Praise Be to God, Lord of the Worlds, The Compassionate, The Merciful. And, may the peace and blessings of God, The Exalted, descend upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and their followers.
Many past civilisations and nations left their Messengers of God to a historical figure, rather than extract from their very lives, meaning to live a meaningful and eventful life as one journeys towards their Lord, hoping for their own ascension in His Glorious Presence. Today, Muslims may also reflect on many stories recorded of the final and beloved Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, and see it as a historical record only without seeking to learn from events about him for our own felicity. The story of the Night Journey is such an event; its powerful and miraculous reality leaves many speechless and many more unable to see meaning for themselves.
Al-Isrā wal-Mi’rāj was a momentous event for the final Messenger of Allah, and consists of two parts of a journey that occurred in the night, and is kindly known as the Night Journey. The first part of the journey consisted of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, travelling from Makkah to Jerusalem on a Paradisal steed alongside the Archangel Gabriel, may God Almighty’s peace be upon him. The second part of the journey consisted of the Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, up to the Heavens and in to the various places and levels of Paradise, and all the way, to the Presence of God Almighty- a unique honour. No wonder it is called, Ascension…
In this brief Reflection, there are at least eleven profound lessons for the Believer to take from this historical event, and I pray it is of benefit to anyone reading it.
1. The outcome of the Night Journey begins before the event itself. It occurs in the 10th year after revelation, and approximately 3 years before Migration to Medina. A very profound event occurs just prior to the Night Journey, some three weeks prior: the event of Ta’if. The Ta’if event was one of the most painful experiences in the life of the Prophet; he was badly injured due to his expulsion by the inhabitants of Ta’if who had pelted his noble body with rocks, chastising him as he left.
In the midst of physical pain and desolation, the Prophet of Mercy, the master of all Prophets, Muhammad, was firmly trusting in His Lord, not once assuming His Lord had forsaken him. He makes the following profoundly moving supplication:
“O Allah! Unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness and of my lowliness before men. O most Merciful of the merciful. O Lord of the weak and You being my Lord too: Into whose hands have you entrusted me? Unto some far off stranger who receives me with hostility? Or unto a foe whom you have empowered against me? I care not, so long as You are not angry with me, but for Your favouring help for me is the broader way and the wider scope. I take refuge in the Light of Your Countenance whereby all darkness is illuminated and all things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest You make descend Your anger upon me or lest Your wrath beset me. Yet it is Yours to reproach until You are well pleased with me. There is no power and no might except through You!”
Message #1: In your darkest hour, do not forsake your Lord, for He does not forsake you. Turn to Him, invoke Him, and He answers all prayers. God Almighty confirms:
And when My servants ask you, concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me that they may be guided. [Qur’an 2:186]
We will return to the further significance of this pre-event below.
2. Abu Bakr was bestowed the name As-Siddīq due to this momentous event. The Quraysh mocked and belied the Prophet, but Abu Bakr, declined to follow the status quo to avoid humiliation himself but immediately believed and refuted the aspersions of the Quraysh.
Message #2: The words of God The Exalted and the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, are undeniably true. One does not need scientific proofs first in order to believe. Today, Divine Guidance is questioned until science proves some meagre tangible fact. The Believer today must become familiar with the fact that Divine Guidance was questioned by previous generations and such attitude destroyed them. By learning the religion of Islam, one finds its accuracy, and further proofs are unnecessary. Quest (which is science), rather than question (which is suspicion) what is already well established. God Almighty mentions:
O you who believe! Ask not about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if you ask about them while the Quran is being revealed, they will be made plain to you. Allah has forgiven that, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forbearing. Some people before you did ask such questions, and on that account lost their faith. [Qur’an 5:101-102]
3. Isrā wal Mi’rāj was an event in the night. There is a great significance regarding the time of the day that such a journey and ascension occurred. The night is either a veil of protection and solace, or cloak of corruption and aggravation. It is a time when everyone and everything is obscured. So one’s true self behaves in its true light, without any need for the mask of the day in which one is exposed. The corrupt behave indecently, and the pious in purity. The pious act, not because others can see them, but because only their Lord Sees them.
