The complete and authentic story of Al-Isra wal Miraj - The Night Journey and Ascension

  • 29 Oct 2021

Introduction:

The journey of Al- Isra wal Miraj is one of the profound miracles of Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him. The ultimate miracle being the Quran , notwithstanding its significance , the second most prominent miracle which is the unique, unexplained phenomenon of the history of mankind is the journey of Al-Isra wal Miraj. This event caused many of the faith worshippers and believers to renounce their faith on account of their disbelief and rejection of the Prophet Peace be upon him. As for the polytheists non-believers and those who opposed him , this event presented an opportunity for them to mock and falsify the prophetic claim even further. 
The only ones who truly believed were the staunch faith worshippers of Allah the almighty who stood by the messenger of Allah in this tried and tested time of great tribulation. They were the ones who supported the messenger of Allah peace be upon him and did not falter an inch from whatever the prophet peace be upon him claimed to have happened in this night journey.
This journey is essentially divided in two components or two separate phases,namely the first one as “ Al-Isra” and the second one as “ Al- Miraj”. The definition and detailed aspects of these two phases of night ascension will be now elaborated further.

The definition of Isra and Miraj:

Isra:
Isra means “ nocturnal Journey”. Derived from the Arabic root words سرى ( sara), it means “ travel at night”. Whereas in this particular context it refers to the night journey or transportation of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him from his home town or place of birth Mecca to the furthest mosque of Aqsa in Jeruselam. This was the first part or phase of the complete nightly ascension.
Miraj:
Miraj is an Arabic word meaning “ladder, to elevate, or to ascend”. In Islamic literature it is used for the night journey of Prophet Muhammad when he was miraculously taken to the presence of Allah The Almighty in Heaven. According to the Islamic faith it is one of the major miracles of the Prophet ﷺ. This also refers to the second phase and the one which was most contended by the Arab polytheists of that time.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence in the Islamic scripture which is Quran and the prophetic narrations commonly referred to as Ahadith as a blatant proof of this event that it actually took place and was not based on mere whims or a probable dream interpretation of the messenger of Allah.
Isra’ and Mira’j in the Quran and Hadith:
Evidence from Quran:
The first evidence is from Quranic scripture Chapter 17 verse one ( Surah Isra’) :
سُبۡحٰنَ الَّذِىۡۤ اَسۡرٰى بِعَبۡدِهٖ لَيۡلاً مِّنَ الۡمَسۡجِدِ الۡحَـرَامِ اِلَى الۡمَسۡجِدِ الۡاَقۡصَا الَّذِىۡ بٰرَكۡنَا حَوۡلَهٗ لِنُرِيَهٗ مِنۡ اٰيٰتِنَا‌ؕ اِنَّهٗ هُوَ السَّمِيۡعُ الۡبَصِيۡرُ‏
Glory to Him who made His servant travel by night from thesacred place of worship to the furthest place of worship,by whosesurroundings We have blessed, to show him some of Our signs: Healone is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.(Qur’an 17:1)
The second evidence is from Quranic scripture as well, in Surah Najm Chapter 53: verses 5 to 18. However this evidence is a subtle reference to the second phase which is Al-Mira’j , unlike the first one which is a clear and coherent evidence of the first phase Al-Isra’.
عَلَّمَهٗ شَدِيۡدُ الۡقُوٰىۙ‏ 
ذُوۡ مِرَّةٍؕ فَاسۡتَوٰىۙ
وَهُوَ بِالۡاُفُقِ الۡاَعۡلٰىؕ
ثُمَّ دَنَا فَتَدَلّٰىۙ‏ فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوۡسَيۡنِ اَوۡ اَدۡنٰى‌ۚ‏ فَاَوۡحَىٰۤ اِلَىٰ عَبۡدِهٖ مَاۤ اَوۡحٰىؕ‏ مَا كَذَبَ الۡفُؤَادُ مَا رَاٰى‏ 
اَفَتُمٰرُوۡنَهٗ عَلٰى مَا يَرٰى‏۱۱وَلَقَدۡ رَاٰهُ نَزۡلَةً اُخۡرٰىۙ‏
عِنۡدَ سِدۡرَةِ الۡمُنۡتَهٰى
عِنۡدَهَا جَنَّةُ الۡمَاۡوٰىؕ‏
اِذۡ يَغۡشَى السِّدۡرَةَ مَا يَغۡشٰىۙ‏
مَا زَاغَ الۡبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغٰى
لَقَدۡ رَاٰى مِنۡ اٰيٰتِ رَبِّهِ الۡكُبۡرٰى‏
It was taught to him by [an angel]c with mighty powers and great strength, who stood on the highest horizon and then approached––coming down
It was taught to him by [an angel]c with mighty powers and great strength, who stood on the highest horizon and then approached––coming down9 until he was two bow-lengths away or even closer––10 and revealedto God’s servant what He revealed. 11 [The Prophet’s] own heart didnot distort what he saw. 12 Are you going to dispute with him what hesaw with his own eyes? 13 A second time he saw him: 14by the lote treebeyond which none may passed 15 near the Garden of Restfulness,16 when the tree was covered in nameless [splendour].e 17 His sightnever wavered, nor was it too bold, 18 and he saw some of the greatestsigns of his Lord
As we see from these verses there is no clear indication as to the exact time and place that this particular event took place. However, we know from the numerous commentaries from various authentic sources such as Tafseer Ibn - Kathir and Ma’rafil Ul Quran or Noble Quran from Mufti Shafi’ usmani that this is referring to the second part of the night journey which is the Miraj in which the prophet of Allah ﷺ ascended to the seventh heaven on his horse known by the name of Buraq. 
The various opinions in the interpretation of the verses:
