The Spiritual Significance of Isra & Mi'raj

Rajab Tuesday May 22nd is the 1st of Rajab : Isra & Mi'raj to be on the Night of Saturday June 16, 2012

The Spiritual Significance of the Miraculous Night Journey and Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him

by: Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem

GLORY BE TO HIM WHO MADE HIS SERVANT TO GO ON A NIGHT FROM THE SACRED MOSQUE TO THE FAR-DISTANT MOSQUE OF WHICH WE HAVE BLESSED THE PRECINCTS, SO THAT WE MAY SHOW TO HIM SOME OF OUR SIGNS; SURELY HE IS THE HEARING, THE SEEING. [17: 1]

ALLAH (SWT) HAS REVEALED THIS AS THE FIRST VERSE OF QURAN’S CHAPTER AL-ISRA, THE NIGHT JOURNEY, WHICH IS ALSO KNOWN AS THE CHAPTER OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL OR THE CHAPTER OF GLORIFICATION (SUBHAN). IN IT ALLAH MENTIONS THE NIGHT JOURNEY (AL-ISRA’) IN WHICH HE CALLED THE PROPHET (SAWS) TO HIS DIVINE PRESENCE.]

As Allah began the Holy Qur’an in the Opening chapter al-Fatiha, with the words “Al-Hamdu Lillah - Praise be to Allah,” He similarly opens Surat al-Isra (17:1), the chapter of the Night Journey, with “Subhana - Glory be to Allah.” Allah is glorifying Himself saying, “Subhana alladhi asra’” which means “Glory to Me, the One who brought the Prophet on the Night Journey calling him to My Divine Presence.”

Reaching beyond comprehension of the human mind, Allah is not just reminding us about this event. Rather, He is glorifying Himself in regards to it, whereby He transported the Prophet (s) almost instantaneously from Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa followed by the the Prophet’s (s) Ascension, traversing in an incredibly short span of time the worldly domain of this universe and beyond, transcending the laws of physics.

There is no scientific, worldly way to comprehend how the Prophet (s) moved across the globe and was then carried to Allah’s Divine Presence: such a journey is beyond the scope of imagination. Therefore Allah I glorifies Himself saying, “Yes it happened! Glory to Me Who can do this! I am beyond these laws and systems. I am the Creator of all systems.”

ANGELIC PREPARATION FOR THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY

Malik bin Anas ® related that the Prophet (s) said, “I was lying in the Hijr (of the Sacred Mosque of Makka) when someone [the archangel Gabriel (as)] came to me and cut open my chest from throat to belly. He removed my heart and cleaned it with the water of the well of Zamzam before putting it back in its place. Then he brought me a white creature called al-Buraq by whose means I was lifted.” Another narration relates that the two archangels “Gabriel and Mika’il (as) came to the Prophet (s) when he was laying down in al-Hijr [of the Sacred Mosque in Makka] and carried him to the well of Zamzam. They laid him down on his back and Gabriel (as) opened his chest from top to bottom, despite which there was no bleeding. He said to Mika’il (as), ‘Get me water from Zamzam,’ which he did. Gabriel (as) took the Prophet’s (s) heart and washed it thrice before putting it back. He filled it with faith and wisdom. Then he closed his chest and they took him out from the door of the masjid to where the Buraq was waiting.”

Archangel Gabriel could have removed the Prophet’s heart miraculously by means of a small opening or without opening his chest at all. Yet we see in this Tradition of the Prophet (s) a hint of how to perform open heart surgery. This same technique of opening the entire chest cavity is used by heart surgeons today.

