Al-Israa‘ and Al-Mi`raj (the Night Journey and Ascension) refer to the miraculous journey that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) experienced. Unlike what some people claim, that journey involved both the body and soul of the Prophet. The main proof of the fact that the body of the Prophet was involved in the journey is that Almighty Allah began the first verse of Surat Al-Israa’ by the word subhana, which means exalted and glorified. This word indicates that a miraculous event is about to be mentioned in the sequel.
This journey was a decisive stage of the Prophet’s call in Makkah, because there were several cases of people embracing Islam and others leaving it after this incident. Abu Bakr, the Companion of the Prophet, received his title As-Siddiq (Arabic for the very sincere) after this incident. He was the first to believe in the truthfulness of all events of this journey as narrated by the Prophet.
On that night, Jibreel came to the Prophet and told him to circumambulate the Ka`bah seven times. At the Ka`bah, Jibreel told him that he (Prophet Muhammad) was going to Al-Aqsa Mosque, wherefrom they shall both ascend the seventh heaven to meet Almighty Allah.
In fact, you should prepare yourself for that day when you shall meet Him. Will you be happy on that day? Or will you be ashamed of what you did during your life?
Almighty Allah says,
[Glory be to Him Who took 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; surely, He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer [of all things].] (Al-Israa’ 17:1)
Implications of Timing and Description
The choice of timing to be at night is due to the fact that nighttime has different implications for different people. For the corrupt, it means time of committing adultery, drinking wine, and doing everything that is prohibited by Almighty Allah. For the righteous, it is the time when they feel nearest to Almighty Allah. It is the time when the soul is pure; thus, sincere believers should pray at night as much as they can. They should worship Allah and implore Him during the night.
Thus, the timing was of great significance and also were the words that Almighty Allah used to describe His Prophet: [His servant.] When Almighty Allah honors someone, He either reminds them that they are human beings or bestows upon them the blessing of remembering that they are His servants. In turn, it is the duty of the pious ones to always be humble before their Lord.
Throughout the history of all Prophets, there came moments when they were gifted with glorious victories, yet they remained humble and grateful to Almighty Allah. When Prophet Muhammad finally conquered Makkah, he entered it on his camelback with his head bowed in humility.
The same goes with Prophet Yusuf or Joseph (peace be upon him). He also kept to his humbleness and modesty when his parents and brothers kneeled before him after he suffered a long life of hardships. He implored Allah as stated in the Glorious Qur’an:
[My Lord, You have indeed given me of the sovereignty and taught me of the interpretation of events: Originator of the heavens and the earth, You are my Guardian in this world and the hereafter; make me die a Muslim and join me with the good.] (Yusuf 12:101)
Also, Prophet Sulayman or Solomon (peace be upon him) had many gifts bestowed upon him by Almighty Allah (such as understanding and communicating with all creatures), yet he kept to supplicating Almighty Allah and thanking Him:
[And [Solomon] smiled, laughing at her speech, and said, “My Lord, arouse me to be thankful for Your favor wherewith You have favored me and my parents, and to do good that shall please You, and admit me, by Your mercy, to the ranks of Your righteous servants.”] (An-Naml 27:19)
Therefore, no matter how successful, famous, wealthy, or religious you are, always maintain your humility before Almighty Allah. He shall then elevate you in status even more. So, when Prophet Muhammad showed extreme humbleness before his Lord, he was raised where no one else reached.
The journey of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj has a highly symbolic nature. After the Prophet circumambulated the Ka`bah, he found Al-Buraq, which was going to be his means of transportation during this great journey.
Anas ibn Malik narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) described Al-Buraq saying,
“I was introduced to Al-Buraq, a white and long animal that is larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule. It would place its hoof at a distance equal to the range of its vision.” (Muslim)
From this hadith, one can get hold of the level of faith the Prophet’s Companions had. They believed in the truthfulness of this journey whose turn of events was beyond the comprehension of humans. It is important to remember that this miraculous journey took place at a time when beasts of burden were the only means of transportation. However, with whatever means of transportation the human brain can engineer, the journey will always remain a miraculous event that goes beyond human perception.
Moreover, through the creation of Al-Buraq, Almighty Allah challenges humans and reminds them of His capability and power that always surpass theirs, no matter how advanced they become in science and technology until the Day of Judgment. So, people should never boast about their power or achievements. They should always remember that their power and knowledge are incomparable to those of Allah, Almighty, All-Knowing.
Fetter Your Own Buraq
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) described how Jibreel accompanied him along his journey saying, “And I set out with Jibreel” (Al- Bukhari). This refers to the importance of one’s company. You should carefully choose friends who can help you in the journey of this worldly life.
The Arabic word Al-Buraq is derived from barq, which means lightning. It refers to the speed at which the creature traveled from one place to another. Likewise, only a good companion can push you forward with such speed. A few weeks before that journey, Prophet Muhammad was not able to move freely in Makkah and life was so suppressing on earth. However, during that journey, he was able to penetrate the whole universe.
When the Prophet and Jibreel reached Al-Aqsa Mosque, they landed near the wall of the mosque, whereupon the Prophet tethered the creature to a ring. This creature, Al-Buraq, had been brought to the Prophet as a means of transportation; it was not expected to run away, so why did the Prophet fetter it? This had a very important wisdom: Recommending one’s soul to Almighty Allah does not mean that one should dispense with the causes or the means. Everyone should do their best to achieve their goals. Everyone must fetter their own Buraq.
Unity and Responsibility
Prophet Muhammad then entered the mosque. In the middle of the night, the mosque was expected to be void of people, yet it was amazingly full. All Prophets of Allah, starting from Adam (peace be upon him) and up until Jesus or `Isa (peace be upon him), were present. There was no place for a foot. They all came to welcome the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Such a gathering of all Prophets in one place is a unique event. It had an important significance: unity of humans regardless of difference in time and place. At our present time, how can unity be achieved with the wars, hatred, and bloodshed we suffer all over the world? Islam calls for unity, coexistence, and dialogue of civilizations, not clash of civilizations.
Nevertheless, the presence of Allah’s Prophets at the mosque had another implication. Prophet Muhammad was going to see them later during his journey in the seven heavens.
In the mosque, all the Prophets stood aligned for Prayer and waited for what Jibreel had to say. Jibreel told Prophet Muhammad to lead the Prayer, and they all prayed two rak`ahs.
As much as this incident came to honor Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), it was also a commitment: The Prophets handed over to him the banner of leadership of humankind. Accordingly, Prophet Muhammad became a witness over us, and so we became witnesses over other nations.
Do you feel that you are responsible? We, Muslims, constitute 20 percent of the world’s population, yet we still learn and take from the remaining 80 percent. We stopped giving. We ceased to add to the heritage of humanity 200 years ago. Prophet Muhammad said, “The upper hand is better than the lower hand” (Al- Bukhari).Therefore, there is no way for us other than the way of revival. We are responsible for this earth now.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is where the Prophets gathered, where the ascension to the seven heavens started, and where the descent took place before the Prophet returned to Makkah. The fact that Prophet Muhammad Led the Prophets in Prayer has an important significance: It is known in Islam that a man is not to be led in Prayer inside his own home, so what can one say about Prophet Muhammad’s and (and thus Muslim’s) responsibility toward Al-Aqsa Mosque?
*By `Amr Khalid