A UNIQUE GIFT TO THE BELOVED: MIRAJ

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A Unique Gift to the Beloved: Miraj

The Isra took place eighteen months before the Hegira.

The Divine gift referred to as the Isra and Miraj is a transcendent blessing beyond all veils placed on mortals that surpasses all comprehension. Space and time as understood in human terms, for instance, were removed, allowing a long journey and innumerable experiences to occur within a mere split second that would otherwise take billions of lifetimes to complete.

The Almighty reveals:

“Glory be to Him Who made His servant go by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts we have blessed, so that We may show to him some of Our signs. Surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” (al-Isra, 1)

To draw attention to the importance and wonder of the event it is soon to express, the verse begins with a glorification (tanzih). Commentators hold that the word سُبْحَانَ (subhane) clears the Almighty of all deficient attributes, used also to express astonishment in the face of the miraculous doings of the Creator. As such, it is also one of the most important words used to remember the Almighty.

In short:

  1. The word praises and affirms the miraculous Isra and lays the groundwork for the purification of hearts, protecting it from the fancies of likening Allah, glory unto him, to creation.
  2. It emphasizes that the Almighty is remote from deficient attributes of any kind, especially for those who deem the Miraj impossible.

The verse goes on to draw attention to night. Isra was a night journey. Most of the Revelation came at night time. Again, it is the night in which groundbreaking events, whether good or bad, take place. Likewise the pre-dawn is the time of the tahajjud salat, a voluntary yet a peak act of worship.

As for the blessings of the Farthest Mosque, or Masjid’ul-Aqsa, and its surroundings, commentators have referred to them as:

  1. The blessings of both the world and the hereafter. The Mosque is surrounded by greenery and rivers.
  2. It has been the home of many prophets and hence has been blessed over and over with divine revelation.
  3. The further blessings it has received through being a destination for the Isra.

During this journey, Allah, glory unto Him, made His messenger witness many extraordinary events.

That night at Masjid’ul-Aqsa, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- led the salat before the entire host of prophets.[1]

Abu Hurayrah –Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates that on the night of Isra, the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was brought two bowls, one of wine, the other of milk. After a momentary look, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- chose the bowl of milk, upon which Jibril said, “Praise be to Allah who has guided you to that which suits man’s reason for existence. Had you chosen the bowl of wine, your nation would have deviated.” (Muslim, Iman 272, Ashribah, 92)[2]

The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was thus representing the whole of his ummah, as their source of inspiration. Milk stood for natural disposition (fitrah), while wine stood for love of the world.

The Quran states:

“…Nor does he speak out of desire”, (an-Najm, 3) whereby the Almighty informs us that the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- never did anything of his own doing.

Allah, glory be unto Him, is the Absolute Doer, and thus the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had submitted completely to Him. Here, by making him prefer milk, the Almighty guided His Messenger to the greatest virtue. This event depicted in the hadith also hints at the supreme blessing upon the ummah of the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace-.

Taken from the Masjid’ul-Haram to the Masjid’ul-Aqsa with the night walk referred to as Isra, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was honored with ascension to the heavens, the Miraj. Guided by the Archangel Jibril, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- went as far as the Sidrat’ul-Muntaha, the Lote-Tree.

The Noblest of Creations -upon him blessings and peace- recounts the experience as follows:

“I was at Hatim, by the Kaabah, between sleep and wakefulness, when Buraq, an animal larger than a donkey yet smaller than a mule, was brought to me. With its forelegs, it could leap as far as it could see. I was mounted on it. Jibril led us to the nearest heaven and asked for its gates to be opened.

‘Who is it?’ a voice asked from behind.

‘Jibril’.

‘Who is with you?’

‘Muhammad’.

‘Has he been delivered the invitation of Miraj?’

‘Yes!’

‘In that case welcome…How wonderful a visit!’

The gates were then opened. When we passed through, I saw a man waiting. ‘This is your father Adam. Greet him!’ it was said. I greeted him. He responded, after which he spoke:

‘Welcome, virtuous son, virtuous Prophet!’

Then Jibril elevated me to the second heaven. There I saw Yahya and Isa -upon them peace-, the two maternal cousins.

