This journey of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w’s ascension to heaven was known as Isra’ Mi’raj. This miraculous event that is very significant to Muslims is believed to have taken place in the month of Rejab. Isra’ is the night journey from Masjidil Haram in Makkah to Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. Mi’raj is the journey from Masjid Al-Aqsa to the heavens.
This significant journey has a direct impact on our daily lives as Muslims in which Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was commanded for his followers to establish five daily prayers, which essentially formed the Pillar of Islam.
Beyond the commandment to establish daily prayers, there are several other powerful lessons that we can learn from this momentous event in the Islamic tradition:
The event itself was physically impossible, beyond the imagination of the people of that time. Even today, the journey from Makkah to Jerusalem takes more than 2 hours by plane! And it takes more than one day to journey to outer space. The story of Isra’ Mi’raj may sound fictional. However, we need to believe it with our hearts that it is possible as Allah s.w.t. mentioned in the Quran about the event to show as part of His signs:
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِ هِ لَيْلًا مِّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.
Surah Al-Isra’: 1
Isra’ and Mi’raj is a journey of spirituality in which we should believe in Allah, the promise of Allah and get a glimpse of what Allah controls and what exists beyond where we live.
This also reflects the beauty of having a pure intention and striving hard. We need to have a pure intention in doing the best for humankind and not only for self-fulfillment. Allah s.w.t. mentioned in the Quran about striving hard in doing the best, and also having pure intention to strive for the best:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ سُوءًا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُ ۚ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن دُونِهِ مِن وَالٍ
Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron.
The journey of Isra’ and Mi’raj occurred after the period of time that was called ‘The Year of Sadness’. It was the year where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.’s uncle Abu Talib and his beloved wife, Siti Khadijah r.a. passed on. This was also the year when Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. journeyed to Taif with the intention of winning the hearts of the community to accept his message. However, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w was rejected and the people of Taif pestered him and threw stones at him as a sign of not welcoming him.
Tired, forsaken and wounded, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w’s faith in Allah was never shaken, although the challenges were unbearable. Instead of seeking revenge, he prayed for not just the people of Taif but their descendants as well. Allah s.w.t. then rewarded him with this wonderful journey that is perfectly encapsulated in the Quran:
“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.“
Allah s.w.t. took Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. up into His presence to strengthen and prepare him for the challenging phase of his prophethood. Allah s.w.t. showed Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. His power and command, after which Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. returned to earth calmer and even more reliant on Allah s.w.t.
On the day following Isra’ and Mi’raj, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. told the story to his cousin Umm Hani. She was shocked and told Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. not to tell anyone else as they would not believe in him. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. left the house and went to Abu Jahl to inform the story of his journey. Abu Jahl called the people of Makkah to listen to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w’s story. The people were shocked and did not believe his story.
Some of them went to Abu Bakar r.a. and told him that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. claimed that he went to Masjid Al-Aqsa and performed his prayer there, and returned to Makkah in one night. The people assumed that Abu Bakar r.a. would give the same reaction and leave the Prophet s.a.w.
However, upon hearing that, Abu Bakar r.a. immediately said, “I believe”. He did not question Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. or doubt whether he was telling the truth.
Abu Bakar r.a. knew Prophet s.a.w’s true personality and character as Al-Amin, The Trustworthy. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w’s characteristics were nicely encapsulated in the Quran:
لَّقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا
“There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.”
How beautiful is their friendship? Abu Bakar showed us what it means to be a true friend and how to have Iman (belief) in Allah and His Prophet, even by words without witnessing it with his eyes.
The five daily prayers are one of the gifts from Allah s.w.t to us. Commands to Muslims were usually communicated to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. through Jibril. However, the daily prayers are so important that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was ascended to the heavens to speak to Allah directly.
When he first met Allah s.w.t, He commanded that Muslims pray fifty times a day. However, Prophet Musa a.s. advised him to negotiate to reduce the number of prayers a day. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. went back to Allah s.w.t to negotiate a few times before the number of prayers was reduced to five times in a day but with the rewards of praying 50 times a day! The negotiation process reflects Allah’s mercy and Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.’s love for us which is also reflected in this hadith:
“When I came back to Musa a.s, he said, ‘What have you been ordered?’ I replied, ‘I have been ordered to observe five prayers a day.’ He said, ‘Your followers cannot bear five prayers a day, and no doubt, I have got an experience of the people before you, and I have tried my level best with Bani Israel, so go back to Allah and ask for a reduction to lessen your follower’s burden.’ I said, ‘I have requested so much of Allah that I feel ashamed, but I am satisfied now and surrender to Allah’s Order.’ When I left, I heard a voice saying, ‘I have passed My Order and have lessened the burden of My Worshippers.”
The miraculous journey of Isra’ Mi’raj indeed has significant lessons that are relevant and timely for us to internalise and practise. The lessons also show Allah’s boundless generosity and mercy to all His creations.
Allah intends for us ease and not difficulty. He doesn’t seek to burden his servants. Our daily prayers are meant to benefit us and not Allah; they are our direct contact and communication with Him. Out of 24 hours daily, we are only asked to spare a few minutes throughout the day to focus solely on Allah. Imagine having to pray 50 times a day. Would we be able to do it?
May Allah allow us to have Istiqamah and lead us from sin to forgiveness, from darkness to light, from fear to trust, and from hatred to love.
And Allah knows best.