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The Tentmakers of Cairo

Religion


The Arabic term suradiq refers to a ceremonial pavilion or tent, often used for funerals*, weddings, and religious festivals. It is mentioned in the Qur’an (18: 29):

إنا اعتدنا للظالمين نارًا أحاط بهم سرادقها

inna a‘tadna lil-zalimina naran ahata bi-him suradiquha

Abu’l ‘Ala al-Mawdudi (1903-1979), in his exegesis (tafsir), Tafhim al-Qur’an (Understanding the Qur’an), translates this as: ‘We have prepared for such workers of iniquity a fire whose flames have encircled them’, and goes on to give the following gloss:

The Arabic word (Suradiq) literally means sides of a tent but, as used in the case of Hell, it may mean its external boundaries to which its flames and heat may reach. According to some commentators, it applies to the future reuse "...its flames will encircle them" so as to refer to the flames of Hell in the Hereafter. But we are of the opinion that its flames have already encircled, in this very world, these workers of iniquity, who have turned away from the Truth and that they cannot escape them. (http://www.englishtafsir.com/Quran/18/index.html )

Alan Jones translates this phrase as: ‘We have prepared for the wrong-doers a fire, whose pavilion encompasses them’ (The Qur’an: Translated into English, E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Trust, 2007, p. 274) and A.J. Arberry also uses ‘pavilion’ (The Koran Interpreted: A Translation, New York: Touchstone, 1996, pp. 319-320). Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his The Holy Qur-an: Text, Translation and Commentary refers to suradiquha as the ‘wall and roof of a tent’ (New York: Hafner Publishing Company, vol. 2, p. 738), whereas Muhammad Asad translates the term more poetically as ‘billowing folds’ and provides the following gloss:

The expression suradiq - rendered by me as “billowing folds” - literally denotes an awning or the outer covering of a tent, and alludes here to the billowing “walls of smoke” that will surround the sinners (Zamakhshari): a symbolism meant to stress the inescapability of their suffering in the hereafter (Razi). [Abu al-Qasim al-Zamakhshari (1070-1143) and Fakr al-Din al-Razi (1149-1209) wrote celebrated medieval exegeses of the Qur’an.] (The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1980, pp. 609-610)

*Some refer to suradiq as a type of tent used principally for funerals: Ahmed Ramadan, Tradition vs. Modernism in the Street of the Tentmakers’, Egypt Independent (21 August 2010): http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/tradition-vsmodernism-street-tentmakers