I was further raised to the third heaven, where I saw Yusuf -upon him peace-. And afterward to the fourth, where I saw Idris -upon him peace-, then to the fifth where I saw Harun -upon him peace-, and finally to the sixth, in which Musa -upon him peace- was waiting.

‘Virtuous brother, virtuous Prophet…Welcome!’ he said.

But after we passed him, he began weeping.

‘Why do you weep?’ he was asked.

‘I weep because the young man who became prophet after me will have more of his followers enter Paradise than mine!”[3]

Then Jibril took me to the seventh heaven, where we saw yet another man.

‘Greet your father Ibrahim!’ Jibril said.

I greeted him to which he replied:

‘Virtuous son and virtuous Prophet…Welcome!’ he said, before continuing, ‘Send my greetings, Muhammad, to your followers and let them know of the beauty of the soil of Paradise, the sweetness of her waters, and the vastness of her land. But tell them to plant more trees here. The trees of Paradise are planted merely through saying, Subhanallah wa’l-hamdu lillah wa la ilaha illallahu wallahu Akbar (Glory and thanks are for Allah; there is no god but Allah and Allah is the Greatest)’.

I was then raised to a Tree, whose fruits were as huge as the Hejr pots of Yemen, and leaves like elephant ears.

‘And this…is the Sidrat’ul-Muntaha’, Jibril uttered.

There flowed four rivers; two inward and two outward.

‘What are these called, Jibril?’ I asked.

‘The two inward rivers belong to Paradise. As for the outward ones, one is the Nile and the other the Euphrates’”[4] (Bukhari, Bad’ul-Khalq, 6; Anbiya, 22, 43’ Manaqib’ul-Ansar, 42; Muslim, Iman, 264; Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 94; Da’wat, 58; Nasai, Salat, 1; Ahmad, V, 418)

It follows that upon reaching the Sidrat’ul-Muntaha, Jibril said:

“From this point onward, Messenger of Allah, you are on your own!”

“Why, Jibril?” asked the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.

“The Almighty allows me passage only up to this point. If I take a single step further, I will burn to ashes!” (Razi, XXVIII, 251)

The Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- continued the rest of the journey on his own. He was blessed with extraordinary manifestations, and honored above all with the vision (jamal) of the Almighty.

To properly describe these amazing experiences in words is as impossible as trying to reduce a truth beyond imagination to the level of human comprehension.  The manifestations, whose true nature remains an eternal secret between the Almighty and His Beloved, took place strictly within the conditions of the supersensible world, alam’ul-ghayb.

With that said, these magnificent secrets manifested between the Glorious and His Noble Prophet display the boundless blessings of the Creator to those who receive His revelations.

The Miraj also carried the Divine aim of ridding the sorrow that had filled the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- heart following the cruelties he endured at Ta’if, to make room for happiness.

Since the Miraj took place beyond space and time, it is impossible for human understanding to completely grasp this Divine manifestation. Forcing the imagination in hope of grasping such delicate and unique matters is strongly advised against.

Once in the dimensionless realm of the Almighty during the Miraj, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-, with an exceptional Divine gift that surpassed all those given to previous prophets, experienced a manifestation described as:

“So he was at the measure of two bows or closer still.” (an-Najm, 9)   

Remembering that despite being among the great prophets, experiencing only an inkling of this manifestation was enough to make Prophet Musa -upon him peace- faint, one can get an idea of the sublime rank of the Prophet Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- next to Allah, the Glorious, and the special authority and power he was given.

In the sacred valley, for his feet to share in the blessings of the site and participate in that honor, Prophet Musa -upon him peace- was asked to remove his shoes. But at the Night of Miraj, the Prophet Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- was in a sense told to:

“Walk on the covering of the Highest Heaven with your shoes, so that the Heaven is honored with their dust, and that the light of the Heaven is blessed with your presence .” (Bursawi, V, 370)

Poet Kemal Edib Kürk­çü­oğ­lu gives an elegant voice to the excitement of the heavens over the ascension of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-:

At the night of Miraj, for staring at his face,

To the ground, in gratitude, the heavens fall prostrate…

Below is the Almighty’s description of the Miraj:

