Isra wal Mi’raj – All you wanted to know (part 1: al Isra)
A wondrous journey
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
“Glory be to Him, Who took His servant during the night from the Sacred House to the farthest mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; verily He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.” [Al Isra:17:1]
Isra wal Mir’aj is the one of the great miracles given to the Prophet (peace be on him). Isra means to travel during the night and miraj means to climb.
Worldly journey and heavenly ascent
Al Isra refers to the Prophet’s (peace be on him) night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem – specifically, from the Baitul Haram to the precinct of Masjid ul Aqsa.
Al Mir’aj refers to Prophet’s (peace be on him) ascension from Jerusalem to the heavens and beyond.
The Isra is mentioned in the Quran, in Surat al Isra itself:
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things). (17:1)
The journey to the heavens is mentioned in Surah An Najm:
So did (Allah) convey the Inspiration to His slave [Muhammad through Jibril].
The (Prophet’s) heart lied not (in seeing) what he (Muhammad) saw.
Will you then dispute with him (Muhammad) about what he saw [during the Mi’raj: (Ascent of the Prophet over the seven heavens)] .
And indeed he (Muhammad ) saw him [Jibril)] at a second descent (i.e. another time).
Near Sidrat-ul-Muntaha [lote-tree of the utmost boundary (beyond which none can pass)],
Near it is the Paradise of Abode.
When that covered the lote-tree which did cover it!
The sight (of Prophet Muhammad) turned not aside (right or left), nor it transgressed beyond (the) limit (ordained for it).
Indeed he (Muhammad) did see, of the Greatest Signs, of his Lord (Allah). (53:10-18)
The details of episode Al Mir’aj are mentioned in authentic sunnah by 25 companions. A multitude of people narrated it to a multitude, so it is regarded as being mutwatir – the highest level of authenticity. The Quran is mutatawatir.
Some Muslims doubt that this took place, as Orientalists who question this occurrence due to the physical impossibility of it taking place. Who can go to space without oxygen? This is why it is classified as a miracle. If it was possible anyone could have done this. This was not a dream. It was a physical journey in which Allah Almighty enabled him to travel into space and beyond. And he completed the whole journey before Fajr.
When did it take place?
Muhadiths, (the scholars and the authority in hadith) went through all the hadiths on Al Isra wal Mi’raj to find out when it took place. There are 4-5 narrations on this, of which the narration that it took place. 27th Rajab is the most famous, but not agreed upon or the most authentic. Though public tradition has associated it with this date, other narrations have stated that it took place in Rabiul Awwal (which is the most accepted narration), or Rabiul Akhirah, or Dhul Qaidah or Ramadan.
In which year did Al Isra wal Mir’aj take place?
We know for sure that the journey took place before the Hijrah (migration), but Muhadiths have differed on which year it took place.
According to one narration it took place a year before, another one says 14 months before Hijrah and a third states it was 18 months before the Hijrah, when the Prophet (peace be on him) was about 50 years old.
Historical backdrop to Al Isra wal Mi’raj
Al Isra wal Mi’raj is a very momentous event. To give some historic context, the people of Makkah denied the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him), they rejected his mission and his message for 13 years. And in that period of intense Dawah, one maybe surprised to know that only 113 people accepted Islam.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) was struggling to find a favourable platform where people would listen to him. He kept persevering to deliver the message no matter the cost. For 3 years, his own clan of Makkah had boycotted his family and the Muslims. They endured starvation and had to survive on the leaves of trees.
After this very difficult boycott, his uncle Abu Talib passed away and then his beloved wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her), who had been his emotional, spiritual and financial support. With the death of his uncle, the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) lost his public protection against the Quraysh. With the passing away of his beloved wife, the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) lost the support and pillar of his house, and the love and comfort of a cherished beloved.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) sought out new people to support his message. He travelled to At-Taif to convey his message, but instead, they were hostile towards him – they insulted him and set the children to rain down stones upon him. He left At-Taif bruised and humiliated. Some of the scholars of Seerah called that year the Aam Al-Huzn (the year of sorrow).
As a consolation for all the pain he had experienced, and to boost his imaan, Allah bestowed upon the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) this momentous journey of Al Isra wal Mi’raj.
