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ISRA AND ASCENSION

‘Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far Distant Place of Worship the neighbourhood whereof We have Blessed , that We might show him of Our tokens ! Lo! He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer.’ (Bani Israel)

This is the opening verse of Surah Bani Israel, in the beginning of the 15th Part of the Quran, which describes Isra in a singular manner. What is commonly known as Miraj, as you would have read in the books or heard about it, has been briefly set forth in the Quran but described in greater detail in the Traditions. It is stated that the event occurred in Makkah about a year before the Prophet’s migration to Madinah.

As for the nature and reality of Miraj, it would be easier for you to conceive it in the way angels descend to earth, by the command of the Lord, and then go back to heaven. Just as they can move from the east to the west, and from the west to the east in a moment , Allah took the Nabi ( Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) from Makkah to Bait-ul-Maqdis and from there to the heavens , or even higher to Sidrat al-Muntaha - the Lote tree of the Extremity - in one night or part thereof by His special leave. There, Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) was shown some of the Lord’s special signs and recondite facts since the purpose of this journey was to make Nabi (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam) witness these facts of mute reality. ‘That We might show him of Our tokens,’ was the object of the nocturnal journey as stated by Allah in this verse. The journey undertaken by Nabi ( Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) consists of two parts: one, from the Kaaba in Makkah to Masjid al-Aqsa in Palestine, and, two, the celestial journey onwards to the heavens and far beyond to Sidrat al-Muntaha.

People commonly know the entire journey as Miraj but the more learned call the first part ‘Isra’ (the nocturnal journey), and the second as ‘Miraj’ (the ascension). In the opening verse of Surah Bani Israel, quoted above, only the first part of the journey, from the Sacred Mosque to Baitul-Maqdis, has been mentioned. Now, as the journey was of a nature difficult to be understood by men of common intellect who might find it hard to believe that the whole distance from Makkah to Masjid al-Aqsa could be covered in a short portion of the night, Allah begins the narrative by referring to His own immeasurable might. This, in other words alludes to the fact that the miraculous event was not an act of Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), but was performed by God whose power and might know no bounds – Who does whatever He Wills. Glorified be He in the beginning of the verse is, in fact, a pointer to the unlimited Majesty of God. Had it been claimed that the journey was performed by Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), who was a man - despite his being a Messenger of God - doubts would have been raised that it was not possible for a man to betake himself from the Scared Mosque to Masjid-i-Aqsa and from there to the heavens and Sidrat al-Muntaha, and then return again, in a few moments. But the events are attributed to Allah and not to Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) since the verse reads: ‘Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far Distant Place of Worship, the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed.’

Thus, by assigning this act of Allah, the Quran sets at rest all the doubts and objections raised by the disbelievers, and, at the same time, saves us, the Muslims, from joining our faith to polytheistic beliefs as have been held by the Christians. The followers of Jesus were brought about by his own power and this led them to make Jesus a partaker of Divinity. Had they understood the fact that miracles are acts of God, they would not have made Jesus a partner of Almighty God. The verse cited here also says that Allah has blessed the neighbourhood of Masjid al-Aqsa. This mosque is situated in Baitul-Maqdis, the centre of all the great Prophets of Bani Israel as well as their Qibla when at prayer, where numerous Apostles of God have their last abode. The entire region has been blessed by Allah with material as well as spiritual gifts. Its salubrious climate and bountiful crop of fruits make it a paradise on earth. The Quranic words ‘Whereof We have blessed,’ perhaps, refer to the blessings and graces of Allah granted to this land in full measure. The verse then proceeds to describe the reason for which the celestial journey was arranged.’ We might show him of Our Tokens’ says this verse, which means that Allah wanted to show Nabi ( Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam) some of the facts of abstruse reality that are hidden from the eyes of man and beyond the ken of his senses. The verse, then, goes on to say that ‘He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer’ in order to make it plain that nothing is hidden from the Omniscient Lord, who is Aware of all that exists in the worlds - not a speck of dust anywhere is concealed from Him. He sees and hears whatever happens in the world, whether hidden or manifest, for to know and to hear and to see are His eternal attributes. Verily, He is the Hearer, the Seer.

A number of questions have been raised about Miraj and Isra, and discussed in some detail by the earlier writers. An important issue raised in this connection is whether the nocturnal journey was undertaken while he was wide awake? Another similar question is whether Allah had caused only Nabi (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam) to witness the wonders of the celestial world or the Prophet had gone there physically, with all his body and soul?

