The Night Journey: the Spiritual Significance of Isra and Mi`raj

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem

Glory be to Him Who made His servant to go on a night from the Inviolable Mosque to the Far-Distant Mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing. [17: 1]

Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far distant place of worship, whose precincts We have blessed, that We might show him of Our Signs! Lo! He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer. [17:1]


Allah (swt) has revealed this as the first verse of Quran’s chapter al-Isra, Night Journey, which is also known as the chapter of the Children of Israel or the chapter of Glorification ( Subhan ). In it Allah mentions the Night Journey ( Isra ) in which He called the Prophet (s) to His Divine Presence.

As Allah opened the Holy Qur’an in the Opening chapter Surat al-Fatiha, with the words “ Al-Hamdu Lillah - Praise be to Allah,” in this verse of Surat al-Isra (17:1), He opens the chapter of the Night Journey with, “ Subhana - Glory be to Allah (swt).”

Allah is glorifying Himself saying, “ Subhana alladhi asra’” which means “Glory to Me, the One who brought the Prophet on the Night Journey calling him to My Divine Presence.” This is beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Allah is not just reminding us about this event, rather, He is glorifying Himself on account of it. That is because the Night Journey, moving almost instantaneously from Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa and the Ascension, traversing in an incredibly short span of time the worldly domain of this universe and beyond, transcend the laws of physics governing movement. There is no way for any scientist’s mind to comprehend how the Prophet (s) moved across the globe and was then carried to Allah’s Divine Presence. Such a journey is beyond the scope of imagination. Therefore Allah (swt) glorifies Himself saying, “Yes it happened! Glory to Me Who can do this! I am beyond these laws and systems. I am the Creator of all systems.”

Malik bin Anas (r) related that the Prophet (s) said, “I was lying in the hijr (of the Inviolable Mosque of Makka) when someone [the archangel Jibril (as)] came to me and cut open my chest from throat to belly. He removed my heart and cleaned it with the water of the well of Zamzam before putting it back in its place. Then he brought me a white creature called al-Buraq by whose means I was lifted.”

Another narration relates that the two archangels “Jibril and Mika’il (as) came to the Prophet (s) when he was laying down in al-Hijr [of the Inviolable Mosque in Makka] and carried him to the well of Zamzam. They laid him down on his back and Jibril (as) opened his chest from top to bottom, despite which there was no bleeding. He said to Mika’il (as), ‘Get me water from Zamzam,’ which he did. Jibril (as) took the Prophet’s heart and washed it thrice before putting it back. He filled it with faith and wisdom. Then he closed his chest and they took him out from the door of the masjid to where the buraq was waiting.”

Archangel Jibril could have removed the Prophet’s heart miraculously by means of a small opening or without opening his chest at all. Yet we see in this Tradition of the Prophet (s) a hint of how to perform open heart surgery. This same technique of opening the entire chest cavity is used by heart surgeons today.

How did Allah describe the one whom He brought on the Night Journey? He describes him (as) as “His servant.” Abu Qasim Sulayman al-Ansari said that when the Prophet (s) reached the highest levels and distinguished stations, Allah revealed to him, “With what shall I honor you?” The Prophet said, “By relating me to you through servanthood ( ‘ubudiyya ).” This is why Allah revealed this verse of the Holy Qur’an honoring the Prophet (s) by the title “His servant when describing the Night Journey. Allah did not grant such an honor to Moses. Rather He said, “And when Moses came to Our appointed tryst…” [7: 143] referring to Moses (as) by his name. Instead of saying, “ Glory be to Him Who made Muhammad to go …”Allah honored the Prophet (s) by referring to him as “` abdihi “, His servant.”

Another subtle inference from Allah’s use of the term “` Abdihi” - a construct in the absent form or third person – is the meaning that, ‘He called the Prophet to a void where there was nothing except His Own Presence.’ Allah called the Prophet to a point where there is no place and there is no time, no ‘where’ and no ‘when.’ More miraculous than calling the Prophet (s) to His Presence was His bringing the Prophet’s (s) body and soul, which exist in time and place, to where there is no time and place. Allah brought His sincere servant, our master Muhammad (as), from a physical form of this worldly life to the completely abstract Divine Presence which is beyond any laws of science and physics which govern the universe.

