By Hasan Kamoonpuri -
The great event of Al Isra wal Meraj (the Journey and the Ascension) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) will be observed on June 16 throughout the world of Islam.
This miraculous night-journey, which consisted of two important stages, assumes significance on several counts. First, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) travelled from the blessed city of Mecca and reached Jerusalem al Quds within seconds. Second, from Jerusalem al Quds the Prophet travelled up and out of the universe, through the seven heavens, and into the direct presence of Allah the Exalted and returned back to the Earth safely.
Al Isra wal Meraj is important because the institution of five daily prayers (Salah) was introduced and made obligatory in this trip.
This event, in which the Almighty Creator brought Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Mecca to Masjid al Aqsa in the Palestinian city of Jerusalem al Quds (also called Bait al Muqaddas — the House of Holiness) and then lifted him up to His Divine Presence, is beyond the comprehension of the human mind.
At two places, this event is explained in the Glorious Quran.
“Glory be to Allah, Who carried His servant at night from Al Masjid al¬ Haram (in Makkah) to Masjid al Aqsa (in Jerusalem al Quds), the precincts of which We have blessed so that We may show him of Our Signs. Verily He is the All-Hearing, the All Seeing.” (Quran (17: 1)
“Will you then argue with him about what he saw? He certainly saw him (Archangel Gabriel, Jibra’il) during his other ascent to the Lote tree (in the seven heavens) near which is Paradise. When the tree was covered with a covering, (Muhammad’s) eyes did not deceive him, nor did they lead him to falsehood. He certainly saw the greatest (signs) of the existence of his Lord”. (Quran 53: 12 to 18)
Scholars say it is clear that the Messenger of Allah travelled physically along with Archangel Gabriel (Jibra’il) from Mecca to Jerusalem al Quds and then towards the higher heavenly bodies.
This also explains why the city of Jerusalem al Quds, where Masjid al Aqsa is located, occupies a pride of place in the hearts and minds of world Muslims. Jerusalem al Quds is Islam’s third most holy place after Mecca and Madina.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) travelled on ‘Buraq’ (meaning a flash of lightning). One of the horses of Paradise, Buraq was a strange unearthly white, winged animal with a horse-like body, and human-like head. He and Archangel Jibra’il mounted the Buraq and the journey began from Mecca. In no time he reached Jerusalem Al Quds, where in a very short period of time, he visited various places inside Masjid al Aqsa, as well as Bait al Laham, the birthplace of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) near Jerusalem al Quds.
Gathered together at one place in Masjid al Aqsa were all the prophets from Adam to Jesus, and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the leader of all prophets, led them all in prayer.
The Ascent (Meraj)
In a paper on “Isra and Meraj”, Dr Bilal Philips says in the next stage of the journey the Prophet and Archangel Jibra’il travelled from Masjid al Aqsa to the heavens, where the Prophet was witness to the celestial bodies floating in space.
At the end of the universe, they arrived at the boundary of the lowest heaven, where he met and greeted Prophet Adam (PBUH). Archangel Gabriel then took him up to the second heaven where he met and greeted Prophets Jesus and Yahya (John the Baptist); up to the third where he met and greeted Prophet Yusuf (Joseph); up to the fourth where he met and greeted Prophet Idrees (Enoch); up to the fifth where he met and greeted Prophet Haroon, and up to the sixth where he met and greeted Prophet Musa (Moses).
He then went on up with Archangel Gabriel to the seventh heaven, where he met and greeted Prophet Abraham (PBUH).
Subsequently, they continued on with the journey until they arrived at the region known as the Lote-Tree of the Extreme Limit (Sidrat al Muntaha), a place that was covered in grandeur and magnificence. The Lote-Tree of the Extreme Limit marked the spot, beyond which even and Archangel Jibra’il could not go, and Archangel Jibra’il halted at Sidrat al Muntaha (the utmost boundary of the universe), saying that if he took a step further his wings would burn.
But Allah permitted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to go beyond it and speak to Allah the Exalted directly. It was at this point in time that Allah made Salah (daily prayers) compulsory five times a day for the Prophet and his followers.
