Night Journey and Ascension of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Muhammad Umar Chand
We shall divide this article on Israa and Ma'raaj into two parts.
First of all, we shall discuss the background to the incident which
will help us understand its objectives. In the second part, we shall
narrate some of the major events of the nocturnal journey and ascension
and see what they mean for the Muslim Ummah.
1. BACKGROUND TO THE INCIDENT OF ISRAA AND MA'RAAJ:
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had been preaching for a number of years
before this wonderful incident of nocturnal (nightly) journey [Israa]
and ascension [Ma'raaj] took place. The Israk refers to the journey
from Makkah to Baitul Muqqadis or Masjidil Aqsa as alluded to in
Surah Isra or Bani Israel ayat number 1 and the Ma'raaj refers to
the journey from Baitul Muqqadis to Sidratul Muntaha-- the Lote-Tree
at the Farthest End and to the presence of Allah (SWT) as alluded
to in Surah An-Najam ayat numbers 5 to 18. The purpose of this journey,
as Allah (SWT) pointed out in the Isra passage was to show the Prophet
(SAW) signs or miracles [aayaat] of Allah (SWT):
Glorified be He (Allah) Who transported His servant for a Journey
by night from the Sacred Mosque [Masjidil Haram] to the Farthest
Mosque [Masjidil Aqsa] whose surroundings We have blessed in order
that We might show him (the Messenger) some of Our Signs [aayaat]:
Indeed He (Allah) is the Hearer [Samee'un] and the Seer of all
This incident of twin journeys has a great significance for Muslims
and their religion, Islam, in the sense that it confirms and explains
some of the basic tenants of Islam. The Isra part confirms the unity
of origin, the unigenesis, of all the three monotheistic religions
showing relationship of this religion with the previous prophets
and the revelations they received. The Ma'raaj part, confirming
the existence of heaven and hell [Jannat and Jahannum] and the Final
Judgement, reward and punishment, recounts the genesis of the basic
worship [Salat] five times a day, and a number of other aspects
of blessings from Allah (SWT) showered on Muhammad (SAW) and his
community of Muslims.
During the first eleven years of the Prophet's mission a number
of people had come to believe in the Prophet (SAW) and his teachings,
but there were many whose rejection and enmity had only worsened
as the years went by. There were three things that the non-believers
[kuffars] of the Quraish of Makkah found difficult to believe: the
institution of Prophethood, the claim of Muhammad (SAW) to his Prophethood,
and the life after death:
First, the prophet's claim that human beings have been sent to
their own people as prophets seemed incredible to them. This means
that the institution of Prophethood was not acceptable to most of
The second problem the non-believers encountered concerned the
claim of Muhammad (SAW) over his own Prophethood. Even if they could
accept, what seemed incredible to them, the idea that human beings
are sent down to people as prophets for guidance, the Quraish found
it unacceptable that of all the people in Makkah and Taif, the orphaned
nephew of Abu Talib should have been chosen as prophet. There were
many among the Quraish who thought they had better claims to such
assignments than Muhammad (SAW). "Could God find none but you
to send as Prophet," said one of the sons of 'Amr bin Ummayah
Thaqeef in Taa'if.
The third claim of this prophet was beyond the non-believers' wildest
dream of plausibility. The Prophet (SAW) claimed that people will
be raised after they are dead and that they will be judged and that
they will be sent to either hell or heaven according to their beliefs
and deeds. The Kuffaar of Makkah used to marvel at this claim. Allah
(SWT) reports their reactions at a number of places in the Quran.
They would say, "Is it true that after we have died and become
mere dust and bones, shall we, in truth, be raised from the dead--
and perhaps our ancestors as well?" Allah (SWT) advised the
prophet to respond to such rejecters: "Say, Yes, indeed, and
most abject will you be then?" (As-Saafaat 37: 16-18).
Furthermore, the Kuffaar used to say, "After we will have
become bones and dust, shall we in truth be raised to a new creation?"