Preparation for the journey through space
Malik bin Sa’sa’ah said that Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) described to them his Night Journey saying:
“While I was lying in Al-Hatim or Al-Hijr, suddenly someone (an angel) came to me and cut my body open from here to here (his chest to the naval). He then took out my heart. Then a gold tray of Iman was brought to me and my heart was washed and was filled (with Iman) and then returned to its original place…” [Bukhari]
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) was prepared beforehand by having his chest was opened and his blessed heart – the finest and noblest of hearts – was removed and strengthened by angels.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) had his chest opened no less than four times. Once as a child in the care of his foster mother, the second time when he was ten, a third time was when he was made a Prophet and a fourth time was the night of Al Isra wal Mi’raj in preparation for the wondrous journey.
This enabled him to travel through the cosmos and ascend the seven skies, pass over Jahannam and Jannah, see the Arash of Allah, and pass even beyond the Sidratul Muntaha (lote tree), though there is a discussion among scholars whether or not he saw Allah Almighty Himself.
We know that seeing Allah is beyond the capacity of humans from the story of Musa (peace be on him) who fainted upon seeing Allah, because his heart had not been fortified for it:
‘And when Musa arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You.” [Allah] said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Musa fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers”.’ [7:143]
Jibril brought an animal for the Prophet (peace be on him) to ride, known as Al Buraq. It was smaller than a mule, and according to some narrations, it was a bit restless, so Jibril told it off. Anas narrated:
Al Buraq was brought to the Prophet (peace be on him) on the Night of Isra, saddled and reined, but he shied from him. So Jibril said to him: “Is it from Muhammad that you do this? By your Lord! There is no one more honourable to your Lord than him.” He said: “Then he started sweating profusely.” (Tirmidhi)
Why did Allah Almighty choose Al Buraq as a vehicle for the Prophet (peace be on him)? Allah Almighty could have lifted him straight up to heaven, however by giving him transport, he honoured him. Ibn Abi Jamrah said:
Al Buraq was given to the prophet (peace be upon him) as a reference to the exclusivity, he said, and the power of Allah was valid to take the prophet peace be upon him to the skies without Al Buraq but this was extra honouring, because if he went up By himself he was in the form of walking , and the rider is dearer than the walker. (Fath al Bari – 7/206)
The folding of time and space
Every step Al Buraq took was a fast as the eye could see. His speed was therefore faster than any airplane. Anas bin Malik narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
I was brought al Buraq Who is an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, who would place his hoof a distance equal to the range of version. I mounted it and came to the Temple (Bait al Maqdis in Jerusalem), then tethered it to the ring used by the prophets. I entered the mosque and prayed two rakahs in it, and then came out and Jibril brought me a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. I chose the milk, and Jibril said: You have chosen the natural thing. (Muslim)
The speed of the journey and the darkness of the night meant that later the Prophet (peace be on him) was unclear on the details of what he passed when questioned by the companions, until Allah Almighty inspired him with the answers.
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
I found myself in Hijr and the Quraish were asking me about my might journey. I was asked about things pertaining to Bait al Maqdis which I could not preserve (in my mind). I was very much vexed, so vexed as I had never been before. Then Allah raised it (Bait al Maqdis) before my eyes. I looked towards it, and I gave them the information about whatever they questioned me.
I also saw myself among the group of apostles. I saw Moses saying prayer and found him to be a well-built man as if he was a man of the tribe of Shanu’a. I saw Jesus son of Mary (peace be upon him) offering prayer, of all of men he had the closest resemblance with ‘Urwa b. Masu’d al-Thaqafi. I saw Ibrahim (peace be upon him) offering prayer; he had the closest resemblance with your companion (the Prophet himself) amongst people. When the time of prayer came I led them. When I completed the prayer, someone said: Here is Malik, the keeper of the Hell; pay him salutations. I turned to him, but he preceded me in salutation.(Muslim)
Allah Almighty, the creator of time and space can fold this for anyone. He folded it for the awliya in the story of Bilqis, when her throne was transported in the blink of an eye, so it is not difficult for Allah Almighty to enable the Prophet (peace be on him) to traverse time and space. Indeed in the dua for safar (travel) we ask Allah Almighty to fold time and space for us when we say, Allahumma hawwin ‘alayna safarana hadha watwi ‘anna bu’dahu:
O Allah , lighten this journey for us and make shorten distance (fold space) for us.
The Prophet (peace be on him) prayed for Allah to fold space long before Einstein arrived at the theory of relativity. This is a barakah for the ummah, as it shortens our journey when we make this dua inshallah.