There is however significant contention amongst the opinion of scholars of Tafsir as to who the prophet peace be upon him saw , whether it was angel Jibreel that he saw or whether it was Allah Almighty that he saw. There are mainly two popular opinions here, 
One is: 
That the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ saw angel Jibra’el in his actual form , that is the opinion of those companions who negate the proposition that it is possible to have a vision of Allah Almighty hence they negate this theory and establish that prophet muhammad peace be upon him did not see Allah Almighty.
Second and the more popular school of thought is that :
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did see Allah Almighty at some instance of the Mira’j journey namely where the verses refer to the “ lote tree” and the “ gardens pf restfulness”. That indeed the Prophet ﷺ was given this ultimate blessing and miracle of all times to have a vision of Allah Almighty as Allah The most Powerful and Majestic Himself desired it to be.
Their contention is based on this logical evidence that it would not be counted as a miracle if this particular vision was not manifested, seeing angel Jibrael does not make it to such a tantamount extent that many of the people disbelieved and renounced their faith and it became a much recognized disputed trial and tribulation of that time.
Moreover there are some other unpopular and rejected opinions that this all happened in a dream meaning that it was merely a vision one sees when one is in deep sleep and it was not something that occurred in actual physical state, whereas the Prophet ﷺ was just shown all these events in a dream like trance and it did not happen in wakefulness. Their evidence is based from the quranic chapter 17: part of verse # 60
 وَمَا جَعَلۡنَا الرُّءۡيَا الَّتِىۡۤ اَرَيۡنٰكَ اِلَّا فِتۡنَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَ الشَّجَرَةَ الۡمَلۡعُوۡنَةَ فِىۡ الۡقُرۡاٰنِ‌ؕ وَنُخَوِّفُهُمۡۙ فَمَا يَزِيۡدُهُمۡ اِلَّا طُغۡيَانًا كَبِيۡرًا‏
The vision We showed you was only a test for people, as was the cursed tree [mentioned] in the Quran We warn them, but this only increases their insolence
Here these negative and false opinion holders pounce on this word which vision الرُّءۡيَا
And they use it in their claim to fortify their opinion that this means a dream vision and not something that actually took place in the real world. However, in an attempt to renounce this claim, our scholars have gone to lengths to explore this world in arabic dictionary or lughat as it means not just a dream but it can be any vision which an awakened person can also see in his senses. ( This is further strengthened by a tafsir of this verse given by the famous companion and scholar of tafsir hazrat abdullah ibn’ al abbas ).
So to conclude , the Prophet ﷺ travelled with his mind, body and soul and this was not a dream or merely a vision in sleep as some false madhab claim.
Evidence from hadith or prophetic narrations ﷺ:
There are numerous narrations from the prophetic ahadtih to fortify the journey of Al-Isra’ wa Al miraj, namely a few are mentioned below from authentic texts of Sahih bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi.
1. When the Prophet (saw) was sleeping in the house of Umm Hani (ra) in Makkah he said, ‘the roof of my house was opened and the Angel Jibril [as] descended’ (Bukhari). Scholars reconciling between various narrations, say the Prophet (saw) was then taken to the Hijr, the semi-circular wall of the Ka‘bah, where the Prophet (saw) said that Jibril (as), ‘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’. [Bukhari]
2. The Prophet (saw) continued, ‘I was then brought a white beast which is called al-Buraq [from the Arabic word barq, meaning lightning], bigger than a donkey and smaller than a mule. Its stride was as long as the eye could reach’. [Muslim]
3. It is narrated by Anas (ra) that Buraq was, ‘saddled and reined, but he shied from him (saw). So Jibril [as] said to him, “Is it from Muhammad [saw] that you do this? For nobody has ridden you who is more honourable to Allah than him!” He said, “Then he started sweating profusely”’.  [Tirmidhi]
There is a very long narration in Sahih Bukhari which refers to the entire journey of the Prophet ﷺ from the start to the end. Detailed account of the step by step journey is given . ( Please visit the link given in reference number two to read the entire narration in Arabic and its English translation).
The story of al-Isra wal Mi’raj:
In order to relate the story it is first important to understand the context or setting in which this miraculous event occurred. 
Context of Al-Isra wa Al-Miraj:
This event took place when the Prophet ﷺ was facing a time of intense pain and hardship as well as personal grief because of the loss of his beloved wife Hazrat Khadija and his beloved uncle Abu Talib.
Moreover, he travelled to Ta’if a city near mecca, to spread the teachings of Islam and Tawhid and give dawah to the tribes residing there. Instead of welcoming him with open arms, they denounced him outrightly and rejected his invitation to accept the faith . Even if that was not enough, they sent their young boys after the Prophet ﷺ to torment him further and they pelted stones at him, mocked him to such an extent that he had to take refuge in a palm tree shelter.