And the prophet (SAW) was asked to respond to their question, "Say,
be you stones or iron or any other substance which to your hearts
appears yet greater (distantly removed from life.)" (Al-Isra
The Incident of Isra and Ma'araaj: a response to the three objections
of the Quraish
Allah (SWT) took His Servant ['Abd] Muhammad (SAW) on the Isra
(the nightly journey) and the Ma'raaj (Ascension to heavens) to
counter these three objections of the Kuffaar and to instill faith
in the hearts of the believers on these three counts:
1. In response to the first objection, Allah (SWT) wanted to show
the Prophet (SAW) and the believers through Isra-Ma'raaj incident
that He was the One Who was responsible for sending Messengers like
Noah, Ibraheem, Moosa, Isa (Alaihimissalam) to mankind and that
it was not a new thing.
2. In response to the second objection of the Kuffaar, Allah (SWT)
wanted to show the Prophet (SAW) and the believers that He was the
One Who chose whomsoever He wished and raised the Darajaat of Muhammad
(SAW) as He (ALLAH SWT) wished.
3. In response to the third objection, Allah SWT wanted to show
His Messenger Muhammad (SAW) the reality of life after death and
the reality of jannaht and Jahannum.
Longing for signs proving life after death
Ibn Sa'd in Tabaqatul Kubra reports a Hadith that says the Messenger
of Allah (SAW) used to pray to Allah to show him the paradise and
the hell. Such a desire on the part of Muhammad (SAW) was not unusual
or out of the ordinary in the tradition of Prophethood. Prophets
before him had asked for manifest proofs. Such requests were made
not because they had any doubts about the truth of life after death;
they desired to be shown such miracles for the satisfaction of their
Thus, for example, Ibraheem (Alaihisalat wasalam) said to Allah
(SWT), "Show me how you will raise the dead." Allah (SWT)
asked him, "Don't you believe?" Ibraheem (AS) said, "Yes,
but for the satisfaction of my heart." Thus the desire of Ibraheem
(AS) to be shown how Allah (SWT) would raise the dead to life was
not because of lack of faith or belief but for the satisfaction
of the patriarch's heart. Thereupon Allah (SWT) showed him how He
would do it. This incident is reported in Surah al-Baqarah ayat
260. Allah (SWT) also showed Abraham (AS) HIS Malakoot [dominion
or kingdom, divine court where He keeps court with Angels and the
Near Ones, al-muqarrabeen] of Heavens as well as earth so that he
could grow in faith and certitude, as He (SWT) says in Surah Al-An’aam
verse 74 (6.74).
Allah (SWT) showed Ibrahim (AS) the Dominion [Malakoot] of the
heavens and the earth as claimed in Surah al-An'aam ayat number
75. Similarly, Prophet Ezra or Uzair (AS) was shown how Allah (SWT)
would raise the dead to be judged as described in Surah al-Baqarah
ayat 259. Thus the wish of Muhammad (SAW) to be shown heavens and
hell was in the best traditions of the earlier prophets; there was
nothing unusual about it.
Comparing and contrasting the Ascension of Muhammad (SAW)
with the Ascensions of earlier Prophets:
The phenomenon of ascension was also not unusual. Ascensions had
also been experienced by many prophets before Muhammad (SAW). Only
this time around the experience was different in nature with a difference
in meaning and spirit. Prophet Idris or Enoch (AS) had experienced
the phenomenon of ascension before; so did Elijah or Ilyas (AS)
who had been raised in his chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11 and 6:17).
'Isa (AS) was also raised as described in the New Testament and
Surah An-Nisa ayat 158 of the Quran. Although patriarch Jacob [Yaqoob]
(AS) was not called upon to ascend in any capacity, he had witnessed
angels ascending and descending between the earth and the heavens
on a ladder as described in the Book of Genesis chapter 22. The
purpose of this 'Urooj, Ma'raaj or ascension was that Allah (SWT)
wanted to show the 'Abd the Servant Allah's signs as Allah (SWT)
makes it clear in Surah Israa Ayat number one. In the midst of the
ever growing opposition of the non-believers in Makkah the 'Abd
needed these signs to keep him steadfast in his mission.
