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What is Isra and Miraj?

Hadith Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 60, Hadith 17, no. 3342

Narrated Anas (ra): Abu Dhar (ra) used to say that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “While I was at Makkah, the roof of my house was opened and Jibril descended, opened my chest, and washed it with Zamzam water. Then he brought a golden tray full of wisdom and faith, and having poured its contents into my chest, he closed it. Then he took my hand and ascended with me to the heaven. When Jibril reached the nearest heaven, he said to the gatekeeper of the heaven, ‘Open (the gate).’ The gatekeeper asked, ‘who is it?’ Jibril answered, ‘Jibril’. He asked, ‘Is there anyone with you?’ Jibril replied, ‘Muhammad (ﷺ) is with me.’ He asked, ‘Has he been called?’, Jibril said, ‘Yes’. So, the gate was opened and we went over the nearest heaven, and there we saw a man sitting with Aswida (a large number of people) of his right and Aswida on his left. When he looked towards his right, he laughed and when he looked towards his left he wept. He said (to me), ‘Welcome, O pious Prophet and pious son’. I said, ‘Who is this man O Jibril?’ Jibril replied, ‘He is Adam, and the people on his right and left are the souls of his offspring. Those on the right are the people of Paradise, and those on the left are the people of the (Hell) Fire. So, when he looks to the right, he laughs, and when he looks to the left he weeps.’ Then Jibril ascended with me till he reached the second heaven and said to the gatekeeper, ‘Open (the gate).’ The gatekeeper said to him the same as the gatekeeper of the first heaven has said, and he opened the gate.” Anas added: Abu Dhar mentioned that Prophet (ﷺ) met Idris, Musa (Moses), ‘Isa (Jesus) and Ibrahim (Abraham) over the heavens, but he did not specify their places (i.e., on which heavens each of them was), but he mentioned that he (the Prophet (ﷺ)) had met Adam on the nearest heaven, and Ibrahim on the sixth. Anas said, “When Jibril and the Prophet (ﷺ) passed by Idris, the latter said, ‘Welcome, O pious Prophet and pious brother!’ the Prophet (ﷺ) asked, ‘Who is he?’ Jibril said, ‘He is Idris.’ ” The Prophet (ﷺ) added, “Then I passed by Musa who said, ‘Welcome, O pious Prophet and pious brother!’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ Jibril said, ‘He is Musa.’ Then I passed by ‘Isa who said, ‘Welcome, O pious Prophet and pious brother!’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He replied, ‘He is ‘Isa.’ Then I passed by the Prophet (ﷺ) Ibrahim who said, ‘Welcome, O pious Prophet and pious son!’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ Jibril replied, ‘He is Ibrahim’.” Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas and Abu Haiyya Al-Ansari: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Then Jibril ascended with me to a place where I heard the creaking of pens.” Ibn Hazm and Anas bin Malik state the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Allah enjoined fifty Salat (prayers) on me. When I returned with this order of Allah, I passed by Musa who asked me, ‘What has Allah enjoined on your followers?’ I replied, ‘He has enjoined fifty Salat (prayers) on them.’ On the Musa said to me, ‘Go back to your Lord (and appeal for reduction), for your followers will not be able to bear it.’ So, I returned to my Lord and asked for some reduction, and He reduced it to half. When I passed by Musa again and informed him about it, he once more said to me, ‘Go back to your Lord, for your followers will not be able to bear it.’ So, I returned to my Lord similarly as before, and half of it was reduced. I again passed by Musa and he said to me, ‘Go back to your Lord, for your followers will not be able to bear it.’ I again returned to my Lord and He said, ‘These are five (Salat-prayers) and they are all (equal to) fifty (in reward), for My Word does not change.’ I returned to Musa, he again told me to return to my Lord (for further reduction) but I said to him ‘I feel shy of asking my Lord now.’ Then Jibril took me till we reached Sidrat-ul-Muntaha (i.e., lote tree of utmost boundary) which was shrouded in colors indescribable. Then I was admitted into Paradise where I found small tents (made) of pearls and its earth was musk (a kind of perfume).”

Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (the Sealed Nectar)
Biography of the Noble Prophet, P.179-180

The Imams of Hadith narrate a number of details about this event, the following of which is a summary:
Ibn Al-Qaiyim said: “Allah’s Messenger[pbuh] was carried physically – according to the correct view – from the Sacred Mosque in Makkah to Bait Al-Maqdis in Jerusalem, riding on Al-Buraq in the company of Gabriel.  There he alighted, tied the horse to a ring in the gate of the Mosque and led the Prophets in prayer.  Then during that night he ascended from Bait Al-Maqdis to the lowest heaven.  Gabriel sought permission to enter.  It was opened and he saw Adam [pbuh], the forefather of mankind.  The Prophet [pbuh] greeted him and Adam [pbuh] welcomed him, returned his greeting, and expressed his faith in Muhammad’s Prophethood.  He saw the souls of martyrs on his right and those of the wretched on his left.

Gabriel then ascended with the Prophet [pbuh] to the second heaven, sought entry and there he saw and greeted John, son of Zacharia (Yahya bin Zakariya [pbuh]) and Jesus [pbuh], son of Mary.  They returned his greeting, welcomed him and expressed their faith in his Prophet.

Then they reached the third heaven where they saw Joseph (Yusuf [pbuh]) and greet him.  The latter welcomed the Prophet [pbuh] returned his greeting, expressed faith in his Prophethood.
The Prophet [pbuh], in the company of Gabriel, then reached the fourth heaven where he met the Propeht Idris [pbuh] and greeted him.  Idris [pbuh] returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood.  Then he was carried to the fifth heaven where he met the Prophet Aaron (Harun [pbuh]) and greeted him.  The latter returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood.  In the sixth heaven he met Moses (Musa [pbuh]) and greeted him.  The latter returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood.  Muhammad [pbuh] on leaving, saw that Moses [pbuh] began to weep.  He asked about the reason.  Moses [pbuh] answered that he was weeping because he witnessed a man sent after him as a Messenger (Muhammad [pbuh]) who was able to lead more of his people to Paradise than he himself did.  Then Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] reached the seventh heaven and met Abraham (Ibrahim [pbuh]) and greeted him.  The latter returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood.  Then he was carried to Sidratul-Muntaha (the remotest lote tree) and was shown Al-Bait Al-Ma’mur [(the much frequented house) encompassed daily by seventy thousand angels, so that the angels who once encompassed it would not have their turn again till the Resurrection].

He was then presented before Allah. He was brought near such that he was at the distance of two bow’s length or less. Allah revealed to His servant as He willed, ordaining fifty daily prayers for him.  On his return, he spoke to Moses [pbuh], informing him that his followers had been enjoined to pray fifty times a day.  Moses [pbuh] addressing the Prophet [pbuh] said: “Your followers cannot perform so many prayers.  Go back to your Lord and ask for a decrease in number.”  The Prophet [pbuh] turned to Gabriel, he nodded, “Yes, if you desire,” and ascended with him till Allah the Almight, Glorious is He, reduced the prayers by then.  He then descended and reported that to Moses [pbuh], who again urged him to request a further reduction.  Muhammad [pbuh] once more begged his Lord to reduce the number still further.  He went again and again at the suggestion of Moses [pbuh] for reduction in the number of prayers till these were reduced to only five.  Moses [pbuh] again asked him to implore for more reduction, but he said: “I fell ashamed now of repeatedly asking my Lord for reduction.  I accept and resign to His Will.”  When Muhammad [pbuh] went farther, a Caller was heard saying: “I have imposed My Ordinance and lightened the burden of My servants.”

The Story of Muhammad, Peace and blessings be upon him
by Meraj Mohiuddin, P.163-164

Abu Talib’s wife, Fatimah bint Asad, had entered Islam sometime before or after the death of her husband.  Her daughter Umm Hani remained close to the Prophet and, in the year after Abu Talib’s death, invites him over to lead the evening prayer in her house.  The Prophet (pbuh) accepts his cousin’s invitation and, after the prayer, rests at her house.

