The Night Journey and the Ascension :The Night Journey(1)
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- Published: 20 March 2012
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The Night Journey and the Ascension :The Night Journey(1)
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.
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!
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.