The verse goes on to describe the Prophet’s movement through xxxx stations. Allah’s description of the Prophet (as) as servant ‘ abd, precedes His mention of the two mosques: the Inviolable Mosque (Masjid al-Haraam) and the Far Distant Mosque (Masjid al-Aqsa). Having perfected his character through constant worship, ` ubudiyya, the Inviolable Mosque, or Holy Sanctuary, is here an indication of the Prophet’s (s) having already been elevated beyond all sin. Allah did not say His Servant was taken “from Makka,” rather He said, “from the Inviolable Mosque.” “Inviolable” means that no sin is permitted within its precincts, nor backbiting, cheating, or lying. There one must be ever mindful of Allah’s (swt) Presence. Masjid al-Haraam is a station where those sins which signify the animal life, can never be committed. ‘Aqsa’ in Arabic means ‘the Farthest’. Thus Masjid al-Aqsa here is named as the farthest mosque in relation to Masjid al-Haraam and symbolizes the spiritual realm. The literal meaning is, ‘He brought His servant from Masjid al-Haraam to the mosque at the farthest end.’ Symbolically, Allah brought the Prophet away from that which is forbidden, things of this earthly life, haraam , to the place furthest away from it – al-Aqsa. The furthermost point from the animalistic life is the spiritual dimension.

The contrast between these ‘stations’ is further demonstrated by the famous stone at each of these holy sites. In Masjid al-Haraam the Black Stone is a stone governed by physical constraints, held up in an encasement, having fallen from heaven and been darkened by the sins of humanity. At Masjid al-Aqsa the holy stone marking where the Prophet (as) ascended to the heavens is miraculously suspended in the air, disregarding the physical law of gravity, seeking to leave the earthly pull of gravity to soar towards the Divine Presence.

The subtle meaning derived from the order of the words here is that Allah’s one true servant, the Prophet (s) began from station of `abdiyya, servanthood, for which he was created, allowing him to begin from the station of perfected and flawless character (`ismat) and move from there to the farthest station, the highest rank of all creation, as indicated by the station of the farthest mosque.

Allah brought Prophet Muhammad (s) to Masjid al-Aqsa in Palestine from which most of the prophets hail. There he found all of the prophets gathered there, and they prayed in congregation behind him (as). From there Allah raised him to the heavens, as if saying, ‘O My prophets! I did not raise any one from Masjid al-Aqsa as I am raising Muhammad (s).’ This was in order to demonstrate to them Prophet Muhammad’s (as) ascendancy – unlike any one of them he was not restricted by the laws of this universe.

Allah then moved him from Masjid al-Aqsa by means of the Miraj, lifting him up to His Divine Presence. Why did Allah use the words, ‘ laylan - by night’? Why didn’t He say, ‘ naharan - by day’? ‘ Laylan’ here illustrates the darkness of this world which becomes illumined only by the bright moon of the Prophet (s) to illuminate every darkness.

Subhan alladhee asr’a bi `abdihi laylan . “Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night…” Look at every word of this holy verse. First Allah praised Himself in the third person, in absence. Allah then miraculously moved the Prophet ( asra’ ) from Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa. Then He referred to the Prophet as ‘ ‘abd, servant’, distinguishing him through that elevated title as being related to the spiritual life, not the animal life.

The message of Prophet Muhammad (s) completed and perfected both the physical discipline and jurisprudence ( shariah ) of Musa and the spirituality ( rawhaniyya ) of ‘Isa. The shariah of Musa relates to the worldly life and the spirituality of ‘Isa relates to the heavenly life. By passing from the worldly life, represented by the Night Journey, to heavenly life, represented by the Ascension, the Prophet (s) was carried on these two wings. No prophet was carried on both except our master Muhammad (s).

In his Musnad Imam Ahmad said that the Dajjal (Anti-Christ) would be prevented from entering four places: Masjid al-Haraam in Makka, Masjid an-Nabawiyy in Madina, Masjid al-Aqsa and Tur, Mount Sinai where Moses used to speak to Allah.

Imam Ahmad says in his Musnad that Maymuna said she asked the Prophet about Bayt al-Maqdis. He said, “It is the place of Judgment Day where everyone will be called. Come to it and pray in it because one prayer in it is like 1,000 prayers anywhere else.”

