Exalted is He who took His Servant (Prophet Muhammad) by night from al-Masjid al-Haram (In Makkah) to al-Masjid al- Aqsa (Jerusalem), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.Qur’an – Chapter 17, Verse 1
Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj (the Night Journey & Ascension is ) is a miracle that is second only to the revelations of the Qur’an. It is important to reflect on the lessons and significance of this night.
Most people only know the basics of Al-Isra’ wal-Mi’raj – the story that the Prophet (saw), was transported from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa from which he (saw), ascended to heaven. There were many stops on this amazing journey. The story is full of miracles and wonders. A night that Muslims were gifted the Divine Blessing of Salah.
Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj was performed at a time when (saw), was experiencing extreme hardship and pain. His tribe, the Quraysh, were constantly mocked, humiliated, and oppressed by the Prophet (saw). the Prophet had just experienced the Year of Sorrow (‘Aam al–Huzn), in which he (saw), lost his beloved wife Khadijah (ra) and his uncle Abu Talib who was his protector, and ally.
These were just some of the burdens. When the Prophet (saw), had traveled to Ta’if to spread Islam’s message, Ta’if’s people rejected him in the cruelest way and sent their children out to stone him until the Prophet left.
After suffering so much, the Prophet Muhammad (saw), was blessed with a beautiful and comforting gift. The Divine Presence was the ultimate source of comfort and hope for him. Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj taught us that with every hardship, there will be ease. (The Noble Qur’an 94: 5).
When the Prophet (saw) was sleeping in the house of Umm Hani (ra) in Makkah he said, ‘the roof of my house was opened and the Angel Jibril [as] descended’ (Bukhari). Scholars reconciling between various narrations, say the Prophet (saw) was then taken to the Hijr, the semi-circular wall of the Ka‘bah, where the Prophet (saw) said that Jibril (as), ‘opened my chest, and washed it with Zamzam water. Then he brought a golden tray full of wisdom and faith, and having poured its contents into my chest, he closed it’. [Bukhari]
The Prophet (saw) continued, ‘I was then brought a white beast which is called al-Buraq [from the Arabic word barq, meaning lightning], bigger than a donkey and smaller than a mule. Its stride was as long as the eye could reach’. [Muslim]
It is narrated by Anas (ra) that Buraq was, ‘saddled and reined, but he shied from him (saw). So Jibril [as] said to him, “Is it from Muhammad [saw] that you do this? For nobody has ridden you who is more honourable to Allah than him!” He said, “Then he started sweating profusely”’. [Tirmidhi]
At several points along the journey, Jibra’eel (as) stopped Buraq and told the Prophet (saw), ‘Dismount and pray’. The first stop was at ‘the place of emigration’ i.e. Madinah – and soon after this night the Prophet (saw) would meet the Ansar and migrate to Madinah. The second stop was at Mount Sinai, where Allah (swt) revealed the Torah to Musa (as). The third stop was at Bethlehem, where ’Isa (as) was born.
Prophet Musa (as)
The fourth stop was the grave of Musa (as), ‘I happened to pass by Musa [as] on the night of my Night journey by the red sandhill whilst he was standing praying in his grave’ (Muslim). We know that his grave is located, ‘a stone’s throw’ away from the holy land of the Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa (Bukhari). This incident clearly shows us an example of what the Messenger of Allah (saw) said about Prophets (as) after they pass away that, ‘The Prophets are alive in their graves praying’ (Abu Ya‘la).
Finally, the Messenger of Allah (saw) arrived in the holy city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and he said, ’When we reached Bait al-Maqdis [literally ‘the holy house’ another name for the Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa] Jibril (as) pointed with his finger causing a crack in the rock, and he tied the Buraq to it [at the western wall of the noble sanctuary]’ (Tirmidhi). Waiting inside were all 124,000 Prophets (as). Jibra’eel (as) led the Prophet (saw) to the front, and he (saw) led them all in prayer in this blessed space.
Some narrations indicate that the Prophet (saw) prayed ‘two units of prayer’ (Muslim) to greet the Masjid (known as Tahiyyat al-Masjid). This is one of the first examples of this established Sunnah of the Prophet (saw). It is also mentioned that Jibril (as) called the Adhan (call to prayer) before this practice was even established later in Madinah and that the angels from the heavens descended to pray behind all the Prophets in this sacred place – Subhan-Allah!
When the Prophet (saw) completed the prayer, he said, ‘someone said, “Here is Malik (as), the keeper of the Hell, so convey Salams to him”. So, I turned to him, but he preceded me in Salams’ (Muslim).
The Messenger of Allah (saw) also said, ’The Prophets were presented to me, and Musa (as) was a thin man, it was as if he was from the men of Shanu’ah [a Yemeni tribe]. And I saw ’Isa ibn Maryam (as), and the closest of the people in resemblance to him from those I have seen, is ‘Urwah ibn Mas‘†d (ra). And I saw Ibrahim (as), and the closest of the people in resemblance to him, from those I have seen, is your companion [meaning himself]. And I saw Jibril [as], and the closest of the people in resemblance to him, from those I have seen, is Dihyah (ra)’ (Tirmidhi).
