The Night Journey 4-6
The Night Journey and the Ascension (part 4 of 6): The Seventh Heaven
Description: Prophet Muhammad meets Prophet Abraham, and witnesses the realm wherein the angels are most densely arrayed in worship
The Angel Gabriel and Prophet Muhammad continued their miraculous ascension through the heavens. This journey was far beyond the wildest imagining of any human being. It began in the deserts of Arabia and spanned the reaches of the known universe and beyond. At the gate of the seventh heaven, they exchanged the same questions and answers as in the previous heavens, and the angels declared their pleasure at meeting Prophet Muhammad. Permission to enter was given and the Prophet of God, accompanied by Gabriel, the angel trusted with the revelations of God, moved into the final heaven.
The seventh heaven is an expression used by Christians to denote extreme happiness or bliss, as in “I am in the seventh heaven”. In Islam, the seventh heaven is where Prophet Mohammad met Prophet Abraham; and indeed, he (Muhammad) must have been extremely happy and in a state of bliss, having been honoured with this journey of wonders. Both Prophets exchanged greetings by saying Assalamu alaikum (may peace be upon you) and, as every other prophet had done, Prophet Abraham expressed his belief and faith in Prophet Muhammad’s mission.
Through his son, Ishmael, Abraham is the father of the Arabs and the ancestor of Prophet Muhammad; he is an ancestor of the people who became the Children of Israel (followers of Prophet Moses) through his son Isaac. In Jewish traditions, Abraham is called the father of the Jews. However, Islam rejects this idea, for the Quran clearly states that he was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a believer in pure monotheism (belief in One God).
“Why do you dispute about Abraham, while the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Have you then no sense? Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a true Muslim Hanifa.” (Quran 3:65 & 67)
Muslims are required to believe in all of the Prophets of God; Abraham, however, holds a special place as one of the important messengers of God and has the unique honour of being called, in both Islamic and Christian traditions, the beloved servant of God. Together, Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Kaaba (the black cubical building in the middle of the Holy Masjid in Mecca).
“And remember when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House, saying, Our Lord! Accept this from us. Verily! You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.” (Quran 2:127)
Muslims turn their faces towards the Kaba many times every day whilst performing their prayers, and in every prayer, they ask God to bless Abraham and his family.
The World of Angels
While in the seventh heaven, Prophet Muhammad was shown the building known as the much-frequented house, or al Bayt al-Mamoor in Arabic. It is fitting that Prophet Abraham was here with this house, as it is the heavenly equivalent of the Kaaba in Mecca. Each year at the time of pilgrimage (Hajj), more than 2 million Muslims from all over the world flock to Mecca to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Abraham and perform certain rites including circling the Kaaba. Every day 70,000 angels visit this much-frequented house in the seventh heaven to worship God. Prophet Muhammad informed us that, once the angels have visited Bayt al-Mamoor, they never return. God swears by this house in the Quran.
“And by the Bayt al-Mamoor.” (Quran 52:4)
Seventy thousand angels every day! What are the implications of this? Think about it and wonder for how many thousands or even millions of years has this been happening? How many of these beings, created by God from light, are there? This was another wonder that Prophet Muhammad was privileged to see and made able to describe to us. In his traditions, he also informs us that the heavens above us are moaning, every space as big as the width of four fingers is occupied by an angel worshipping God.
The Uppermost Boundary
Prophet Muhammad then moved through the seventh heaven to the uppermost boundary, to Sidrat al-Muntaha, a lote tree.
“Near Sidrat al-Muntaha (lote-tree of the utmost boundary. Near it is the Paradise of Abode.” (Quran 53:14-15)
He described its fruits like jugs and its leaves as big as elephant ears. Four rivers originated from the lote tree’s roots. When he asked about them, Prophet Muhammad was told that two of the rivers originated in Paradise. Nothing has reached us about the names or significance of these two rivers from the narrative of the ascension. However, he was told that the other two rivers were replicas of the Nile and the Euphrates, two rivers that are especially blessed in this world of mankind.
Sidrat al-Muntaha is called the uttermost boundary because everything that comes up from the earth or the heavens stops there, and everything that comes down stops there, and because the knowledge of the angels stops at that point. No one has gone beyond it except Prophet Muhammad. Beyond this point, we leave the heavens and move into the realm of the hereafter, the realm that contains Paradise and the Throne of God. As Prophet Muhammad continues his miraculous journey, he moves into this realm and stands in the presence of God Almighty.
The word Muslim denotes a man who submits to God alone, whilst Hanifa connotes purity, truth and sincerity. The Arabic dictionary assigns the word orthodox as one of the denotations of Hanifa, but it is more than orthodoxy. It is n untaught orthodoxy; a sense of the true nature of things that is instinctual and natural.
Isaiah 41:8 & 2.