The ascension of Idris, Ilyas, and Isa (Alaihimissalam)
differed from the ascension of Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) in three ways:
1. The earlier Prophets had been raised at the completion of their
this-worldly mission; Muhammad (SAW) was taken on the two journeys
in the midst of his mission, to be shown the aayaat of Allah (SWT)
for testification and then to be returned to the earth.
2. The earlier prophets were raised up to be returned to this world
at the end of the times and not to be returned immediately to this
earth. Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) was returned to this world immediately,
the same night.
3. The immediate objective of the earlier ascensions was to protect
those prophets from their earthly enemies. Muhammad (SAW) did not
have to be raised up to heavens for protection as he had been promised
protection from Allah (SWT) against any worldly enemies. where Allah
says, "We are enough for you against the mockers," (Surah
Al-Hijr 15:95) or in Surah Az-Zumur 39:36 where Allah (SWT) says,
"Is Allah not enough for His servant (to defend him)",
or in Surah Al-Maidah 5:65 where Allah (SWT) says:
"Oh Messenger, make known that which has been revealed to
you from your Lord, for if you do not do it, you will not have conveyed
His message. Allah will protect you from mankind. Indeed Allah does
not guide the disbelieving people."
Comparing Ma'raaj of Muhammad (SAW) with Jacob (AS)'s Vision
of the Ladder
The difference between Yaqoob (AS's) ladder and Muhammad's Ma'araaj
was that the patriarch saw the angels going up and down. Neither
did he express his desire to ascend it, nor was he invited to undertake
the journey. The Messenger of Allah Muhammad (SAW) himself was taken
up on the journey to meet the [Dzil Ma'aaraj], the Lord of the Ascension.
Contrasting Ma'raaj of Muhammad (SAW) with Adam (AS)'s
Rasheedudeen Al-Maibudawi in his Kashaful Israr contrasts this
Ma'raaj or Ascension of the Prophet (SAW) with the descent of Adam
(AS). He said Adam (AS) was told to go down, descend, [ihbit] whereas
Muhammad (SAW) was asked to ascend [iS'ad]. The purpose of Adam's
descent, going down or fall was to allow the magnificence of the
Lord's creation from dust to flourish on the earth and the purpose
of the ascension of Muhammad (SAW) was to show him the secrets of
His dominion [malakut], particularly with reference to the heights
of greatness and the depths of iniquity and immorality that man
is capable of achieving as Allah SWT says in Surah At-Teen, "Indeed
We created man in the best of moulds but then We returned him to
the lowest of the low". (At-Teen 95:4-5)
2. THE NARRATION OF THE INCIDENT OF ISRAA AND MA'RAAJ
One night, some say it was a Saturday night, others say it was
a Monday night, during these days, the Prophet was staying at Um-Hany's
house. The prophet had been brought up in the family of Abu Talib
and after the Prophet's marriage to lady Khadijah (RA) Ali (RA)
used to live with him. Abu Talib's wife Fatimah and her daughter
Um Hani were among the first Muslims. Um Hani was the daughter of
Abu Talib and sister of Ali and Jaafar. Um Hani's husband Hubayrah
was not a Muslim, but he respected the family relationship and the
fact that they had accepted Islam. He made the Prophet (SAW) feel
welcome at his house and did not oppose his family members using
his house as a place of retreat for the Prophet (SAW).
On this particular night, the Muslims in the family prayed together
the Isha' (late night) prayer and went to bed. After a brief sleep,
the Prophet (SAW) rose and went to the Mosque for he loved to visit
the Ka'abah during the night hours. There he was sleeping at Al-Hijr
which is also called Hateem. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) is reported
to have said that he was awakened by the angel Jibra'eel (AS). His
heart was cleansed, and Buraq (which in Arabic means the Lightening),
a heavenly beast, was brought for him to ride. Jibraeel (AS) said,
"Ride, so we can go."
"Where to?" asked the Prophet.
"To your Lord," said the archangel.
