Praise and Glory are due to Allah, Who took His servant for a journey by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa which We have blessed, to show him from Our signs. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer. (Surah al Isra’ 17:1)
Thus says Allah in the Qur’an of the miracle of the Isra’ and Mi’raaj, or The Night Journey and the Ascension to Heaven. It was the most magnificent trip ever taken it was a journey from Earth to Heavens, from the Lower Assembly to the Exalted Assembly; rather, it was a journey from the created to the Creator.
I wonder how great would have been the happiness that filled the Prophet’s sacred heart in the presence of Allah, in a place never reached except by him, (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). Oh Allah! All thanks and praise is unto You for allowing us to be among the followers of this great Prophet, whom You have blessed with this so high a station.
With the Isra’ and Mi’raaj, the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), became the first and only human to cross the barrier between the seen and the unseen. He then returned to tell us about what he saw, and what was made obligatory on us. He returned to confirm the truthfulness of Allah’s previous messages and to tell us of what is going to happen in the distant future, things that would occur on the Last Day and beyond.
And while this miracle represented the first serious trial for the companions faith in Allah, it has remained until today a test of all believers faith in Allah and in the unseen. Allah Ta’ala says, “And We made not what We showed you but a trial for mankind.?” (Qur’an 17:60) A test that ascertains one’s faith. And for those who succeed in it, the Israa and Mi’raaj presents an endless source of inspiration and motivation with regard to the Deen, this life and the Hereafter.
ISRA’ AND MI’RAAJ AS RELATED IN SAHIH MUSLIM
Anas ibn Maalik (radhiyallahu anhu) reported that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said, “I was bought in the Buraaq, a long white beast slightly bigger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, which, when trotting , would place its next step as far as its eyesight can reach.” The prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said, “I mounted it till I reached al-Quds, Jerusalem. There, I tied it up to the same ring used by the prophets. Then I entered the Masjid, offered two Rakaats after which I went out where Jibraaeel (alayhis salaam) came to me with a pot of wine and another of milk. I chose to drink the milk, and Jibraaeel (alayhis salaam) said, “You chose Fitrah”.
Then, he took me to heaven, Jibraaeel (Alayhis salaam) then asked (for the gate of heaven) to be opened and he was asked who he was. He replied, Jibraaeel. He was again asked, “Who is with you??” he said, “Muhammad”. It was said, “Has he been sent for??” Jibraaeel replied, “He has indeed been sent for?” And (the door) was opened for us and then we saw Aadam (alayhis salaam). He welcomed me and prayed for my well being.
Then we ascended to the second heaven. Jibraaeel (alayhis salaam) asked (for the door of heaven to be opened), and he was asked who he was. He answered, Jibraaeel. He was again asked, “Who is with you??” He replied, “Muhammad”. It was asked, “Has he been sent for??” He replied, “He has indeed been sent for.” Then the gate was opened. When I entered, Eesa ibn Maryam and Yahya ibn Zakariyya (Alayhimas salaam), cousins from the maternal side, welcome me and prayed for my well being.
Then I was taken to the third heaven and I saw Yusuf (alayhissalaam), who had been given half of the (world’s) beauty. He welcome me and prayed for my welcome, and he ascended with us to the fourth heaven, and Idris (alayhissalaam) was there. Allah, the Exalted, and Glorious says about him, “We elevated him (Idris) to the exalted position.” (Qur’an 19:57). The he ascended with us to the fifth heaven, and then I was with Harun (alayhissalaam). He welcomed me and prayed for my well being. Then I was taken to the sixth heaven, and there I was with Musa (alayhissalaam). He welcomed me and prayed for my well being. Then I was taken up to the seventh heaven, and there I found Ibraaheem (alayhissalaam) reclining against al-Baytul Ma’mur (the much-frequented house), into which seventy thousand angels (who will never visit it again) enter everyday.
Then I was taken to Sidratul Muntaha, who leaves were like elephant ears and its fruit like big earthenware vessels. And when it was covered by the Command of Allah, it underwent such a change that none amongst the creation has the power to praise its beauty.
