes sur le rMcit du paradis et de la chute dans la GenIse (1940), incl. bibl.; U. Cassuto, in: Studies in Memory of M. Schorr (1944), 248–58;

J. L. Mc-Kenzie, in: Theological Studies, 15 (1954), 541–72; E. A. Speiser, in: BASOR, 140 (1955), 9–11; idem, in: Festschrift Johannes Friedrich (1959), 473–85;

R. Gordis, in: JBL, 76 (1957), 123–38; B. S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (19622), 43–50; N. M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 23–28;

T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (1969), 6–50, 327–71; J. A. Bailey, in: JBL, 89 (1970), 137–50. See also Commentaries to Genesis 2:4–3.

R. H. Charles, Eschatology (19632); K. Kohler, Heaven and Hell in Comparative Religion (1923);

H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 4 (1928), 1928), 1016–65.