Message #3: In the secret of the night, rise and seek the Mercy of your Lord. The ascension of one’s soul occurs in such times when one is alone with their Lord. Turn to your Lord if that is what you truly desire. The Prophet’s noble wife, ‘Aisha, said about the Prophet, “When everyone returned to their loved ones, the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, returned to whom he loved most; his Lord.”
4. The Paradisal steed, called the Burāq, was created specifically for this momentous occasion- to carry the noble Prophet from Makkah to Jerusalem. When asked by the Archangel Gabriel, upon whom be peace of God Almighty, why it was so jumpy and anxious, it replied, “Amongst all steeds created light years ago, I was created for this most honourable occasion- to carry the Beloved of God The Supreme, The Exalted!” For such a creature, created for one purpose alone, and which had such great respect for the Messenger of God, he still tethered and fastened the steed upon arrival at the Farthest Mosque in Jerusalem instead of leaving it be.
Message #4: Everything is created for a purpose. What is required of you is to take all permissible means available to journey to Allah, by doing your bit. Only after you do your bit, only after you make the required effort then and only then rely on God Almighty! Tie your ‘steed’ if you want to go to Paradise. The Prophet said regarding leaving a camel untied as if relying on God to keep it safe, “First hobble it, only then rely on God!”
5. Upon arrival at the Farthest Mosque and entering it, the Prophet found himself in the midst of the most honourable gathering: every Prophet and Messenger from Adam to Jesus, upon all of them be the peace of God Almighty, was present awaiting his arrival and to pray a 2-unit prayer. Gabriel then asked the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, to lead all the Prophets and Messengers in prayer as the Final Messenger of God.
Message #5: This event is analogous to the passing of the baton of servant-leadership of all nations til the end of time to the Final Messenger and those who follow him. Those who follow him, are us. A servant-leader does not serve his own ego by managing and controlling people. To the contrary, the servant-leader serves God; he is amongst the foremost of contributors to the wellbeing of others in this world as the vicegerent of God Almighty. Where is the Believer, foremost in humanitarian service based on best practice? Where is the Believer, foremost in ecological protection and sustainability as vicegerents? Where is the Believer, foremost in advocating for rights, justice and safety for all, including animals? God Almighty mentions:
To you We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that has come to you. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but it is to test you in what He has given you: So vie one with another in virtuous action. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you used to dispute about. [Qur’an 5:48]
6. Upon completion of the prayer, the Archangel Gabriel offered the Prophet two vessels of drinks to choose from; in one was milk and the other was wine (alcohol was not yet prohibited under Islamic Law). The Prophet chose milk over wine, and Gabriel was well pleased with the Prophet’s innate disposition to righteousness.
Message #6: The human has a primordial disposition to recognise right and wrong, and which is a sound nature that God Almighty has created humans based on His Sound Nature. When one is heedless of this and elects to do wrong, then something has gone wrong in their system of being human. Being in remembrance of God keeps one alive to their inner moral compass, which will only lead one to safety and success. God almighty confirms our primordial state which gives us this inner moral compass:
So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. Adhere to the Sound Nature of Allah upon which He has created mankind. No change should there be in the creation of Allah- that is the correct religion, but most of the people fail to understand. [Qur’an 30:30]
7. When the Prophet ascended into the heavens, he was taken to the many levels of Paradise. In the topmost level, the 7th level of Paradise (above which is the Presence of God alone Himself), Prophet Muhammad met Prophet Ibrahim, peace and blessings of God Almighty be upon them both. Prophet Ibrahim was leaning on the walls of the the Ka’bah of Heaven, called Bayt al-Ma’mūr. This is amongst the highest of stations in Paradise, and one of its key occupants is the one who strived and struggled on this earth, who built the Ka’bah of the earth- Prophet Ibrahim, upon whom be peace of God The Exalted. He followed the path of righteousness and he did not enjoin partners with God The Exalted, and was gifted such a high station.