Then Allah revealed to me a revelation, and He made obligatory for me fifty Salaats every day and night. Then I went down to Musa who asked, “What has your Lord enjoined upon your Ummah?” I said, “Fifty Salaats”. He said, “Return to your Lord and beg for reduction (in the number of Salaat), for your community shall not be able to bear this burden. As I have been put to test by the children of Israel and tried them (and found them too weak to bear such a heavy burden).” The Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said, “I went back to my Lord and said, My Lord, make things lighter for my Ummah.” (The Lord) reduced the number by five Salaats. I went down to Musa and said, “(The Lord) reduced it by five (Salaats) for me”. He said, “Verily your Ummah shall not be able to bear this burden; return to your Lord and ask Him to make things lights.” I then kept going back and forth between my Lord, Blessed and Exalted, and Musa, until He said, “There are five Salaats everyday and night O Muhammad, each being credited as ten, so that makes them fifty Salaats. He who intends to do a good deed and does not do it will have a good deed recorded for him; and if he does it, it will be recorded for him as ten. Whereas he who intends to do an evil deed and doesn’t, it will not be recorded for him; and if he does it, only one evil deed will be recorded.” I then came down and when I came to Musa (alayhis salaam) and informed him, he said, “Go back to your Lord and ask Him to make things lighter.” Upon this, the Messenger of Allah remarked,” I returned to my Lord until I felt ashamed before Him.”
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
ISRA’ (NIGHT JOURNEY)
Means betaking the Prophet from Makkah to al-Quds during the night by al-Buraq and then returning him back in the same night. Ibn al Qayyim said, “Allah’s saying ‘took His Servant for a journey by night? and not ‘sent His Servant’ implies that Allah accompanied the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam). For the letter ‘baa’ in the Arabic means besides. And this is why the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam), when setting out for a journey would say, “O Allah, You are the Companion during (my) travel.”
MI’ RAJ (ASCENSION)
Refers to what happened to the Prophet when he ascended from al-Masjid al-Aqsa up to beyond the Seventh Heaven, where Salaat was prescribed, and then returning back in the same fashion in the same night.
In al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Imam Isma’eel ibn Kathir (rahimahullah) said, “Ascension didn’t take place aboard al-Buraq as some people might think, for al-Buraq was tied to the door of Bayt-ul-Maqdis, so that he could ride it to Makkah. The prophet ascended from one heaven to another until he passed the Seventh Heaven.”
A JOURNEY OF REJUVENATION AND INSPIRATION
In the few years that preceded the incident of Isra’ and Mi’raj, the Prophet, (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and the believers with him had gone through and suffered from many stressful and sad events.
He, first lost his most beloved wife, Khadijah (radhiyallahu anha), the first Muslim and his best friend, supporter and motivator, the woman who spent all of her wealth, used all of her family and tribal relationships to support him, the one who provided the best comfort and consultation he could possibly find. Then he lost protection against the hard aggression of the people of Makkah when his uncle, Abu Talib, died. As long as his uncle was alive, no one in Makkah was able to hurt him (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and his followers, but after his death, they were forced to take exile in a valley close to Makkah, where there was no food or shelter.
Yet the biggest disappointment came when the prophet went to Ta’if seeking their acceptance and help, but they refused him and did all they could to hurt him. Such was the situation. Many of his followers had emigrated to Ethiopia and those who stayed with him were defenseless and hungry. What was most stressful for the prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was the fact that people knew him a person who was truthful at all time but still did not believe in him.
In the midst of all these sorrows, Allah took His prophet through the Israa and Mi’raaj to provide him with inspiration and support by showing him what no other human has ever been blessed with. In the heavens, he witnessed the great Signs of Allah, and the indication of Divine Providence toward him and the dawah, such that he became certain of the success of the dawah and of his victory over his enemies. The miracle of the Israa and Mi’raaj proved to the prophet that if the earth would straighten to him at certain times, then heavens gates are open for him at all times, and if some terrestrials would harm him, then the people of heaven would support and stand with him.
NOT AN OUT-OF-BODY-EXPERIENCE
Muslims believe that the Isra’ and Mi’raj was a real journey, not a dream or a vision. It was a physical journey by soul and body. Imam an-Nawawi (rahimahullah) wrote in his commentary on the Sahih of Muslim (2/209) that, “The truth cherished by the majority of people in general, and the Salaf in particular, the scholars of fiqh and scholars of Hadith is that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) went in the journey of Isra physically, i.e., with his body”
And in his commentary on the Sahih of Bukhari (1/460). Imam ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) wrote that no one should dispute the fact that the Isra’ happened to the prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) while he was awake. This is what the Qur’an clearly said about it, and also because the people of Quraysh disbelieved he did it.