On the Way to the Masjidil Aqsa:
- Refusing to Heed Temptations
As the Messenger of Allah was travelling in the company of the
archangel, some voices tried to draw his attention, first on the
right hand side and then on the left hand side. The prophet (SAW)
paid no heed to such luring voices. Jibraeel (AS) later explained
that the Prophet did well by paying no heed to these voices as they
were Yahud and Nasarni who would try to create confusion in his
religion. Had the prophet stopped to listen to them, his people
would have become susceptible to the influences of these religions.
Then an old woman tried to beckon him to her. The Messenger of Allah
again did not heed her. The archangel later said he did well in
avoiding the old woman as well because she was this world. If he
had heeded her, his community would have loved this world over and
above the hereafter.
- Praying at Other Holy Places
As the journey continued, first they halted at Yathrib and prayed
two rakats of prayer. The Prophet was told that he would be migrating
to this place. Then they stopped at Madyan and the Mount of Sinai
and the Bush of Moosa (AS), and Baithelhem the birthplace of 'Isa
(AS) and said two raka'ats of prayer at each place.
- Choosing the Natural Religion
Then the prophet felt thirsty and three cups were brought to him:
one had honey in it, the other milk, and the third wine. The Prophet
(SAW) chose milk and he was congratulated by the angel for the choice
of the natural in his religion. He was told he and his people would
remain firm on the natural ways.
In the Baitul Muqaddis (The Sacred House In Yerusalem):
- The Prophet Is Greeted By the Angels
Then they reached Baitul Muqaddis where he was greeted by angels
who were saying,
"Asalam 'alaika Ya Awal, Ya Aakhir, Ya Haashir."
The angel explained to the prophet (SAW) that he was being greeted
as Awal the First [Aakhir] the last and [Haashir] the gatherer because
he would be the first to rise on the day of resurrection and the
first intercessor [shaafi'] and the first [Mushfi']; and he was
the last of the Prophets and he would be the gatherer [Haashir]
of communities on the day of Judgement.
- The Prophet is greeted by the Earlier Prophets
Then they entered the Mosque where he was received by the souls
of the Prophets before him-- from Idris and Nuh to 'Isa [Alaihimissalam].
They also greeted him with the same greeting as did angels, "Assalam
Alaik Ya Awwal, Ya Aakhir, Ya Haashir."
- The Prophet Confirms the Mission of The Earlier Prophets
Whereon the Ayat 45 of Surah Az-Zukhruf was revealed to the Prophet
which said, "Ask the Prophets whom We sent forth before you..."
So the Messenger of Allah asked them what their mission had been
on this earth. They responded by saying that they had been commissioned
with the Tawheed, the Unity of God.
- The Prophet Is Asked To Lead The Prayers
The Prophets stood in rows and Muhammad (SAW) was asked to lead
them in prayer. The gathering of the prophets and Muhammad (SAW)'s
leading the prayer was to indicate that Muhammad (SAW) had brought
no religion other than the one practiced and approved by the prophets
before him and that he was to perfect their religion and be its
- What The Prophets Prayed For
Then Ibraheem, Moosa, Dawood, Sulaiman, and Isa (Alaihimissalam)
thanked Allah (SWT) for His blessings, each one recounting the major
blessings on him as they are enumerated in the Tawraht Zaboor Injeel
and Quran. Then Muhammad (SAW) praised Allah (SWT) and thanked Him
for sending him as Mercy for the Worlds [Rahmatil lil 'aalameen],
for the entire mankind [kaafata lin-naas], as heralder of good news
[basheer], and warner [nadheer], and he thanked Allah (SWT) for
sending down to him Quran, in which is the description of all things,
and he thanked Allah (SWT) for making his Ummah the best of Ummahs
rising out of mankind and for making his Ummah the Middle Ummah
and for expanding his heart and for taking away from him his burdens
and for raising for him his remembrance or good name [dhikr], and
for making him the Opener [Faatih] and the Last [Khaatim]. Then
Ibraheem (AS) said, "All of these blessings excel in you, Oh
Muhammad." The Prophet later on said to his companions, "I
have never seen a man more like myself than Ibrahim (AS)."