“By the Star when it goes down…” (an-Najm, 1)[5] The chapter begins with an oath to emphasize the truth of the Miraj against the possible denials of the nonbelievers. This is supported by what follows after the vow:

“…Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled; Nor does he speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed. He was taught by one Mighty in Power, endowed with Wisdom: for he appeared, in a stately form, while he was in the highest firmament.” (an-Najm, 2-7)  

The word istiwa, translated as ‘appearance in a stately form’ above, literally means to cover, to encompass or to straighten up. Together with the consideration that it is Jibril –upon him be peace- who is the subject of the verb, the majority of commentators tend to instead attribute the verb to the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace-, in which case it highlights the highness of his value and rank. So the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- straightened up at the highest horizon and:

“Then he approached and came closer…” (an-Najm, 8)  That is to say, as a result of Divine attraction, the Noble Prophet was drawn higher; even higher than the rank where he was.

Thus, during the Miraj, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- not only aligned to the highest horizon, he also drew nearer to the Allah, glory unto Him. Then the affect of divine attraction increased more and more, until the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- suddenly passed to the other side of the highest horizon:

“So he was the measure of two bows or closer still.” (an-Najm, 9)

‘The measure of two bows or closer’ is a simile used to express a supersensible reality in sensory terms. It has reference to a common practice among Arabs before the coming of Islam. The custom was that whenever two parties made an agreement on a matter, each party would take out a bow, and placing them jointly on top of one another, would shoot a single arrow with the two bows. This acted as a symbol of solidarity, indicating that whatever one liked from then on so would the other, and reason for one’s anger would also serve as reason for the other’s.

Thus comprising both physical and spiritual closeness, qaba qawsayn, or the measure of two bows, is a sublime reality that surpasses human comprehension. The Prophet Muhammad Mustafa -upon him blessings and peace- got so close to his Lord at that instant that all mediums ceased to be, and in a direct fashion:

“…He revealed to His servant what He revealed…” (an-Najm, 10)      

What is meant by this ‘revealing’ has been explained as:

  1. Salat. One of the most important aspects of the Miraj is that it was then that the five daily salats were made obligatory. With the advise of Prophet Musa -upon him blessings and peace-, the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- kept on insisting the Almighty, as a result of which the number of daily salats, fifty to begin with, were dropped to five. With this, however, the Allah, glory unto Him, promised to reward a single deed with ten rewards, hence the reward of fifty salats in return for the five. Afterward, Allah, glory be to Him, added:

“Whoever intends to do a good deed but cannot, shall still receive a reward for his good will. If he does, then he will have ten rewards recorded in his name.

And whoever intends to commit something bad, but does not, shall reap no sin. If he does commit it, he will be imputed that one sin!” (Muslim, Iman, 259)

Owing to the repeated pleas of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the Almighty decreased the number of daily salats, fifty to begin with, to five, as is explained in a lengthy hadith. What this means is that although the rights of the Creator, or huququllah, in fact require man to worship Him fifty times a day, being boundlessly merciful, the Creator has relieved man of nine tenths of this responsibility. Considering the ayah:

“I have created the jinn and men only that they might worship Me”, (az-Zhariyat, 56) declares that the essential activity for mankind is to worship the Creator, it could be understood that the amount of this responsibility has been reduced in consideration of the generally weak nature of man; yet it also means that although it is not obligatory, there is more than good reason, for those who can, to voluntarily offer more salats, which is not prohibited by any means.

In addition to the five obligatory daily salats, and as the natural outcome of what has been explained above, mature believers offer voluntary salats like the ishraq and awwabin, and give special importance to getting up at night for tahajjud. But in order for these voluntary acts of worship to be performed only by those with the zest and power to do so, with the repeated pleas of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the obligatory salats were in the end reduced to five a day from the fifty they were to begin with.

  1. The Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was given the promise that:

“No Prophet before you and no followers before your followers shall enter Paradise!” (Razi, XXVIII, 248)

  1. The final two verses of Chapter Baqarah were revaled.

A hadith narrated by Muslim states that:

“During the Miraj, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was given three blessings: the five daily salats, the ending of chapter Baqarah and the good news that the major sins of his followers, except for shirk (ascribing partners to Allah) would be forgiven…” (Muslim, Iman, 279)

That said, only Allah, glory unto Him, and His Messenger know the nature of the said ‘revelation’ of Miraj.