Had it been only a dream, they would not have found it necessary for them to reject and disbelieve what he said about it, for people can dream of whatever they want. But because he told them that he physically went to the heavens, they refused to believe him. In fact, even some of those who claimed to be Muslims reneged and announced their rejection of the story of the Isra’ and Mi’raaj.
WHEN DID IT ALL HAPPEN?
Imam ad-Dhahabi said that the Prophet, (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was taken for the Night Journey to al-Quds one year before Hijrah, the emigration to Madinah. Ibn al Qayyim said in his book, Zad al-Ma’ad (3/42), Ibn Abdul-Barr and others said that there was a period of fourteen months between the Isra’ and the Hijrah. Also, ibn Katheer quoted in al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah (3/108), a number of different scholarly views concerning defining an exact date of the Isra’, and concluded that none had a solid evidence as to the exact date of the Isra’. The majority of scholars are in agreement, however, that the Isra’ happened nearly a year before the Hijrah; they not only disagreed about a particular day, but the month as well.
LESSONS TO LEARN
IMAAN IS THE CRITERION
Imaan is belief, and practicing what you believe. One of the distinguishing factors in rank between Muslims, in the Sight of Allah, is the extent to which they believe in, and practice the teachings of Islam. Allah Ta’ala says describing the believers, “And who believe in the revelation sent to you, and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have assurance of the hereafter. They are on (true guidance), from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper.” (2:4-5)
How could they afford not to believe while knowing for certain that the informer is either Allah, And whose word can be truer than Allah’s? (4:122)
The Messenger, Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only a Revelation revealed. (53:3-4)
The incident of Isra’ and Mi’raaj was a major test of the companions belief in Allah. When they succeeded in overcoming the doubts caused in their minds by the Satan and the pagan Makkas, they felt a strong surge of Iman they had not experienced yet. They now know that their prophet is a true Messenger of Allah and that Allah will not abandon them to their enemies. They realized that acceptance of the “ghayb” or “unseen” news their prophet told them of, is the foundation to what belief is all about.
It was belief that distinguished Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (radhiyallahu anhu) and placed him in a rank never to be equaled or surpassed by any of the companions or those who would come after them. Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu) was known by the nickname “as-Siddiq (the believer)” more than his real name. He gained that nickname because he immediately and unconditionally believed in what the prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said about his journey to the heavens. Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu) had based his Imaan on his belief and practiced accordingly; Abu Bakr’s (radhiyallahu anhu) belief is that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) is the Informer. His practice of that was based upon the fact that Allah is the Legislator. Allah Ta’ala says,
The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him from His Lord, and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books and His Messengers. (They say), ‘We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers? and they say, ‘ We hear, and we obey. (We seek) Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the return (of all).? (al-Qur’an 2:285)
The lesson for us, the Muslims, is that if it is in the Qur’an or reported authentically as a Sunnah, then we should believe in it, and act upon it, through the expert jurists, nothing less, nothing more.
FITRAH – CHOOSING THE WAY
An-Nawawi said that the reply of Jibraaeel (to the prophet), “You chose the Fitrah“, meant that he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had chosen the religion of Islam. That is, “You have chosen the emblem of Islam and Istiqamah (being steadfast on the Straight Path). The milk was a sign, because it is easy to drink, good and tasty, while wine is the mother of all evil? and it is a case for different acts of malice.”
Look at the world today and you will see the manifestation of this. People have turned to wine, excelled in manufacturing and serving it; the result is that it has served to corrupt their minds, hearts, and spirit. Despite all of the technological advancements, humanity still witnesses horrible consequences of their anti-Fitrah practices; war, decease, depleted resources, wasted minds and efforts, greed, filth and, happy souls going into misery, to say the least. It all happened when the natural Fitrah was rejected, in search of a way of life other than the Way of Allah, the Creator of this life, and the next. Allah says, “But whosoever turns away from My Reminder (i.e., neither believes in this Qur’an nor acts on its teachings) verily, for him is a life of hardship, and We shall raise him up blind.” (al-Qur’an 20:124)
“And whosoever is blind in this world (i.e., does not see Allah’s Signs and believes not in Him), will be blind in the Hereafter, and more stray from the Path.” (al-Qur’an 17:72)
Fitrah and acts of Fitrah should, therefore, be the choice of the Muslim. In fact, Fitrah is the state we are all created in but as mentioned in the authentic Hadith, Satan and his followers work hard to take us away from it. It is very important that Muslims know the characteristics of the acts of Fitrah so that they know how to choose. Life, after all and as shown by this incident, is about choice.
