By Editorial Staff
Changing the qiblah involved paramount religious and mundane interests,
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emigrated from Makkah to Madinah to survive disbelief, polytheism, and persecution and find a wider, vaster and more fertile environment, namely Madinah.
It is Yathrib (Madina’s old name) which encompassed a pluralistic society which integrated the tribes of Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj known later as (Al-Ansar “Supporters”) with various Jewish tribes and clans.
Since this new homeland hosting Prophet Muhammad as well as his mission was a fertile soil for the message of Islam and the monotheistic cause and this message managed to attract most members of Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj, Prophet Muhammad wished for the Jews’ conversion to Islam so that Medina would be a purely Muslim society.
However, unfortunately, Prophet Muhammad’s wish was not fulfilled, nor did his earnest endeavors achieve the desired results. Instead, he was faced with the same disbelief and obstinacy as those expressed by the pagans of Mecca despite the rapprochement and bridge-building efforts he exerted.
Prophet Muhammad established the first(1) religion-based state which allowed for religious, cultural and ethnic pluralism and secured all rights and freedoms by drawing up the Charter of Madinah which was considered a precociously unique, fair pluralistic constitution which has had no match until very recently, i.e. after many centuries of religious persecution, extremism and fanaticism.
Prophet Muhammad was under no obligation to draw up this charter simply because such tolerance was not popular at the time, where the logic of dialogue was not recognized and only the logic of power and domination was adopted.
In spite of the religious and worldly gains Jews got, they did not make any encouraging response to Prophet Muhammad’s call to Islam. They even misunderstood the clemency, leniency and tolerance shown by Prophet Muhammad as propitiation and appeasement. That is why they were very pleased with Muslims’ taking Jerusalem as a Qiblah (the direction towards which prayer is offered).
They thought that this was a token of subordination to their faith and implicit recognition of the Jewish superiority on the part of Islam and Muslims. As a result, the Jews persisted in their haughtiness and arrogance.
Though Prophet Muhammad used to offer prayers while facing Jerusalem in Mecca, he would also face the Kabah in the same direction as Jerusalem. However, when he immigrated to Medina, he could no longer face the Kabah and Jerusalem at the same time, which aggravated Prophet Muhammad’s feelings of sadness, pain, and agony driven by homesickness and estrangement.
Therefore, Prophet Muhammad wished to face the Kabah while offering prayers and take it as a Qiblah as a sort of mitigation and alleviation and out of the desire to be distinguished from the Jews who only showed arrogance and obstinacy when Prophet Muhammad faced their Qiblah.
Thus, Prophet Muhammad was very willing to declare Islam’s independence and distinction from the Jews as a way for deterring them and causing them to feel misguided and beguiled.
In this regard, God says in the Qur’an:
We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And God is not unaware of what they do. (Al-Baqarah 2:144)
Thus, the Jews took the change of the Qiblah as a very strong slap which made them feel misguided and humiliated so much so that they asked Prophet Muhammad to face their Qiblah once again. Therefore, God warned him against that. He said:
And if you brought to those who were given the Scripture every sign, they would not follow your qiblah. Nor will you be a follower of their qiblah. Nor would they be followers of one another’s qiblah. So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers. (Al-Baqarah 2:145)
Though the change of the Qiblah was not an easy or facile affair, given the ensuing skepticism and the apostasy of a small number of faithless Muslims, it involved paramount religious and mundane interests, which were blessings in disguise. In this respect, God says:
And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided. (Al-Baqarah 2:143)
The Muslim community was at a stage of building and creation and in dire need of several changes and serious provisional gradations which could not take place without such an effective vaccine which could give this nascent community strong immunity against shake and fluctuation, grant it a crystal clear purpose and, at the same time, distinguish the faithful from the faithless.
It is worth noting that the revelations sent down at Mecca were mostly restricted to the call to monotheism. The Islamic rulings were not established at Mecca. Early Muslims were not used to abrogation, change or alteration. Most of the Islamic injunctions were revealed in Medina. Gradation in legislation required the abrogation and replacement of some rulings with others.