Part of what the Prophets (as) discussed after praising Allah was about ‘the Hour’. Both Ibrahim (as) and Musa (as) stated that they ‘did not have any knowledge of it’. Whilst ’Isa (as) ’mentioned the Dajjal (anti-Christ) and said,
“I will descend and kill him, then the people will return to their own lands and will be confronted with Gog and Magog, who will, “swoop down from every mound” [Qur’an, 21:96]”’. [Ibn Majah]
Following this, the Prophet (saw) said, ‘Then I came out and Jibril (as) brought me a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. Then I chose the milk, and Jibril (as) said, “You have chosen the natural state (Fitrah)”’ (Muslim).
The dominant opinion is that the Prophet (saw) alongside Jibril (as) then proceeded to the Noble Rock (as-Sakhrah al-Musharrafah) that is currently housed by the holy Dome of the Rock Masjid at the centre of the noble sanctuary (al-Haram ash-Sharif) of the Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa. He (saw) ascended into the heavens for the next part of this incredible journey, the Mi‘raj, the Ascension!
When I reached the nearest heaven. Gabriel said to the heaven gatekeeper, ‘Open the gate.’ The gatekeeper asked, ‘Who is it?’ He said, ‘Gabriel.’ The gatekeeper asked,’ Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel said, ‘Muhammad.’ The gatekeeper said, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel said, ‘Yes.’ Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed. What a wonderful visit his is!’ Then I met Adam and greeted him and he said, ‘You are welcomed O son and Prophet.’
Then we ascended to the second heaven. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel said, ‘Gabriel.’ It was said, ‘Who is with you?’ He said, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been sent for?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ It was said, ‘He is welcomed. What a wonderful visit his is!” Then I met Isa (Jesus) and Yahya (John the Baptist) who said, ‘You are welcomed, O brother and a Prophet.’
Then we ascended to the third heaven. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel said, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked, ‘Who is with you? Gabriel said, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been sent for?’ ‘Yes,’ said Gabriel. ‘He is welcomed. What a wonderful visit his is!’ (The Prophet added:). There I met Joseph (Yusuf) and greeted him, and he replied, ‘You are welcomed, O brother and a Prophet!’
Then we ascended to the 4th heaven and again the same questions and answers were exchanged as in the previous heavens. There I met Idris and greeted him. He said, ‘You are welcomed O brother and Prophet.’
Then we ascended to the 5th heaven and again the same questions and answers were exchanged as in previous heavens. There I met and greeted Aaron (Harun) who said, ‘You are welcomed O brother and a Prophet”.
Then we ascended to the 6th heaven and again the same questions and answers were exchanged as in the previous heavens. There I met and greeted Moses (Musa) who said, ‘You are welcomed O brother and a Prophet.’ When I proceeded on, he started weeping and on being asked why he was weeping, he said, ‘O Lord! Followers of this youth who was sent after me will enter Paradise in greater number than my followers.’
Then we ascended to the seventh heaven and again the same questions and answers were exchanged as in the previous heavens. There I met and greeted Abraham who said, ‘You are welcomed O son and a Prophet.’
Then I was shown al-Bait al-Ma’mur (i.e. God’s House). I asked Gabriel about it and he said, This is al-Bait al-Ma’mur where 70,000 angels perform prayers daily and when they leave they never return to it (but always a new group comes into it daily).’
Then I was shown Sidrat al-Muntaha (i.e. a tree in the seventh heaven) and I saw its Nabk fruits which resembled the clay jugs of Hajr (i.e. a town in Arabia), and its leaves were like the ears of elephants, and four rivers originated at its root, two of them were apparent and two were hidden. I asked Gabriel about those rivers and he said, ‘The two hidden rivers are in Paradise, and the apparent ones are the Nile and the Euphrates.’
Then fifty prayers were enjoined on me. I descended till I met Moses who asked me, ‘What have you done?’ I said, ‘Fifty prayers have been enjoined on me.’ He said, ‘I know the people better than you, because I had the hardest experience to bring the Israelites to obedience. Your followers cannot put up with such obligation. So, return to your Lord and ask Him (to reduce the number of prayers).’ I returned and asked Allah (for reduction) and He made it forty. I returned and (met Moses) and had a similar discussion, and then returned again to Allah for reduction and He made it thirty, then twenty, then ten, and then I came to Moses who repeated the same advice. Ultimately Allah reduced it to five. When I came to Moses again, he said, ‘What have you done?’ I said, ‘Allah has made it five only.’ He repeated the same advice but I said that I surrendered (to God’s Final Order)’” God’s Apostle was addressed by Allah, “I have decreed My Obligation and have reduced the burden on My servants, and I shall reward a single good deed as if it were ten good deeds.
— Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 4, Book 54, Hadith number 429