In another hadith the Prophet said that “One prayer in Masjid an-Nabawiyy is like 10,000 prayers elsewhere. One prayer in Masjid al-Haraam is like 100,000 prayers elsewhere.”

In another narration of Ahmad one of the Prophet’s wives asked what one should do if they are not able to go to Masjid al-Aqsa. He said, “If someone is not able to go let them send lamp oil there to give light in the mosque. If anyone sends lamp oil to light the mosque it is as if you went and prayed there.”

According to this hadith one can send something to the mosque from far away attain the reward of one having reached the masjid despite not going there oneself, this though it is not a human being, but only four walls. This is one of many text proofs that intercession in Islam is accepted.

Allah mentioned in the Holy Qur’an “whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Mariam! whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.” [3: 36] Allah then stresses the importance of this place, “ There did Zakariya pray to his Lord…” [3: 37] as one in which prayers are answered, having become holy as Maryam’s place of worship. Here we see that a place, whether a mosque or a sanctuary, once it becomes holy, can provide blessings and rewards to those who worship in it or send oil to, in the case of Masjid al-Aqsa. This is for a place, consisting of nothing more than four inanimate walls, what then of asking a pious person for dua? That is the case of the intercession of the Prophet (s).

There is another narration from Abu Dawud in which the Prophet was asked by Abu Dharr which was the first masjid placed on earth. The Prophet replied, “Al-Masjid al-Haraam.” (The mosque Sayyidina Ibrahim made in Makka). Then he asked which was next. “Masjid al-Aqsa.” (in Jerusalem). Abu Dharr asked how much time was in between the two. “Forty years. Sayyidina Ibrahim made the Mosque in Makka, Sayyidina Y’aqub founded Masjid al-Aqsa then his son Sayyidina Sulayman finished it.”

One of the great scholars of Quranic exegesis, al-‘Ala’i said, ‘On the Night of Ascension the Prophet had five different vehicles. The first was the Buraq, a winged creature which carried him from Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa. The second was the Ascension by which the Prophet (s) reached the sky of this world, as- sama’ ad-dunya .’ There are two explanations for Mi`raj: either the Buraq carried the Prophet (s) up or a ladder that descended and took the Prophet up very rapidly. ‘The third vehicle was the wings of angels taking the Prophet up to the seventh heaven. The fourth vehicle was the wings of Jibril (as) from the seventh heaven to sidrat al-muntaha . The fifth vehicle was ar-raf raf to ka`ba kawsayn .’ The Prophet (s) stopped in ten different stations: the seven heavens and the eighth at the Furthermost Lote Tree, sidrat al-muntaha. The ninth is where he heard the sound of the angels’ pens writing people’s actions. The tenth level was at the Throne. And Allah knows best.’ ( Tafsir ruh al maani. Al-alusi. Dar al-fikr. Tafsir surat bani israil )

Allah supports His prophets with miracles ( m’ujizat ) to be able to go beyond the laws of physics and beyond the constraints of our human realities. If Allah grants a miracle we should not view it as something improbable otherwise we will be like scientists who cannot understand anything beyond the physical laws of the universe.

These miraculous events happened on the Night of the Night Journey and Ascension, Laylat al Isra wal Miraj. The many hadith of Isra were authenticated by numerous huffaz (hadith masters) such as Ibn Shihab, Thabit al-Banani, and Qatada. Some scholars have different opinions on when this night occurred. Imam Nawawi said that it happened in Rajab. In ar-Rawda, Nawawi says it happened 10 years and 3 months after the beginning of the prophecy, while in Fatawa he states it was after five or six years of prophecy. Whatever the case, all scholars say that the Isra and Miraj took place both in body and spirit.


Allah said in the Holy Qur’an

75. So also did We show Ibrahim the malakut kingdom and glories behind the magnificent powers and laws of the physical universe that he might have certitude.

76. When the night covered over him he saw a star. He said ‘This is my lord.’ But when it set he said, ‘I do not love those that set.’

77. When he saw the moon rising in splendor he said, ‘This is my lord.’ But when the moon set he said, ‘Unless my Lord guides me I shall surely be among those who go astray.’

78. When he saw the sun rising in splendor he said, ‘This is my lord.’ But when the sun set he said, ‘O my people, I am innocent and free from the sin of you giving partners to Allah.

