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Prophet Muhammad on the Night Journey.. The Qur’an Tells Us

By: Tariq Ramadan

What do you know about the Prophet’s miraculous night journey? What happened on that journey? Who did he meet?

Beginning of the Night Journey

The Prophet liked to go to the Ka`bah enclosure at night. He would stand there in prayer for long hours. One evening, he suddenly felt deeply tired and in great need of sleep. He, therefore, lay down near the Ka`bah and fell asleep.

Muhammad (peace be upon him) has related that the Angel Gabriel then came to him. Gabriel shook him twice to awaken him, but Muhammad slept on; the third time the angel shook him, Muhammad awoke, and Gabriel took him to the doors of the mosque, where a white animal looking something like a cross between a mule and a donkey, but with wings) was waiting for them. He mounted the animal, which was called Al-Buraq, and started with Gabriel toward Jerusalem.

Up There

There Muhammad met a group of prophets who had preceded him (Abraham, Moses, and others, peace be upon them), and he led a group prayer with them on the Temple site. When the prayer was over, the Prophet was raised with the Angel Gabriel beyond space and time.

On his way, rising through the seven heavens, he again met the various prophets, and his vision of the heavens and of the beauty of those horizons permeated his being.

He at last reached Sidrat Al-Muntaha (the Lotus of the Utmost Boundary). This was where the Prophet received the injunction of the five daily prayers and revelation of the verse that established the `aqeedah (elements of the Muslim creed). (There were initially to be fifty prayers, but the number was reduced to five after successive requests from the Prophet acting on Moses’ advice.)

The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) believers. Each one believes in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers – We make no distinction between any of His messengers – and they say: “We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Thy forgiveness, our Lord. Unto Thee is the journeying”. (Al-Baqarah 2:285)

Muhammad was taken back to Jerusalem by the Angel Gabriel and Al-Buraq, and from there to Makkah. On the way back, he came upon some caravans that were also traveling to Makkah. It was still night when they reached the Ka`bah enclosure.

The angel and Al-Buraq left, and Muhammad proceeded to the home of Um Hani, one of his most trusted Companions. He gave her an account of what had happened to him, and she advised him not to tell anybody about it, which Muhammad refused to do.

The Qur’an Tells the Story

Later on, the Qur’an was to report this experience in different passages. One is in the Surah whose title, Al-Israa’ ( the Nocturnal Voyage), directly refers to the event:

Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things). (Al-Israa’ 17:1)

It is also in Surat An-Najm (The Star):

It is no less than inspiration sent down to him: He was taught by one Mighty in Power, endued with wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form); while he was in the highest part of the horizon. Then he approached and came closer, and was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer. So did (Allah) convey the inspiration to His Servant- (conveyed) what He (meant) to convey. The (Prophet’s) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw. Will you then dispute with him concerning what he saw? For indeed he saw him at a second descent, near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass. Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see, of the signs of his Lord, the Greatest! (An-Najm 53:4-18)

The Night Journey and ascension were to give rise to many comments, both when the Prophet recounted the facts and later among Muslim scholars. When Muhammad went to the Ka`bah and reported his experience, jeers, sniggers and criticisms quickly followed.

The Quraysh believed that, at last, they had proof that the so-called prophet was indeed mad since he dared claim that in one night he had made a journey to Jerusalem (which in itself required several weeks) and that he had, furthermore, been raised to the presence of his One God. His madness was obvious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        To be continued…

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The article is an excerpt from the author’s book In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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How Prophet Muhammad Expressed Grief: Lessons of Faith & Humanity

 

sadness_nature

Human beings, the Prophet among them, had to learn how to depart, and see their loved ones depart, in silence, with discretion.

During the tenth year of Hijrah (emigration from Makkah), young Ibrahim, who was then about a year and a half old, fell seriously ill. At the very time when the religion of the One was being established all over the Peninsula, with adversity constantly diminishing and the number of conversions continuing to grow, the Prophet saw his only son about to leave life and to leave him. He visited him every day and spent hours by his side.

When the child eventually breathed his last, the Prophet took him in his arms and held him against his breast, tears streaming down his face, so deep was his sorrow.

`Abdur-Rahman ibn `Awf, his faithful Companion, was surprised by those sobs, because he thought that the Prophet had previously forbidden such expressions of grief.  At first, Muhammad could not speak; then he explained to him that he had forbidden excessive manifestations of distress, through wailing or hysterical behavior, but not the natural expression of sorrow and suffering.

Then he gave verbal expression to his grief that, in effect , became a spiritual teaching, as he declared that his tears were “signs of tenderness and mercy.” He added a comment springing from his own experience, but which was also true in every Muslim’s daily life: “He who is not merciful will not be shown mercy.” (AL-Bukhari and Muslim)

Trying Times

In the difficult moments of life, kindness, clemency, mercy, and the expressions of empathy that human beings offer one another bring them closer to the One, Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful). Through them, God reaches closer to the believer’s heart, offering the believer what the believer him- or herself has offered to a brother or sister in humanity.

The Prophet was intimately affected, and he did not hesitate to show and express his grief. He added: “The eye sheds tears, 0 Ibrahim, the heart is infinitely sad, and one must only utter what satisfies God.” (AL-Bukhari and Muslim)

God had once more tested him through his humanity and his mission. He had lost so many loved ones-Companions, his wife Khadijah, three of his daughters, and his three sons.”

His life had been crossed with tears, but he remained both gentle with his heart and firm in his mission. It was this chemistry of gentleness and firmness that satisfied the Most Near.