The change of the Qiblah was the first case of abrogation in the Islamic legislation and the Qur’an. It debunked the hypocrites and the deviants. Subsequent to it, the Muslim community became stronger, more immune and ready for the change, amendment or gradation which lied ahead.
Here is the Qiblah, which Muslims faced at least five times a day and whose direction was seen as the holiest ever in the sight of Muslims, undergoing change, alteration and replacement. Thus, abrogation, alteration and gradation became more acceptable and palatable among the Muslim masses.
This even paved the way for such graded rulings as those of usury, intoxicants etc. Such rulings could not have been passed smoothly without an effective vaccine like the change of the Qiblah which gave the Muslim community strong immunity against doubt, suspicion and shakiness.
Quranic verses were revealed, emphasizing that God does not care about the Qiblah direction, be it eastbound, westbound, northbound or southbound. All of those directions still lie within the dominion of God. The Qiblah direction does not affect prayer itself for the latter is a spiritual rather than physical act given the acceptance of the prayers of the first-generation Muslims who passed away before the change of the Qiblah. In this effect, God says:
The foolish among the people will say, “What has turned them away from their qiblah, which they used to face?” Say, “To God belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (Al-Baqarah 2:142)
He also says:
And never would God have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed God is, to the people, Kind and Merciful. (Al-Baqarah 2:143)
After all, the change of the Qiblah was intended as the abolition of the sanctity of space whatever it may be and the confirmation of the sanctity of God Alone wherever the Qiblah direction may be.
This is one of the exclusive characteristics of Islam and something which distinguishes Muslims from the followers of the previous divine messages. In Islam, sanctity is God’s Alone and whatever He may declare sanctified no matter how changing it may be. There is no sanctity for anyone other than God. A man cannot be sanctified or worshiped along with God, nor can a temple or synagogue be sanctified for itself. There is no sanctity that may tower above or be equal to that of God, the Most Holy One, hence came the moderateness of Islam. It is moderation between two notable extremes, namely the sanctification of man (as in Christianity) on the one hand and the sanctification of space (as in Judaism) on the other hand so that sanctity will exclusively remain God’s Alone. In the Qur’an, God says:
And to God belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of God . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. (Al-Baqarah 2:115)
(1) Note: The concept of the “Religion-based State” or even “Theocracy” is not always a negative concept as may be thought by many people. The reason for rejecting this concept is the failure of the Christian Western pattern as well as other contemporary patterns. Those patterns were mostly based on rejecting the other and imposing a certain religion, doctrine or lifestyle on them. However, this is not always the case. The religion-based state established at the dawn of Islam in Medina was a unique pattern of coexistence, justice and integration. Its slogan was: “Let there be no compulsion in the matters of religion.”
In Medinah, they put the first bricks of the Islamic state, built upon justice and brotherhood.
By Editorial Staff
When the revelation came to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he climbed As-Safa mount and called out people.
They gathered around him. Then, he addressed them, “What if I told you that there was a cavalry emerging from the foot of this mountain, would you believe me?” They said: “We have never known you to be a liar.”
He (peace be upon him) then said: “I am a warner to you of an imminent and severe punishment (warning them from the Hellfire).” Abu Lahab (the Prophet’s uncle) then said: “May you perish! Did you call us together only for this?” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
He started inviting them to Islam and persuading them that the worship of idols is a kind of absurdness, and it is only Allah, the Creator of the Universe, to be worshiped.
A number of people were convinced with his message and followed him. Yet, the masters and the rich among Meccans refused his new religion because of its equity and justice. They fought him and tortured his followers.
A lot of companions were subject to extreme and brutal torture at their hands. I will cite a few stories of torture that show how cruel and savage were those people with the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Umayyah and Bilal
Umayyah ibn Khalaf (a Meccan pagan) had a slave called Bilal ibn Rabah who entered Islam. Umayyah inflicted extreme torture upon Bilal. He would take him in the glare of the torrid sun of Mecca, stripe him off, put him on the blazing sand in summer and place a huge rock on his chest. Nevertheless, Bilal did not relinquish his religion one iota.