PERFECTION OF SERVANTHOOD

How did Allah describe the one whom He brought on the Night Journey? He describes him (s) as “His servant” - `abdi hi. Abu Qasim Sulayman al-Ansari said that when the Prophet (s) reached the highest levels and most distinguished stations. Allah revealed to him, “With what shall I honor you?” The Prophet said, “By relating me to You through servanthood (`ubudiyya).” This is why Allah revealed this verse of the Holy Qur’an honoring the Prophet (s) by the title “His servant” when describing the Night Journey. Allah did not grant such an honor to Moses (as). Rather He said, “And when Moses came to Our appointed tryst...” [7:143] referring to Moses (as) by his name. Instead of saying, “Glory be to Him Who made Muhammad to go...”Allah honored the Prophet (s) by referring to him as `abdihi, “His servant.” Another subtle inference from Allah’s use of the term “`abdihi”, - His servant (a construct in the absent form or third person) is the meaning that, ‘He called the Prophet (s) to a void where there was nothing except His Own Presence.’ More miraculous than calling the Prophet (s) to His Presence was His bringing the Prophet’s (s) body and soul, which exist in time and place, to where there is no time and place, no ‘where’ and no ‘when’. Allah brought His sincere servant, our master Muhammad (s), from a physical form of this worldly life to the completely abstract Divine Presence.

STATIONS OF PROXIMITY TO THE DIVINE

The verse goes on to describe the Prophet’s movement through countless stations. Having perfected his character through constant worship, `ubudiyya, the Sacred Mosque, or Holy Sanctuary, is here an indication of the Prophet’s r having already been elevated beyond all sin. Allah’s description of the Prophet (s) as “`abd” - servant - precedes His mention of the two mosques: the Sacred Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) and the Far Distant Mosque (Masjid al-Aqsa). Allah did not say His Servant was taken “from Makka,” rather He said, “from the Sacred Mosque,” Masjid al-Haram. “Sacred” means inviolable, no sin being permitted within its precincts, nor backbiting, cheating, or lying. There one must be ever mindful of Allah’s (swt) Presence.

Masjid al-Haram, represents here a station where those sins which signify the animal life can never be committed. ‘Aqsa’ in Arabic means ‘the Farthest’. Thus Masjid al-Aqsa here is named as the farthest mosque in relation to Masjid al-Haram and symbolizes the spiritual realm. The literal meaning is, ‘He brought His servant from Masjid al-Haram to the mosque at the farthest end.’ Symbolically, Allah brought the Prophet away from that which is forbidden things of this earthly life, haram, to the place furthest away from it - al-Aqsa. The furthermost point from the animalistic life is the spiritual dimension.

The contrast between these ‘stations’ is further demonstrated by the famous stone at each of these holy sites. In Masjid al- Haram the Black Stone is governed by physical constraints, held up in an encasement, having fallen from heaven and been darkened by the sins of humanity. At Masjid al-Aqsa the holy stone marking where the Prophet (s) ascended to the heavens is miraculously suspended in the air, disregarding the physical law of gravity, seeking to leave the earthly pull of gravity to soar towards the Divine Presence.

The subtle meaning derived from the order of the words here is that Allah’s one true servant, the Prophet Muhammad (s), began from station of `ubudiyya, servanthood, for which he was created. This allowed him to begin from the station of perfected and flawless character (`ismat), shunning the forbidden and the love of this worldly life (al-haraam) and move from there to the farthest station, the highest rank of all creation, as indicated by the station of the farthest mosque, al-aqsa.

STAGES OF TASAWWUF

In the Science of Purification of the Self, tasawwuf, these stages are termed Shariah, Tariqat and Haqiqat. The first corresponds to the realm of physical discipline, whence the seeker moves on the path, tariqat, with the vehicle of `ubudiyya, worship, and thence ascends to the station of haqiqat, reality, in which all falsehood vanishes and the Lordship of Allah is made eminently manifest to the servant.

Allah brought Prophet Muhammad (s) to Masjid al-Aqsa in Palestine from which most of the prophets hail. There he found all of the prophets gathered, and they prayed in congregation behind him (s). From there Allah raised him to the heavens, as if saying, ‘O My prophets! I did not raise any one from Masjid al-Aqsa as I am raising Muhammad (s).’ This was in order to demonstrate to them Prophet Muhammad’s (s) ascendancy - unlike any one of them, he was not restricted by the laws of this universe.

