Allah Almighty has sent innumerable prophets through time to be a source of guidance and a beacon of light to mankind. The prophets instructed people about the pure creed of the one and only God, directing them to leading righteous lives, informing them that their eventuality was the Resurrection and the Day of Judgement.
The Holy Quran abounds with accounts of miracles and extraordinary events bestowed upon the Prophets by Allah Almighty to aid and assist them in conveying their messages and in convincing the stubborn and headstrong, illuminating the path of Islam as the one, true religion. The prophets were all men of outstanding character, honesty and righteousness, whose reputations could be trusted implicitly. Allah wished them to relate the miracles, as revealed to them, to their followers and to make it clear that these could be possible only through divine instruction and intervention.
One of the miracles granted to our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was that of the twin journeys of Isra’ and Miraj. It came at a time when he had suffered and struggled immensely in conveying the message of Islam, and so it was a valuable source of solace and encouragement to him. This dual earthly and celestial journey served as a great morale boost to strengthen his faith in Allah and to embolden his resolve in spreading the true message of Islam. For this presentation I depend upon a writing [i] available online, as well as the Quran and Hadith.
Isra’ is an Arabic word referring to Prophet Muhammad’s night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem – specifically, to the site of what is now Al-Aqsa Mosque (Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem – as referred to in Surat Al-Isra’ in the Quran. This is believed to have been followed on the same night by the Mi’raj, the journey of the Prophet’s ascension to the heavens. According to some Hadith scholars this journey is dated to the twelfth year of his mission, on the 27th of Rajab, just over a year before Prophet Muhammad ﷺ migrated from Makkah to Madinah.
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Within the Quran itself, Surat Al-Isra’, the 17th chapter, was named for its reference to the Isra’, which is described briefly in the first verses. There is also some information in Surat Al-Najm which is taken to relate to the journey of Isra’ and Miraj. Greater detail has been recorded in the Sirah and the Hadith—the latter of which is a collection of the deeds, teachings and sayings of the Prophet supplementing what has been mentioned in the holy Quran. Narrations from as many as twenty five of the Prophet’s companions (Anas ibn Malik, Malik ibn Sa’sa’ah, Abu Dharr Al Ghifari and Abu Hurairah to mention some of the most familiar names), give extensive reports of this occurrence. The incident of Miraj is recorded in the Hadith collection, Sahih Al Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Hadith number 429, and coordinates with the following texts:
‘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 All-Hearer and All-seer (of all things).’ [Surat Al-Isra’, 17:1]
‘And (remember, O Muhammad) when we told you, ‘Indeed your Lord has encompassed the people. And We did not grant the view which We showed you except as a trial for the people, as was the accursed tree (mentioned elsewhere[ii] in the Quran). And We threaten them, but it increases them not except in transgression.’ [Surat Al-Isra’, 17:60]
‘And he [Muhammad] certainly saw him [Gabriel] in another descent, at the Lote tree of the Utmost Boundary—near it is the Garden of Refuge….he certainly saw some of the greatest signs of his Lord. [Surat Al-Najm, 53:13-18]
This miraculous event began when the Prophet was asleep one night. Abbas Ibn Malik reported that Malik ibn Sa’sa’a reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said:
“While I was lying in Al-Hatim or Al-Hijr, angel Jibril (Gabriel) came to me and cut my body open from here to here.’’ I asked Al-Jarud, who was by my side, “What does he mean?” He said: “My body was cut open from the throat to the lower part of the abdomen.” The Prophet further said, “Jibril then took out my heart and washed it with Zam Zam water. Then he took a golden tray filled with Wisdom and Belief and these attributes were put into my heart before it was returned to its original place.”
This was done to prepare the Messenger of Allah ﷺ for what he was yet to see in the heavens from among the creation of Allah.
Anas ibn Malik proclaimed that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had said that in the course of that same night, angel Jibril also brought him the choice of a vessel of wine, another of water and a third of milk, and our Prophet chose the one of milk. Upon seeing this, angel Jibril said, “You have chosen the Fitrah” (natural instinct).