Like his grandfather ‘Abd al-Mutallib, the Prophet (pbuh) used to enjoy spending nights in the Hijr, near the tomb of Hagar and Ishmael.  After a short nap at Umm Hani’s house, he steps out to visit the Ka’bah and falls asleep in the Hijr. In the midst of his sleep, he is greeted by Gabriel who leads him to a mounted winged beast named Buraq.  Then, as described in Surah Al-Isra, he is carried to Jerusalem (about 760 miles away), where he encounters several biblical prophets and leads them in prayer (the Isra’).

After the congregational prayer, the Prophet ascends through the seven heavens.  At each level he encountered different Prophets, who collectively endorse his prophethood.  Surah An-Najm captures the transcendent moment when, after passing the seventh heaven, the Prophet finally meets his Creator:(The Star, 53:16-18) When there covered the Lote Tree that which covered [it]. The sight [of the Prophet] did not swerve, nor did it transgress [its limit]. He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.

At the height of the Me’raj (ascension), the Prophet was commanded to instruct his followers to perform 50 prayers daily.  He also received revelation that contained the creed of his faith:
(The Cow 2:285) The Messenger believes in what his Lord revealed, so do the faithful. Each of them believes in Allah and His angels, His books and His messengers. [The believers say], “We don’t consider one of His messengers as being better than another.” [They pray], “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, for we [know that our] final destination is back with You.”
As the Prophet (pbuh) descended through the heavens, he was approached by Moses who persuaded him to return to God and asked Him to make worship easier for his community by decreasing the number of obligatory daily prayers.  When the Prophet (pbuh) returned a second time, Moses reiterated his recommendation.  They repeat this time until the number of daily prayers was reduced to five.  Even then Moses encouraged him to seek a further reduction, but the Prophet (pbuh) responded: “I feel ashamed now of repeatedly asking my Lord for reduction.  I accept and resign to His Will.”

** From the commentary: “There is a difference of opinion on what year the Night Journey took place.  Some scholars believe it happened much earlier in Mecca, while others suggest that it must have happened after the Year of Sadness because of the general consensus that Khadijah died before the five daily prayers were established.””Although there is some difference of opinion, the Isra’ and Me’raj most likely occurred shortly after the Prophet’s return from Ta’if.  While the miraculous experience was a turning point in the Prophet’s 23-year career, it also tested the conviction of his Companions.”

The response to the night journey
The next morning, the Prophet described his miraculous journey to Umm Hani.  Against her counsel, he insisted on sharing his experience with the Quraysh. As Umm Hani predicted, the Prophet’s enemies are thrilled to hear what sounds like a ludicrous story, which his companions faced an unexpected trial of faith. 

(The Night Journey 17:60) We [only use such symbols] to instill fear in them [so that they’ll perhaps be inclined to listen], but it only adds to their immense suppression [of faith].

Those who are nearby ask Abu Bakr, who hadn’t yet heard about what had happened, to confirm the Prophet’s incredible story. But for Abu Bakr, the news was hardly believed. “If so he saith, then it is true.” he calmly responded. “And where is the wonder of it? He telleth me that tidings come to him from Heaven to earth in one hour of the day or night, and I know him to be speaking the truth.  And that is beyond what ye cavil at.”

Since the first revelation, Abu Bakr never wavers from his conviction in God and his commitment to the Prophet (pbuh).  Shortly after hearing Abu Bakr’s response to the Isra’ account, the Prophet (pbuh) honoured him the title as-Siddiq (the great witness of truth).

While the Night Journey is a unique moment in the Prophet’s life, Surah Al An’am explains that it is not unlike the experiences of Muhammad’s great forefather.

(Al-An’am 6:75) That’s the result [of Our demonstration] to Abraham, when We showed him that We have all dominion over the heavens and the earth, and thus he was convinced [that the idols were false].

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