Initially, daily fifty times Salah was announced. But the Prophet fell into sajdah (prostration) at the Sidrat al Muntaha and said, “O’ Allah! My Ummah and I do not have the ability to perform this much. From your Holy Presence, I request a reduction in this.” Finally, Allah, the Exalted, reduced the number of Salah to five times a day.
The Prophet then mounted the Buraq and descended with Archangel Gabriel again to Masjid al Aqsa in Jerusalem al Quds. From there, he returned to his home in Mecca where he found his bed still warm.
That explains why each year people in the whole world of Islam celebrate Al Isra wal Meraj and why they attach so much importance to Masjid al Aqsa and Jerusalem al Quds.
Just as the Month of Ramadhan is holy and important because the Glorious Quran was revealed in this month, Al Isra wal Meraj is important because the five daily prayers were made obligatory on this occasion.
Significance of Salah
Salah (prayers for remembrance of Allah the Exalted) is a direct contact or link between the worshipper and Allah with no earthly intermediaries. Congregational Salah is like a conference that Muslims hold five times per day to praise their Lord together, to assess their deeds and to build bonds of unity and love with one another. Salah builds a strong defence against evils which exist around us. We learn in the Glorious Quran that Salah (remembrance of Allah) keeps you “away from indecency and evil”.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once asked his companions “Tell me if there was a river at your door step in which you washed five times a day would any of your dirt remain?” When he received the reply that none of it would remain he then said, “That is like the five times Salah, with which Allah wipes out sin”.
Everything has a face and the face of Islam is Salah. It is the most effective way of spiritual migration towards Allah and attaining the exalted position of His nearness. The most esteemed and favourite deed before Allah is Salah. Salah is the last dying will of all prophets. The Salah helps you keep away from temptation and deviation; it makes you master of your desires rather than a slave of the desires. Salah is a visit to Allah, the Almighty Creator of all that exists.
The Prophet said: “Surely, so long as you are in Salah, you are knocking on the door of the Greatest King, the Lord of the Glory, and whoever knocks long on the door of the King it will be opened for him. And, an Angel is appointed for him that calls out, ‘O’ Son of Adam (AS), if you knew what there is for you in Salah and whom you are calling, you would not turn away”.
On the contrary, those who are in a state of slumber with regard to building a bond with their Almighty Creator, a Satan is appointed for them as a guide and a friend. We read in the Glorious Quran:
“And whoever turns himself away from the remembrance (dhikr) of al-Rahman (The Compassionate), We appoint for him a shaitan (a satan), so he becomes his close companion (and associate). And most surely they (the Satans) turn them away from the path, though they (the people) persistently imagine that they are rightly guided....” (Quran 43:36-37).
On the Day of Judgment, before one is even permitted to present the good deeds that he has performed in this world, the first question asked will relate to Salah and only then will he be allowed to proceed. The Prophet has made this clear by saying: “All good deeds depend on Salah. Salah is the cornerstone of Islam. If Salah is accepted then the good deeds will be accepted. If Salah is not accepted, then the good works will not be accepted”.
Al Isra wal Meraj and the daily prayers underline the importance of unity and shared values in the world of Islam. This reminds Muslims that long-term growth, prosperity and stability in the world of Islam depend on a clear sense of shared objectives and shared responsibilities.
What makes the world of Islam, with 56 Muslim nations, important today as ever is a powerful combination of shared values and common interests. They are stronger together, economically and politically with Islam having the power to mobilise and maximise their collective will and authority.
To be sure, the identity of world Muslims lies in their shared values and shared objectives of helping the oppressed masses. Muslims are indeed rediscovering their strength and values with increasingly great focus on the teachings of the Glorious Quran and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Creating a strong sense of common and shared values is important for holding the world of Islam together in unity. These shared values can contribute to shaping global identity of Muslims rather than having separate identities shaped by ethnicity and nationality. This approach to worldwide Muslim unity would help to offset divisive forces that prove to be damaging to Islam and Muslims.
Like Al Isra wal Meraj there are numerous aspects of the common heritage that can serve as a unifying factor contributing to shared values in the world of Islam. These are found in the common Qiblah (Qiblah is the direction of the Ka’aba in Mecca, which all Muslims turn to face during daily prayers), belief in the last and final prophet, day of judgment, five daily prayers, annual Hajj pilgrimage, Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha, and above all the Glorious Quran.