For this journey, the Mi’raj, the archangel Jibril would accompany Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who would ride the heavenly steed, Burâq, which was used to facilitate this nocturnal journey. Buraq was a shining, white animal, slightly larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, able to travel very fast. The Prophet was told by Jibril to mount this animal in order to commence the journey. The Prophet and Jibril arrived at a land fertile with palm trees where angel Jibril instructed the Prophet to dismount and pray two rak’ahs. Jibril asked him, “Do you know where you have just prayed?” and the Prophet answered, “Allah knows best.’’ Whereupon Jibril told him, “This is Yathrib, the city of Madina.” Then they reached Tur Sana where again Jibril instructed the Prophet to pray two rak’ahs.
Their next stop was Bethlehem, where Prophet Isa (Jesus) had been born. Then the buraq continued with the Messenger ﷺ until they entered the city of Jerusalem and stopped at Masjid Al-Aqsa. Outside the masjid was a ring used by the Messengers of Allah ﷺ to tie their animals. The Prophet tied the buraq to this ring and proceeded to enter the mosque where he led in prayer all the Prophets—including Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), Prophet Isa (Jesus), and Prophet Musa (Moses).
Thereafter commenced the second part of the journey, the Miraj—an Arabic word literally meaning ‘ladder’—or the miraculous ascension to heaven. Surat Al-Najm, in the Quran reiterates how the miracle of the Ascension took place in the following words:
“…while he was in the highest part of the horizon: Then he approached and came closer, and was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; So did (Allah) convey the inspiration to His Servant, (conveying) what He (meant) to convey. The (Prophet’s) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw. Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw? For indeed he saw him at a second descent. Near the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary: Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!” [Surat Al-Najm, 53:7-18]
Angel Jibril traversed through this heavenly journey with the Prophet till they arrived at the nearest heaven. When angel Jibril requested that the gates of heaven be opened, he was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ whereupon Jibril replied, ‘Muhammad ﷺ.’ It was asked, ‘Has Muhammad ﷺ been called?’ Jibril replied in the affirmative. Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed. What an excellent visit his is!’ The gate was opened, and when our Prophet went to the first heaven, he saw Prophet Adam there. Jibril said to Prophet Muhammad: ‘This is your father, Adam; pay him your greetings.’ So he greeted him, to which Prophet Adam replied: ‘You are welcomed, O pious son and pious Prophet.’
In this manner the Prophet, accompanied by angel Jibril, ascended to each heaven reaching the pinnacle of the seven heavens. In each successive heaven he was questioned in a similar manner and he offered his humble greetings to the prophets therein. He made the acquaintance of and spoke to the august personalities of the following Prophets in each heaven: In the second heaven he met Prophet Yahya and Prophet Isa; in the third heaven he met Prophet Yusuf; in the fourth heaven he met Prophet Idris and in the fifth heaven he met Prophet Aaron. He met Prophet Musa in the sixth heaven and upon his departing from there, Prophet Musa wept. Upon being asked why he was weeping, Prophet Musa stated that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent after him, but his followers would enter Paradise in greater numbers than his own followers. In the uppermost seventh heaven, our Prophet met Prophet Ibrahim.
Finally he reached the highest point in the heavens marked by the Sidrat Al-Muntaha, (which was the Lote Tree of the utmost boundary) beyond which even angel Jibril could not travel with him. The fruits of this tree were like the jars of Hajr (a place near Medina) and its leaves were as big as elephant’s ears. He also observed four rivers, of which two were hidden and two were visible. Upon questioning angel Jibril about them, he was told that the two hidden rivers were of Paradise and the two rivers that could be seen were the Nile and Euphrates. He also saw Al Bait Al-Mamur (the Sacred House) where 70,000 angels perform prayers daily and after they depart a fresh group of angels comes again to offer prayers. The Prophet understood that this routine of the arrival and departure of the heavenly angels will continue till the Day of Judgement.
To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 2…
[ii] 37:62–67; 44:43-46; 56:51-56