THE PROPHET’S STANDING WITH ALLAH
An-Nawawi (rahimahullah( said, ‘The Prophet’s saying ‘I was then ascended till a point where I could hear the squeak of the pens‘. The word, ‘squeak’ here means the sound made by the pens as they write.
Imam al-Khattaabi (rahimahullah) said, ‘It is the sound of what the Angels write of Allah’s Ordinances and Revelations.’
Al-Qadhi Iyadh (rahimahullah) said, ‘The highness of the Prophet’s rank over that of all the prophets, and his reaching far into the Kingdom of Heaven is an evidence of his higher rank and reverence.’
The prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) could not have achieved this high honour, except through the Mercy of Allah Ta’ala, with which the Prophet attained the highest level of ‘Uboodiyyah‘, worship and also the deepest level of sincerity that can reside inside the heart.
Degrees of worship are shared by lesser individuals, ‘A multitude of those (foremost) will be from the first generations, and a few of those (foremost) will be from the later generations.’ but the highest degree is only enjoyed by one person. This degree or, Darajah was explained by the Prophet’s saying, ‘Whenever you hear the Muadhin (caller to Salaat), repeat after him, and send your Salaah and Salaam to me. Whoever send Salaat and Salaam to me, Allah will send him Salaat ten times. then ask Allah to give me the Wasilah. The Wasilah is a station in Heaven that can only be for one person, and I hope that I am he. Whosoever would ask the Wasilah for me, would be granted Shafaa’ah, intercession.’ (Muslim)
ASSIGNING THE SALAAT
Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) says in his commentary on Sahih Bukhari (1/460), ‘The wisdom of prescribing the Salaat during the Mi`raaj is that the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) was hallowed internally and externally. He was washed with Zamzam water, and was showered with Imaan and wisdom. Since Salaat is preceded by ablution, it was thus appropriate that Salaat was prescribed in that state, i.e. after the Prophet was purified, as he led Prophets and angels in Salaat, and as he was apostrophizing his Lord; hence the person making the Salaat apostrophizes his Lord, Most High and Most Glorified.’
It is part of worship that we place matters in the position given to them by Allah, and to judge with the ‘Scale of Allah’, and not with that of the people.
One who really contemplates about the mandating of Salaat on the very night of the Mi’raaj, would come to understand that Allah has glorified the Salaat and has placed it in a very high position. Yet, many people are still unable to understand this high rank. What should we think of a prescribed worship that Allah had prescribed there above the Seventh Heavens, whereas the rest of our obligations were prescribed here on earth?? How should we regard a prescribed worship that the Prophet had received directly from his Lord, without any intercessor, whereas the rest of our obligations were conveyed to the Prophet through a mediator (Jibra’eel)? There are numerous verses and Ahaadith that talk about the obligation of Salaat and keeping and watching for it. The bonds of brotherhood even terminate between non-praying brothers, for Allah says, ‘But if they repent, perform Salaat and give Zakat, then they are your brethren in religion.’ (9:11) and he whoever understands and contemplates the truth of the Salaat, would never hesitate to accept the fact that there is no share of Islam for whosoever has no share of Salaat. The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) states this fact in his saying, ‘The covenant between us and them is Salaat, whosoever does not do it is considered a Kaafir.’ (Tirmidhi)
LESSENING THE NUMBERS
Ibn Hibbaan said in his Sahih (1/133), ‘Then he (the prophet) was obliged with fifty Salaats; this order was a trial, one that Allah wanted to test His beloved (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) with. When He prescribed fifty prayers on him, because Allah previously knew that He would only prescribe five Salaats for the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam, but the order to pray fifty prayers was a test. This is similar to our saying that Allah might order something while willing that the ordered individual obey His order and not necessarily carry out the order literally. An example of this was when Allah Ta’ala ordered His beloved Ibraaheem to slay his own son. Allah’s Will behind this order was to have His Order obeyed and submitted to: when the had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allah), and Ibraaheem had laid his son prostrate on his forehead (for slaughtering), Allah ransomed him with a great sacrifice. Had Allah willed the literal fulfillment of His Order, he (Ibraaheem) would have found his son really slaughtered. Similarly, prescribing fifty prayers was meant to have His Order obeyed and submitted to, without having it literally carried out.’