79. ‘For me I have set my face firmly and truly towards the One Who created the heavens and the earth, and I am not one who gives partners to Allah.’ (Al-An’am 6:75-79).

Allah opened the kingdom of heavens and earth to Sayyidina Ibrahim without an Isra or Miraj. He opened Prophet Ibrahim’s baseera (spiritual vision) to see the wonders of the universe from where he was on earth. Allah showed him what is beyond the laws of the physical universe through the eyes of his heart. Yet immediately after this verse where Allah has shown Ibrahim the glories behind the physical universe, in verse 76 Ibrahim sees a star and says, ‘This is my lord!’ In verses 77 and 78 he similarly “mistakes” the moon and sun for his lord.

Allah showed Ibrahim (as) the truth, and he is conveying the heavenly message. If he tried to directly present unseen spirituality to those who worship only physical objects, they would not understand it. How could he explains the heavens and glorifying the Lord to those who only understand literal meanings and physicality and not interpretative meanings or spirituality? Ibrahim was trying to gently tell the people ‘don’t worship the stars, or moon, or sun. Go beyond what you can see physically.’ Ibrahim knew the reality of the universe as Allah had shown it to him. The verses of the stars, moon, and sun are for the non-believers, to slowly build up their beliefs. They rejected anything beyond the comprehension of their minds. He wanted everyone to be under Allah’s mercy so he was trying to let them understand by process of elimination that there is a spiritual dimension. He eliminated the star (something small), then the moon, then the sun (the biggest heavenly body). This means don’t run after things of this worldly life but run after the spiritual dimension which is beyond the laws of the physical universe.

In our time, materialistic scientists and certain narrow minded Islamic sects try to negate spirituality, the fourth dimension, which Allah showed to Ibrahim (as). Those rejecting the spiritual dimension of Islam are falling into the same trap as the people of Ibrahim. The Prophet (s) said, ‘ akhwaf ma akhafu ala ummati ash-shirk il-khafi what I fear most for my community is the hidden shirk (associating partners to Allah).’ For a person to be prideful of himself. Sayyidina Ibrahim was shown the realities of this universe and tried to guide his people to Allah. Finally, in verse 79 he reaffirms his true belief in Allah and his turning away from worldly distractions. From his place on earth, Ibrahim was shown by Allah (swt) the malakut of heavens and earth.

Sayyidina Musa did not see this malakut , but he was able to hear and talk to Allah from Mount Sinai. Although Ibrahim was granted to see in spiritual dimensions, and Musa was granted to hear Allah directly, both of their bodies were still on earth and subject to its physical laws. Sayyidina Ibrahim’s vision and Sayyidina Musa’s hearing went beyond the physical through the power of the soul, but their bodies did not move beyond the physical world.

However, Allah made Prophet Muhammad to move in spiritual dimensions with his physical body in complete freedom from the physical laws. Allah called the Prophet, ‘ li nuriyahu min ayatina to show him from Our signs…'(Isra 17: 1) Allah showed Ibrahim malakut of this universe, but He showed Muhammad His signs. Allah moved the Prophet in body and spirit beyond the physical laws of this universe and showed him His signs ‘ ayatina Our signs.’ This possessive form relating the signs as being Allah’s directly indicates a greater honor and knowledge bestowed to the Prophet as opposed to knowledge about Allah’s creation in general. The malakut of samawat (heavens or skies) and ard (earth) shown to Ibrahim were the workings of this physical universe and did not reach to Paradise. Allah’s signs are directly related to Allah and are not associated with this world.

Imam Nawawi and the late Imam Mutwalli Sh’arawi side with the majority of scholars in interpreting this to mean that the Prophet saw his Lord another time- not that he saw Jibril another time as claimed by some. Nawawi relates in his commentary on Sahih Muslim, “Most of the scholars say that the Prophet saw his Lord with the eyes of his head ra’a rabbahu bi ‘aynay ra’sihi.”


Fa awhaa ila `abdihi ma awhaa

53:10 Allah revealed to His servant what he revealed

Maa kadhaba al-fu’aadu ma ra’a

53:11 The Prophet’s heart in no way falsified what it saw.

Afatoomaroonahu `alaa maa yaraa

53:12 Will you then dispute with him about what he saw?

