A journey of rejuvenation and inspiration
In the few years that preceded the incident of Israa’ and Mi'raaj, the Prophet and the believers with him had gone through and suffered from many stressful and sad events.
He first lost his most beloved wife, Khadeejah, may Allah be pleased with her, the first Muslim and his best friend, supporter and motivator, the woman who spent all of her wealth, used all of her family and tribal relationships to support him, the one who provided the best comfort and consultation he could possibly find. Then he lost protection against the hard aggression of the people of Makkah when his uncle, Abu Taalib, died. As long as his uncle was alive, no one in Makkah was able to hurt him and his followers, but after his death, they were forced to take exile in a valley close to Makkah, where there was no food or shelter.
Yet the biggest disappointment came when the Prophet went to Taaif seeking their acceptance and help, but they refused him and did all they could to hurt him. Such was the situation. Many of his followers had immigrated to Ethiopia and those who stayed with him were defenseless and hungry. What was most stressful for the Prophet was the fact that people knew him a person who was truthful at all time but still did not believe in him.
In the midst of all these sorrows, Allah took His Prophet through the Israa’ and Mi'raaj to provide him with inspiration and support by showing him what no other human has ever been blessed with. In the heavens, he witnessed the great Signs of Allah, and the indications of Divine Providence toward him and the da’wah (calling people to Islam), such that he became certain of the success of the da’wah and of his victory over his enemies. The miracle of the Israa’ and Mi'raaj proved to the Prophet that if the earth would straiten to him at certain times, then heavens' gates are open for him at all times, and if some terrestrials would harm him, then the people of heaven would support and stand with him.
Not an out-of-body-experience
Muslims believe that the Israa’ and Mi'raaj was a real journey, not a dream or a vision. It was a physical journey by soul and body. Imaam An-Nawawi wrote, in his Commentary on the Saheeh of Muslim (2/209) that, "The truth cherished by the majority of people in general, and the Salaf (predecessors) in particular, the scholars of Fiqh and scholars of Hadeeth is that the Prophet went in the journey of Israa’ physically, i.e., with his body.”
And in his commentary on the Saheeh of Al-Bukhari (1 /460), Imaam Ibn Hajar wrote that no one should dispute the fact that the Israa’ happened to the Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi, wa sallam, while he was awake. This is what the Quran clearly said about it, and also because the people of Quraysh disbelieved he did it.
Had it been only a dream, they would not have found it necessary for them to reject and disbelieve what he said about it, for people can dream of whatever they want. But because he told them that he physically went to the heavens, they refused to believe him. In fact, even some of those who claimed to be Muslims reneged and announced their rejection of the story of the Israa’ and M'iraaj.
When did it all happen?
Imaam Ath-Thahabi said that the Prophet was taken for the Night Journey to Al-Quds one year before Hijrah, the emigration to Madeenah. Ibn Al-Qayyim said in his book, 'Zaad Al-Ma'aad (3/42)’, "Ibn Abd Al-Barr and others said that there was a period of fourteen months between the Israa’ and the Hijrah." Also, Ibn Katheer quoted in Al-Bidaayah wa An-Nihaayah (3/108), a number of different scholarly views concerning defining an exact date of the Israa’, and concluded that none had a solid evidence as to the exact date of the Israa’. The majority of scholars are in agreement however, that the Israa’ happened nearly a year before the Hijrah; they not only disagreed about a particular day, but the month as well.
Lessons to learn
Emaan (belief): Is the criterion
Emaan is belief, and practicing what you believe. One of the distinguishing factors in rank between Muslims, in the Sight of Allah, is the extent to which they believe in, and practice the teachings of Islam. Allah Says describing the believers (what means): “And who believe in what has been revealed to you [O Muhammad] and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful.” [Quran 2: 4-5]
How could they afford not to believe while knowing for certain that the informer is either Allah “…and who is more truthful than Allah in statement.” [Quran 4: 122], or His Messenger “Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed.” [Quran 53: 3-4] The incident of Israa’ and Mi'raaj was a major test of the Companions' belief in Allah. When they, may Allah be pleased with them, succeeded in overcoming the doubts caused in their minds by the Satan and the pagan Makkans, they felt a strong surge of belief they had not experienced yet. They now know that their Prophet is a true Messenger of Allah and that Allah will not abandon them to their enemies. They realized that acceptance of the Unseen news their Prophet told them of, is the foundation to what belief is all about.
It was belief that distinguished Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq, may Allah be pleased with him, and placed him in a rank never to be equaled or surpassed by any of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, or those who would come after them. Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, was known by the nickname 'As-Siddeeq (the believer)' more than his real name. He, may Allah be pleased with him, gained that nickname because he immediately and unconditionally believed in what the Prophet said about his journey to the heavens. Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, had based his emaan on his belief and practiced accordingly; Abu Bakr's belief is that the Prophet is the Informer. His practice of that was based upon the fact that Allah is the Legislator. Allah Says (what means): “The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers.’ And they say, ‘We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’." [Quran 2-285] The lesson for us, the Muslims, is that if it is in the Quran or reported authentically as a Sunnah, then we should believe in it, and act upon it, nothing less, nothing more.