`Ammar’s Family and the Tribe of Makhzum
`Ammar ibn Yasir was from the tribe of Makhzum. He embraced Islam, and his father, mother (Sumayyah) and brother followed him. When their tribe knew about that they got crazy. They burnt the house of `Ammar and took him and his family to desert. They chained them and competed in torturing them. They would whip them, burn them and put big rocks on their bodies.
However, the believing family remained steadfast to Islam. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would pass by them while tortured consoling them saying, “Yasir’s family, be patient! Your reward will be Paradise!”
Banu Makhzum found that torment is of no use with those believers. They tried to seduce them to leave Islam and they will pardon them but this was fruitless as well. Abu Jahal shouted at Sumayyah, the mother of `Ammar, “Praise our gods (i.e. idols); disparage Muhammad!” Sumayyah spat in his face and said: “How bad you and your gods are!.” Abu Jahal became furious with her. He raised his spear high and threw it on Sumayyah’s belly. She passed away upon that, to be the first martyr in the history of Islam.
Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari
Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari was from the tribe of Ghifar. He heard from travelers about a new Prophet called Muhammad (peace be upon him) who invited people to new religion.
So, he moved to Mecca to know about the matter. He remained in the Ka`bah watching people there. `Ali ibn Abu Talib saw him and noticed that he was a stranger. He invited him to his house and told him about Muhammad. Abu Dharr went to the Prophet and accepted Islam. However, he resolved to infuriate the people of Mecca. He went to Ka`bah and shouted: “There is no God but Allah; and Muhammad is his Messenger.”
They gathered around him and started beating him. He was rescued by Al-`Abbas ibn `Abdul Muttalib who told them that Abu Dharr belonged to the tribe of Ghifar who may revenge to Abu Dharr.
The Prophet Muhammad Himself
The torture was not limited to companions but it was inflicted as well upon the Prophet Muhammad himself. Ibn Mas`ud reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was praying at the Ka`bah, and Abu Jahl and his companions were sitting there. They said to one another, ‘Who will bring the intestines of the camel of so and so and put it on Muhammad’s back when he prostrates?’ So one of them went and brought it and waited until the Prophet (peace be upon him) prostrated, then he put it on his back, between his shoulders.
They started laughing and leaning against one another (because of their laughter), and the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was prostrating and did not raise his head until Fatimah came and removed it from his back. Then the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) raised his head. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Finally, Allah (Glory be to Him) commanded the Prophet and his followers to migrate from Mecca to Medinah, a safe place where they would be able to practice the rituals of their religion freely and lead an Islamic way of life without being maltreated or wronged.
Anyway, migration was another test to the faithful Companions. They were forced to leave their homelands, friends and families to another place where they will be strangers. Yet, the companions set another example in the sacrifice for their beliefs.
In Medinah, they put the first bricks of the Islamic state, upon justice and brotherhood. The first thing the Prophet (peace be upon him) did when he went to Medinah was the establishment of social peace inside the Muslim community. He made the Muslim migrants as brothers of the Muslims of Medinah. He also dealt with all the conflicts between the two big tribes of Medinah, Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj, and settled all the disputes between them.
As for non-Muslims, the Prophet (peace be upon him) chose the way of peace. He made a treaty with the Jews of Medinah that was based on mutual cooperation and common justice. He never breached any covenant with them. Yet, it was the Jews who breached the pact and violated their covenant with him.
Outside Medinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not mobilize armies to attack the nearby tribes or towns to spread Islam or to occupy them. Instead, he sent letters to kings and rulers inviting them with cultured and kind words to Islam, the last religion.
It was a migration to the open and boundless peace of Islam. The wars that the Prophet (peace be upon him) participated in were generally to defend the Islamic country and religion.
Even during wars, the Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade his soldiers to kill women, children, the aged or farmers, burn plants or damage houses, unless they are used for war purposes.
All his life was peace and mercy for all mankind. Almighty Allah says,
And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (Al-Anbiya’ 21:107)
Lessons from the Journey of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj (Part 2)
By Dr. `Ali Al-Salabi
We are going to complete the discussion about the lessons to be learned from the story of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj that happened to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a serious stage of His preaching mission.