What is obvious here however is that Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- witnessed the manifested experiences of Miraj, not as a dream, but as a reality supported by the certainty in his heart. That is:

“The heart lied not in seeing what it saw. Now will you dispute with him as to what he saw?” (an-Najm, 11-12)

Upon returning from the Miraj, from that unique post to which no man can attain, where he met his Lord and underwent many extraordinary experiences, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- saw Jibril -upon him peace- where he had left him, once again, in his true form, near the Sidrat’ul-Muntaha.

“For indeed, he saw him at a second descent; near the Lote Tree beyond which none may pass.” (an-Najm, 13-14)

The ayah hints at the higher rank of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- in comparison with Jibril -upon him blessings and peace-. Indeed, Jibril -upon him peace- had to remain at the spot where he remarked ‘only a step further and I will burn’, while the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was able to go further. This is made all the more clear by the Prophet’s encounter again with Jibril -upon him peace- on the way back.

“Near it is the Garden of Refuge, when that which shrouded did enshroud the Lote Tree.”  (an-Najm, 15-16)

The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was later asked what he saw that enshrouded the Sidrat’ul-Muntaha.

“I saw it enshrouded by golden moths, with an angel seated on each of its leaves invoking Allah.” (Tabari, XXVII, 75; Muslim, Iman, 279)

Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him- commented that the Almighty rewarded Musa -upon him peace- by talking to him, Ibrahim -upon him peace- by befriending him, and Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- by the honor of Divine vision, in a way whose nature remains unknown to us. (Tabari, XXVII, 64)

For eyes to be fixed unswervingly on the Beloved is the peak of adab, that is to say, courtesy.

“His sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong; for truly he did see the Greatest of the Signs of his Lord!” (an-Najm, 17-18)

As understood by these ayah of the Quran, the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was allowed to pass beyond the Sidrat’ul-Muntaha, beyond which no being, including Jibril –upon him peace- had passed before. Taking place there was a union, described simply as ‘the measure of two joined bows or closer’, whose true nature however remains forever hidden from human understanding.

During this union, the Sultan of Prophets -upon him blessings and peace- stood witness to realities too great for words to articulate, and saw the splendid signs of the lordship of the Almighty, and the grandeur of His majesty that could only be attained through inner experience, that is mushahadah or witnessing.

The interpretation of most commentators here is that the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- saw the Almighty with the eye of the heart. (Tabari, XXVII, 63)

Narrated by Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him-, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- is known to have said:

“I indeed saw Him, the Almighty!” (Ahmad, I, 285; Haythami, I, 78)

In another instance, upon being asked whether he saw the Almighty during the Miraj, the Messenger of Allah replied:

“I saw a Light!” (Muslim, Iman, 292)

Only Allah, glory be to Him, knows the essence of the matter.[6]

We have many narrations from the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- regarding his experiences during the Isra and Miraj, some of which we shall mention now.

During the Miraj, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- saw a group who had swollen lips, like camels. Standing over them were officials given the duty of cutting their lips and stuffing their mouths with stones.

“Who are they, Jibril?” asked the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.

“They are those who used to unjustly seize the properties of orphans”, Jibril replied. (Tabari, XV, 18-19)

Afterwards, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- encountered another group, digging their copper nails into their own faces and chests.

“Who might they be?” the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- again asked.

“They are those who through gossiping and backbiting used to mess about with the honor and dignity of others.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 35/4878)

Soon afterward, the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- also saw the fornicators on earth wretchedly eating away at carcass, the usurers afflicted with swollen guts, and women who had murdered the children they had conceived through fornication, miserably hung from either their breasts or upside down from their feet.[7]

It is for such reasons the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace- once remarked:

“If you knew what I know, you would surely laugh less and cry more.” (Bukhari, Tafsir, 5/12)  

Again, regarding one of his visions during the Miraj, the Gracious Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- once said, “On the night of Miraj, I saw the Gates of Paradise inscribed with the words:

Charity shall be rewarded tenfold but loans eighteenfold’.