At the time when, in this tenth year of Hijrah, the world seemed to open up to the Prophet’s mission, Muhammad’s human fate seemed reduced to that tiny grave where Ibrahim’s body was laid, and over which he then led the funeral prayer. The Prophet was one of the eject; the Prophet remained a human being.

tears

His life had been crossed with tears, but he remained both gentle with his heart and firm in his mission.

Lessons for Life

A few hours after his return from the graveyard, an eclipse of the sun occurred. The Muslims were quick to associate the eclipse with the death of the Prophet’s child and see it as a miracle, a kind of message from God to His Prophet. But Muhammad put an end to all such interpretations, saying forcefully:

“The sun and the moon are two of God’s signs. Their light does not darken for anyone’s death.” (AL-Bukhari and Muslim)

Muhammad was thus reminding his Companions of the order of things and of the necessity to make no mistake in interpreting signs, in order to avoid lapsing into superstition.

This was, for them as well as for himself, a spiritual teaching in restraint and humility: human beings, the Prophet among them, had to learn how to depart, and see their loved ones depart, in silence, with discretion, and amid the indifference of the order of things.

The trial of faith and of humanity, which made the Prophet shed tears, consisted precisely in learning how to find, at the heart of the eternity of creation and of never-ending cycles, the strength to face the finitude of the human, sudden departures, and death.

The sign of the One’s presence at the time of a person’s death lies not in the occurrence of any miracle but rather in the permanence of the natural order, in the eternity of His creation, crossed here and there by the passage of created beings, who come and depart.

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The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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The Prophet’s Miraculous Night Journey: A Gift and a Test

The Night Journey experience, presented in classical accounts of the Prophet’s life as a gift from God and a consecration for the Messenger, the Elect (Al-Mustafa) was a real trial for Muhammad and those around him.

The Prophet’s Miraculous Night Journey A Gift and a Test

The majority of Muslim scholars consider that the journey was both physical and spiritual.

A Test

The Night Journey marked the boundary between those believers whose faith radiated in their trust in this Prophet and his message and the others, who were taken aback by the improbability of such a story.

A Quraysh delegation hastened to go and question Abu Bakr about his mad and senseless friend,but his immediate, forthright answer surprised them: ”If he says such a thing, it cannot but be true!”

Abu Bakr’s faith and trust were such that he was not in the least disturbed, even for a second. After that, he personally went to question the Prophet, who confirmed the facts.As a result, Abu Bakr repeated forcefully: ”I believe you, you have always spoken the truth.”

It is from that day on, the Prophet called Abu Bakr the epithet As-Siddiq (he who is truthful, who confirms the truth).

The trial that Muhammad’s Night Journey presented for his fellow Muslims occurred at a moment when they were struggling with a most difficult situation. Sunnah reports that a few Muslims left Islam, but most trusted Muhammad.

A few weeks later, facts confirmed some elements of his account, for instance the arrival of caravans whose coming he had announced (having seen them on his way back) and of which he had given a precise description.

Thanks to the strength of this faith, the community of Muslims would be able to face future adversity. From then on, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and Abu Bakr were always to stand in the front line of this spiritual force.

Spiritual Lessons

Muslim scholars have, from the outset, pondered the question of whether the Night Journey was of a purely spiritual nature or whether it was also physical. The majority of scholars consider that the journey was both physical and spiritual.

All things considered, however, this question is not essential in the light of the teachings that can be drawn from this extraordinary experience undergone by the Messenger (peace be upon him).

There is first of all, of course, the centrality of the city of Jerusalem: at the time, the Prophet prayed facing the holy city (the first qiblah, or direction of prayer),and during the Night Journey it was on the site of the Temple that he led the prayer together with all the prophets. Jerusalem thus appears at the heart of the Prophet’s experience and teaching as a dual symbol, of both centrality (with the direction of prayer) and universality (with the prayer of all the prophets).

Later, in Madinah, the qiblah (direction of prayer) changed from Jerusalem to the Ka`bah to distinguish Islam from Judaism, but this by no means entailed a diminution of Jerusalem’s status, and in the verse:

Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things). (Al-Israa’ 17:1)

The references to the “Sacred Mosque“ (the Ka`bah, in Makkah) and the farthest Mosque(Al-Aqsa, in Jerusalem) establish a spiritual and sacred link between the two cities.

The other teaching is of a purely spiritual essence: all revelation reached the Prophet in the course of his earthly experience, with the exception, as we have seen, of the verses that establish the fundamental pillars of faith (iman) and the duty of prayer (as-salah).

Night Journey & Prescribed Worship

The Prophet was raised to heaven to receive the teachings that were to become the foundation of Islamic worship and ritual, `aqeedah and `ibadat (religious duties of worship required of all Muslims who are of age and of sound body and mind), which require that believers should accept their form as well as their substance.

Unlike the field of social affairs (al-mu`amalat), which calls for the creative mediation of people’s intellect and intelligence, human rationality here submits,in the name of faith and as an act of humility, to the order imposed by revelation; God has prescribed requirements and norms that the mind must hear and implement and the heart must love.

Raised to receive the injunction of ritual prayer, the Prophet and his experience reveal what prayer must in essence be: a reminder of and an elevation toward the Most High, five times a day, in order to detach from oneself, from the world, and from illusions.

The mi`raj (the elevation during the Night Journey) is thus more than simply an archetype of the spiritual experience; it is pregnant with the deep significance of prayer, which, through the eternal world, enables us to liberate our consciousness from the contingencies of space and time, and fully comprehend the meaning of life and of life.

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The article is an excerpt from Tariq Ramadan’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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