Fitrah - choosing the way
An-Nawawi said that the reply of Jibreel (to the Prophet ), 'You chose the Firtrah' meant that he had chosen the religion of Islam. That is, "You have chosen the emblem of Islam and Istiqaamah (being steadfast on the Straight Path). The milk was a sign, because it is easy to drink, good and tasty, while whine is 'the mother of all evil' and it is a cause for different acts of malice."
Look at the world today and you will see the manifestation of this. People have turned to wine, excelled in manufacturing and serving it; the result is that it has served to corrupt their minds, hearts, and spirit. Despite all of the technological advancements, humanity still witnesses horrible consequences of their anti-Fitrah practices: war, decease, depleted resources, wasted minds and efforts greed, filth and, happy souls going into misery, to say the least. It all happened when the natural Fitrah was rejected in search of a way of life other than the Way of Allah, the Creator of this life, and the next. Allah Says (what means): “And whoever turns away from My remembrance –indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.” [Quran 20:124] “And whoever is blind in this [life] will be blind in the Hereafter and more astray in way.” [Quran 17: 72]
Fitrah and acts of Fitrah should, therefore, be the choice of the Muslim. In fact, Fitrah is the state we are all created in but as mentioned in the authentic Hadeeth, Satan and his followers work hard to take us away from it. It is very important that Muslims know the characteristics of the acts of Fitrah so that they know how to choose. Life, after all and as shown by this incident, is about choice.
The Prophet's standing with Allah.
An-Nawawi said: "The Prophet's saying: 'I was then ascended till a point where I could hear the squeak of the pens.' The word "squeak" here means the sound made by the pens as they write. Imaam Al-Khattaabi said, 'It is the sound of what the Angels write of Allah's Ordinances and Revelations.'" Al-Qaadhi Iyaadh said, `The highness of the Prophet's rank over that of all the Prophets, may Allah exalt their mention, and his reaching far into the Kingdom of Heaven is an evidence of his higher rank and reverence.”
The Prophet could not have achieved this high honor, except through the Mercy of Allah with which the Prophet attained the highest level of worship and also the deepest level of sincerity that can reside inside the heart.
Assigning the Prayer
Ibn Hajar said in his commentary on Saheeh of Al-Bukhari (1/460), "The wisdom of prescribing the Prayer during the Mi'raaj is that the Prophet was hallowed internally and externally. He was washed with Zamzam water, and was showered with belief and wisdom. Since the Prayer is preceded by ablution, it was thus appropriate that the Prayer was prescribed in that state, i.e., after the Prophet was purified. This honor was evident to the people of heaven, as he led Prophets and angels, may Allah exalt their mention, in prayer, and as he was apostrophizing his Lord; hence the person performing the Prayer apostrophizes his Lord, Most High and Most Glorified.”
It is part of worship that we place matters in the position given to them by Allah, and to judge with the `Scale of Allah,' and not with that of the people.
One who really contemplates about the mandating of the Prayer on the very night of the Mi'raaj, would come to understand that Allah has glorified the Prayer and has placed it in a very high position. Yet, many people are still unable to understand this high rank. What should we think of a prescribed worship that Allah had prescribed there above the Seventh Heavens, whereas the rest of our obligations were prescribed here on earth? How should we regard a prescribed worship that the Prophet had received directly from his Lord, without any intercessor, whereas the rest of our obligations, were conveyed to the Prophet through a mediator (Jibreel, may Allah exalt his mention)? There are numerous verses and Prophetic narrations that talk about the obligation of the Prayer and keeping and watching for it. The bonds of brotherhood even terminate between non-praying brothers, for Allah Says (what means): “But if they repent, establish the Prayer, and give Zakah (the poor-due), then they are your brothers in religion...” [Quran 9: 11] And he whoever understands and contemplates the truth of the Prayer, would never hesitate to accept the fact that there is no share of Islam for whosoever has no share of the Prayer. The Prophet states this fact in his saying: "The covenant between us and them is the Prayer; whosoever does not do it is considered unbeliever." [At-Tirmithi]
Lessening the numbers
Ibn Hibbaan said in his Saheeh (1/133), "Then he (the Prophet ) was obliged with fifty prayers; this order was a trial, one that Allah wanted to test His beloved with. When He, Almighty, prescribed fifty prayers on him, because Allah previously knew that He, Almighty, would only prescribe five prayers for the nation of Prophet Muhammed but the order to pray fifty prayers was a test. This is similar to our saying that Allah might order something while willing that the ordered individual obey His order and not necessarily carry out the order literally. An example of this was when Allah ordered His beloved Ibraheem, may Allah exalt his mention, to slay his own son, may Allah exalt his mention. Allah's Will behind this order was to have His Order obeyed and submitted to: when they, may Allah exalt their mention, had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allah) and Ibraheem, may Allah exalt his mention, had laid his son prostrate on his forehead (for slaughtering), Allah ransomed him with great sacrifice. Had Allah willed the literal fulfillment of His Order, he (Ibraaheem, may Allah exalt his mention) would have found his son really slaughtered. Similarly, prescribing fifty prayers was meant to have His Order obeyed and submitted to, without having it literally carried out.”
