Muhammad’s Night Journey is one of the most interesting episodes in the Quran. Quite often when I give a guided tour of Jerusalem I find myself on top of Temple Mt. There, apart from the Golden Dome that outshines the rest of the structures; just next to it there is the building that is the real reason why Jerusalem is the third holy city for the Muslims; that is the famous Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque today is related to a very important tradition for Muslims around the world.
Muhammad’s Night Journey: The Flight to Jerusalem
According to Islam, the Islamic prophet Muhammad took a miraculous journey during a single night around the year 621 CE. This Journey is divided into two parts, the Isra’ and Mi’raj. The seventeenth surah (chapter in Arabic) of the Quran contains an outline account. While there is greater detail found in the Hadith which are collections of the reports, teachings, deeds, and sayings of Muhammad.
In the accounts of the Isra’, Muhammad is said to have traveled on the back of a winged mule-like white beast, called Buraq, to “the farthest mosque”. By tradition, this mosque was identified as the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. At the mosque, Muhammad is said to have led the other prophets in prayer. His subsequent ascent into the heavens came to be known as the Mi’raj.
The Quran is brief regarding the event and is further enlarged and interpreted with the oral traditions of the Quran, the literary corpus known as hadith. Which contains reported sayings of Muhammad. In fact, the two of the best hadith sources are Anas ibn Malik and Ibn Abbas. Both were young boys at the time of Muhammad’s journey.
Muhammad’s Night Journey: The Quran
Within the Quran, surat al-Isra (chapter 17), contains a brief description of the Isra in the first verse:
“Glory to Him who carried His beloved by night from the Sacred Masjid to the furthest Masjid, whose precincts We have blessed, to show him our wonders!”
As my readers can see Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran.
Muhammad’s Night Journey: The al-Aqsa Mosque
It is important to stress out the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was built after Muhammad’s lifetime in 690-691. The mosque was built by the Umayyads, by the Caliph al-Walid. In fact, the original structure was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes. And as a result, reconstructed various times. Until 1033 CE when Fatimid Caliph Ali Al-Zahir built the current structure. And that structure stands to the present day.
Muhammad’s Night Journey: the Information Gathered From Hadiths
From various hadiths, we learn much greater detail. The Isra’ is part of the journey of Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem. When Muhammad was in the Sacred Mosque (The Great Mosque of Mecca) and the Archangel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic) came to him. At the same time, Gabriel brought Buraq, the traditional heavenly mount of the prophets. al-Buraq carried Muhammad to al-Aqsa Mosque, the “Farthest Mosque”, in Jerusalem.
According to Islamic tradition, God instructed Muhammad that Muslims must pray fifty times per day. However, Moses told Muhammad that it was very difficult for the people and urged Muhammad to ask for a reduction until finally it was reduced to five times a day. This alludes to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
There, Abraham inquires if the Lord will spare the city should fifty righteous people be found within it, to which the Lord agrees. Then Abraham kind of haggle with God—first forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten—with the Lord agreeing each time.
Muhammad’s Night Journey: The Mi’raj
There are different accounts of what occurred during the Mi’raj, but most narratives have the same idea. Muhammad ascended into heaven with the angel Gabriel and met with different prophets at each of the seven levels of heaven. First was Adam; then John the Baptist and Jesus. After these three Joseph; then Idris; then Moses; and lastly Abraham.
After Muhammad meets with Abraham, he continues on to meet Allah without Gabriel. Allah tells Muhammad that his people must pray 50 times a day. But as Muhammad descends back to Earth, he meets Moses who tells Muhammad to go back to God and ask for fewer prayers because 50 is too many. Muhammad goes between Moses and God nine times until the prayers are reduced to the five daily prayers, which God will reward tenfold. Then Moses told Muhammad to ask for even lesser. But Muhammad felt ashamed and said that even with lesser prayer times, his followers might not even perform diligently and said he is thankful for the five.