Verses from Surah al-Isra’1 (Makki)2

1] Glorified is He3 who carried His slave4 by night5 from the Sacred Mosque6 to the Farthest Mosque,7 whose surroundings We have blessed8 – in order to show  him of Our signs.9 He is, indeed, the Hearing, the Seeing.


1. The Surah is also known by the name “Banu Isra’il”. According to a report of ‘A’isha in Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ahmed, the Prophet (saws) used to recite it every night in his prayer (Asad). Indeed, ‘A’isha’s narration names two chapters that the Prophet recited every night: this one and Al-Zumar (Alusi and others). Tirmidhi however evaluated the hadith as hasan, (a report with some technical defect). – Shawkani

2. Except for two verses (numbered 76 and 80), this is a Makkan revelation. In fact, these two verses were also revealed in Makkah, but, after Makkah’s fall. To be precise, it came at the time the Thaqif delegation had arrived seeking peace with the Prophet (Razi). Qurtubi on the other hand says that three verses are Madinan: 76, 80 & 107. Alusi quotes Hasan’s opinion as being five verses, while Qatadah’s as eight.

3.Sub-hana” has its root in “sabaha” which affords several meanings, the primary being,

a) “free and fast movement through water or air, such as, e.g., (21: 33)

“Everyone is swimming in its orbit.”

A few other connotations are:

(b) “distancing or separating one (from another)” as in verse (73: 7),

“Indeed, by day you have a prolonged occupation (which distances you from your Lord).”

(c) “prayers (and devotional acts)” as in verse (37: 143),

“If only he had been one of those who prayed”;

(d) “exception”, that is to say, ‘except that Allah wills’ (inshaAllah), as in verse (68: 28)

“The moderate one said, ‘Did I not say, if only you would (say) ‘If Allah will.’”

(e) “Nur (light)” as in a hadith of Muslim:

“..(Light [Nur] is His veil. If He were to remove it, the Light of His Face would burn down everything of His creation, to the extent of His Sight.” (Razi and Raghib)

At this point, however, the meaning is to declare Allah (swt) free of any defect or shortcoming (that humans can think of) – Qurtubi.

4. It is unanimously agreed by the scholars that the highest position one can occupy in the sight of Allah, is to be referred by Him as a slave. Further, add Alusi and Thanwi, to mention the Prophet (saws) by this epithet, at this point, when he reached great heights, was perhaps meant to cure the Muslims of their habit of committing excesses in reverence of the Prophet. Finally, the journey helped the Prophet achieve perfect “Ma`rifah.” And someone who achieved “Ma`rifah” should better be designated an ‘Abd. This is in view of another verse which says (51: 56), “We have not created the Jinn and mankind but that they should worship Me,” where the phrase “li-ya`budun” has been explained by Ibn ‘Abbas as “li-a`rifun” (i.e., so that, they may know Me).

5. The original word “Asra” has its root in “sara” meaning, “he traveled by night.” Asra, therefore, would mean, “he made (someone) travel by night.”

“Why did Allah add laylan (a night),” – Zamakhshari raises a question, “when Asra itself means ‘He carried (him) by night?’” and answers that it is to emphasize that the journey, although normally of several months duration, started and ended by the same night, in a part of it.

Majid therefore adds, quoting from Lane Poole’s Lexicon: “Laylan is here used instead of laylatan because they say asra laylatan meaning, he spent the whole night journeying,” (while laylan means a part of the night: Au.).

In other words, the journey did not occupy the whole night (Au.).

6. Masjid al-Haram is so named because a few acts that are lawful elsewhere are forbidden (haraam) in this Mosque, such as, e.g., hunting or uprooting grass. A proper rendering in English, therefore, would be, as done by Marmaduke Pickthal, “The Inviolable House of Worship.” Further, although in a narrow sense, the term Masjid al-Haraam is used for the mosque built around the Ka`bah, the term in its true sense, is applicable to the whole of the Haram area, which has been demarcated around the Grand Mosque covering several square miles (Au.).

