The Isra’ and Mi’raaj is a momentous occasion that occurred at a very crucial stage in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam). This uplifting (mi’raj = ascend) experience took place in the year the Prophet lost two of his valuable pillars of support; his uncle Abu Talib (whose political authority and care for the Prophet prevented the Makkans from harming the Prophet) and Khadijah (Prophet’s beloved wife, confidante, partner and financier of the nascent Islamic movement). It was after the mi’raaj that the Prophet had to leave Makkah, yet that departure marked a turning point for the nascent Muslim community and changed the course of history.
Period of Sorrow
The Isra’ wal Mi’raj occurred at a most trying time of Prophet’s challenging life. The people of Makkah; who had called him as-Sadiq /truthful and al-Amin/trustworthy, had rejected his message; ostracized his followers and victimized his family. He and a handful of followers endured three years of relentless persecution and boycott from the Makkans and he eventually went to Taif to preach his message. There they mocked him and stoned him till bled profusely. He turned to Allah with the words; “Oh, Allah, I appeal to you for the weakness in my strength, the limitation of my power, and the treatment of disrespect and humiliation from people. To you, the Most Merciful of all the merciful ones I turn for You are the Lord of the oppressed, and you are my Lord … “
Then at this most difficult and trying time of the holy Prophet’s illustrious life, he experiences the ‘am al-huzn (year of sorrow) in which he witnessed the passing of two significant people in his life. One was his protective uncle Abu Talib, who was his guardian and political protector and the other was Khadijah, his most beloved wife, his confidante, mother of all his children (except Ibrahim). She was the first to embrace his faith, the financier of the nascent Islamic movement and Mother of the Faithful. It was at this time that the Isra’ wal Mi’raj (Night Journey and Ascension) took place.
The Israa and Miraj refer to, two parts of a miraculous journey that Prophet Muhammad took in one night from Makka to Jerusalem and then an ascension to the heavens.
Israa is an Arabic word referring to Prophet Muhammad’s miraculous night journey from Makka to Jerusalem – specifically, to the site of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – as referred to in Surah Al-Israa in the Quran.
It is believed to have been followed by the Mi’raj, his ascension to heaven. According to some of the Hadith scholars this journey is believed to have taken place just over a year before Prophet Muhammad migrated to from Makka to Madina, on the 27th of Rajab.
Muslims celebrate this night by offering optional prayers during this night, and in many Muslim countries, by illuminating cities with electric lights and candles.
Following is the translation of the first verse of chapter 17, Al-Israa, from the Quran that refers to this journey, followed by a detailed explanation of the verse by Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi.
“Holy is He Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque (in Makka) to the farther Mosque (in Jerusalem) – whose surroundings We have blessed – that We might show him some of Our signs 1. Indeed He alone is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”
1 This is a reference to the event known as Mi’raj (Ascension) and Isra’ (Night Journey). According to most traditions – and especially the authentic ones – this event took place one year before Hijrah. Detailed reports about it are found in the works of Hadith and Sirah and have been narrated from as many as twenty-five Companions. The most exhaustive reports are those from Anas ibn Malik, Malik ibn Sa’sa’ah, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari and Abu Hurayrah, RadhiAllahu Anhuma. Some other details have been narrated by ‘Umar, ‘Ali, ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Abd Allah ibn Abbas, Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, RadhiAllahu Anhuma and ‘A’ishah, RadhiAllahu Anha, among other Companions of the Prophet .
The Quran here only mentions that the Prophet was taken from the Ka’bah to the mosque in Jerusalem, and specifies that the purpose of the journey was such that Allah might “show him some of His signs”. Beyond this, The Quran does not concern itself with any detail. However, according to Hadith reports, Gabriel took the Prophet at night from the Ka’bah to the mosque in Jerusalem on a buraq.* On reaching Jerusalem the Prophet along with other Prophets offered Prayers. (Al-Nasa’i, Sunan, K. al-Salah, ‘Bab Fard al-Salah wa Dhikr Ikhtilaf al-Naqilin…’ -Ed.) Gabriel then took him to the heavens and the Prophet met several great Prophets in different heavenly spheres. (See al-Nasa’i, Sunan, K. al-Salah, ‘Bab Fard al-Salah’ – Ed.) Finally, he reached the highest point in the heavens and was graced with an experience of the Divine Presence. On that occasion the Prophet received a number of directives including that Prayers were obligatory five times a day. (Al-Bukhari, K. Manaqib al -Ansar, ‘Bab al-Mi’raj ; K. al-Tawhid, ‘Bab Kallama Musa Taklima’ – Ed.) Thereafter, the Prophet returned from the heavens to Jerusalem, and from there to the Holy Mosque in Makka. Numerous reports on the subject reveal that the Prophet was also enabled on this occasion to observe Heaven and Hell. (Al-Bukhari, K. al_Salah, ‘Bab Kayfa Furidat al-Salah fi al-Isra’ and Ibn Hisham, Sirah, vol. I, p. 404 – Ed.)
It may be recalled that according to authentic reports when the Prophet narrated the incidents of this extraordinary journey the following day to the people in Makka, the unbelievers found the whole narration utterly amusing. (Muslim, K, al-Iman, ‘Bab Dhikr al-Masih ibn Maryam’ – Ed.) In fact, even the faith of some Muslims was shaken because of the highly extraordinary nature of the account. (See Ibn Hisham, Sirah , vol. I, p.398 and al-Qurtubi, comments on verse 1 of the surah – Ed.)
What was the nature of this journey? Did it take place when the Prophet was asleep or when he was awake? Did he actually undertake a journey in the physical sense or did he have a spiritual vision while remaining in his own place? These questions, in our view, have been resolved by the text of the Quran itself. The opening statement: “Holy is He Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the farther Mosque… ” (verse 1) itself indicates that it was an extraordinary event which took place by dint of the infinite power of God. For quite obviously, to be able to perceive the kind of things mentioned in connection with the event, either in a dream or by means of intuition, is not so wondrous that it should be prefaced by the statement : “Holy is He Who carried His servant by night…” ; a statement which amounts to proclaiming that God was free from every imperfection and flaw. Such a statement would make absolutely no sense if the purpose of it was merely to affirm that God had the power to enable man to have either visions in the course of a dream, or to receive information intuitively. In our view, the words of the experience or a dream vision, was an actual journey, and the observation in question was a visual observation. All was contingent upon God’s will that truths be revealed to the Prophet in this fashion.
*Buraq was the name of the heavenly steed on which the Prophet rode on his nocturnal journey from Makka to Jerusalem, and then to the heavens (For this nocturnal journey q.v. Mi’raj.)