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The Night Journey 1-3

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The Night Journey 1-3

The Night Journey and the Ascension (part 1 of 6): The Night Journey
 
Description: The setting of the start of the journey, and some details about the Prophet Muhammad’s early life, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.
 
Prologue
 
The journey of the Prophet and Messenger, Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, by night from the Holy Mosque in Mecca to the farthest mosque in Jerusalem was a miracle granted to Him by God. It is the first part of a night of wonder and amazement, culminating in Prophet Muhammad’s ascension through the heavens and into the presence of God.
 
“Glorified be He Who took His slave on a journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram to the Masjid-al-Aqsa, the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him of Our signs. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.” (Quran 17:1)
 
It was a physical journey and all the events about to be described took place in one night.
 
This series of articles will use the word masjid instead of its English translation, mosque. The reason for this is that the word masjid implies much more than the recognisable building where Muslims pray. The word masjid comes from the root “sa-ja-da” meaning to prostrate, therefore a masjid is any place of prostration. The Prophet Muhammad told us “this earth was made a Masjid for me.” This gift from God was given only to the nation of Muhammad.
 
A Muslim can pray in any place that is not impure (with a few exceptions). There are buildings specifically for prayer, but any place a Muslim prays is a masjid, in the literal sense – a place of prostration. The act of prostration is the most honourable part of the prayer. When a Muslim’s forehead touches the ground, he or she is very close to God. Prayer establishes the connection between the believer and his Lord, and it was on this miraculous night that the five daily prayers were instated.
 
In the story to follow you will learn some more about this man called Muhammad and come to understand a little about why Muslims love him. You will also discover why Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem is one of the three Holy Masjids in Islam. God refers to Jerusalem in the Quran as “the neighbourhood we have blessed”. The Dome of the Rock, part of the precinct of Masjid al-Aqsa, is the most recognizable symbol of Jerusalem and holds a special place in the hearts of every Muslim. On this journey we are about to undertake you will learn why. So let us travel back through time, to 7th century Arabia, to the city of Mecca and accompany Prophet Muhammad on his night journey and ascension.
 
The Journey Commences
 
Approximately ten years after Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations of the Quran, he suffered two grave losses. One was the death of his uncle Abu Talib, the man who had supported and loved him from the time he was a young orphan, and then only two months later, Muhammad’s beloved wife, Khadijah, died. This year became known as the Year of Sorrow.
 
In the years leading up to these sad events, the new Muslims, especially Prophet Muhammad, were persecuted, ridiculed and abused. The strength and loyalty of his uncle combined with the love and compassion shown to him by Khadijah helped him to remain strong and continue spreading the message in the face of grave adversity. However, he now felt alone and extremely overwhelmed by his sadness.
 
When one has truly surrendered to God, the pains and sorrows of this life form part of a test of faith, and these tests are always followed by relief. In chapter 94 of the Quran, called Solace, God assures Prophet Muhammad that with every hardship comes relief, and He repeats it a second time with emphasis – with every hardship comes relief. After this extremely difficult year, Prophet Muhammad felt his relief in the form of a major blessing, the Night Journey and Ascension.
 
“So verily, with hardship, there is relief. Verily, with hardship, there is relief.” (Quran 94:4-6)
 
Even though it was dangerous and he risked attack by the Pagans of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad often spent the night in prayer at the Holy Masjid in Mecca. On this particular night, he was lying close to the Ka’ba (the black cube in the middle of the Masjid) in a state between wakefulness and sleep. An angel came and cut open his chest from the throat to the below the stomach. The angel removed Prophet Muhammad’s heart and placed it in a golden bowl filled with faith, the heart was purified, filled and returned to its place.
 
This was not the first time that an angel had come down and extracted Muhammad’s heart. As a small child, Muhammad lived in the deserts of Arabia with a foster family according to custom, for the desert environment was known to be much healthier and more suitable for proper cultivation than the cities. When he was four or five years old and playing in this wilderness with his young friends, the Angel Gabriel appeared, removed Muhammad’s heart and extracted from it a portion, referring to it as “a part of Satan”. The Angel Gabriel washed the heart with the water of zamzam (the well of Mecca which sprung to quench the thirst of Ishmael) and returned it to its place. The other children ran away screaming, thinking Muhammad was being murdered, but by the time they returned with help, he was alone, scared and white, but with only a small mark from the ordeal.
 
Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to guide all of humanity to the worship of the One True God, thus every aspect of his life formed part of God’s plan to prepare him for this great responsibility. As a child, the part of Satan was removed from his heart, and as an adult, about to undertake the building of the Muslim nation, his heart was purified and filled with pure faith. The next part of this miraculous night then commenced.
 
Prophet Muhammad was presented with a white animal he described as being smaller than a horse but larger than a donkey, it was known as al-Buraq. This animal, he said, could take a stride as far as it could see. With one leap, al Buraq could cover an incredibly vast distance. The Angel Gabriel told Prophet Muhammad to mount the animal, and together they travelled more than 1200 km. to the furthest masjid – Masjid al-Aqsa.
 
Prophet Muhammad was on the back of al-Buraq while the animal’s stride reached towards the horizon, and the stars glittered in the night sky over the deserts of Arabia and beyond. He must have felt the wind on his face and been aware of his newly filled heart thumping in his chest. Imagine what signs and wonders of God Prophet Muhammad must have seen on that miraculous journey by night!
 
Footnotes:
 
The holy mosque in the sanctuary of Mecca
 
The furthest mosque in Jerusalem
 
Ayaat, the word in Arabic, has multiple connotations: proofs, evidences, verses & lessons.
 
Saheeh Al-Bukhari
 
Ibid.
 
Saheeh Muslim
 
Saheeh Al-Bukhari
 
The Night Journey and the Ascension (part 2 of 6): Masjid Al-Aqsa
 
Description: Prophet Muhammad reaches the Masjid al-Aqsa and meets some of the previous Prophets of God.
 
This was a difficult time in the life of Prophet Muhammad, and this journey was a great compliment to him. The deliverance of the message was entering a new phase, and the establishment of the Muslim nation was about to begin. Prophet Muhammad was feeling overwhelmed and alone. The vast majority of Meccans had refused to heed his call or accept his message. Both his beloved uncle and cherished wife had died, and this gift of God offered him support and opened his eyes to the signs and wonders of the universe. After travelling the enormous distance to Jerusalem on the back of al-Buraq, Prophet Muhammad reached the area known as Masjid al-Aqsa. He dismounted and tethered al-Buraq to a ring in the gate.
 
Another Miracle Occurs
 
Prophet Muhammad walked into the Masjid – the place of prostration – to be met by a group of the previous Prophets; he then had the great honour of leading them in prayer. God rewarded His Messenger and caused him to understand that the Prophets before him also went through difficult times preaching to their people. They stood behind Prophet Muhammad and acknowledged him as their leader. This was another indication of his importance and excellence as well as the nature of his message.
 
Before the advent of Prophet Muhammad, all the Prophets delivered their message of submission to One God to their own people; Muhammad, however, had come for all of mankind. God refers to him as a mercy. God says in Quran:
 
“He listens to what is best for you; he believes in God; has faith in the believers; and is a mercy to those of you who believe.” (Quran 9:61)
 
The message was international, and this communication distributed worldwide was Islam. The Prophets of God stood behind the newest and final Messenger of God and supported him when his need was greatest. Prophet Muhammad mentions in his sayings that all of the Prophets are brothers. This congregation standing behind Prophet Muhammad was a sign of real and everlasting brotherhood.
 
The Significance of Al-Aqsa
 
The fact that this momentous occasion took place in Jerusalem is also of significance. This is the land of the Prophets of God; this is the land of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Jesus. God was forging a link between his Holy House in Mecca and Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. God was also linking the so-called cradle of religion, the Holy Land around Jerusalem, with the land of Arabia, the birthplace of the religion designed by the Creator, for all of humanity – Islam.
 
God established Al-Aqsa as one of the three Holy Masjids in Islam. The Holy Masjid in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad’s Masjid, yet to be established in Medina, and this Masjid in this blessed neighbourhood of Jerusalem. It is only to these three Masjids to which Muslims can travel for the purpose of worship. One prayer in Masjid Al-Aqsa is worth 250 prayers elsewhere, excluding the Prophet’s Masjid where one prayer is the equivalent of 1,000 prayers and the Holy Masjid in Mecca where one prayer contains the reward of 100,000 prayers. God emphasized the significance and sacredness of Masjid Al-Aqsa, and for this reason it plays an important role in a Muslim’s life. Therefore it is guarded and protected zealously.
 