7. The allusion is to Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. It has been called the Furthest Mosque because, of the three mosques that the Muslims are allowed to travel to for a visit, this one happens to be the furthest after those of Makkah and Madinah (Ibn Jarir). Further, Thanwi points out, by the term “masjid” it is the land that is meant, (i.e., the plot of land), since, properly speaking, when we say Masjid, the reference is not to the building but to the piece of land where sajdah is performed.

Was there a mosque when the Prophet (saws) visited the site? Ibn Jarir Tabari’s “History” tells us that although the site had been converted into a garbage dumping area by the Romans, a part of the ruins of the original construction was still standing (Thanwi).

Asad adds: “The juxtaposition of the two sacred temples is meant to show that the Qur’an does not inaugurate a ‘new’ religion but represents a continuation and the ultimate development of the same divine message which was preached by prophets of old.”

Ahadith tell us that it was built forty years after the construction of Ka`bah. As stated above, it is one of those three mosques to which one could journey, specifically, for Prayers. The other two, according to a hadith in Muwatta’, are the Prophet’s own mosque and the Masjid al-Haram. In view of this hadith, scholars have ruled that if someone vows to Pray in a particular mosque, but that requires him to journey to it, then he might not take up the journey, rather, Pray in any mosque. However, if he vows that he will pray in one of these three mosques, he must travel to them to fulfill his vow (Qurtubi). A Prayer in this mosque is equal to a thousand Prayers in other mosques. The report to this effect is in Ahmed, Abu Da’ud and Ibn Majah (Alusi).

Yusuf Ali gives us a short history of the Temple: “.. the Temple of Solomon (was) on the hill of Moriah. The chief dates in connection with the Temple are: it was finished by Solomon about B.C. 1004 (started by David); destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar about 586 B.C.; rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah about 515 B.C.; turned into a heathen idol-temple by one of Alexander’s successors Antiochus Epiphanes, 167 B.C.; restored by Herod, B.C. 17 to A.D. 29; and completely razed to the ground by the Emperor Titus in A.D. 70.” (Presently there is no trace of the Temple. It was perhaps completely wiped out of existence by Titus. Tabari thinks that the present Masjid ‘Umar is the original site of the Temple. Near this Masjid ‘Umar stands the Dome of the Rock, the building with the yellow dome. It is so named because directly under the Dome is the rock from where, according to common report, the Prophet took off for the heavens during his Nocturnal Journey: Au.).

Accurately speaking, Masjid Al-Aqsa refers neither to the Dome of the Rock, nor to the Masjid ‘Umar (the latter completed by ‘Abdul Malik in A.H. 68). It is the name of a plot of land, several acres in area, over which stand the Masjid ‘Umar, and, facing it, the Dome of the Rock. On one of the peripheries is a wall, known as the Wailing Wall, because the Jews come here to weep for the lost Temple. However, contrary to some people’s belief, there is no proof that this wall is a part of the defunct Solomon Temple. All the diggings around and under Masjid al-Aqsa have not given the Jews any clue about where the former Temple stood. And, tragically, without being certain of the site, their Temple cannot be built. Perhaps Divine Hand prevents Jews from re-building the Temple, destroyed when they rejected their Final Prophet – Jesus Christ – signifying that the spiritual leadership of the world is lost to them forever (Au.).

Al-Isra’ wa al-Mi`raj (The Nocturnal Journey and Ascension)

Ibn Kathir takes the pain to collect together all the ahadith that are found, anywhere in Hadith literature on this topic. Running into 35 pages, he presents, long and short, some forty reports, of various grades, trustworthy as well as otherwise. Shawkani is at the other extreme. He expresses his unhappiness over the method adopted by Ibn Kathir, and himself does not narrate any of them, advising the reader to go to biography works. We shall take the middle path and since every narration has some features that are not found in others, we shall, as usual, present a single, combined report relying on trustworthy narrations. Biographical works, such as that of Dr. Mahdi Rizqallah, have also been used as source.

The word Mi`raj is constructed on the same pattern as Mif`al, and renders the meaning of a “device for ascending.” Functionally, it is similar to a ladder. But it is not clear what exactly the Mi`raj of the Prophet (saws) was.