Wa laqad ra’ahu nazlatan ukhraa

53:13 And he saw Him again another time

`inda sidrat al-muntahaa

53 :14 at the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary

`indaha jannat al-ma’waa

53:15 at the Garden of Abode

idh yaghsha ‘s-sidrata maa yaghshaa

53:16 Behold the lote-tree was shrouded with what shrouds

Maa zaagha al-basaru wa maa taghaa

53:17 His sight did not swerve or go wrong.


Imam Sh’arawi asks, “What would make the Prophet’s sight swerve? Some say it was Jibril, but the Prophet had seen Jibril many times and Jibril was with him for the duration of the Night Journey and Ascension. It is irrelevant to say at this juncture that the Prophet’s sight did not swerve or go wrong, because if this was in reference to Jibril the Prophet had many opportunities to see him already. Allah doesn’t say anything irrelevant which is why I side with the majority of ‘ ulama (including Imam Nawawi) in saying that with his physical eyes the Prophet saw Allah (swt).”

The Prophet came all the way to the Divine Throne(`arsh ), reached qaaba kawsayni (the distance of two bow lengths), and reached the Paradise of Jannat al-Ma’wa near the Lote-Tree ( sidrat al-muntahaa ). After all this what could possibly make his sight swerve or go wrong? As mentioned above, the Isra and Miraj took place several years after Jibril brought the first revelation to the Prophet. Thus, it is illogical that after being seen by the Prophet so many times that now Jibril would have the potential to make his sight swerve.


Ma zagha al-basaru wa ma tagha

53:17 His sight did not swerve or go wrong.

Laqad ra’a min ayaati rabbihi al-kubraa

53:18 Indeed he saw the Greatest Signs of his Lord

Afa ra’ aytum al-laat wal-`uzza

53: 19 Have you seen Lat and ‘Uzza (two pagan idols)

Wa manaat ath-thaalithata ‘l-ukhraa

53:20 And the third one Manat (another idol)


Why does Allah mention these three false deities here immediately after mentioning the “Greatest Signs of his Lord” in 53:18? Scholars say that verses 53:19-20 name the idols that people were worshipping in order to contrast them to Allah (swt) mentioned in 53:18. If 53:18 referred to Jibril then it would not follow to mention the false idols after it.

That is the greatness of Sayyidina Muhammad. No one saw his Lord except for Muhammad, so he is the only real muwahhid . No one except Muhammad has real tawhid , only imitation tawhid .

Prophet Abraham was the father of the prophets and was granted spiritual vision to see the workings of the universe and Prophet Moses was granted to speak with his Lord. But Allah moved Prophet Muhammad with his physical body in defiance of the physical laws of the universe to the Unseen, a place where there is nothing and no possibility of anything to be there- laa khalaa wa laa malaa. Allah took Muhammad there and revealed Himself to him, in the manner He wished. How this was we don’t know. It is ghayb (unseen, unknown). But we know that this is not in reference to Jibril who was seen by the Prophet many times. We again recall the opinion of Imam Nawawi who said, “Most of the scholars say that the Prophet saw his Lord with the eyes of his head ra’a rabbahu bi `aynay raasihi.”

Looking at these verses in Surat Isra and Surat Najm we see that the Isra and Miraj was not like Allah showing Ibrahim malakut of the universe. Allah gave this universe to all of humanity whether in dunya or akhira. However Allah showed Muhammad something related to Himself “ ayatina Our Signs.”


NOTES

Bukhari Volume 8, Book 77, Number 610:

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:

(regarding the Verse) “And We granted the vision (Ascension to the heavens “Miraj”) which We showed you (O Muhammad as an actual eye witness) but as a trial for mankind.’ (17.60): Allah’s Apostle actually saw with his own eyes the vision (all the things which were shown to him) on the night of his Night Journey to Jerusalem (and then to the heavens). The cursed tree which is mentioned in the Qur’an is the tree of Az-Zaqqum.

Volume 7, Book 69, Number 482:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

On the night Allah’s Apostle was taken on a night journey (Miraj) two cups, one containing wine and the other milk, were presented to him at Jerusalem. He looked at it and took the cup of milk. Gabriel said, “Praise be to Allah Who guided you to Al-Fitra (the right path); if you had taken (the cup of) wine, your nation would have gone astray.”

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions


© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

Speak Your Mind

Switch to our mobile site