‘Why is giving loans superior to giving charity?’ I then asked Jibril.

‘…Because one who asks for charity more often than not asks despite having money. But one who seeks a loan seeks it out of need.’” (Ibn Majah, Sadaqat, 19)

In another hadith, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- recounts:

“During the Miraj, I paused at the Gates of Paradise and looked inside. Its dwellers were mostly the poor, while the rich were detained for questioning. Those judged to enter hellfire were then commanded to be taken away. Then I paused at the Gates of Hell. Most of its dwellers were women.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 51; Muslim, Zuhd, 93)

The hadith serves as a caution, especially for women, to protect themselves from behavior that could lead them to Divine punishment.

While on the subject of Miraj, we must touch upon another matter, that is to say, even though human beings can only think of past recollections to the extent allowed by the Almighty, prophets are endowed with knowledge of the present and future, in addition to the past. The Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- informing of the circumstances of the hereafter in the ‘past’ tense, is thus simply a demonstration of this fact.

In fact in the miraculous night of Miraj, in which he was relieved of all past, present and future limitations, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- gazed at forthcoming events of great consequence, expressing them in the ‘past’, as if they had already happened. One of these is about Abdurrahman ibn Awf –Allah be well-pleased with him- of the Ashara Mubashshara, one of the Ten Promised with Paradise while still alive.

“That night I saw Abdurrahman crawling on all fours entering Paradise.

‘Why are you coming so slowly?’ I asked him.

‘Due to the greatness of my wealth, I was subjected to such hardships that would have made toddlers turn gray. So much so that at one stage I thought I would never see you again…” (Muhammad Parsa, Faslu’l-Khitab, p. 403)

It was only after the Hegira to Medina, where he became rich that Abdurrahman ibn Awf –Allah be well-pleased with him- heard about this. Without further ado, he quickly went to Aisha -Allah be well-pleased with her- to ask whether the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had really said such words. Upon receiving a positive response, Abdurrahman –Allah be well-pleased with him- was so ecstatic that he gave away his caravan, which had just arrived from Damascus loaded with goods, in charity for the sake of Allah, glory unto Him.

The Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- indeed stood witness to numerous Divine signs in the course of the Miraj. One hadith even states, “I ascended so high that I could hear the squeaking of the pens (of destiny).” (Bukhari, Salat, 1)

That is the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was taken to such a high post that he could hear the sounds of the pens recording the destiny of the universe and gain acquaintance with realities beyond comprehension.

Judging from the above hadiths, it is obvious that during the Miraj, the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was virtually living the past, the present and the future intertwined, all at once.

[1] Ibn Saad, I, 214.

[2] Also see Bukhari, Tafsir 17/3, Ashriba 1, 12; Nasâî, Ashriba, 41.

That Islam is a religion of natural prediposition was confirmed with the Isra and Miraj, testifying that the books of heavens shall never be disclosed to the spiritually corrupt, ailing with the diseases of the heart.

[3] Musa’s –upon him peace- weeping should not be understood as caused by jealousy, but rather from sorrow caused by not being able to attain that state of perfection.

[4] According to one view, the witnessing of the Nile and Euphrates in Paradise by the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is an allusion to Islam flourishing on Earth and becoming sovereign over the fertile lands through which the Nile and the Euphrates flow, by which those regions will be saved from the fire worshipping of the Persians and Trinity doctrine of the Byzantines; and for generations to come, the dwellers of these areas will become the flagbearers of tawhid and lend an invaluable service to Islam.

[5] The commentators have provided various explanations regarding the star (an-najm) by which the Almighty swears. Among the most significant of these is the interpretation that ‘the star’ is the Blessed Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- himself or the gradually revealed verses of the Holy Quran. In light of this, the meaning of the oath is:

  1. By Muhammad Mustafa, who ascended upon and descended down the Miraj!
  2. By the time of the disclosure of each Divine dispensation during the revelation of the Quran!

[6]  We have drawn from Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır’s “Hak Dîni Kur’ân Dili” in explaining the ayah concerning the Miraj.

[7] See Tabari, XV, 18-19.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Prophet Muhammed Mustafa the Elect, Erkam Publications

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