The Night Journey

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Lessons from al-Israa wal Mi’raaj

Around 620 CE was one of the most difficult times for the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). It was during this time that the Prophet (pbuh) embarked on his journey to Ta’if accompanied by Zayd ibn Harithah, where he had travelled full of hope to invite the Thaqif people – the second largest tribe in Arabia at the time – to his message of Islam. However, things did not run too smoothly as he tried to approach and speak to the leading personalities; instead he was rejected, turned away, chased and stoned by their teenagers and servants. The Prophet (pbuh) with his bleeding feet eventually found refuge in an orchard with his companion Zayd, and said this heartfelt du’a:

To You, My Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive. Most compassionate and merciful! You are the Lord of the weak, and You are my Lord. To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom You have given power over me? If You are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face. I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy. I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put on their right courses against incurring Your wrath or being the subject of Your anger. To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure. Everything is powerless without Your support.

As if this du’a is not enough to show us how deeply hurt the Prophet (pbuh) was by the hostility from the Thaqif, upon his return to Makkah he had lost his loving wife Khadijah, as well his uncle Abu Talib who had provided him unwavering support. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was after all a human being who shared in all human emotions of sorrow, grief, pleasure and delight. And no doubt, these events had had a profoundly dismaying effect on the Prophet (pbuh), both in his personal and public life.

It was at this point after these heartbreaking events had occurred that he had an unusual experience. Every year we remember al-Israa wal Mi’raaj – “The Night Journey” which happened 10 years after the Prophet (pbuh) received his first revelation – the journey where the Prophet had travelled from Makkah to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to the seven heavens and all the way back home in one single night. The night began when the Prophet (pbuh) had been asleep in his cousin’s (Umm Hani’ bint Abi Talib) home in Makkah when the Angel Gibreel (Gabriel) had woken him to take him to the mosque. There he mounted Al-Buraq; a beautiful winged white animal which was smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey, and moved with unimaginable speed. Together, the Prophet (pbuh) and Gibreel rode the animal, which took them to Jerusalem in the blink of an eye. There, the Prophet (pbuh) met Ibrahim, Musa, ‘Isa and other noble prophets (pbut) whom he led in prayer. The Prophet (pbuh) then ascended through the seven heavens to be shown some of Allah’s glorious Signs some of which we are informed of where he saw many noble prophets, examples of suffering, examples of happiness in the Hereafter, and received orders for the obligatory prayers for his Ummah.

And he returned home to Makkah just before dawn. That’s what I call supersonic*. On this unique, exceptional journey he witnessed the expanse of the universe as well as the connection between our worldly life and the greater and larger life of the Hereafter.

“Glorified (and Exalted) is He (Allah) Who took His slave for a journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram to Al-Masjid-al-Aqsa, the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him (Muhammad pbuh) of our Ayat (Signs). Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.”

— Surah Al-Israa (17) Verse 1

His witnessing of God’s Signs in this amazing journey filled his blessed heart with unshakeable faith. As soon as he told Umm Hani about his journey she accepted the story, being a firm believer of the Prophet (pbuh) and his message, though she told him of her fears that the Quraysh would not believe this story. But sA, even knowing the most probable likelihood he would be accused of lying, the Prophet (pbuh) faced the Quraysh with his story. Even some of the people who had accepted Islam returned to disbelief upon hearing this account; this may have reduced the followers in number by a little but those who stayed were firm believers. He remained focused on his goals and nothing about what the Quraysh or others may say or think influenced his determination to do what was required of him: his message came first.

So we learn that this journey further enhanced the Prophet’s (pbuh) already steely determination to convey God’s message to mankind after the tragic events that had passed – it enhanced his aspirations and helped put his efforts in the service of his faith on a higher level. And how beautiful is the Prophet’s (pbuh) rendezvous with all the other noble Prophets of Allah (pbut) in Jerusalem? It is well-established knowledge that the messages of the all the Prophets (pbut) were essentially the same, calling to worship Allah (swt) alone – and with Islam, these messages were brought to their full and complete form; with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the line of prophethood reached its end with the final message of Islam to mankind. It seems fitting therefore, that the congregational prayer of the Prophets (pbut) at Jerusalem led by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) signifies the continuity of their messages and their unity of rank and position.

*And the supersonic out-of-the-world nature of this story? Well, over a millennium ago I guess it’d be pretty difficult to imagine flying from London to Bahrain in four hours in luxury, let alone believe that someone could traverse the universe in a single night (which could still be difficult to grasp today). Some say it was a physical journey as anything is possible for Allah (swt) to make happen whilst others have raised questions as to whether it was a ‘spiritual’ journey, or even a bit of both. Allah (swt) knows best is all I can say, but we can certainly see this experience as one of the landmarks in the Prophet’s (pbuh) life – a way in which Allah comforted the Prophet (pbuh) by reminding him of the significance of this world and the next, and the Prophet (pbuh) (who sA was already so strong in character) became even more determined to help mankind and set his sight firmly on his goal until his last breath.

Text: Adapted from Muhammad Man and Prophet by Adil Salahi

Image: Al-Aqsa, Rob Webster 2012

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