The last days of the Makkan phase of the Prophet’s life are noted for alternating fortunes ranging between two extremes: gradual success and continual persecution. However, glimpses of favorable lights were appearing on the distant horizon, to ultimately culminate in the event of the Prophet’s Night Journey to Jerusalem and then Ascension through the spheres of the heavens.
As for its exact date, there is a difference of opinion about it. The following are the views about when it occurred:
- The Night Journey occurred during the year in which Allah honored Muhammad with Prophethood. This view was chosen by At-Tabari.
- It occurred five years after the beginning of his Prophethood. This is theview preferred by An-Nawawi and Al-Qurtubi.
- It was the night of the 27th of Rajab during the tenth year of Prophethood. This view was chosen by `Allamah Al-Mansurpuri.
- It was 16 months prior to the migration to Madinah, during Ramadan ofthe twelfth year of Prophethood.
- It was one year and two months prior to the migration to Madinah, meaning in Al-Muharram during the thirteenth year of Prophethood.
- It was one year prior to the migration, during Rabi`ul-Awwal in the 13thyear of Prophethood.
The which was in first three views are based on the death of Khadijah Ramadan during the tenth year of Prophethood. She died before the five daily prayers were made obligatory, and there is no difference of opinion over the fact that the five prayers were made obligatory during the Night Journey.
As for the remaining three views, there is no sign indicating a preference for one over the other, except that the context of Surat Al-Isra’ supports that the Night Journey was very late on the time line.
The Imams of Hadith narrate a number of details about this event, the following of which is a summary:
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “Allah’s Messenger was carried physically -according to the correct view — from the Sacred Masjid in Makkah to Bait Al-Maqdis in Jerusalem, riding on Al-Buraq in the company of Jibreel (May peace be upon him!). There he alighted, tied the horse to a ring in the gate of the Masjid and led the Prophets in prayer. Then during that night he ascended from Bait Al-Maqdis to the lowest heaven. Jibreel (May peace be upon him!) sought permission to enter. It was opened and he saw Adam, the forefather of mankind. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) greeted him and Adam 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.
Jibreel (May peace be upon him!) then ascended with the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to the second heaven, sought entry and there he saw and greeted John, son of Zacharia bin (Zakariya) and Jesus, son of Mary. They returned his greeting, welcomed him and expressed their faith in his Prophethood.
Then they reached the third heaven where they saw Joseph (Yusuf) and greeted him. The latter welcomed the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), returned his greeting, and expressed faith in his Prophethood.
The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), in the company of Jibreel (May peace be upon him!), then reached the fourth heaven where he met the Prophet Idris and greeted him. Idris returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Then he was carried to the fifth heaven where he met the Prophet Aaron (Harun) and greeted him. The latter returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood. In the sixth heaven he met Moses (Musa) and greeted him. The latter returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Muhammad on leaving, saw that Moses began to weep. He asked about the reason. Moses answered that he was weeping because he witnessed a man sent after him as a Messenger (Muhammad) who was able to lead more of his people to Paradise than he himself did. Then Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) reached the seventh heaven and met Abraham (Ibrahim) and greeted him. The latter returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Then he was carried to SidratulMuntaha (the farthest lote tree) and was shown Al-Bait Al-Ma`mur [(the much frequented house) circumambulated daily by seventy thousand angels, so that the angels who once circumambulated it would not have their turn again till the Resurrection].
He was then presented before Allah. He was brought so near 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, informing him that his followers had been enjoined to pray fifty times a day. Moses addressed the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said: “Your followers cannot perform so many prayers. Go back to your Lord and ask for a decrease in number.’’ The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) turned to Jibreel (May peace be upon him!), he nodded, “Yes, if you desire,’’ and ascended with him till Allah the Almighty, Glorious is He, reduced the prayers by ten. He then descended and reported that to Moses, who again urged him to request a further reduction. Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) once more begged his Lord to reduce the number still further. He went again and again at the suggestion of Moses for reduction in the number of prayers till these were reduced to only five. Moses again asked him to implore for more reduction, but he said: “I feel ashamed now of repeatedly asking my Lord for reduction. I accept and resign to His Will.’’ When Muhammad went farther, a Caller was heard saying: “I have imposed My ordinance and lightened the burden of My servants.’’
Ibn Al-Qayyim and Ibn Taimiyah mentioned that there is some difference over whether the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saw Allah or not. The result of the research into this matter being that seeing Him with the eye is not confirmed as a saying of any of the Companions, and that what is reported from Ibn `Abbas is seeing in general which does not negate the first view. Then he said, “As for His saying in Surat An-Najm (Chapter -The Star):
`Then he approached and came closer.’ [53:8]
It is not the approach of the story of the Night Journey and Ascension. For the approach mentioned in Surat An-Najm relates to Jibreel (May peace be upon him!) and his coming closer to him, as stated by `Aishah and Ibn Mas`ud, and the rest of the Verse supports that. As for the approach and coming closer in the Hadith of the Ascension, that clearly is about the Lord, Blessed and Most High, and his coming closer to Him. This is not contradicted by Surat An-Najm. Rather it merely mentions that he saw him another time at Sidratul-Muntaha, and the `him’ in question is Jibreel (May peace be upon him), since Muhammad saw him in his real appearance twice: once on earth, and once at Sidratul-Muntaha. And Allah knows best.’’
In some of the narrations it is reported that his chest was also split on this occasion. Among the things the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) witnessed during this event are the following:
He was presented with milk and wine. He chose the milk, and it was said, “You have chosen the Fitrah, or you took the Fitrah. Had you selected the wine, your nation would have been misled.”