The choice between wine and milk
When they arrived at the mosque in Bait al Maqdis, the Prophet (peace be on him) was offered a cup of wine and milk, and he choose milk. Jibril said that this symbolised the fitrah (natural goodness). Abu Huraira reported:
On the night of the Ascension, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was presented with two vessels, one full of wine and the other full of milk. The Prophet looked at them both and he chose the vessel full of milk. The Angel Jibril (peace be upon him) said,
“All praise is due to Allah who has guided you to that which is natural, for had you selected the wine your nation would have been led astray.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Masjid Al Aqsa
There is a narration by Imam Nasa’i that the Prophet (peace be on him) visited 300 places, including Madinah (to which he not yet migrated), Sinai (where Musa spoke to Allah) and Bait Lahem (Bethlehem).
Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“I passed by Moses during my night journey near the red mound; he was praying in his grave.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (peace be on him) then arrived in Masjid Al Aqsa where he prayed and led the congregation.
“I was brought an animal that was larger than a donkey and smaller than a mule, whose stride could reach as far as it could see. I mounted it, and Jibril was with me, and I set off. Then he said: ‘Dismount and pray,’ so I did that. He said: ‘Do you know where you have prayed? You have prayed in Taibah, which will be the place of the emigration.’ Then he said: ‘Dismount and pray,’ so I prayed. He said: ‘Do you know where you have prayed? You have prayed in Mount Sinai, where Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, spoke to Musa, peace be upon him.’ So I dismounted and prayed, and he said: ‘Do you know where you have prayed? You have prayed in Bethlehem, where ‘Eesa, peace be upon him, was born.’ Then I entered Bait al Maqdis (Jerusalem) where the Prophets, peace be upon them, were assembled for me, and Jibril brought me forward to lead them in prayer. (Sunan An Nasai)
Leading the prophets in prayer
Buraq finally alighted at the masjid which had been built by Suleman (peace be on him). It was narrated from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“When Sulaiman bin Dawud finished building Baitil-Maqdis, he asked Allah for three things: judgment that was in harmony with His judgment, a dominion that no one after him would have, and that no one should come to this mosque, intending only to pray there, but he would emerge free of sin as the day his mother bore him.” The Prophet (peace be on him) said: “Two prayers were granted, and I hope that the third was also granted.” (Ibn Majah)
This masjid holds a very special place in our history and heritage and it’s sanctity was further cemented by the fact the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) led all the prophets in the worship of Allah on that spot.
It is very important to convey this to our children so that they know how holy this place is for Muslims.
Leading all the prophets together in salah shows the unity and consistency of Allah’s divine message to mankind throughout time.
It also shows the status of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) and all the messengers were part of the same mission. The mission of spreading the knowledge of Tawhid. The significance of all the Prophets praying behind the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) shows that his Shari’ah is the only one to follow from here onwards. He is the seal of the Prophets.
Why did Allah choose Bait al Maqdis?
Bait al Madis, literally means purified house. Allah Almighty could have chosen any place for the ascent to heaven, it could have been an island in the sea or any place on earth, so what was the reason behind this choice. Allah Almighty has blessed Bait al Maqdis and its vicinity (which is Shaam, present day Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine).
“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing” [al-Israa’ 17:1]
The Prophet (peace be on him) made dua for it:
He said: “O Allah, bless for us our Shaam; O Allah, bless for us our Yemen.” (Bukhari)
Bait al Maqdis is where Ibrahim, Dawood and Suleman lived. Due to its historical significance, Allah Almighty chose it over others. Allah has sanctified some places. Abu al Darda narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) stated:
“A prayer in the Masjid al-Haram is akin to one hundred thousand prayers, a prayer in my mosque is like a thousand prayers, and a prayer in the Baitul Maqdis is like five hundred prayers [in reward].” [Tabarani: Mu`jam al Kabir] “The prayer in congregation is twenty seven times superior to the prayer offered by person alone.” [Bukhari]
Spread awareness of the oppression
The events of Al Isra wal Mi’raj demonstrate the importance of Bait al Maqdis for Muslims. It is in Bait al Maqdis that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) led all the Prophets of Allah in prayer, it is from there he went on Al Buraq to the seven heavens. It was the first Qibla for the Muslims and the third holiest site. Around 100 of the companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) are buried in its precincts.
We need to learn more about the importance of Bait al Maqdis and teach our children about it, that it is our sacred land, our first Qibla, in which the Prophet (peace be on him) visited and led all the Prophets, and from which the Prophet (peace be on him) made his night journey to the heavens. We need to raise the awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people and help them humanitarian aid and effort to ease their difficulties. Most certainly, we should pray for them and everyone who are living under occupation and oppression. May Allah free the oppressed.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – delivered to Al Manar New Muslims 2021
Transcribed by Abu Shama
Slide Presentation on Isra wal Miraj:
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