7) The very special night of Al-Isra’ and Mi`raj was chosen as the night during which the five daily prayers were made obligatory; this, as Ibn Kathir mentioned, “points to the care that was taken to show the honor and greatness of prayer.” When we contemplate the importance of prayer, we should remember, among other things, that it was legislated on the blessed night of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mdi`raj, and that, before the Prophet died, it was one of the last things that he advised us about.
8- When the Messenger of Allah was asked about whether he saw his Lord during Al-Mi`raj, he said, ” Light, so how could I see Him (i.e., His veil is light, so how could I see Him?)?” (Muslim)
9- During Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj, the Messenger of Allah saw a great deal of the unseen world – such as matters concerning the past, angels, the heavens, and even the future. The Prophet saw, among other things, the evil consequences of many societal ills. Some societal ills and their consequences which he witnessed that night are as follows:
- The Prophet saw punishment being meted out to When, during that night, the Messenger of Allah saw people eating corpses, Jibril informed him about them, saying, “These are the ones that eat the flesh of people (i.e., backbiters). (Ibn Hajar , Fath Al-Bari)
- He witnessed people being punished for wrongly eating the wealth of orphans. The Messenger of Allah saw men with lips that were big like the lips of camels; in their hands were pieces of fire that were like stones. They would cast them into their mouths, and the pieces would then come out of their buttocks. Jibril informed the Prophet about them, saying, “These are the ones who wrongfully eat the wealth of orphans.” (Seerah by Ibn Hisham)
- Regarding the punishment for those who eat from the proceeds of usury, the Prophet passed by, during his night journey, a group of people whose stomachs were like houses, and inside of them were snakes. From the outside, their insides could be seen. Jibril said to the Prophet, “These are the eaters of usury .” (Ibn Kathir)
- Other narrations mention the punishment of fornicators, of people who refuse to pay Zakat, of speakers who cause Fitnah, and of people who are negligent and carefree when it comes to being trustworthy.
- The Prophet also saw people being rewarded for good deeds. For example, during Al-Mi`raj, he passed by a group of people who planted on the same day as they harvested; and as soon as they finished harvesting, things returned to being as they previously were. Jibril said, ‘These are Al-Mujahidin (those who fight and struggle) in the way of Allah. Their good deeds are multiplied 700 times. And whatever they spend (for the cause of Allah) is replaced (for them).” (Ibn Kathir)
- The Companions understood the importance of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa and their duties towards it. For a while, it was in the control of the Romans; then the Muslims conquered it during the caliphate of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab. Jerusalem then remained a place of peace and safety until five centuries later when the crusaders conquered it and wreaked havoc on it and its inhabitants. They continued to do so until about a century later, when the Muslims freed it under the military leadership of Salah Ad-Deen Al-Ayyubi (may Allah have mercy on him). Now again, Jerusalem has been violently and brutally taken away from Muslims; who now will free it? Indeed, we belong to Allah, and to Him is our return.
Source: Taken with modifications from the author’s The Noble Life of the Prophet Muhammad.
 Tafseer Ibn Kathir (3/23)
The Night Journey was a very effective morale booster for the Prophet.
By: Adil Salahi
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was fully aware that he could no longer rely on his own clan, the Hashimites, for any measure of firm support.
He felt himself alone in the whole world. His few followers were no match for the forces opposing him. Yet he firmly believed in the truth of the message he was preaching. His faith in God did not waver.
At this point something unusual happened to him.
One night, as the Prophet was asleep in the home of his cousin Umm Hani in Makkah, the Angel Gabriel came and woke him up and took him by hand to the mosque, where he found an animal smaller than a mule but slightly bigger than a donkey. The animal, which was a quadruped, also had two wings and floated easily as he moved with unimaginable speed.
The Prophet’s own description of his movement was that “he put his foot at the furthest point to his side”. Together, the Prophet and Gabriel rode the animal, which was called Al-Buraq, a name derived from ‘Barq‘, meaning lightning. In no time at all they reached Jerusalem in Palestine .