Most narrations lead us to believe that the event took place after the tenth year of the Prophet’s mission. Musa b. `Uqbah has narrated on the authority of Zuhri and `Urwah ibn Zubayr, that the journey took place a year before the Prophet’s migration to Madinah.

This event followed the death of the Prophet’s uncle (who had all along protected him from his enemies), the death of his wife (who gave him tremendous moral support), and after he had received at Makkah and Ta’if persecutions and afflictions of the worst kind ever.

It was in Allah’s mercy to show a sign to the unbelievers before they could be condemned and punished. Allah’s message is not such that when it is sent through a prophet, it may or may not be accepted by the people without serious consequences arising from the responses. When it is sent, it must be taken seriously. Therefore, before the condemnation and punishment of those who cried lies, Allah (swt) showed a very convincing sign. It was by way of the Prophet’s journey from Makkah to Jerusalem, from there to the Heavens and then back to Makkah, all within one night and with sufficient proofs for the most skeptic.

The journey started from Umm Hani’s house where the Prophet (saws) was sleeping that night. Umm Hani was Abu Talib’s daughter, his cousin. (Her real name was Fakhita: Alusi). She narrates: “The Prophet wasn’t taken into his nocturnal journey but from my house. He did his night-prayers and then everyone went to bed. The next day we did the morning Prayer behind him. When it was over he said, ‘O Umm Hani! I did my night Prayer with you, as you saw me. Then I went up to Bayt al-Maqdis and Prayed in it. And then I did my morning Prayer along with you as you can see me now.’” (Ibn Jarir)

Other reports give us to believe that he was not taken to the journey directly from Umm Hani’s house. He was first taken to the Grand Mosque. Anas b. Malik narrates a report preserved by Bukhari. It says, “One night three angels came down to him while he was sleeping in the Mosque. (That was before he was commissioned). The first of the three asked, ‘Which one is he?’ The middle one replied, ‘He is the best of them.’ And the last one said, ‘Take the best one.’ The Prophet next saw them only when they came to him that night (the night of the Mi`raj journey). He was in a state in which the heart sees while the eyes sleep. That is how the Prophets are: their eyes sleep but their hearts are awake. They did not speak to him. They carried him to the Zamzam well where Jibril took over.

According to another report in Bukhari, the Prophet said, “The roof of my house was opened while I was in Makkah. Jibril came down … I was in the Hatim” – or he said: “while I was in Hijr, lying down, when someone appeared and slit open (the breast: Au.).” He (Qatadah, the narrator) said, ‘I heard him say,’ “he cut open from here to here;” I (Qatadah) asked Jarud who happened to be by my side, ‘What does he mean?’ He said, ‘From the cavity in the neck down until the navel.’ I also heard him say, ‘From the breastbone up to the navel’ – “He removed my heart. Then a golden tray filled with faith was produced. My heart was washed and filled with the contents of the tray. (Other reports say the breast was filled with faith and wisdom). Then a beast was brought: bigger than a mule, smaller than a horse – white.” Jarud (a listener) asked, ‘Was that Buraq, O Abu Hamzah?’ Anas replied, ‘Yes.’ It placed its (one foot on the ground, and another) where the sight ended (at the horizon). It was saddled. According to a report in Bayhaqi, the Prophet said, “Prophets before me had also used it.” I was asked to mount it. Jibril started off with me until we reached Bayt al-Maqdis (in Jerusalem). [The Prophet rode upon it with Jibril holding the stirrup and Mika’il the reins: Alusi].

Bayhaqi’s report adds: “As I was traveling, a man called me from the right side, ‘Here, Muhammad, I want to talk to you.’ I did not answer. Then (a little further) another man called me from the left side, ‘Here, Muhammad, I want to talk to you.’ I paid no attention to him. And, as I traveled further up, I saw a woman, well-dressed and with all kinds of jewelry on. She said, ‘Here, Muhammad, I wish to speak to you.’ But I paid no attention.” It was later explained by Jibril that the first was a Jew and the second a Christian. They both wished to distract him. As for the woman, she was the world. If the Prophet (saws) had paid any attention to her, his Ummah would have fallen for the world preferring it over the Hereafter.