Allah rightly Says (what means): “…And if you should count the favor of Allah, you could not enumerate them...” [Quran 14: 34] What is a greater blessing than having fifty prayers reduced to five, and having the same reward of having made all fifty?
All Praise is due to Allah Most High, Mot Generous. Yet, many of the children of Adam (people) either reject the blessings of Allah, or are unaware of the value of these blessings, or are not thankful to Allah. Such people deserve the displeasure of Allah, and many are described in the following verses (which mean): “And few of My slaves are grateful.” [Quran 34: 13]; “Indeed mankind, to his Lord, is ungrateful.” [100: 6]; “Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful.” [Quran 14: 34]
Fulfilling our purpose
In light of what some Muslims practice in the so-called Night of Mi'raaj there remains a question regarding whether Muslims are required to do a special worship in that night. Part of that question has been dealt with when we discussed the date on which Israa’ and Mi'raaj took place. And the answer was that the exact date is not known. And a logical conclusion would be: if you do not know when it happened, you cannot celebrate on a certain night. But let us further examine the matter of specifying certain worships and associating them with certain times as a matter of religion. Let us discuss what it meant by worship in Islam.
Allah has decided the purpose of our creation. He, Almighty, Says (what means): “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [Quran 51: 56] Man would never attain this purpose unless he fulfills two requirements: First, he should find the right way to worship Allah, the way that Allah has promised its followers safety, success and happiness in this life and in the Hereafter; and promised its non-followers quite the opposite. Man would never find this Path among other deviating paths except through the Guidance of Allah. Second, following and holding to this Right Path in worshipping Allah is in want of Allah's Support and Help to the worshipper. Allah has joined these two (requirements) in the greatest chapter of the Quran, saying (what means): “It is You we worship and You we ask for help.” [Quran 1: 4]
Those who claim that Muslims should have a special celebration on the Night of M'iraaj usually compare it to the Night of Al-Qadr. They say that the Night of Israa’ is better than the Night of Al-Qadr. Some say the opposite. If those who said the Night of Israa’ is better than the Night of Al-Qadr, claim that the Night of M'iraaj is better for the Muslims so that the spending of that night in prayer and supplication would be better than doing the same during the Night of Al- Qadr, then such saying is wrong, and such was never claimed by any of the scholars. Such a claim is wrong Islamically and logically for as mentioned earlier, it does not make sense to celebrate an occasion the date of which is not known. And as it is clearly known, this is not the case with the Night of Al-Qadr, for it is reported in Al-Bukhari and Muslim that, "Wait for (i.e., expect) the Night of Al-Qadr during the last ten days of Ramadan." Also, Allah Says in the Quran that it is better than one thousand nights, and that the Quran was revealed during it.
If on the other hand, those who have such a claim mean that the specific night on which the Prophet was taken for Israa’, and during which the Prophet encountered what he had never experienced before or after, without specifying any night prayer or worship for that night, then such a claim is correct. When Allah gives His Prophet a blessed and an honored occasion, place or time, this does not make such an occasion, place or time better than all other occasions, places and times. Specifying and associating such an honor with certain occasions, places, or times require knowledge about the heart of these matters, and the value of blessings which can only be known through revelation. Thus, no such a claim should be accepted unless it had evidence from the Quran and the Sunnah.
That is why we do not know of any evidence that the Night of Mi'raaj was to be better than other nights, and particularly, the Night of Al-Qadr. Neither the Companions, may Allah be pleased with hthem, nor their rightful successors made a point of associating certain doings during that night. They have never told us of its exact date. Even if the Israa’ and M'iraaj was the best blessing for the Prophet the fact remains that the Prophet and his Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, were reported to have not prescribed any particular form of worship for that night nor that place. Why should we? There are many blessed occasions, places, and times in Islam for which we have no prescribed worships associated with. The incident of Israa’ and Mi'raaj is one of them and it should remain as such.
The incident of Israa’ and M'iraaj represents a great occasion in the history of Islam. Its story and the circumstances that surrounded it at the time touches the heart and the mind of every Muslim willing to ponder and contemplate it. Muslims should celebrate it by studying it, learning from it and by exerting themselves to find inspiration and motivation in it so that they can keep steadfast on the way of Islam and struggle even harder in the Path of Allah.