RISEN BY NIGHT, ILLUMINATING LIKE THE FULL MOON

Allah then lifted him from Masjid al- Aqsa by means of the Ascension (mi`raj), to His Divine Presence. Why did Allah use the words, ‘laylan - by night’? Why didn’t He say, ‘naharan - by day’? ‘Laylan’ here illustrates the darkness of this world; it becomes illumined only by the bright moon of the Prophet (s) rising to brighten every darkness.

Subhan alladhee asr’a bi `abdihi laylan. “Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night...” Look at every word of this holy verse. First Allah praised Himself in the third person, in absence. Allah then miraculously moved the Prophet from Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa (asra’). Then He referred to the Prophet as “‘abd - servant”, distinguishing him through that elevated title as being related to the spiritual life, not the animal life. The message of Prophet Muhammad (s) completed and perfected both the physical discipline and jurisprudence (shari`a) of Moses and the spirituality (rawhaniyya) of ‘Isa (as). The shari`a of Moses (as) relates to the worldly life and the spirituality of ‘Isa (as) relates to the heavenly life. By passing from the worldly life, represented by the Night Journey, to heavenly life, represented by the Ascension, the Prophet (s) was carried on these two wings. No prophet was carried in both these dimensions except our master Muhammad (s).

PROPHETIC CONVEYANCES

One of the great scholars of Qur’anic exegesis, al-’Ala’i said, “On the Night of Ascension the Prophet used five different vehicles. The first was the Buraq, a winged creature which carried him from Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa. The second was the Ascension by which the Prophet (s) reached the sky of this world, as-sama’ ad-dunya.’ There are two explanations for Mi`raj: one that the Buraq carried the Prophet (s) up and the second that a ladder descended and raised the Prophet (s) very rapidly. The third vehicle was the wings of angels taking the Prophet (s)p to the seventh heaven. The fourth were the wings of Gabriel u from the seventh heaven to the Furthermost Lote Tree, sidrat al-muntaha. The fifth vehicle was the carpet (ar-raf raf) to the station of “two bows-length - qaba qawsayn.” [53: 9] “Similarly, the Prophet (s) stopped in ten different stations: seven heavens and the eighth at the Furthermost Lote Tree, sidrat al-muntaha. The ninth is where he heard the sound of the angels’ pens writing the actions of human beings and the tenth level was at the Throne. And Allah knows best.”

THE MIRACULOUS ASPECT OF ISRA AND MI`RAJ

All these miraculous events took place on the night of the Night Journey and Ascension, Laylat al-Isra wal-Mi`raj. The many hadiths detailing the events of the Night Journey were authenticated by numerous huffaz (hadith masters) such as Ibn Shihab, Thabit al-Banani, and Qatada. Allah supports His prophets with miracles (mu`jizat) to be able to transcend the laws of physics and the constraints of our human realities. If Allah grants a miracle we should not view it as something improbable, otherwise we will be like scientists who cannot understand anything beyond what they perceive.

Scholars differ as to what night this great journey occurred on. Imam Nawawi said that it took place in Rajab. In Nawawi’s ar-Rawda, he states it occurred ten years and three months after the beginning of the Prophecy, while Fatawa states it was five or six years after the onset of revelation. Whatever the case, all scholars concur that the Night Journey and Ascension took place both in body and spirit.