“I tied it by the ring used by earlier Prophets. Then I entered the Mosque and offered two cycles of Prayer. As I came out, Jibril brought me two bowls: one filled with wine and the other with milk. I chose milk. Jibril told me: ‘Your choice fell on nature.’ Then he took me up to the heavens.” Other reports suggest that he Prayed with the previous Prophets before he ascended. Adam (asws) and all those Prophets who followed him had assembled for him to lead in the Prayer.

Then he ascended together with Jibril until they reached the heaven nearest to this world. (An angel called Isma`il is its keeper: Bayhaqi). Jibril asked to be let in. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was asked: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: Yes.’

It was said: Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

So it was opened. As I entered I came across Adam. Jibril told me: ‘This is your father. Greet him.’ So I greeted him. He returned the greetings and said: ‘Welcome to a righteous son and a righteous Prophet.’”

According to other reports, he saw Adam (asws) with a multitude on his right and a multitude on his left. When he looked at those at his right, he smiled; and when he looked at those at his left, he wept. Jibril explained that the multitudes on his right and left were the souls of his progeny. Those at the right were the people of Paradise while those at the left were people of Hell.

“Then he ascended,” (continues the transmitter), “until he reached the second heaven and sought it to be opened. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was asked: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: ‘Yes.’

It was said: ‘Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

As I entered, I encountered Yahya and `Isa. They were cousins. (Other reports add: “`Urwah ibn Mas`ud is closest to `Isa (asws) in appearance. He was middle-sized, fair complexioned, with curly hair and a sharp gaze).

Jibril said: ‘These are Yahya and `Isa. Greet them.’ I greeted them and they returned the greetings. They said: ‘Welcome to a righteous brother and a righteous Prophet.’”

“Then he ascended,” (continues the transmitter), “until he reached the third heaven and sought it to be opened. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was asked: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: ‘Yes.’

It was said: ‘Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

As I entered, I met Yusuf.

Jibril said: ‘This is Yusuf. Greet him.’ I greeted him. He returned the greetings and said: ‘Welcome to a righteous brother and a righteous Prophet.’”

“Then he ascended,” (continues the transmitter), “until he reached the fourth heaven and Jibril sought it to be opened. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was asked: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: ‘Yes.’

It was said: ‘Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

As I entered, I met Idris.

Jibril said: ‘This is Idris. Greet him.’ I greeted him. He returned the greetings and said: ‘Welcome to a righteous brother and a righteous Prophet.’”

“Then he ascended,” (continues the transmitter), “until he reached the fifth heaven and Jibril sought it to be opened. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was asked: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: ‘Yes.’

It was said: ‘Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

As I entered, I came upon Harun. He had a long beard almost extending up to his navel.

Jibril said: ‘This is Harun. Greet him.’ I greeted him. He returned the greetings and said: ‘Welcome to a righteous brother and a righteous Prophet.’”

“Then he ascended,” (continues the transmitter), “until he reached the sixth heaven and Jibril sought it to be opened. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was inquired: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: ‘Yes.’

It was said: ‘Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

As I entered, I came across Musa. He was a huge, dark, man. His body thickly covered with hair.

Jibril said: ‘This is Musa. Greet him.’ I greeted him. He returned the greetings and said: ‘Welcome to a righteous brother and a righteous Prophet.’”

As I left him behind, he began to weep. He was asked: ‘What makes you cry?’ He replied: ‘I cry because a young man sent after me will have greater number of followers entering Paradise than from my followers.’

“Then he ascended,” (continues the transmitter), “until he reached the seventh heaven and Jibril sought it to be opened. It was inquired: ‘Who is it?’

He replied: ‘Jibril.’

It was asked: ‘Who is with you?’

He replied: ‘Muhammad.’

It was asked: ‘Has he been invited?’

He replied: ‘Yes.’

It was said: ‘Welcome to him. The best one ever to be invited has arrived.’

As I entered, I came upon Ibrahim. (Another report adds, “He was closest to me in appearance).” Jibril said: ‘This is your father. Greet him.’ I greeted him. He returned the greetings and said: ‘Welcome to a righteous son and a righteous Prophet.’”

