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Glossary of Islamic terms

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In Islamic tradition, the Night Journey, Isra and Mi'raj (Arabic: الإسراء والمعراج‎, al-’Isrā’ wal-Mi‘rāğ), are the two parts of a journey that the Islamic prophet Muhammad took in one night, around the year 621. Many Muslims consider it a physical journey but some scholars consider it a dream or vision.[1][2] A brief sketch of the story is in verses 1 and 60 of one of the Qur'an chapters (#17: sura Al-Isra), and other details were filled in from the supplemental writings, the hadith.

The event is celebrated each year via a festival for families, the Lailat al Miraj, one of the most important events in the Islamic calendar.[3] Muslims bring their children to the mosques, where the children are told the story, pray with the adults, and then afterwards food and treats are served.

The story

The Isra begins with Muhammad resting in the Kaaba in Mecca, when the archangel Gabriel comes to him, and brings him the winged steed Buraq, the traditional lightning steed of the prophets. The Buraq then carries Muhammad to the "Masjid Al Aqsa", the "Farthest Mosque", which many Muslims believe is "the Noble Sanctuary" (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. Muhammad alights, tethers Buraq, and leads the other prophets of Abrahamic descent in prayer. He then re-mounts Buraq, and in the second part of the journey, the Mi'raj, is taken to the heavens, where he tours the circles of heaven, and speaks with the earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and then is taken by Gabriel to Allah. According to traditions, Allah instructs Muhammad that Muslims must pray fifty times a day; however, Moses tells Muhammad that it is very difficult for them and they could never do it, and urges Muhammad to go back several times and ask for a reduction, until finally it is reduced to five times a day.[3][4][5][6][7]

After Muhammad returned to Earth and tells his story in Mecca, the unbelieving townspeople regard it as absurd. Some go to Muhammad's companion Abu Bakr and tell him, "Look at what your companion is saying. He says he went to Jerusalem and came back in one night." Abu Bakr in replies, "If he said that, then he is truthful. I believe him concerning the news of the heavens — that an angel descends to him from the heavens. How could I not believe he went to Jerusalem and came back in a short period of time — when these are on earth?" It was for this that Abu Bakr is said to have received his famous title "Us-Siddiq", The Truthful.

The Masjid al-Aqsa, the farthest mosque

Though at the time of the Isra and Mi'raj, there was no mosque in that location, the term "the farthest Mosque" (Arabic: المسجد الأقصى‎, al-Masğidu 'l-’Aqṣà) in verse (17:1) of the Qur'an is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the site at the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. This interpretation is agreed with by even the earliest biographer of Muhammad — Ibn Ishaq — and is supported by numerous hadith. The term used for mosque,"masjid", literally means "place of prostration", and includes monotheistic places of worship such as Solomon's Temple, which in verse 17:7 (in the same sura) is described as a masjid. Some Muslim scholars argue that "the farthest mosque" referred to in the Qur'an actually points to the Temple.[8]

Many Western historians, such as Heribert Busse[9] and Neal Robinson,[10] agree that Jerusalem is the originally intended interpretation. However, many disagree, arguing that at the time this verse of the Qur'an was recited (around the year 621, unless one follows Wansbrough) most Muslims understood the phrase "farthest mosque" as a poetic phrase for a mosque already known to them, the mosque in Heaven, or as a metaphor. For the following reasons, they find it unlikely that this verse referred to a location in Palestine: But it is also true that initially Muslims used to pray while facing towards "bait-ul-muqadas" or the Temple Mount or the Holy Land. Later on this direction, the Qibla, was changed to Mecca.

Al aqsa moschee 2

The modern Al Aqsa mosque, built after Muhammad's lifetime

Critics also point out that at the time of Muhammad's vision, Abdul Latif Tibawi, a Palestinian historian, argues that this action "gave reality to the figurative name used in the Koran."[11]

Critics also state that there were already two places that Muslim tradition of that time period called "the farthest mosque"; one was the mosque in Medina,[12] and the other was the mosque in the town of Jirana, which Muhammed is said to have visited in 630.[13]

Another point levied against the claim that the 'Farthest mosque' was in Jerusalem is the fact that the passage in the Qur'an states that the journey had but one leg, not two.

Glory to (Allah) Who did take His Servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless, - in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things). [Qur'an 17:1]

However, as is always the case with polemics and criticisms, counterpoints of interpretation have been offered in that the verse can also be read as merely stating that the journey was from the point of origin to the Farthest mosque so that the Prophet "might be shown Our Signs". Thereby not purporting to present a travel itinerary, rather as a verse describing a part of the journey and then moving ahead to describe the signs in question. Further indications to support this view can be found in a continued reading of the entire verse, wherein the Isra is used merely as an introduction or sign while the rest of the verse goes on to describe commandments and God's expectations from man, as well as citing examples of Moses, Noah and Adam as more Signs. The actual details as left for Isra and Miraj exist primarily in numerous hadithes that chronicle the Prophet's descriptions of his experiences that night- the actual descriptions of the Signs referenced in the first extract of the verse.