ABRAHAM'S VISION AND THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION

Allah said in the Holy Qur’an: “So also did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might have certitude.” [6: 75-79]

Allah showed the kingdom of heavens and earth to Prophet Abraham (as), by opening Abraham’s spiritual vision (baseera) to see the wonders of the universe from where he was on earth. Allah showed him what is beyond the laws of the physical universe through the eyes of his heart. Yet immediately after this verse Allah has shown Abraham (as) the glories behind the physical universe, “When the night covered over him he saw a star. He said ‘This is my lord.’” [6:77] In the following verses Abraham (as) similarly “mistakes” the moon and sun for his lord: “When he saw the moon rising in splendor he said, ‘This is my lord.’ But when the moon set he said, ‘Unless my Lord guides me I shall surely be among those who go astray.’ When he saw the sun rising in splendor he said, ‘This is my lord.’” [6: 78] These verses regarding the stars, moon, and sun are directed to the non-believers. Allah showed Abraham (as) the Truth and he had reached certitude of faith.

As a prophet he was also free of sin, and thus could not have considered other than Allah as his Lord. However, Abraham’s u duty was to convey a heavenly message. Seeking to bring everyone under Allah’s mercy, Abraham (as) attempted to teach his people in a way that would not cause them to reject his message. Wisely using a process of elimination, he demonstrated to them that a spiritual dimension exists. He eliminated the star (something small), then the moon, then the sun (the biggest heavenly body). Abraham (as) then reaffirms his true belief in Allah and his turning away from worldly distractions saying, “But when the sun set he said, ‘O my people, I am innocent and free from the sin of you ascribing partners to Allah. For me I have set my face firmly and truly towards the One Who created the heavens and the earth, and I am not one who ascribes partners to Allah.’” [6:79] The meaning of this demonstration: don’t chase the things of this worldly life, but seek the spiritual dimension which transcends the laws of the physical universe.

In our time, materialistic scientists and certain narrow-minded Islamic sects try to negate spirituality, the fourth dimension, which Allah showed to Abraham (as). Those rejecting the spiritual dimension of Islam are falling into the same trap as the people of Abraham. The Prophet (s) said, ‘what I fear most for my community is the hidden shirk (associating partners to Allah).’ Hidden shirk is for a person to be prideful of himself, most easily manifest in rejecting the words of others.

DISTINCTION OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD'S ASCENDANCY

Prophet Abraham (as) was shown the kingdom malakut, of heavens and earth. Prophet Moses (as) did not see this kingdom. However he was able to hear Allah and speak with Allah from Mount Sinai, thus being known as Kalimullah (the one who spoke with Allah directly). Although Abraham (as) was granted the ability to see in spiritual dimensions, and Moses (as) was granted to hear Allah directly, both of these great prophets’ bodies remained on earth, subject to its physical laws. Prophet Abraham’s vision and Prophet Moses’ (as) hearing went beyond the physical by means of the power of the soul, but their bodies did not move beyond the physical world.

However, Allah caused Prophet Muhammad (s) to move in spiritual dimensions with his body in complete freedom from physical laws. Allah called the Prophet “to show him from Our signs...” [17: 1] Allah showed Abraham the king dom of this universe, but He moved the Prophet (s) in body and spirit beyond the physical laws of this universe to show him ‘Our signs’, ayaatina. This possessive form relating the Signs as belonging to Allah directly, indicates the greater honor and knowledge bestowed on the Prophet (s). The kingdom of heavens and earth shown to Prophet Abraham (as) was the workings of this physical universe and did not reach Paradise, whereas Allah’s signs manifested to Prophet Muhammad (s) are directly related to Allah and are not asso ciated with this world.

THE PROPHET'S VISION OF HIS LORD AND PERFECTION OF ONENESS

"Allah revealed to His servant what he revealed. The Prophet’s heart in no way falsified what it saw. Will you then dispute with him about what he saw? And he saw Him again another time at the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary, at the Garden of Abode. Behold the Lote-tree was shrouded with what shrouds. His sight did not swerve or waiver. Indeed he saw of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest." [53: 10-19]

Imam Nawawi and the late Imam Mutwalli Sha`rawi concur with the major ity of scholars in interpreting these verses to mean that the Prophet saw his Lord another time, not that he saw Gabriel u another time, as some assert. Imam Nawawi relates in his commentary on Sahih Muslim, “Most of the scholars say that the Prophet saw his Lord with the eyes of his head - ra’a rabbahu bi ‘aynay raasi hi. The Prophet came all the way to the Divine Throne (`arsh), reached qaba qawsayni (the distance of two bow’s length), and reached the Paradise of Jannat al-Ma’wa near the Furthermost Lote-Tree (sidrat al-muntaha).