[According to another report, Ibrahim was found resting against the Bayt al-Ma`mur (the Much-frequented House). Everyday 70,000 angels enter into it, and never have the chance to come back to it.]

Then I was taken further up until I reached the Lote Tree at the farthest end (Sidratu al-Muntaha). I found its fruit (as large as) that of Hijr (a place in the north of Hijaz); and its leaves as large as the ears of an elephant. He told me: ‘This is the Lote Tree at the Farthest End.’ I found four rivers (springing out from) there: two internal and two external. I asked: ‘What are these Jibril?’ He replied: ‘The internal ones are the rivers of Paradise, and the external ones are Nile and Euphrates.’

Then I was taken up to the Bayt al-Ma`mur. There I was presented with a cup of wine, a cup of milk and a cup of honey. I chose milk. Jibril remarked: ‘That’s the natural thing (you did). You and your followers shall follow it.’

Then fifty Prayers a day were declared obligatory for me. I returned and came across Musa. He asked: ‘What have you been ordered?’ I replied: ‘I have been ordered fifty Prayers a day.’ He said: ‘Your followers will not be able to do fifty Prayers a day. By Allah, I tested the people before you, and bore great pains with the children of Isra’il. Return to your Lord and seek concession for your followers.’

I returned. Allah took off ten of them from me. I returned to Musa. He repeated what he had said earlier. So I returned. Allah took off ten more of them from me. I returned to Musa and he told me what he had told me earlier. So I returned and Allah took off another ten from me. I returned to Musa and he repeated what he had said earlier. So I returned and I was ordered ten Prayers a day. I returned, but Musa said the same thing. So I went back and Allah ordered me five Prayers a day. I returned to Musa and he asked: ‘What have you been ordered?’ I said: ‘I have been ordered five Prayers a day.’ He said: ‘Your followers will not be able to do five Prayers a day. I have tested the people before you, and bore great pains with the Children of Isra’il. Return to you Lord and seek further concession.’

“The Prophet replied to him,” (continues the narrator): ‘I have made requests to my Lord to the point of being reduced to shame. I would rather be satisfied and submit.’

[According to the version in Bukhari, he was told at one point, “O Muhammad! My Words do not change. That is how it has been written for you in the Umm al-Kitab (Mother of the Book): Every good deed will be rewarded with ten of its like. These are fifty in the Umm al-Kitab, and they are five for you.”]

“The Prophet (saws) continued,” says the narrator, ‘When I crossed (the heaven) a caller called out: ‘I have kept my Word and have granted a decrease to My slaves.’”

Other reports offer us some more details. Such as, the Prophet’s words, “On the night that I was taken on to my Night Journey, I passed by Musa. He stood in Prayer in his grave (Muslim).” Another narration reports the Prophet’s words that when he ascended to the seventh heaven, he was taken up to a point from where he could hear the movement of the Pens. He also saw four rivers there: two hidden and two visible. He was told by Jibril, “The two hidden rivers are those of Paradise, while the two visible are Nile and Euphrates.” Thereafter, he spoke about the Prayers being declared obligatory. “Then,” he continued, “He took me further up until we reached the end of the Lote Tree. It was engulfed in indescribable colors. After that I entered into Paradise and lo, it was all domes and the ground all musk.”

According to reports in Abu Da’ud and Ahmed, the Prophet passed by a people who had nails of copper with which they were scratching (their flesh out) from their faces and breasts. He asked who they were. Jibril told him, “Those who ate the flesh of the people (i.e., committed back-biting) and slandered their honor.” He also passed by a people who had good meat before them but they chose to eat from the most foul-smelling, putrid, rotten meat. On enquiry he was told that those were a people who used to prefer the unlawful over the lawful in the life of the world. He also passed by a people who were eating red hot coals that they put in their mouths which came out through their anuses. He was told that these were people who devoured the orphans’ wealth. Allah (swt) said about them in the Qur’an (4: 10), “Surely, those who devour the orphans’ property are filling their bellies with nothing but fire.” He also came across women hung by their breasts. They were the adulterers. And, he came across men who had huge bellies, so huge that they were hampered in their movements. A horde of the Fir`awn’s folk trampled them morning and evening (as they were driven to the Fire, morning and evening). The people with big bellies were those who devoured usury.