Allah rightly says, ‘And if you count the Blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them.’ (Qur’an 14:34) What is a greater blessing that having fifty Salaats reduced to five, and having the same reward of having made all fifty?
All praise is due to Allah Most High, Most Generous. Yet, many of the children of Aadam, either reject the blessings of Allah, or are unaware of the value of these blessings, or are not thankful to Allah. Such people deserve the displeasure of Allah, and many are described in the following verses, ‘But few of My slaves are grateful’ (Qur’an 34:13);
‘Verily, man is ungrateful to His Lord.’ (al-Qur’an 100:6);
‘Verily, man is indeed an extreme wrongdoer, a disbeliever (an extreme ingrate who denies Allah’s Blessings by disbelief).’ (al-Qur’an 14:34)
FULFILLING OUR PURPOSE
In light of what some Muslims practice in the so called Night of Mi’raaj there remains a question regarding whether Muslims are required to do a special worship in that night. Part of that question has been dealt with when we discussed the date on which Isra’ and Mi’raaj took place. And the answer was that the exact date is not known. And a logical conclusion would be: if you do not know when it happened, you cannot celebrate on a certain night. But let us further examine the matter of specifying certain worships and associating them with certain times as a matter of religion. Let us discuss what it meant by ‘Ibaadah or worship in Islam.
Allah has decided the purpose of our creation, ‘And I (Allah) created not the Jinn and the mankind except that they should worship Me (alone).’ (al-Qur’an 15:56)
Man would never attain this purpose unless he fulfils two requirements: First, he should find the right way to worship Allah, the way that Allah has promised its followers safety, success and happiness in this life and in the Hereafter; and promised its non-followers quite the opposite. Man would never find this Path among other deviating paths except through the Guidance of Allah. Second, following and holding to this Right Path in worshipping Allah is in want of Allah’s Support and Help to the worshipper. Allah has joined these two (requirements) in the greatest chapter of the Qur’aan, ‘You (alone) we worship, and Your Help alone we seek.’ (al-Qur’an 1:4)
Those who claim that Muslims should have a special celebration on the Night of Mi’raaj usually compare it to the Night of al-Qadr. Some say the opposite. If those who said the Night of Isra is better than the Night of al-Qadr, claim that the Night of Mi’raaj is better for the Muslims so that the spending of that night in Salaat and Du’a would be better than doing the same during the Night of al-Qadr, then such saying is wrong, and such was never claimed by any of the scholars. Such a claim is wrong Islamically and logically for as mentioned earlier, it does not make sense to celebrate an occasion the date of which is not known. And as it is clearly known, this is not the case with the Night of al-Qadr, for it is reported in Bukhari and Muslim that, ‘Wait for (i.e. expect) the Night of al-Qadr during the last ten days of Ramadhan.’ Also, Allah Ta’ala says in the Qur’an that it is better than one thousand nights, and that the Qur’an was revealed during it.
If on the other hand, those who have such a claim mean that the specific night on which the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) was taken for Isra’, and during which the Prophet encountered what he had never experienced before or after, without specifying any night Salaat or worship for that night, then such a claim is correct. When Allah gives His Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) a blessed and an honoured occasion, place or time, this does not make such an occasion, place or time better than all other occasions, places and times. Specifying and associating such an honour with certain occasions, places or times require knowledge about the heart of these matters, and the value of blessings which can only be known through revelation ‘Wahy‘. Thus, no such a claim should be accepted unless it had evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
That is why we do not know of any evidence that the Night of Mi’raaj was to be better than other nights, and particularly, the Night of al-Qadr. Neither the companions, nor their rightful successors, ‘The Taabi`een’, made a point of associating certain doings during that night. They have never told us of its exact date. Even if the Isra’ and Mi’raaj was the best blessing for the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) the fact remains that the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) and his companions were reported to have not prescribed any particular form of worship for that night nor that place. Why should we? There are many blessed occasions, places and times in Islam for which we have no prescribed worships associated with. The incident of Isra’ and Mi`raaj is one of them and it should remain as such.
The incident of Isra’ and Mi`raaj represents a great occasion in the history of Islam. its story and the circumstances that surrounded it at the time touches the heart and the mind of every Muslim willing to ponder and contemplate it. Muslims should celebrate it by studying it, learning from it and by exerting themselves to find inspiration and motivation in it so that they can keep steadfast on the way of Islam and struggle even harder in the Path of Allah.