Message #7: You reap what you sow. If you toil productively in this world in a manner pleasing to your Lord, you will also have the highest of stations in Paradise. It is as if Prophet Ibrahim, after building the House of God on earth receives a resting place at the Heavenly House! God Almighty informs us:
Nay! Indeed, the record of the righteous is in ‘illiyyun. And what will explain to you what ‘Illiyun is? It is a register inscribed, to which bear witness those Nearest to God. Truly, the Righteous will be in Bliss, on adorned couches, observing. You will recognize in their faces the radiance of delight. [Qur’an 83:18-24]
8. One of the key events of the Night Journey was the prescription of the prayer. God Almighty reduced the number of prayers from 50 to 5 times a day after the merciful plea of Prophet Muhammad for his Nation on the advice of Prophet Moses, upon whom be peace of God Almighty, to the Merciful God.
Message #8: Two key reflections arise from this aspect of the vent. Firstly, all that the Prophet has brought to us through revelation from God Almighty, he sought ease and goodness for us. This was his nature; he was sent for no other reason but as a mercy to the entire creation. Secondly, just like the Prophet himself, we must turn to Allah regularly and not tire from it. We should seek from him that which is good for us and He is Most Generous, but also know when it is not appropriate to be invoking God Almighty. Only the arrogant ignore Him, or only turn to him when “they have no other option”.
And your Lord says: “Call on Me; I will answer your prayer: but those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell – in humiliation!” [Qur’an 40:60]
9. When the Prophet returned from the Night Journey, he tried to explain the event to the Quraysh, many his own immediate family, like Abu Jahl. Yet he ridiculed the Prophet, seeing him as strange and weird, not for a second interested in listening to reason. The Prophet had never before gone to Jerusalem, yet he described a city in accurate detail which he was Divinely taken to within moments of a night but a journey that would have taken him a month physically. The fact that the Prophet described the city so accurately should have been sufficient reason for a sincere and sane person to take heed and listen.
Message #9: Firstly, anyone who takes the journey to their Lord with vigour and conviction will be seen as strange by those who are busy with the glitter of this world. Secondly, only those who truly do not believe in God and what He has revealed through the Messenger do not take heed of the true reality and are busy amassing wealth and success of this world. This could include even those who claim to believe, yet upon inspection of their actions it may become evident that they are heedless of the fact due to their preoccupation with this world that they will return to their Lord. God Almighty reminds us:
Beautified in the perception of people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return. [Qur’an 3:14]
10. The Night Journey is recorded in the Qur’an, as follows:
Glory to He 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: indeed He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. [Qur’an 17:1]
The highest nobility of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, is him being a willing and committed servant of God Almighty. He was in constant servitude to his Lord, by serving his Lord’s creation.
Message #10: In order to be honoured by and elevated towards God Almighty, one must be in constant servitude to Him alone. Every one of the servant’s actions is a means that brings him closer to God The Exalted. Virtuous acts of generosity, charity, patience, frugality, courage, sincere concern for others and the like are but means to seek The Generous, The Compassionate and The Just.
11. We return to the pre-event in Ta’if. One of the most important lessons from the event of the Night Journey is connected to the event of Ta’if. The Ascension of the Prophet, the raising of the Station of the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings of God The Exalted, occurs after the greatest of difficulties, trials and tribulations that he encountered, after Ta’if. The Night Journey and the Ascension occurred after his grief from losing his dear wife Khadija and his most kind uncle Abu Talib, and humiliation he suffered in Ta’if.
Message #11: The Favour of God Almighty is graced upon us after some of our greatest trials and tribulations. When the Believer perseveres, is in gratitude and consistently responds appropriately to the Divine Decree, God Almighty then responds and showers His Blessings upon such a grateful and patient servant, and elevates him. The ascension of the human arises out of him committing to be in servitude to God alone, striving through thick and thin, having confidence with their Lord and reliance upon their Lord. Like gold through fire to be purified and therefore valued, so too does the human through tribulation. He reminds us:
Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such trial has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until even their messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is the help of Allah!?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near. [Qur’an 2:214]
I pray we take heed of these subtle messages in this profound event of the Ascension of the Prophet. If noted and striven for, these lessons may well be ascension of our own station with our Lord. And there is no success other than by and with God Almighty alone.