Al-Aqsa was the first qiblah (the direction in which a Muslim turns to pray) in Islam, but this direction was later changed to Holy Masjid in Mecca. Establishing the exact date for this change is difficult, but from the evidence, we can discover approximately when this occurred because the mission of Prophet Muhammad is divided into two distinct periods. The Meccan period, defined by calling the people to the religion of Islam, and the Medinan period, defined by the establishment of the Muslim state. Prophet Muhammad and the majority of his followers migrated to the city of Medina in the 14th year of Prophethood.
 
The Night Journey and Ascension took place late in the Meccan period, while the qiblah changed to Mecca around 15 months after the Prophet’s migration to Medina. From this, we can infer that the Muslims faced Al-Aqsa when praying for approximately three years before God changed the direction to Mecca. This by no means diminished the significance of Jerusalem or Masjid Al-Aqsa, it merely represented another step in the establishment of the message for all of humanity. The Holy Masjid in Mecca was fixed as the central point in Islam.
 
The Journey and Miracle Continues
 
While still in the sacred precincts of Masjid Al-Aqsa, the Angel Gabriel presented Prophet Muhammad with two cups. One was filled with milk, the other with wine, and both offered to the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad chose and drank the milk. Angel Gabriel then said to him “Thanks be to God, who guided you to the fitrah; if you had taken the wine, your followers would have gone astray”. It is difficult to translate the Arabic word fitrah into English; it denotes the natural and pure state in which one is born, an innate feeling that guides one to do the “right” thing. Prophet Muhammad instinctively chose right over wrong, good over evil, and the Straight Path rather than the crooked path to Hell.
 
It was from the Holy city of Jerusalem, in the sacred precincts of Masjid Al-Aqsa that Prophet Muhammad commenced the next stage of his miraculous Night Journey. Prophet Muhammad ascended to the lowest heaven from a rock. This rock can be found inside the Dome of the Rock, the most famous symbol of Jerusalem. It should not be confused with the actual Masjid building, which is on the other side of the Al-Aqsa compound. The entire precinct is the masjid, but many separate buildings exist there. It is important to remember that although the Dome of the Rock is inside the Masjid compound, it is not Masjid Al-Aqsa and it is not the place of prostration where Prophet Muhammad led the previous Prophets in prayer. From the rock, now covered by the familiar golden dome, Prophet Muhammad ascended to the lowest heaven in the company of Angel Gabriel.
 
Footnotes:
 
Saheeh Al-Bukhari
 
Saheeh Al-Bukhari and Muslim
 
Saheeh al-Hakim
 
Saheeh Bukhari
 
The compound is also known as “Temple Mount” in the West, after the temple that Solomon built there.
 
 
 
The Night Journey and the Ascension (part 3 of 6): The Ascension
 
Description: The Prophet Muhammad’s journey through the heavens.
 
The Night Journey and the Ascension was a great blessing bestowed upon Muhammad, the Prophet of God. It was a journey beginning at the Holy Masjid in Mecca, then moving overland to Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and finally continuing up through the seven heavens into the presence of God, the Almighty. As we travel up through the seven heavens with Prophet Muhammad, it is important to remember that the places he visits are not part of Paradise.
 
In the English language, we generally use the word heaven to mean the spiritual plane of eternal happiness, the reward for a righteous life and the opposite of hell, the place of eternal punishment. However, this was not always the case; the word heaven comes from the Old English word heofon, used to denote the sky, which is the area above the earth where the celestial bodies are. Eventually, heaven lost its original meaning and came to imply Paradise. In Arabic, however, there have always been two separate words used, sama and jennah. The word sama is used for the skies above us, and they are part of the temporary world which will be destroyed on the Day of Judgement. The word jennah, however, denotes Paradise, the land of eternal bliss, the permanent home of the righteous believers, and the opposite of Hell.
 