There the Prophet met prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other noble prophets. He led them all in Prayer. He was then brought three cups: one contained milk, another contained wine, and the third contained water. He drank the milk. When he had finished, Gabriel said, “You and your nation are rightly guided.”
When they had finished their business in Jerusalem, they flew up to heaven. The Prophet tells us that as they entered each of the seven heavens Gabriel would confirm to its guardian angel that Muhammad had already received his mission. In each heaven, he met one or other of the prophets who preached the message of God’s Oneness to mankind. Among those mentioned in the authentic accounts of this very special journey were Adam, Jesus, John, Joseph, Moses and Abraham (peace be upon them all).
He also saw examples of the suffering which would be endured by certain groups of people, as they would be condemned to hell in the hereafter. The description of these groups and their suffering is so vivid that one can almost see them in their plight, yet the suffering was so horrible that one would do anything to escape it.
Muhammad’s Encounter With Moses
The Prophet was then admitted into Paradise and saw examples of the happiness to be enjoyed by those who would seek God’s pleasure and do His bidding. Here the Prophet was delighted with what he saw and expressed his wish that all his followers would be able to partake of such enjoyments.
While he was in Paradise he was informed of the obligatory Prayers he and his followers were expected to offer. As he passed Moses on his way back, Moses asked him about this particular point of Prayer. When Prophet Muhammad informed him that Muslims would be required to pray 50 times each day, Moses counseled him to go back and pray God to reduce this requirement.
Moses explained by saying: “Prayers constitute a heavy burden and your nation is weak.” The Prophet acted on this advice, and God reduced this obligation to 40 prayers each day.
When he stopped by Moses again, Moses repeated the same advice. Again the Prophet acted on it. The whole procedure was repeated several times until the obligatory Prayers for Muslims were reduced to five daily. Moses still thought they were hard to observe and counseled the Prophet to request a further reduction. The Prophet, however, felt too shy to do that.
The Prophet then returned to Makkah, having been absent only for part of the night; he returned just before dawn. On this unique trip, he witnessed the expanse of the universe as well as the link between our life in this world and the greater and larger life of the other world. God also wanted him to see other signs and symbols which filled his blessed heart with unshakeable faith.
Since he was taken on that unique journey from the house of his cousin Umm Hani’, where he was staying that night, it was to her house that he returned. Everyone in the house soon woke up. When they had finished their dawn Prayers, the Prophet told Umm Hani’ about his journey.
A firm believer, she accepted what the Prophet related as true. When he was about to leave, intending to go to the mosque, she stopped him, saying: “I fear that people would not believe you if you tell them what you have just told me.” The Prophet made clear his intention to tell them “even though they would not believe me”.
Narrating the Unthinkable
When he was sitting in the mosque, he was totally absorbed in his thoughts. Abu Jahl, the arch-enemy of Islam, noticed that and came up to him to ask: “Any news?” The Prophet replied: “Yes. I was taken last night to Jerusalem.” Making sure that he had heard him correctly, Abu Jahl asked: “To Jerusalem?” The Prophet’s clear answer came in the affirmative.
Realizing that there was a chance to consolidate the opposition to Muhammad and his message, Abu Jahl asked him: “If I call the others to come over, would you repeat to them what you have just told me?” Unhesitatingly, the Prophet said: “Yes.”Thus Abu Jahl did what the Prophet intended to do, that is, to gather the people so that he would tell them about his journey.
When the Prophet had finished his story, everybody was expressing disbelief in one way or another. Some people clapped, some put their hands over their heads and others jeered. One of them asked about the caravan the Quraysh had sent to Syria. The Prophet gave a detailed answer on its conditions and specified its arrival time.
They went out at the appointed time and, to their surprise, there was the caravan in exactly the same condition the Prophet had described. Yet that did not influence or weaken their opposition to the Prophet.
As the Prophet’s account of his journey was completed, there were many unbelievers going around into every quarter in Makkah to relate what sounded to them the most incredible story ever told. Some of them went straight to Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s closest friend, to tell him and to find out what his reaction would be.
Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) first accused them of bringing him false stories. When they assured him that Muhammad actually claimed to have made the return journey to Jerusalem overnight, Abu Bakr’s answer was: “If he has actually said this, he is telling the truth.” When they expressed their amazement that he would believe such a singular story, Abu Bakr said: “What is so surprising? I believe him when he says something even more incomprehensible. He says he receives revelations from God and I believe him.”
Abu Bakr then went to the mosque where people were still gathered around the Prophet expressing their disbelief. He asked the Prophet whether he made the statement that he went to Jerusalem and came back on the same night. When he heard the Prophet’s affirmative reply, Abu Bakr said: “I believe you; you always tell the truth.” Then he asked the Prophet to describe Jerusalem.
As the Prophet went on with his description, Abu Bakr kept repeating his words: “I believe you; you always tell the truth.” The Prophet was so pleased with Abu Bakr that he gave him the title As-Siddiq, which denotes ‘a true and firm believer’. This was Abu Bakr’s most cherished title which he kept for the rest of his life.
A small number of people rejoined the unbelievers after accepting Islam. The Prophet, however, was not influenced by their apostasy. He continued to preach his message with unshaken determination.
Direct Confrontation with Adversity
Two points need to be made here: the first concerns the example provided by the Prophet for all advocates of Islam. He faced the Quraysh with his story, fully aware that he would be accused of telling lies. That did not influence his determination to do what was required of him.
The interests of his message came first. People’s accusations could not weaken his resolve.
The point is that people may accept the idea of revelations but turn away from Islam for lesser reasons. In this case they found it difficult to accept the idea that God could take His Messenger on a journey like this while they believed that He would inspire him with His words, sending down His angel messenger to convey His message.
In other cases people may opt for disbelief for even less important reasons. That, however, should not weaken our resolve to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet and his noble companions.
There is no doubt that the night journey was a very effective morale booster for the Prophet. He was, after all, a human being who shared in all human emotions of sorrow, grief, pleasure and delight. Only a short time earlier he had lost his wife Khadijah, who was his main source of comfort, and his uncle Abu Talib, who ensured that Muhammad received all the support and protection to which he was entitled, according to the traditions of the Arabian society. Then came that disappointing trip to Ta’if, which was intended to broaden the base of the Islamic message.
It is only natural that Muhammad should feel downhearted after those three major jolts which affected both his personal and his public life. There was no question that his sorrow would affect his faith. Nevertheless, his losses were, by human standards, of huge proportions. Hence, a comforting gesture which gave him first-hand experience of the smallness of this world in relation to the wider universe, and the triviality of what one may experience in this life in relation to what lies in store in the next life, would, as the expression goes, do him the world of good.
There is no doubt that his night journey had a lasting effect on the Prophet. It boosted his confidence in himself and in his message; it enhanced his aspirations and helped put his efforts in the service of his faith on a higher level. Subsequent events show that there was a marked change in his attempts to set the course for his message.
Universality of the Islamic Message
The night journey was of great significance in more ways than one. Note, for example, that at Jerusalem, Muhammad led the other Prophets in Prayer. It is a well established Islamic concept that the messages of all Prophets were basically the same. They all called on mankind to believe in God, the one and only deity. With Islam, these messages were brought to their full and complete form.
With Muhammad, the line of prophethood reached its end. For the Prophets to pray together at Jerusalem signifies the continuity of their messages and their unity of rank and purpose. Jerusalem thus occupies a unique position as a sacred place for all followers of the Divine religions.
That unique Prayer of the Prophets, led by Muhammad, also signifies that as Islam has crowned all Divine messages and brought them to their final form, Jerusalem, the spot revered by all religions, belongs to the Muslims who follow Muhammad, the recognized leader of all Prophets.
The night journey also stresses the universality of the Islamic message. Muhammad is taken to Jerusalem which, at the time, was inhabited by non-Arabs. He is engaged there in the most religious of human activities before he is taken to heaven. It would have been just as easy for God to raise Muhammad to heaven from his home in Makkah. The fact that He chose to take him to Jerusalem first, to lead his fellow Prophets in Prayer, endorses the fact that Islam is a message for mankind, not for the Arabs alone.