The Night Journey and the Ascension (part 5 of 6): In the Presence of God
Description: In the presence of His Lord, Muhammad receives the commandment of establishing the five daily prayers.
Beyond the lote tree, the upmost boundary is a place where, apart from one exception, no human has ever been. The night journey and ascension through the heavens culminated in Prophet Muhammad moving past the upmost boundary and standing in the presence of Almighty God. Beyond the lote tree is the realm of the hereafter, Paradise, and the throne of God and God himself.
The word miraculous does not go far enough in describing what a wonder this must have been for Prophet Muhammad. It is beyond description and beyond imagining. However, the Prophet Muhammad did not see God with his eyes, as God tells us in the Quran
“No vision can grasp Him.” (Quran 6:103)
One of the companions asked Prophet Muhammad directly if he saw God, to which he answered,
“He is veiled by light, how could I see him.” (Saheeh Muslim)
The fact remains however, that Muhammad Prophet of God, stood in the presence of God.
The Importance of Prayer
God spoke to Prophet Muhammad and we have no details of the exchange except that God enjoined the daily prayers upon Prophet Muhammad and his followers. From this, we immediately understand the importance of prayer. It is the only command which God ordained in the heavens; all other decrees originated on earth. Prayer is a gift from God to those who truly believe in His Oneness. God bestowed this gift upon Prophet Muhammad who in turn gave it to the followers of Islam. It is a gift full of great blessings and bounties. It establishes and maintains our connection to God. God has no need of our prayers but we, as helpless human beings, are in great need of feeling connected to Him. In fact, the Arabic word for the five daily prayers is salah,which come from the root word meaning “connection”.
“Guard strictly five obligatory prayers especially the middle prayer . And stand before God with obedience.” (Quran 2:238)
God enjoined 50 prayers on Prophet Muhammad and his followers. As Prophet Muhammad was descending he passed by Prophet Moses who requested to know what had been enjoined. When Prophet Muhammad explained that he had been ordered to prayer 50 times per day, Moses felt astonished and immediately said, “Go back to your Lord and ask for a reduction”. When God prescribed 50 prayers, Prophet Muhammad accepted it, Moses, having had been a great prophet himself, knew what from his followers what people could and could not handle in regards to religious obligations. He was sure that the followers of Muhammad would not be able to perform that many prayers. Prophet Muhammad had knowledge. but Prophet Moses at this time had more experience.
Prophet Muhammad accepted the advice of his older brother/prophet, went back into the presence of God, and asked for a reduction. God reduced them by ten to forty prayers. Prophet Muhammad descended again; Prophet Moses asked him what happened. When he heard that the reduction was only ten, Prophet Moses sent him back to ask again for a further reduction.
This exchange continued until the number of obligatory prayers became five. Prophet Moses suggested a further reduction saying, “O Muhammad, I know people, your nation will not be able to handle it, go back and ask for the burden on your people to be relieved.” Prophet Muhammad answered “No.” He felt ashamed to ask for another reduction and said he was satisfied with five daily prayers. A voice rang out, saying, “The prayers have been reduced to five but they will be rewarded as though they were fifty.” God makes it clear to us that even praying these five prayers can be difficult for some people, but that those who establish the connection and trust that they will one day meet their Lord will find it easy.
“And seek help in patience and the prayer: and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for the true believers in God. Those who obey God with full submission, fear much from His Punishment, and believe in His Promise (Paradise, etc.) and in His Warnings (Hell, etc.). (They are those) who are certain that they are going to meet their Lord, and that unto Him they are going to return.” (Quran 2:45–46)
Mercy, Love and Compassion
This miraculous night concluded with this sign of the mercy of God. Imagine how hard it would be to pray 50 times a day. Although we learned during this journey that Moses cried when he realised Prophet Muhammad would have more followers then he on the Day of Judgement, we also learn how eager Prophet Moses was to give advice to Prophet Muhammad, and how keen he was to make the practice of Islam easy upon the believers. The competition between the Prophets was one of love and compassion, and from this we should learn how to treat each other. Although God tells us to compete with one another in doing deeds of righteousness, we should encourage and enable one another to do this easily.
“…so strive as in a race in good deeds. The return of you (all) is to God; then He will inform you about that in which you used to differ.” (Quran 5:48)
Prophet Muhammad then descended back to the Holy Mosque in Mecca. The companions of the Prophet were now about to face the biggest test to their faith so far. Muhammad, the Prophet of God, was about to reveal that he had returned from an overnight journey to the farthest Masjid in Jerusalem, a journey that normally took more than one month. He was also about to say he had travelled where no man had gone before, through the heavens and into the presence of God. This was a miraculous journey by night, but would his companions believe him and how would his enemies react?