“Then He completed and finished from their creation as seven heavens in two Days and He made in each heaven its affair. And We adorned the nearest heaven with light sources to be an adornment, as well as to guard. Such is the Decree of Him the All-Mighty, the All-Knower.” (Quran 41:12)
 
“Their Lord gives them glad tidings of a Mercy from Him, and that He is pleased, and of Gardens (jennah) for them wherein are everlasting delights. They will dwell therein forever. Verily, with God is a great reward.” (Quran 9:21-22)
 
The Wonders of God
 
Prophet Muhammad ascended into the heavens from the rock now housed in the familiar golden dome that has become the symbol for Jerusalem. This is a journey that no other human had ever made or has made since. It demonstrates God’s ability to bring the seemingly impossible into being. Here, the concepts of time and space as we know them do not apply, and it is beyond our human capabilities to understand the true omnipotence of God. In his sayings and traditions, Prophet Muhammad described the size of the heavens; the first heaven, as compared to the second, is similar to a small ring in the desert, and he continued this narrative until he described the sixth heaven as being the size of a ring in the desert compared to the seventh heaven. The magnitude of this is unimaginable. Our earth, and what we call the universe, is contained within the first heaven. Even with the scientific knowledge of the 21st century, we have no idea how big this is, how far the universe extends, or what wonders it contains.
 
Prophet Muhammad travelled with the Angel Gabriel up into the heights of the heavens. Together they came to the gate of the first heaven, where Angel Gabriel sought permission to enter. The gatekeepers asked, “Who is it?” to which Gabriel replied, “It is I, Gabriel”. The gatekeepers then asked who was accompanying him; when they were told it was Muhammad, they asked if he had been given his mission to guide all of mankind to the worship of One God. Angel Gabriel answered in the affirmative, so the angels welcomed Prophet Muhammad, called his arrival a pleasure, and opened the gate.
 
Greeting the Prophets
 
Prophet Muhammad tells us that he saw his father Adam, the father of all of mankind. He greeted him with the greeting of all Muslims, – Assalamu alaikum(may peace be upon you). Adam returned the greeting and expressed his faith in Muhammad’s prophethood. He called him his pure son, the pure prophet. Imagine the pleasure that this meeting must have given to both men. After thousands of years, Adam was able to see his son Muhammad, the greatest of his descendents. Muhammad was able to look into the eyes of the father of mankind. The wonders however were only just beginning. Angel Gabriel and Prophet Muhammad then ascended to the second heaven.
 
At the gate, Angel Gabriel again sought permission to enter. When the gatekeepers learned Prophet Muhammad had been given his mission and was trying to enter, they welcomed him and opened the gate. There Prophet Muhammad saw the two cousins, Prophet John (known in Christian traditions as the Baptist) and the Messenger of God, Prophet Jesus; Prophet Muhammad exchanged greetings with them.
 
Prophet Muhammad and Angel Gabriel ascended once more to the gates of the third heaven. At each gate, the same exchange took place. When the gatekeepers had established that it was Angel Gabriel in the company of Prophet Muhammad, who had indeed been given his mission, they gave permission to enter. Here, in the third heaven, Prophet Muhammad met Joseph and described him as an embodiment of half of all beauty.
 
As Prophet Muhammad met the Prophets in each heaven, he exchanged greetings with them, and this was always Assalamu alaikum, the greeting of peace used by all those in submission to the One True God. In the fourth heaven, Prophet Muhammad met Prophet Idris, whom God described in Quran(19:57) as being elevated to a very high level. In the fifth heaven, he met Prophet Aaron, the brother of Moses. At each meeting, the Prophets expressed their faith in Muhammad’s prophethood. In the sixth heaven, Prophet Muhammad met Moses.
 
Whenever Prophet Moses is mentioned in the Quran or in the narrations of Prophet Muhammad, we know that something important is about to be described. After the two Prophets had exchanged greetings and Prophet Moses had expressed his faith in Muhammad’s prophethood, Moses started to weep. When he was asked why, he replied: “A young man has come after me, and more of his followers will enter paradise then my followers”.
 
Until the advent of Islam, Prophet Moses had had the largest following of any Prophet. Moses cried, and from this, we can understand that there was a type of rivalry between the Prophets; but it was not a competition filled with jealousy or envy. Rather, it was filled with compassion. As we move further into the journey, we will see the love and compassion Prophet Moses had for Muhammad and his followers. Prophet Muhammad and Angel Gabriel then ascended into the seventh heaven.
 
Footnotes:
 
Webster’s Online dictionary.