It is in these Hadithes where the actual narrative of the Israj and Miraj are contained, that one is informed of Jerusalem as being the Farthest Mosque in reference here, and not Medina or another place. An evaluation of the identity of the Farthest Mosque as Jerusalem would then entail an evaluation of those collections of Hadith and the veracity therein, and not the quranic verse in question; as well as the understanding of the term "masjid" being a place of prostration, which would also be fulfilled by virtue of the led congregation of Prophets in prayer at the place of Isra. Further argumentation against Medina's mosque being the mosque in question here is that Medina's mosque was built and officially recognized after the Prophet's Hijra in 622 Ad, whereas Isra is to have occurred 10 years prior in 612 AD, when the qibla of the Muslims was still Jerusalem. Consequently even when this verse was "revealed" in 621 AD, Medina or Jirat would not be viable candidates for the farthest mosque as described in the hadithes, while the verse of the Quran is not citing specifics rather citing the journey to the farthest mosque merely as an allusive reference to one example of the more central theme of "Our Signs".

Modern observance

This celebrated event in Islam is considered to have taken place before the Hijra and after Muhammad's visit to the people of Ta’if. It is considered by some to have happened just over a year before the Hijra, on the 27th of Rajab; but this date is not always recognized. In Shi'a Iran for example, Rajab 27 is the day of Muhammad's first calling or Mab'as.

The Lailat al Miraj (Arabic: لیلة المعراج‎, Lailätu 'l-Mi‘rāğ), also known as Shab-e-Miraj (Persian: شب معراج, Šab-e Mi'râj) in Iran, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and Miraç Kandili in Turkish, is the Muslim festival celebrating the Isra and Mi'raj. Muslims celebrate this event by offering optional prayers during this night, and in many Muslim countries, by illuminating cities with electric lights and candles. The celebrations around this day tend to focus on children and the young. Children are gathered into a mosque and are told the story of the Isra and Mi'raj. The story usually focuses on how Muhammad's heart was purified by an archangel (Gabriel) and filled him with knowledge and faith in preparation to enter the seven levels of heaven. After prayer (Salat, where the children can pray with the adults if they wish) food and treats are served.[3][14][15]

Qur'an and hadith

There is very little in the Qur'an about the event, though the Isra and Mi'raj have been discussed in detail in supplemental traditions to the Qur'an, known as hadith literature. Within the Qur'an itself, there are two verses in chapter 17, which has been named after the Isra, and is called "Chapter Isra" or "Sura Al-Isra". There is also some information in Sura An-Najm, which some say is related to the Isra and Mi'raj.[16]

The Qur'an





Of the supplemental writings, hadith, two of the best known are by Anas ibn Malik, who had been a young boy during the time of Muhammad's journey.

See also


  1. Encyclopedia of Islam and Muslim world, Macmillan reference, USA, 2004. p.482
  2. Scharfstein, Sol (1994). Understanding Israel. KTAV Publishing House, Inc.. pp. 134. ISBN 9780881254280. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bradlow, Khadija (August 18, 2007). "A Night Journey through Jerusalem". Times Online. 
  4. - Isra and Mi'raj, The Details
  5. - The Meaning of Isra' and Mi'raj in Islam
  6. Google books - Heavenly journeys, earthly concerns By Brooke Olson Vuckovic
  7. Google books - Muhammad By Omar Mahmoud
  8. Moiz Amjad, The Position of Jerusalem and the Bayet al-Maqdas in Islam,, Al-Mawrid
  9. Heribert Busse, "Jerusalem in the Story of Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 14 (1991): 1–40.
  10. N. Robinson, Discovering The Qur'ân: A Contemporary Approach To A Veiled Text, 1996, SCM Press Ltd.: London, p. 192.
  11. Abdul Latif Tibawi, Jerusalem: Its Place in Islam and Arab History, Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1969, p. 9
  12. Arthur Jeffrey, The Suppressed Quran Commentary of Muhammad Abu Zaid, Der Islam, 20 (1932): 306
  13. Alfred Guillaume, Where Was Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa? Al-Andalus, (18) 1953: 323–36
  14. BBC Religion and Ethics - Lailat al Miraj
  15. WRMEA article on Muslim holidays
  16. "Sura Al-Najm" 53:13
  • A. Bevan, Mohammed's Ascension to Heaven, in "Studien zu Semitischen Philologie und Religionsgeschichte Julius Wellhausen," (Topelman, 1914,pp. 53-54.)
  • B. Schreike, "Die Himmelreise Muhammeds," Der Islam 6 (1915–16): 1-30
  • Colby, Frederick. The Subtleties of the Ascension: Lata'if Al-Miraj: Early Mystical Sayings on Muhammad's Heavenly Journey. City: Fons Vitae, 2006.[
  • J. Horovitz, "Muhammeds Himmelfahrt," Der Islam 9 (1919): 159-83
  • Heribert Busse and Georg Kretschmar, Jerusalemer Heiligstumstraditionen (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1987)
  • Heribert Busse, "The Destruction Of The Temple And Its Reconstruction In The Light Of Muslim Exegesis Of Sûra 17:2–8", Jerusalem Studies In Arabic And Islam, 1996, Vol. 20, p. 1.

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