Introduction to the Mi’raj
The purpose of the Mi’raj (Ascension) was to show the beleaguered Messenger (peace be upon him) Divine and cosmic secrets. A puzzle, a metaphor for the mystical nature of the Messenger’s (peace be upon him) spiritual core. It was a miracle, inexplicable by contemporary science and technology. 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.”
Quranic Description of the Journey
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 Messenger (peace be upon him), the Mi’raj or the Ascension, a night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and from there to the celestial heights, finishing in the Divine presence. This was to mark the universal nature of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) message, an announcement that it was global and 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):
- Worship only Allah
- To care for parents
- Not to commit murder
- Not to commit adultery
- To give to the needy
- Not to commit the seven deadly sins
- Not to waste wealth
- Not to be miserly
- Not to cheat
- Not to be arrogant
The Horizontal and Vertical Phases of the Mi’raj
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.
Narratives of the Ascension
Detailed narratives of the Ascension are found explicitly 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 (peace be upon him) was soon at the second precinct of Masjid al-Aqsa.
Meeting the Prophets
At this point, 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. From here, accompanied by Jibril, the Messenger (peace be upon him) ascended the heavens. In the first heaven, he met Prophet 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 Prophets Isa and Yayha, then the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and finally the seventh heaven where was he (peace be upon him) was greeted by Prophet Ibrahim.
Bait al-Mamur and Beyond
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 (peace be upon him) was now presented the Raf-raf to mount, his new vehicle. The Prophet (peace be upon him) 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 (peace be upon him) 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.