It is also reported that the Prophet heard some noise. He asked what it was. Jibril replied, “This is Bilal’s footsteps.” He also noticed a very tall, red-blue man. On inquiry, he was told that he was the man who had slaughtered Salih’s camel. He also saw Dajjal. He was very tall, broad, with a fair complexion. One of his eyes stood out like a shining star. The hair on his head looked like branches of a tree.

Reports give us to believe that the return journey was also via Bayt al-Maqdis. Tirmidhi recorded on the authority of Shaddad b. Aws, “…Then we moved on and passed by a Quraysh camel in such and such a place. She had strayed away. So and so was in charge of them. I greeted them. Some of them remarked, ‘This is Muhammad’s voice.’ Then I returned to my home folks before dawn.”

Buraq was the means of travel for the journey from Makkah to Bayt al-Maqdis and then back to Makkah. Whereas, for the journey up, to the heavens, the Prophet (saws) always used the words, “I was raised up” (`urija bi) without mentioning the means. Some reports say, “A ladder was set up” which he used for ascension. For sure, Buraq was not used for going up.

As it should happen, as the Prophet went out, he met Abu Jahl. He asked him mockingly, “Any news?” The Prophet told him about his journey. Abu Jahl did not wish to express his disbelief in fear of the Prophet retracting his story. So he asked him, “Supposing I gathered the people, will you repeat the story before them?” When the Prophet said yes, he hurried away to gather the people. When they came and the Prophet told them all that had happened, they greeted him with skepticism. Someone who had been to Jerusalem, (while it was known that the Prophet had never been there), asked him to describe what Bayt al-Maqdis looked like. Allah brought it before his eyes so that he was able to see and describe the details they wanted. They said, “So far as the description goes, he is right.” Nevertheless, they refused to believe on grounds that he could not go to Syria and come back within one night when they took two months to do it. In fact, many Muslims also apostatized on that ground.

When Abu Bakr was told of the story, he said, “By Allah, if he claims it, it must be true. Why should you be in doubt about it? Doesn’t he say that he receives news from the heavens at any time of the night or day? Isn’t that more miraculous?” Then he went up to the Prophet and asked him to describe the places. When he had done that, he said, “I testify that you are Allah’s Messenger.” The Prophet told him, “You are Siddiq.” And from that day Abu Bakr came to be known as the Siddiq.

Nature of the Journey

Qadi `Iyad has written: “Scholars have differed between themselves over the Prophet’s Nocturnal Journey and Ascension. It has been said that all of it took place in sleep. (‘A’isha, Hasan al-Busri and Mu`awiiyyah are said to have held this opinion: Au.). But the truth on which the people are, along with most of the earliest scholars, most of those who followed them, jurists, traditionists and scholars, is that it was a physical journey. Most narratives point to this. Varied opinions require evidence.”

Ibn Hajr said, “The Nocturnal Journey and Ascension took place in the state of wakefulness, with the body and soul, after the Prophet (saws) had been commissioned. This is the opinion of the great majority of scholars, traditionists, jurists and scholastics. All evidences point to this. It is not right to differ from this opinion. The intellect plays no role in this for anyone to resort to interpretations.”