The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saw two manifest rivers, the Nile and the Euphrates, and two hidden ones. It appears that the two manifest rivers, the Nile and the Euphrates, symbolically describe the area in whose fertile valleys, Muhammad’s Message will settle. The two hidden rivers being those in Paradise.
He had the opportunity to see Malik, the keeper of Hell, with a cheerless frowning face. He saw Paradise and the Fire. He saw those who unjustly consume the property of orphans. They have snouts similar to those of camels, swallowing red-hot stones and then issuing out of their backs. There were also the people who consumed interest and usury with bellies too big to be able to move around; they are trodden by the people of Pharaoh when these are admitted into Hell. In the same abode, he saw the adulterers being offered tasty succulent meat and rotten smelly one, but they chose the latter. The licentious women were also there hanging from their breasts.
The `Night Journey’ raised a great deal of stir among the people and the disbelieving audience plied Muhammad with all sorts of questions. He told them that he saw the camels of Makkan merchants going to and fro. He also guided them to some of their animals that had gone astray. He informed them that he had drunk some of their water while they were fast asleep and left the container covered.
The disbelievers, however, found this a suitable opportunity to laugh at the Muslims and their creed. They pestered the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) with questions as to the description of the Masjid at Jerusalem, where he had never gone before and, to the astonishment of many, the Prophet’s replies furnished the most accurate information about it. He supplied them with news about their caravans and the routes of their camels. However, all this increased in them nothing but flight from the Truth, and they accepted nothing but disbelief.
For the true Muslims, however there was nothing unusual about the Night Journey. The All-Mighty Allah, Who is Powerful enough to have created the heavens and the earth by an act of His Will, is surely Powerful enough to take His Messenger beyond the heavens and show him His signs directly which are inaccessible to man otherwise. The disbelievers on their part went to see Abu Bakr(May Allah be Pleased with him) on account of this event, and he readily said: “Yes, I do verify it.’’ It was on this occasion that he earned the title of As-Siddiq (the verifier of the truth).
The most eloquent and most concise justification of this `Journey’ is expressed in Allah’s Words:
``...in order that We might show him (Muhammad) of Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, signs, etc.).’’ [17:1]
The Divine rules as regards the Prophets are as follows:
``Thus did We show Ibrahim the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have Faith with certainty.’’ [6:75]
To Moses, his Lord said:
“That We may show you (some) of Our Greater Signs.’’ [20:23]
In order that:
`He be of those who have Faith with certainty.’’ [6:75]
The Prophets, after seeing Allah’s Signs, will establish their Faith on solid certainty, too precious to be parted with. Indeed actual observation is not the equal to mere information. They are in fact eligible for this Divine privilege because they are the ones who bore burdens too heavy for other ordinary people to carry, and in the process of their mission, they would regard all worldly trials and sufferings too small to care about.
There are simple facts that emerge from this blessed Journey, and flow into the fragrant garden of the Prophetic biography; peace and blessings of Allah be upon its subject, Muhammad. The story of `the Night Journey’ as we see in the Noble Qur’an is summarized in the first Verse of Surat Isra’ (Chapter 17 — The Journey by Night) then there is a quick shift to uncover the shameful deeds and crimes of the Jews, followed by an admonition saying that the Qur’an guides to that which is most just and right. This arrangement is not a mere coincidence. Jerusalem was the first scene of the Night Journey, and here lies the message directed to the Jews and which clearly suggested that they would be removed from the office of leadership of humanity due to the crimes they had committed, which no longer justified their occupation of that office.
The message suggested that the office of leadership would be taken over by Allah’s Messenger to hold in his hand both headquarters of the Ibrahimic Faith, the Sacred Masjid in Makkah and the Farthest Masjid in Jerusalem. It was high time for the spiritual authority to be transferred from a nation whose history was replete with treachery, breach of covenants and aggression to another nation blessed with piety, and dutifulness to Allah, with a Messenger who enjoys the privilege of the Qur’anic Revelation, which leads to that which is best and right.
There, however, remains a crucial question waiting to be answered: How could this transition of authority be effected while the champion himself (Muhammad) was left deserted and abandoned, stumbling in the hillocks of Makkah? This question in itself uncovered the secrets of another issue which referred to an incipient phase of the Islamic Call and the appearance of another role it was about to take up. The forerunners of this new course took the form of Qur’anic Verses bearing the direct and unequivocal warning accompanied by a severe ultimatum directed to the polytheists and their agents:
``And when We decide to destroy a town (population), We (first) send a definite order (to obey Allah and be righteous) to those among them [or We (first) increase in number those of its population] who are given the good things of this life. Then, they transgress therein, and thus the word (of torment) is justified against it (them). Then We destroy it with complete destruction. And how many generations (past nations) have We destroyed after Noah! And Sufficient is your Lord as an All-Knower and All- Beholder of the sins of His servants.’’ [17:16,17]
Other Verses were revealed to show the Muslims the rules and articles of the civilization upon which they could establish their Muslim community, foretelling their ownership of an area of land, exercising full freedom over it and establishing a rightful society around whose axis the entire humanity would rotate. These Verses implied better prospects for the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) comprising a secure haven to settle in, and headquarters safe enough to empower and embolden him to communicate his Message to the entire world; that was in fact the inner secret of that blessed journey. For this very wisdom and the like we consider it appropriate to suggest that `the Night Journey’ took place either before the First Pledge of `Aqabah or between the two; and Allah (Might and majesty belong to Him!) knows best.