Sunday, May 25, 2014

Miracle of Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj night journey

Journey from the "Sacred Mosque" to the "Farthest Mosque"
Today, Sunday, is a public holiday in the UAE and most of the Gulf and Middle East.

It is Al-Isra’ wal Mi'raj -- الإسراء والمعراج -- an important observance day in the Muslim calendar. It falls on 27 Rajab in the Hijri calendar, corresponding to May 25 this year.

It also marks the countdown to the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, which falls on June 28 or 29.

Al-Isra’ wal Mi'raj marks the two parts of a physical and spiritual night journey that, according to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) took during a single night circa the year 621.

A brief sketch of the story comes in Sura 17 Al-Isra of the Holy Quran. Other details come from the hadiths or supplemental writings about the life of the Prophet.

Surat Al-Isra’ (The Night Journey), also called Surat Bani Isra'eel (Children of Israel), is the 17th chapter of the Quran with 111 verses.

According to the hadith, the journey goes like this:

The Prophet Muhammad travels on the steed Buraq to "the Farthest Mosque,” where he leads other prophets in prayer. He then ascends to Heaven where he speaks to God, who gives Muhammad instructions to take back to the faithful regarding the details of prayer.

The exact location of "the Farthest Mosque” is not specified, although the first verse refers to Muhammad being taken from the “Sacred Mosque” to the “Farthest Mosque”:

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 heareth and seeth (all things).

It is generally agreed the “Farthest Mosque” refers to al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the “Sacred Mosque” refers to al-Haram in Mecca.

The Sura was revealed in the last year before the Hijra. Its main theme is salat (daily prayers), whose number was fixed at five during the Mi’raj that it alludes to. The Sura also forbids adultery, calls for respect for father and mother and for patience and control in the face of the persecutions the Muslim community was facing at the time.

According to traditions, the journey is associated with Lailat al-Mi'raj, one of the most significant events in the Muslim calendar.

The Night Journey starts with the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel (who was bringing the revelation of the Quran). Gabriel leads Muhammad to a white mule with wings attached to its thighs. This mule had carried other prophets, including Abraham, and was the Buraq or spirit horse. Muhammad gets on and goes high into the sky.

He arrives at Jerusalem where he meets many prophets including Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Prophet is quoted as saying Abraham “looked like no one else, but also no one did not look like him.” Moses was “tall, tanned, slim and with a hooked nose and curly hair.” Jesus was “red skinned of medium height with straight hair and many moles on his face.” He also looked like “he had come out of a bath. His hair looked wet although it was not wet.”

Muhammad is asked to lead them in prayer and did.

Three dishes are placed in front of Muhammad containing water, wine and milk. Muhammad said he knew of the prophecy that if he chose water the Muslim community would drown, if he chose wine they would leave the true path, and if he chose milk they would follow the true religion of the one God. He chose milk and drank from it. Gabriel confirmed the prophecy.

Then Muhammad lifts up to the first gate of Heaven guarded by the Angel Ishmael (first son of Abraham) who was in charge of 12,000 more and each of those had 12,000 of their own. All these 144,000,001 angels guarded the one gate. Ishmael asked Gabriel if Muhammad was the one sent to deliver God's message to humankind and Gabriel confirmed this, so Muhammad was let through.

Muhammad passes through seven heavenly realms.

In the First Heaven he sees Adam being shown the souls of his descendents both good and bad.

In the Second Heaven he sees Jesus and John, son of Zachariah.

In the Third Heaven he sees Joseph, son of Jacob.

In the Fourth Heaven he sees Idris, the prophet from before the flood.

In the Fifth Heaven he sees Moses' older brother, Harun, with his long white beard.

In the Sixth Heaven Muhammad meets a tall man with a hooked nose and Gabriel says it is Moses.

In the Seventh Heaven Muhammad sees an old man seated by the gate to Paradise where 70,000 angels pass through each day but do not return until Judgment Day. Gabriel identifies him as Abraham.

Gabriel then takes Muhammad into Paradise where he speaks to God who tells him the importance of regular prayers.

On the way back Moses asks how many prayers have been commanded and Muhammad says 50 a day. Moses tells him to go back to God and get the number cut. God reduces the number to 10 a day but Moses again says this is too many. Muhammad returns to God and they are reduced to five times a day. Moses says this is still too many, but Muhammad tells Moses he is too embarrassed to return to God again.

The Prophet is also shown Sidrat al-Muntaha (a Lote Tree of the utmost boundary [Quran 53:14]). He says, “I saw its Nabk fruits which resembled the clay jugs of Hajr (near Medina) 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’.”

Sidrat al-Muntaha marks the end of the Seventh Heaven, the boundary where no creation can pass, according to Muslim beliefs.

Muhammad then returns to Mecca.

When he describes his journey to followers, many don’t believe he had gone to Jerusalem in one night, seen the Seven Heavens and had spoken with God.

Some of the disbelievers went to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (one of the senior companions -- Sahabi --  father-in-law of Muhammad and the first Muslim Caliph following Muhammad's death).

Abu Bakr asked the Prophet to describe Jerusalem. He did and Abu Bakr declared all the details were accurate and so Muhammad must have been there.

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. Quran, Chapter 17 (Al-Isra), Verse 1

So today, we celebrate the miracle of Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj, the night journey and ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Have a wonderful day.