`Urjun has said, “This Ummah is one in this – except for a few varied opinions which, in fact, have not come to us through trustworthy reports such as those of `A’isha, Mu`awiyyah and Hasan al-Busri. Allah opened the chapter (Al-Isra’) with the words of glorification to symbolically express His Powers and to emphasize that nothing is greater than His Power… Any opening with the mention of the words of glorification is not employed (in the Qur’an) except for extraordinary events, such as those that the reason does not easily accept…” Then he added, “The word `Abd in the starting verse is not used in the Arabic language but for body and soul together. So also, the words, ‘The eye did not deviate nor did it transcend’ also speak of someone with body and soul. Now, Hasan al-Busri’s narration was unknown during the time of the Companions. It is an entirely new opinion. As for `A’isha, she was not yet the Prophet’s wife, (in fact, Qurtubi wrote: Au.), she was too young at the time of the event. (At least less than nine years old: Au.). She does not quote other people’s opinion on which her own opinion rests. In other words, this is not a hadith. Moreover, Khifaji has shown that the chain of narrators has Muhammad ibn Is-haq in it who was treated as a weak narrator by scholars like Imam Malik and others. In contrast, the narrations to the opposite view are stronger…” Zarqani said, “In fact, a careful study of her words shows that she too was inclined to believe that the Ascension was with body and soul. For, she denied that Muhammad saw his Lord with his eyes. If she had been of the opinion that the Prophet was in his sleep, she would not have had to deny the Vision. (What she would have said is, “There is no point in discussing the Beatific Vision, since, to begin with, it was the soul alone that had ascended: Au.). As regards Mu`awiyyah’s opinion, it was declared after the opinion had been reached by consensus that the Journey was with the body and soul. (Therefore, attention cannot be paid to it: Au.). It is another thing that Mu`awiyyah’s opinion lacks a strong chain of narration, coming down as it does, through Ibn Is-haq. Even if it is demonstrated that it was truly his opinion, it would not be of much weight since it is a personal opinion formed after the consensus of the Companions had already been reached. And, such an opinion cannot cancel out the consensus. (In fact, he was an unbeliever at the time the event took place: Qurtubi). As for Hasan, two opinions have been reported as his. One of them says the Prophet (saws) was then awake.”

Again, if the Nocturnal Journey and Ascension took place in sleep, there was no reason for the Quraysh to deny, nor would have some of the Muslims apostatized. What was the problem in accepting that the Prophet’s soul ascended? Finally, the manner and presentation of the incident in the chapter Al-Isra’ is strongly suggestive of the Journey in wakefulness, in body and soul as `Urjun and others have maintained” (Dr. Mahdi Rizqallah).

Moreover, “the act of seeing” or “transgression” alluded to in verse 17 of Surah Al-Najm: “And the sight did not err, nor did it transgress,” are not applicable to souls (Qurtubi). Further, some reports say that the Prophet’s bed was still warm. Why did they have to say that it was still warm if the body never left the bed? (Au.)

Finally, some people are misled by the words of a hadith in which Shurayk ended the narration by reporting the Prophet’s words, “then I woke up.” This has led some people to think that perhaps the journey took place in sleep. But there are several other narrations, passed on to us by more reliable narrators who emphasized the opposite. One way perhaps, of reconciling the two opinions, concerning the body and soul, could be as follows: the journey took place several times, or, at least, more than once. Many scholars have expressed this opinion. Variant reports also suggest this. Therefore, we can say that it is possible that Allah first took his soul alone to the heavens, in order for him to be mentally prepared for the next journey with body and soul together (Thanwi).

To continue: The next morning when the Prophet spoke of his journey to his aunt, she, although a believer, strongly urged him not to announce this to the Quraysh, to whom, she feared, this might become another point of ridicule. But the Prophet pulled his shirt off her clutching hands and left saying, “By God, I shall tell them.”

Umm Hani’s fears were true. The Quraysh had a good laugh. In fact, even some Muslims, weak in faith, turned apostate. The strong in faith were led by Abu Bakr who, when questioned if he still believed in the Prophet, said, “Why not? I believe in greater wonders. I believe that an angel comes down to him revealing the Qur’an.” Wary of him and the likes of him, the Quraysh turned to the Prophet. They asked him both serious as well as absurd questions to which he replied in his usual grave manner. Finally, they said: “Alright. You say you have been to Jerusalem. Agreed. Tell us what Jerusalem looks like.” Now all the journeys that the Prophet had made to Syria prior to his prophethood were in the company of Quraysh. They were aware that he had never been into Jerusalem. So they thought that at last they had caught him on the wrong foot. But to their surprise, he described the place in such detail as if it was before his eyes. In fact, it was then before his eyes, as he himself explained later. For, when they asked details, which only a person who had visited the place several times could answer, Allah (swt) brought it before his eyes, so that he looked into it and answered them to their satisfaction.