The question, in short, is whether Miraj was physical or spiritual? A great majority of Muslims in every age, right from the time of the Prophet’s Companions and their successors down to this day, hold it to be a journey performed in the literal sense and in the state of full consciousness, both with his body and soul, and this is what one normally understands from the Traditions and the manner of its description in the Quran. The Quranic verse refers to this event with the words carried as “His servant”, which would be an inapt description for a vision or dream or a spiritual journey. If, however, it were merely a vision in the dream, just as we normally witness, then there would be nothing exceptional and marvelous in Miraj. A journey of spirit, or spiritual transportation as they call it, is akin to visions in sleep. A vision in either of these cases would, thus, be a normal and customary event which should not merit a mention in the Book of God, and that, too, in a unique manner beginning with the words: ‘Glorified be He!’ Anyone who is conversant with Arabic language and locution will readily agree that this mode of expression is adopted only in cases where the event to be described is exceptionally stupendous and difficult to conceive.

In short, the manner in which the Quran relates this story shows that Isra and Miraj was not a vision in sleep, nor was it merely a spiritual experience of the soul, but a journey performed while Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) was wide awake. It would, of course be correct to assume that the event was quite different from the travels we undertake in the normal course. To state the truth, Isra and Miraj are unconventional events without any precedent in the entire history of the world. It is for this reason that we are unable to fully grasp its nature and content. These are more or less like the concepts of prophethood and revelation in which we entertain a belief even without complete comprehension. When Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) told the unbelievers about his Miraj, Abu Jahl and others of his ilk made fun of it. Their jeering and scoffing is yet another proof against the view that Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) had described the celestial journey as a dream or spiritual experience. This shows that he had claimed it to be a special favour by the Lord on him, which was not acceptable to the unbelievers.

Of a fact, every miracle worked by an Apostle of God is denied by the skeptics on the ground that the event is unwonted or against reason. Now, if we take into account all the circumstantial evidence in this connexion, we would reach the conclusion that if any Companion of the Prophet had used the word roya or vision for Miraj, he never meant it to be a dream or travel of the nature one comes across in this world. They, undoubtedly, meant it to be a vision of entirely different nature without any parallel in the perceptions and experiences of this world. My renowned teacher, Allama Syed Muhammad Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RA), who had studied the earlier Scriptures and was also fully conversant with the Hebrew and the Syriac languages used to tell us that the beatific visions and spiritual transports of the Prophets of old are often described as visions one sees in sleep. A verse in the Surah Bani Israel, referring to Miraj says; ‘We appointed the vision which We showed thee as an ordeal for mankind.’ Apparently, Miraj is described here as a vision, but Hazrat Abdullah bin Abbas (RA) explains the verse to mean that it was a vision shown to Nabi ( Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) by ordinary sight. This is exactly how my mentor used to explain the term that is, the Companions and other Muslims after them called it a ‘vision’ of special nature.

Another question raised about Isra and Miraj is how this long distance was covered within a night or part thereof, about a thousand and a half years ago, when there were neither aeroplanes nor rockets? The answer to this question, or, perhaps, to all the objections of a similar nature, is that the Quran does not say that Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) has undertaken the long journey by himself. It is that he was carried by the Almighty for whom nothing is impossible. Do not angels come to the earth and go back to the heavens in a second? It was, thus, not at all difficult for Allah to carry His servant and Apostle from one place to another in the twinkling of an eye. In other words, the journey we know of as Isra and Miraj was a miracle, and like every miracle it is beyond human understanding to know how it was accomplished-every miracle is performed by the command of Allah even though it is worked by a Prophet.

This is the reason why the Quran attributes Isra to God. A miracle, as always, is an act of God. It is worked by a Prophet simply as a token to bear a witness to his truthfulness. Similar is the case with other miraculous events, known as Karamat, which are worked by the saints but they, too, are never accomplished by the saints. If God permits a preternatural act to be manifested through a godly person, in order to show his nearness unto Him, it does not mean that the saint has the power to perform the act at his sweet will. The power to work a miracle always rests with God. We find in the Quran that whenever the Prophets (AS) were called upon by the unbelievers to produce a miracle, they always replied that they had no power to work them. Their reply was that the “Portents are with Allah”. Thus, Miraj was also a great miracle for it all happened by the command of the All-Powerful God, about whose power and competence there can be no doubt at all.

The followers of all religions which have failed to grasp this point and exalted their saints and Prophets as workers of miracles soon joined their faith to polytheism by ascribing divine powers to their holy men. The Christians came to believe in the divinity of Christ on account of his miracles. It is, however, deplorable that many Muslims subscribe to similar credulous beliefs. Therefore, we ought to be thankful to Allah for saving us from falling into the error.

BY: MAULANA MOHAMMAD MANZOOR NOMANI (RA)

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