Hence these were the preceding events that led to this journey in which Allah the all loving being called his beloved to HIM to soothe him and give him ultimate blessings and rewards as well as many glad tidings for the followers of islam through five time prayers and the transcendent view of beauty of seven heaven and paradise and throne of Allah the most powerful and omnipotent. 
The first part of the nightly journey of the Prophet ﷺ:
The first part of the journey more commonly known as the Al-Isra’ or night travel occurred from the house of the prophet’s cousin Hazrat Umme Haani 9 May Allah be pleased with her), and it ended at the Mosque of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. The Prophet ﷺ narrates that as he was sleeping, three angels came, awakened him , then proceeded to take him to the Kaaba. Here his heart was washed with zamzam and replaced, so it could bear the immense burden of the journey that he was about to undertake. Next he was made to ride a horse called “ Buraq” who was a fast paced creature and in no time theProphet ﷺ was in Masjidil Aqsa in Jerusalem. This is something not very hard to imagine nowadays. 
Since we have fast speed jet planes , trams and other modes of transportation, it is quite possible and probable for people to accept this part of the journey.
Nevertheless in those days, where the entire travelling was done on foot or camels, this was something very hard to perceive that a months journey on foot or came could be undertaken in a small time span of less than a night?
Therefore many of the Quraish disbelievers mocked and openly disbelieved the Prophet ﷺ. They even asked him mockingly and challenged him that if he had visited there then as per his claim he should describe the masjid of aqsa in detail to them. It was at that time that Allah the Almighty presented a clear vision to his beloved messenger and he described the entire architecture of the mosque as if he were seeing it clearly in front of him. But, the disbelievers still chose to disbelieve. 
During this journey, Prophet ﷺ also saw the messenger hazrat Musa ( may Allah have mercy on him) praying in his grave. Upon arrival in the grand mosque of Al-Aqsa Prophet ﷺ was further given the honour of leading all the prophets in prayer. 
Second phase of the journey, Al-Mi’raj or heavenly ascension
This second part or ascension to the seven heavens and then the ultimate ascension to the lote tree and throne of Allah the Almighty is based on prophetic narration on Hadith. Whereas the first part was based on evidence from quranic scripture. Hence the second part was more challenging to believe compared to the first one. 
As narrated in Sahih Of Imam Bukhari ( reference #2), the Prophet ﷺwas taken by angel jibreel in succession to the seven heavens, whereas at eah heaven he was honoured by the welcome and meeting of different prophets and messengers prior to him. On the seventh heaven, he met prophet Ibrahim (May Allah the Almighty shower his mercy on him). Then he further continued whereas he saw the paradise and the hellfire with all its wrath and misery , different states of the people suffering in it. 
Last of all, Prophet ﷺ was transcended to even greater heights alone all by himself, beyond which even angel jibreel could not proceed. This honour is bestowed only and only on the Prophet ﷺ. Here he was given a blessed reward of five prayers and the manifestation of Allah in all his might, power and majesty. 
Thereafter, the Prophet ﷺ was transported back to his abode in mecca. Where he returned to the place on his bed in such a state that it was still warm as if someone had just left it and the latch was still moving. (Allah knows better).
Conclusion:
In the morning, the Prophet ﷺ, addressed the people and narrated the story, the first companion to believe his account was Abu Bakr Al siddiq, or the true one as he is known more famously since he did not even consider the possibility of fallacy in this matter. Many other companions followed his footsteps, but then there were many who chose to be misled. May Allah save us from this state. This dispute continues to this day even 1400 and more years later, people are still debating this issue, as believers we should only take the irrefutable evidence from the scriptures and refute the false claims. That is our duty as responsible followers and believers to carry the legacy of acquiring and communicating the right knowledge in order to gain the mercy and pleasure of our creator Allah the Magnificent and Almighty and his beloved Prophet ﷺ. Since this is the path that will take us to paradise and if we waver from it, we might as well fall deep in the pitfalls and dungeons of ignorance and disbelief. ( may Allah save us from that).
About The Author:
Written By:
Naushin Abid
Naushin Abid is currently teaching online at Zaynab Academy and enrolled in Takhassus programme (specialization in Fiqh and Ifta) at Albalagh Academy UK online. She has 15+ years of work experience in the field of education, management, teaching, evaluation, training, curriculum design, planning, coordination, in various private school educational networks locally, like beaconhouse and city school. She graduated with a degree of Bachelors in Civil Engineering with Honours from University of Engineering & Technology in Lahore, Pakistan. She’s married and lives in Lahore, and writing is her childhood passion. She is currently a freelance writer at SimplyIslam Academy.