After all this Imam Sha`rawi asks, “What would make the Prophet’s sight swerve? Some say it was Gabriel (as), but the Prophet (s) had seen Gabriel (as) many times and Gabriel was with him for the duration of the Night Journey and Ascension. It is irrelevant to say at this juncture that the Prophet’s sight did not swerve or waiver, because if this was in reference to Gabriel the Prophet had many opportunities to see him already. Allah doesn’t say anything irrelevant which is why I side with the majority of scholars (including Imam Nawawi) in say ing that with his physical eyes the Prophet saw Allah (swt).”

“Indeed he saw of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest.” [53:18]

What then could the Greatest Sign be for the Prophet (s) other than the vision of his Lord? For the Prophet (s) saw all seven levels of Paradise, then ascended further than any creation before or after, to “two bows-length”. It is stated in hadith that the greatest reward for believers in the next life will not be the pleasures of Paradise, but the vision of their Lord every Friday. If the believers, the common and the special, are going to see their Lord in the afterlife, then clearly nothing less than that could be “the Greatest Sign” for His Beloved Prophet Muhammad (s).

“And We granted the vision which We showed you (O Muhammad) but as a trial for mankind.” [17:60]

Regarding this verse, Ibn `Abbas said, “Allah’s Messenger (s) actually saw with his own eyes the vision (of all which was shown to him) on the night of his Night Journey to Jerusalem (and then to the heavens)...” That is the greatness of Prophet Muhammad. No one saw his Lord other than Muhammad (s), making him (s) the only true monotheist (muwahhid). No one except Muhammad (s) achieved a perfect grasp of Divine Unity – tawhid - everyone else’s under standing of tawhid remains imitated (taqleed).

Prophet Abraham (as) was the father of the prophets and was granted spiritual vision to see the workings of the universe and Prophet Moses (as) was granted to speak with his Lord. But Allah moved Prophet Muhammad with his physical body in defiance of the physical laws of the universe to the Unseen, a place where there is nothing and no possibility of any- thing - “la khala wa la mala.” Allah took Muhammad there and revealed to him Himself, in the manner He wished. How this was we do not know. It is unseen and unknown (ghayb). Thus, as Ibn `Abbas ® said, it is a matter to be believed with acceptance, not a matter to be questioned.

EXPLANATION OF THE IDOL VERSES

“His sight did not swerve or waiver. Indeed he saw the Greatest Signs of his Lord. Have you seen Lat and ‘Uzza (two pagan idols) and the third one Manat (another idol)?” [53: 17-20]

Why does Allah mention these three false deities, Lat, `Uzza and Manat, which the polytheistic idolaters of Makka wor shipped, immediately after mentioning the “Greatest Signs of his Lord” in 53:18? Scholars say that 53:18 shows that Muhammad (s) reached perfect grasp of Allah’s Unity, while the verses 53:19-20 by contrast show these idols as nothing more than fabrications of their makers. If “Greatest Signs” [53: 18] referred to Gabriel then it would not follow to men tion the false idols after it.

Prophet Abraham (as) mentioned a star, the moon and the sun - three entities of this worldly life - as objects falsely taken as gods besides God. And in the chapter of the Star (an-Najm), Allah mentioned al- Lat al-`Uzza and Manat, again three false gods, immediately describing Prophet Muhammad’s seeing his Lord, as explained by most scholars. Both these revelations reject the false concept of idol- worship, and subtly stress the false notion of a trinity, which pervades most forms of idolatry. Oneness is for Allah the Exalted and Glorious, the One - al-Wahid, the Unique - al-Fard, the Eternal - as-Samad.

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