In those congregational Prayers of the Prophets one also sees a reference to the fact that all the distortion which crept into earlier messages had been pushed aside. A fuller and more complete version of these messages has been revealed and guaranteed by God to remain intact for the rest of time. That version is Islam.
Was It a Physical Journey?
Muhammad’s night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and hence to heaven, and his return to his home town on the same night, was, to a contemporary mind, very much a miracle. Caravans took a whole month to cover the distance between the two cities. How, then, could Muhammad make a return journey overnight, and have a side excursion to Heaven in the same package?
Even to those accustomed to today’s jet travel and to the notion of supersonic speed, the event can only be classified as supernatural. Hence questions have always been raised about the true aim of this journey and its nature. More precisely, people wonder whether it was a ‘spiritual’ or physical Journey.
The Qur’an answers the first question clearly. The chapter entitled The Night Journey or Al-Israa’, opens with this verse:
Limitless in His glory is He who made His servant go by night from the Sacred Temple (of Makkah) to the further Temple [of Jerusalem] whose surroundings We have blessed that We might show him some of Our signs. He alone hears all and sees all. (Al-Israa’ 17:1)
The whole object of the journey, then, was that the Prophet would have a chance to see some of God’s signs. What these were, we are not told. Seeing them, however, had a greatly reassuring effect on Muhammad, since it enabled him to experience at first hand the limitless ability of God the Creator.
This was bound to put the dispute in which he had been engaged with the Makkans into perspective. It exhibited before his eyes the true nature and the real might of the two camps: his own, in which God is an active participant, and that of the unbelievers.
Hence, it is not surprising that the following years of his life were free of any feelings of weakness or downheartedness. He remained to the last day of his life unaffected by adversity, certain that he would be victorious as long as he and his followers were true believers, sincere in their intentions and actions.
Here, one should emphasize that the journey was not a miracle with the aim of persuading the unbelievers to accept the faith. It was not one of the type of miracles which was given to other Prophets as evidence of their truthfulness.
The unbelievers had actually challenged the Prophet to go up into heaven, but he refused their challenge, as he refused all their other challenging requests. His answer to all such requests was:
Glory be to my Lord. I am only a human Messenger. (Al-Israa’ 17:93)
When he actually rose to heaven, he did not portray the fact as a reply for their challenge. Hence, one needs to understand the night journey in its proper light: it was merely an act of God to reassure His Messenger at a time when such a reassurance was needed for the proper conveyance of His message.
The majority of Islamic scholars are of the opinion that the night journey was not purely ‘spiritual’. They believe, as does the present author, that the Prophet did physically, in body and spirit, go on this journey. Some people may find this hard to believe because it involves preternatural powers. The answer is that whatever powers such a journey required, they were easy for God to provide.
Look back only one hundred years and imagine what would have been the reaction of people if someone had told them that anyone would be able to travel the distance between Bahrain and London in a little over four hours, in luxurious comfort.
Now reflect on travelling speeds, if one maintains the rate of progress achieved in this field in the present century. Would supersonic travelling have seemed natural? Indeed, the term ‘natural’ is certainly relative. What is natural today was preternatural to our ancestors and may become, in our grandchildren’s view, primitive.
‘Natural’, in essence, signifies little more than ‘familiar’. One need only look, with open eyes and mind, at the world to find that there are many miraculous facts which are readily accepted as ‘natural’ for no reason other than their familiarity. Every childbirth is a miracle, but it is simply overlooked because it occurs so often. One need only reflect over it a little to understand its miraculous nature.
In tackling such events as the night journey, one needs to remember only that they occur because God has willed that they should occur. To Him there is no such’ thing as ‘natural’ or ‘preternatural’. He has created all the laws of nature, whether they are familiar or not. To Him the operation of all laws is equally easy. What is not understood of His actions is readily accepted, because the fact that His power is limitless is already accepted.
Taken with slight modifications from Onislam.net.