Al-Isra and Al-Mi’raj – Part 1
وَبَرَكَاتُهُ اللهِ وَرَحْمَةُ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمُ
After the trial that was Ta’if, in the last 1.5 years before the Hijra, Allah blessed the prophet with the miracle of the Isra wal Mi’raj. And this was a huge gift, given to no other prophet except Muhammad ﷺ and it was one which affirmed his faith and exalted his status as the final messenger of Allah.
Before we begin, there is one thing to note: although the incident of the Isra wal Mi’raj is certainly authentic – there are more narrations about this than the entire rest of the Meccan period – we do not have one chronological telling of the event, simply snippets of narrations. And so we don’t know the exact order in which things took place, and much of the chronology is in fact assumed. As well as this, there is the issue that this story was later embellished by story tellers after the death of the prophet, so much so that at some points complete fabrications about the prophet Muhammad ﷺ were made in order to make the incident seem more vivid and exciting. However, despite this, rigorous study has been done in order to determine which narrations are in fact authentic and have a strong isnaad right back to the prophet himself.
The Isra wal Mi’raj were in fact two different happenings, however both took place in the same night. The Isra – literally meaning The Night Journey – took place first, and this is mentioned in Surah Al-Isra and is what gives the chapter its name. And this was the journey from the Kahbah in Mecca to the Bayt Al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. Meanwhile the Mi’raj – literally translated as The Means of Ascension – was the journey from the Bayt Al-Maqdis up through the 7 heavens all the way to Jannah, and it was where the prophet Muhammad ﷺ met Allah and was decreed the 5 daily prayers. And this incident was mentioned by Allah in Surah Najm.
Now there are two differences in opinion – both in Sahih Bukhari – as to where the Isra began from. The first narration says that the prophet was sleeping in the Hateem – the semi-circular open part of the Kahbah – when Jibrael (AS) came to him, however the second claims that he was sleeping in his house when the roof opened and Jibrael descended. And because this is a direct contradiction, some scholars take both reports at face value and say that first he was sleeping in his house when Jibrael came, and then he was taken to the Kahbah in order to pray two rakat. As to what happened next, the prophet narrates, ‘In the Hateem, Jibrael (AS) opened up my chest. And he brought a golden bowl full of zamzam (in another version full of imaan, however we can reconcile this by saying that the zamzam gave him imaan), and he took out my heart and washed it and put it back.’ In fact, this was the second time that Jibrael washed the prophet’s heart, the first being when Muhammad ﷺ was 5 years old and the black spot was removed from his chest. However this time there was no black spot, and instead this took place in order to strengthen the imaan of the prophet, and to give him strength for the miracles that he was about to see.
From here, Jibrael (AS) brought to the prophet a dubaa, which was an animal smaller than a mule but larger than a donkey, and it was pure white and called the Buraaq. And each of its steps were so large that it put its hoof as far as the eye could see, meaning it could travel at incredible speeds. Now here there are a few legends about the Buraaq as well, such as it having wings, but these have not been narrated by the prophet and so it is important to distinguish the authentic reports from the stories. When Muhammad ﷺ stepped into the saddle the Buraaq tried to buck him off, however Jibrael pulled on its harness and said, ‘Woe to you, are you not ashamed? By Allah, no one has ridden you more blessed in the eyes of Allah than your current rider.’ And so the Buraaq calmed down, and took the prophet all the way to the Bayt Al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. On the way, the prophet passed by the grave of Musa (AS), and there he saw Musa himself standing and praying to Allah, even after his death.
Now it is important to note that at this time there was no structure or place of worship at Bayt Al-Maqdis. And this was because the Roman Christians, who ruled Jerusalem at the time, wanted to make a point to the Jews (as historically they were very anti-sematic) that they did not respect their heritage. And so they had converted this holy site into a trash dump, in order to shame the Jews.
However, when the prophet arrived he was shown the Bayt Al-Maqdis as it used to be – a place for the worship of Allah. And so he tied up Buraaq to the animal post that was used by the previous prophets, and went inside to pray two rakats. Now here, once again, we have a slight difference of narration. The first is that the prophet prayed the two rakat and when he turned around he saw all of the other prophets lined up behind him praying, showing that he did not know that he was leading them. And in the second narration the prophet says, ‘I saw myself with the other prophets; and there was Musa praying (for the second time), and he was a tall and strong and muscular man of a brownish colour, like the people from the tribe of Shanu’ah. And I saw Isa ibn Maryam (AS) standing and praying, and the one who looks most like is Urwah ibn Mas’ud As-Saqafi. He was whitish (literally between red and yellow) in colour and his hair glistened with water as if he had come out of a hot bath. And he is a shorter man as compared to Musa. And I saw Ibrahim (AS) standing and praying, and the one who resembles him the most is your own companion (himself). I could not see anyone more closely resembling Ibrahim (AS) than myself, and I could not see anyone more closely resembling to myself than Ibrahim. And then it came the time for salah and I was made the imaam of them.’ So this version clearly shows that Muhammad ﷺ knew that he was leading the other prophets in prayer.
When they had finished, Jibrael (AS) came to the prophet and presented to him two bowls: one full of wine (at this point wine was not haraam) and the other full of milk. And Jibrael told the prophet to choose one of the bowls, both for himself and for his ummah. And so the prophet chose the milk, to which Jibrael responded, ‘You have chosen the fitra (the correct and natural choice).’
But what is the importance of milk? Milk comes pure from the animal, and it is one of the healthiest and most nourishing drinks known to man. In fact it is narrated in a hadith, ‘Nothing substitutes for both food and drink other than milk.’ Allah even describes it in the Quran as pure and wholesome for those who drink it; and so it originates from purity, is in itself pure and benefits purely the one who drinks it.
Meanwhile wine is a corrupted drink. It is literally infested with bacteria in order to ferment and produce it, and thus is twisted and impure. And when it is drunk, it does not benefit the person but in fact harms their inner functions, such as the liver, and makes the person lose control of their own actions. And so it corrupted, originates from corruption, and harms and corrupts the one who drinks it. And so when the prophet chose the milk instead of the wine, Jibrael (AS) described it as ‘the fitra,’ and this meant that that the prophet had chosen for good to come upon the entire ummah.
Now what symbolisms can be derived from the incident of the Isra? The first thing to note is the importance of salah. Even after all of the prophets had passed away they were still praying to Allah in the Bayt Al-Maqdis, and in fact, both the times that the prophet Muhammad ﷺ saw Musa (AS) he was praying – once at his grave and once in Jerusalem. Note: as Musa (AS) was in a spirit form, he did not need the Buraaq to travel all the way from his grave to the Bayt Al-Maqdis, as this is why he was already there when the prophet arrived. And so this emphasises to us the value and importance given to salah in Islam.
The second theological point to make is the exulted position of Muhammad ﷺ, even over all the other prophets. The fact the out of all of the ambiya he was chosen to lead them in Salah shows the greatness of his rank and status, such that he is even the leader of all of the other prophets. And this is another one of the blessings of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and one which shows us how perfect and revered he must have been to be leading all of the other blessed Messengers of Allah, all 120 000 plus, in Salah.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 021