In the seventh month of the Islamic calendar, the 27th of Rajab (or the 28th of February) is recognised for Al Isra’ wal Miraj.
This marks the night that Allah took Muhammad (peace be upon him) on a journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and from there to the celestial heights, finishing in his Divine presence.
The purpose of the Mi’raj (Ascension) was to show the beleaguered Messenger (pbuh) Divine and cosmic secrets. A puzzle, a metaphor for the mystical nature of the Messenger’s (pbuh) spiritual core. It was a miracle, inexplicable by contemporary science and technology. It frustrates all attempts to understand its mechanism.
However, Einstein’s theory of relativity and some philosophers who believe in the notion of ‘wormholes’ may give a hint to the mystery of the Messenger’s Ascension. Allama Iqbal, the poet of Islam, aptly expressed its philosophy in a couplet, “I learnt from the Ascension of the chosen one that the universe is within human grasp.”
Allah describes the journey in The Majestic Quran: “Glory be to Him who took His noble servant on a night journey from the Sacred Masjid to the far away Masjid – whose surroundings we made holy – in order to show him Our signs, He is indeed the Hearing, the Seeing” (Al-Isra: 1). This verse is introducing a majestic miracle of the Mir’aj on the Messenger (pbuh). This was to mark the universal nature of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) message. It was global announcement heralding the new era and forecasting the splendid future of Islam. This new world order was founded on ten commandments (see Al-Isra 23-36):
1. Worship only Allah
2. To care for parents
3. Not to commit murder
4. Not to commit adultery
5. To give to the needy
6. Not to commit the seven deadly sins
7. Not to waste wealth
8. Not to be miserly
9. Not to cheat
10. Not to be arrogant
The horizontal phase of the journey begins from the Kaaba in Makkah to the historic Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. The second was the vertical phase from Al-Aqsa to the Divine throne. The purpose of this journey was “to show him Our signs”. The hadith literature gives graphic details of this momentous journey. The verse begins with one of the Divine attributes, “Subhan”, the Glorified. Let us look at the significance of this. According to the astronomers the universe is six billion light-years, (a light-year is a distance of 6 trillion miles) so an incredible distance that is unimaginable.
You may be wondering how could such an enormous distance be covered in a short period of the night? We need not search any further since the Majestic Lord took His servant from the sacred mosque to the far-away mosque. The One who is flawless without defect or weakness, the Glorified.
Who can create things from nothing by the mere command of ‘kun’ (be) and ‘fa-yakun’ (it becomes). By using the Divine name “Subhan”, doubts vanish, certainty prevails. Hence the denial of the Mi’raj is not the denial of the miraculous journey but the power of Allah.
Detailed narratives of the Ascension are found in the Hadith books. According to Ibn Kathir, forty-five Sahaba narrated them. The Messenger (peace be upon him) says: “One night I was asleep in the sacred masjid when Jibril woke me up and informed me of the Divine will. He took me to the well of Zam-zam, my chest was opened and filled with wisdom and faith. Then I mounted a beautiful horse-like animal, the Buraq”. It travelled at phenomenal speed. The Messenger (pbuh) was soon at the second precinct of Masjid al-Aqsa.
There all the prophets of the past ages were waiting for him. He led them in congregational prayer. This congregational prayer marked the end of the horizontal phase of the journey. The Messenger (pbuh) ascended the heavens from here, accompanied by Jibril. In the first heaven, he met Adam who greeted Him with love and affection in the words, “Welcome, O righteous Son!” Then he continued to the second heaven, where he met Isa and Yayha, then the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and finally the seventh heaven where was he (pbuh) was greeted by Ibrahim.
The journey continued beyond the heavens until he (peace be upon him) reached the Bait al-Mamur, the Kaaba of the Angels, from there He ascended to the Lote tree (Sidratul Muntaha), the boundary of the universe. This is the focal point of Divine mercy. Even Jibril could not go any further. The Messenger (pbuh) was now presented the Raf-raf to mount, his new vehicle. The Prophet (pbuh) continued alone, but where to? That is beyond the point of human grasp.
The Majestic Quran alludes to it in Surat al-Najm, verse 8 where Allah says: “Then he drew near, very near, like two bows lengths or even closer“. What happened there is also in the realm of mystery. We are just told that He revealed to His servant what he revealed.
The Ascension is an important miracle of the Messenger (pbuh) since the five daily prayers were instituted as the daily devotion. This may explain why Allah made such an intricate and grand arrangement. If Islam is the circle, then the prayer is the centre point, if Islam is the tree, then the prayer is the fruit and if Islam is a body, then the prayer is the soul. No wonder the Lord took such care of announcing it.