Ascending To Heavens [Ma'araaj]
Then the Prophet (SAW) and Jibraeel (AS) came out of the Mosque
and in the company of Mikaeel (AS) and other angels they headed
for the seven heavens. They were allowed to enter each heaven after
the archangel had responded to the enquiries regarding his companion
and whether he had been sent for. In the first and the seventh heaven,
the Prophet was greeted by Adam and Ibraheem (Alaihimassalam) who
greeted him addressing him as Pious or Right-Acting Prophet and
Pious Right-Acting son and said, "How blessed is your arrival
here!" They said, "Marhaban bi-Ibnis-Saleh wa bi-nabias-Salih--
fa ni'am al Mujee'a jae.]
From the second to the sixth heaven, the Messenger of Allah (SAW)
met 'Isa and Yahya, Yusuf, Idris, Haroon, and Moosa Alaihimissalam
who greeted him addressing him as Pious Right-Acting Brother and
Pious Right-Acting Prophet and they said, "How blessed or blissful
is your arrival here!" They said,
[Marhaban bi-Akhu-us-Saleh wa bi-nabias-Salih-- fa ni'am al Mujee'a
Beyond the Furthest Lote-Tree [Sidratul Muntaha]
The Meeting With Allah (SWT)
The archangel Jibraeel (AS) stopped at the Sidratul Muntaha and
the Messenger of Allah was brought into the Presence of Allah (SWT).
During this Meeting with His Lord, Muhammad (SAW) was greeted with
the greetings of peace: [Attahayyatu lillahi Assalat wat-tayyebaat
Assalamu 'Alaika Yaa Ayuhan-nabi]. There the Prophet (SAW) saw what
he saw. His heart did not lie about what he saw. The eyes did not
waver. And Allah revealed to the Messenger what He revealed. Then
he drew nearer until Allah SWT says, "He drew nearer"
and "He was at two-bows' length or even nearer."
"When there enshrouded the Lote-tree that which enshrouds,
the eye wavered not nor did it transgress.
Indeed he saw, of all the signs of his Lord, the greatest."
(Surah An-Najm 53: 16-18.
The best known opinion is that he saw his Lord with his eye. Ibn
Abbas said Allah (SWT) singled out Musa (AS) for direct speech,
Ibrahim (AS) for close friendship, and Muhammad (SAW) for the vision.
The Proof of it lies in the words of Allah (SWT) Who says, "The
Heart did not lie about what it saw. What, will you dispute with
him about what he saw? He saw Him another time."
Qadhi Iyad reports Mawardi who said, "It is said that Allah
(SWT) divided His vision and His speech between Musa (AS) and Muhammad
(SAW). Muhammad (SAW) saw Him twice and Allah (SWT) spoke directly
to Musa (AS) twice." On his return, Prophet Moosa (AS) made
Muhammad (SAW) go back to his Lord five times with regard to reducing
the number of the prayers until it came down to five from fifty.
Then the Prophet (SAW) was asked to speak. The Messenger of Allah
glorified Allah (SWT) and recounted the blessings Allah (SWT) had
bestowed upon His prophets before him. Then Allah (SWT) addressed
His Messenger and said,
"I have taken you as a close friend and as a beloved.
I have had it written in the Toraht that "Muhammad is the
beloved of the Merciful."
I have sent you to all mankind.
and I have made your community such that none shall be permitted
to speak until they have testified that you are My servant and My
I made you first of the Prophets to be created and the last of
them to be sent.
I gave you the seven Mathani and The Quranal Adheem (that is Surah
I gave you the seals (the last three verses) of the Surat al-Baqarah
from a treasure under My Throne, and I did not give them to any
prophet before you.
I made you an opener and a seal."
Thus what was awarded to the Messenger of Allah on this day included
presents the likes of which no prophet was given before him: the
power of intercession for the pardon for the major wrong actions
of everyone of his community who did not associate anything with
Allah and five prayers a day.
Witnessing the People In the Hell and the Heavens
Then Muhammad (SAW) was shown both the hell and the heaven. In
the hell were the eaters of the properties of orphans and the eaters
of usury, adulterous men and women, killers of children, back-biters,
slanderers, and many others. Muhammad (SAW) was also shown the Jannah.