He also told them that while on his way back from Jerusalem, a camel belonging to a caravan, passing through such and such a glen had bolted away, “and I guided them to where it stood.” Also, on the way back to Makkah, he passed by a caravan that had kept some water in a pitcher during the night halt. He had drunk out of it and replaced the lid. The caravan was advancing towards Makkah and was headed by a camel loaded with such and such goods. To the amazement of the Quraysh the caravan did arrive headed by the same kind of camel as described by the Prophet, and its people admitted that the water pitcher was found empty despite the lid. Later, when the other caravan was also back they inquired about the camel that had bolted away, and they said, “Quite right. A camel had bolted away and we heard a man calling us to it so that we were able to recover it!”

In the other chapter, Al-Najm, Allah spoke of the Ascension to the heavens and the benefits thereof. He said (v. 13- 18), “Surely he saw him (Arch-angel Jibril) a second time (in his original form), near the Farthest Lote Tree. Thereat is the Garden of Abode. When the Lote was covering what was covering. The eye did not deviate, nor did it transcend. Surely, he saw major signs of his Lord.”

Differences have also prevailed between the Companions over whether the Prophet (saws) saw Allah with his physical eyes. The opinion of the majority is that he saw Him with his inner vision and not with the physical eyes. As for Allah’s words, “The heart did not falsify what he saw. Will you then dispute what he saw? Indeed, he saw him at a second descent” (Al-Najm, 11: 13) – trustworthy reports coming from the Prophet tell us that the allusion here is to Jibril. The Prophet saw him twice in the form and shape in which he (Jibril) has been created. As for Allah’s words in verse 8 of chapter al-Najm: “Then he came near and hung suspended,” the words “near” and “hung suspended” are not related to the night journey at all. Also, they are speaking of Jibril who “neared” and who “hung suspended” as `A’isha and Ibn Mas`ud (maintained). Allah (swt) said (Al-Najm, 5-8): “He was taught by one mighty in power (i.e. Jibril), very strong, who stood poised, being on the upper horizon. Then he came near and hung suspended.”

Furthermore, just as any other human being, a “slave” is composed of two elements: body and soul. This is common knowledge. The journey then had to be with the combination. Nor is it an impossible feat for the intellect to deny. If it is impossible to think of a human being to ascend to the heavens, then, it is also impossible for the angels to descend down from there. Such an assumption will lead to the denial of Prophethood itself.

Reports concerning the Prophet’s Nocturnal Journey and Ascension reach tawatur status. They were narrated by several Companions including such figures as `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `Ali ibn Abi Talib, Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Abbas, Malik b. Sa`sa`, Abu Dharr, Abu Hurayrah, Abu Sa`id, Shaddad b. Aws, Ubay b. Ka`b, Jabir, Hudhayfah, Buraydah, Abu Ayyub, Samurah b. Jundab, Umm Hani, `A’isha, Asma’, and several others (Ibn Kathir and others).

A mutawatir report reaches the status of a Qur’anic verse in terms of belief requirement. In other words, it is as necessary to believe in a mutawatir report as one’s belief in a Qur’anic verse.

Nonetheless, it might also be noted, says Alusi, that the Qur’an only mentions “Isra” (the Nocturnal Journey). It does not mention “Mi`raj” (except by implication in Surah Al-Najm), perhaps out of Allah’s mercy since the denial of an explicit statement entails disbelief (Thanwi).

Majid writes: “Asin, the Madrid professor of Arabic, has traced the great influence this Islamic literature had on Dante and other Christians of the Middle Ages. ‘Embellished by later accretions, this miraculous trip still forms a favorite theme in mystic circles in Persia and Turkey, and a Spanish scholar considers it the original source of Dante’s Divine Comedy’ (Hitti, p. 114).”

8. The allusion is both to material, such as fruits and vegetation, as well as spiritual blessings. The place is the burial ground of several Prophets and Messengers (Razi). A hadith of the Prophet (saws) reports that Allah said, “O Syria! You are the best of My lands and I shall drive the best of My slaves to you.” (Qurtubi)

9. The exact implication of the words “min ayatina” is: “some of My signs,” or, in other words, “a few signs.” For example, the Prophet said that when he was there above the seventh heaven, he heard the sounds of Pens, which implies that he did not see the Pens themselves. Thus, he was shown “some signs.”

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