The Night Journey and the Ascension (part 6 of 6): The Return
Description: This great miracle and honour becomes a chance for the disbelievers to attack Islam as well as a test of faith for the Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad travelled on the back of Al-Buraq all the way to the farthest Mosque in Jerusalem. He ascended through the seven heavens and marvelled at wonders unimaginable. He looked into the faces and exchanged greetings with many of his fellow Prophets, and the final slave and Messenger of God, Muhammad, stood in the presence of God Himself. On the same night, only several hours after he had commenced his journey, Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca.
This miraculous journey was about to become a weapon against Prophet Muhammad and his followers by his enemies, and equally it would be an extreme test of faith for the believers. Upon his homecoming, Prophet Muhammad made his way to Umm Ayman and told her of his miraculous journey. She responded, “O Messenger of God, do not tell anyone about this.” Umm Ayman had perfect faith in Prophet Muhammad and believed his account of the journey, but she was afraid of how others would respond.
Prophet Muhammad described Umm Ayman as “my mother after my own mother”. She was the faithful servant of his mother Aminah and remained with Prophet Muhammad through the deaths of his mother and grandfather. Prophet Muhammad and Umm Ayman had always been very close, and at the completion of this wondrous journey, he went to Umm Ayman’s home, perhaps for comfort and ease while he contemplated this miracle, and decided his next move.
Prophet Muhammad responded by saying that he would tell the people about the wondrous night. He considered it his responsibility before God to convey the message, no matter the response or consequences; God was responsible for the outcome. He left the house quietly with sombre contemplation, and made his way to the Holy Mosque. He met people along the way, and slowly the news of the night journey spread amongst the people.
While Prophet Mohammad was sitting silently in the Mosque, Abu Jahl approached him and asked casually, “O Muhammad is there anything new?” Known as one of the greatest enemies of Islam Abu Jahl was responsible for the torture, punishment, murder and harassment of the new Muslims throughout the early days of Islam. Even though he was aware of the animosity and hatred Abu Jahl felt towards him, Prophet Muhammad answered truthfully and said, “This past night I have travelled to Jerusalem and back.”
Abu Jahl, being unable to contain his amusement, responded by requesting Muhammad to repeat these words in front of the people of Mecca. Prophet Muhammad responded in the affirmative, and Abu Jahl left the Mosque running, calling out to the people as he ran through the streets. When sufficient people had gathered in the Mosque, at Abu Jahl’s request Prophet Muhammad said, for all to hear, “I have been to Jerusalem and back.”
The crowd of people started to laugh, whistle, and clap. They treated it as a big joke and fell against one another laughing. This was the response expected by Abu Jahl and he was thrilled. The disbelievers in the crowd saw a chance to put an end to Islam. They ridiculed and belittled Prophet Muhammad’s claim. Among the crowd were people who had travelled to Jerusalem and they asked Prophet Muhammad to describe what he had seen.
The Prophet of God began to describe his journey but he became irritated. He spent only a brief amount of time in Jerusalem, and the miraculous nature of this travels had meant that he did not remember small details and descriptions. However, Prophet Muhammad tells us that God showed him the details “right in front of his eyes” and he described what he had seen “stone by stone, brick by brick”. The travellers confirmed his descriptions. (Saheeh Bukhari)
There is another narration that says that whilst travelling back to Mecca, Prophet Muhammad passed over a caravan. He was able to describe clearly. The caravan had lost a camel, and Prophet Muhammad called from the sky telling them the whereabouts of the camel. He also drank from their water supply.
The people of Mecca immediately dispatched some one to meet the caravan before it entered the city to ask questions about the previous night. They confirmed that a strange voice called out the location of the lost camel and that part of their water supply had disappeared. Still these confirmations were not enough. The people jeered and laughed and disbelieved the words of the Prophet of God. This miraculous event was such a test of faith that even some of the new Muslims disbelieved and turned away from the faith of Islam.
The Sweetness of Faith
To those whose faith was strong and true, the Power of God was obvious. Some of those who found the whole story difficult to believe went to see Abu Bakr, the best friend and loyal supporter of Prophet Mohammad. They asked him if he believed Prophet Muhammad travelled overnight to Jerusalem, and back to Mecca. Without hesitation Abu Bakr replied, “If the messenger of God said so, then it is true”. It was because of this occasion that Abu Bakr earned the title As-Siddeeq (the foremost believer). This was a turning point for many Muslims; after already facing the physical torture and abuse of the disbelievers, they now had to grapple with a concept beyond their wildest imaginings. Some failed, but many soared to new heights and were able to taste the sweetness of true submission to the One God.
The journey by night, from the Holy Mosque in Mecca to the farthest Mosque in Jerusalem, and the ascension through the heavens and into the presence of Almighty God was a miracle granted by God to His final slave and Prophet, Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, and one of the greatest of honours bestowed upon any human.
The Biography of Prophet Muhammad by ibn Hisham.