He saw the Jannat of Zaid bin Haritha, Umar Ibn Khittab, and heard
the sound of Bilal's footsteps in one of the Jannats. The details
are narrated in a number of traditions.
The Return Journey
It is reported that after the visit of the seven heavens, Jibraeel
'Alaihissalam brought Muhammad (SAW) back to Masjidil Aqsa from
where they returned to Makkah. During their return journey, the
Prophet (SAW) saw two caravans heading for Makkah at certain distance
from one another.
Before departing from Allah's Messenger, Jibraeel (AS) asked the
Prophet to inform the people about this incident. The Prophet expressed
his fear that people would not believe him. The Prophet (SAW) said,
"O Jibraeel, my people will not confirm it." Jibraeel
(AS) said, "Abu Bakr (RA) will testify it and he is As-Siddiq."
The Prophet Performs Morning Prayers With the Family of
Sometime by Dawn, the Prophet woke up the members of Um-Hanni's
household and they said their morning prayer together. Then Muhammad
(SAW) said, " O Um Hanni, I offered 'Isha prayers with you
as you witnessed, then I reached Baitul Muqaddis and offered prayers
there, and then I offered morning prayers before you." After
this he got up to go out. Um Hanni reports that she asked him not
to relate this to people because they would belie the prophet and
harm him. The Prophet (SAW) said, "By Allah, I shall relate
to them and inform them."
Prophet Narrates the Incident to Abu Jahl & Other Kuffaar
According to a Hadith reported by Ibn As and quoted by Al-Maibudawi
the Prophet was sitting by Hijr in the Mosque when Abu Jahl passed
by and asked mockingly what new thing he had brought to say that
day. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) told him about the nightly journey
to Baitul Muqqadis. Abu Jahal was delighted to find such a wonderful
occasion to mock the Prophet, so he asked him if he would narrate
that story in front of others. When the Prophet said he would, Abu
Jahal went and brought a huge crowd of the Quraish to the mosque
to hear the Prophet's story.
The Prophet Describes Baitul Muqqadis to the Quraish
Ibn Isahaq said, when the Prophet (SAW) told them the story most
of them said, "By Allah this is a plain absurdity. A caravan
takes a month to go to Syria and a month to come back. How can Muhammad
(SAW) do the return journey in one night?" This was like it
would have been difficult a hundred years ago to believe that a
man can take that same journey in an aeroplane in an hour's time;
but today we know such a journey is possible in an hour. So the
Quraish of Makkah asked the Prophet (SAW) to describe the Masjid
al-Aqsa to them. Jabir Bin Abdallah reports how Allah's Messenger
(SAW) used to describe this event. Allah's Messenger (SAW) used
to say, "When the people of Quraish did not believe me, I stood
up in Al-Hijr and Allah (SWT) put (displayed) Baitul Muqaddis in
front of me, and I began describing it to them while I was looking
There were, among the audience, quite a few persons, including
Abu Bakr (Radi-Allah 'Anhu) who had seen the mosque. As the others
heard the description of the Masjid with their mouths open in amazement,
Abu Bakr kept testifying that what the Prophet was saying was correct.
Finally, among the people sitting there, Abu Bakr said, "That
is true and I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and His
Servant." Thereupon Jibraeel (AS) brought the revelation, "
And he who has come with the Truth and the one who confirms him
They, they are the God-fearing [muttaqeen]. (Az-Zumur: 39:33)
Abu Bakr (RA) was given on that day the title As-Siddiq-- the True,
the Confirmer of the Truth. The Prophet (SAW) also told the Quraish
about the two caravans which were soon to arrive. Then when the
caravans did arrive, they found all the details to be just as the
Messenger of Allah had informed them.
Conclusion: The Objective of the Journey Achieved
We will conclude the story of Isra and Ma'araaj with Ibn Isahaq's
introductory remark to this narration. Ibn Isahaq says, "The
matter of the place and time of the journey and what is said about
it is a searching test and a matter of Allah's power and authority
in which is a lesson for the intelligent, and guidance and mercy
and strengthening for those who believe."