By: Dr. Sharif Abu Shammalah
CEO of al-Quds Foundation Malaysia
Al-Isra wa Al-Mi’raj (The Night Journey) was a milestone in the Prophetic biography and the history of Islam. The journey has taken place on the twenty-seventh of Rajab in the year before the Hijrah. The journey was one of God’s miracles bestowed upon the Prophet (PBUH)
Isra refers to the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) miraculous night travel from Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca to Masjid Al-Aqsa in Al-Quds. The journey was accompanied by Gabriel on a steed known as Buraq which traveled the distance between the two masjids in a very brief time. On the other hand, Mi’raj refers to the event following the Isra where the Prophet (PBUH), still accompanied by Gabriel, ascended to the heavens until “Sidrat al-Muntaha.”
The journey is one of the metaphysical phenomena that Muslims should believe in based on the evidences from the Quran and prophetic tradition.
Prior to the Isra and Mi’raj, the Prophet (PBUH) had had severe grieves and sad days. His uncle and protector, Abu Talib had died; shortly after, his beloved wife, Khadijah binti Khuwaylid also passed away. With Prophet’s uncle out of their way, Quraysh had increased their insults and atrocities against Prophet (PBUH). Therefore, Prophet (PBUH) sought a new refuge in al-Taif, but the locals responded by hurting him, which had intensified Prophet’s distress. That year was later known as the “Year of grief.” So, Allah the almighty relieved him of his pain by granting him the miracle of Isra and Mi’raj. This miracle has increased his determination and strength to endure the hardships and to continue preaching His message.
The journey started with Gabriel waking up Prophet (PBUH) who was asleep at the Stone of Ismail in Masjid al-Haram. Gabriel took him in the Isra journey to Masjid al-Aqsa on al-Buraq, which prophet (PBUH) described as “a long white beast, slightly bigger than a donkey but smaller than a mule…When trotting, [it] would place its next step as far as its eyesight could see. I mounted it until I reached al-Quds. There I tied it up to the same ring used by the Prophets.”
There, the Prophet (PBUH) met with the previous prophets and led them in a congregational prayer. After that, Gabriel brought him a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk; he chose the latter. Gabriel said, “You have chosen your natural disposition, guided your people, and forbade wine.”
From this, we can conclude that Al-Aqsa is a witness to one of the most momentous events in the history of Islam for a couple of reasons: the prayers became obliged on that day, and Prophet (PBUH) led the congregational prayer of all the previous prophets, symbolizing their pledge to Prophet (PBUH). After that, the prophet ascended from al-Aqsa to the heaven, where he (PBUH) received the commandment for the Muslims to pray. The Mi’raj journey was full of other events and details which were illustrated in the literatures of prophetic narrations.
The whole journey took less than a night. The Prophet returned to bed in the same night and, in the morning, he recounted his experience to his people whom, as a result, were split into believers and deniers. Therefore, the Prophet PBUH described the details of al-Aqsa to prove the validity of his journey to the Masjid.
Dr. Mustafa Sibai said that there are many secrets in the Isra and Mi’raj, some of them in regard to Masjid al-Aqsa. He said, “It associates and relates the issue of al-Aqsa and its surrounding [Palestine] to the Islamic world. Palestine, after the era of Prophet (PBUH), became the center of Muslim world, its unity, and its goals. Defending Palestine is synonymous to defending Islam itself. It is the duty of every Muslim around the globe. Giving it up is like giving up part of the Islam. It is a crime that will incur the punishment from God if they give up on liberating and defending it.”
Emphasizing the relationship between Masjid Al-Haram and Masjid Al-Aqsa
The journey of Isra and Mi’raj have asserted the association between Masjid Al-Haram and Masjid Al-Aqsa. However, the relationship between these two masjids is as old as Adam and his children. This is manifested in the Hadith of Abu Dzar Al-Ghafari: “O Messenger of Allah, which Masjid was built first on earth”? The Prophet (saw) replied, “Al-Masjid Al-Haram”. Abu Dzar again asked, “Which was next”? The Prophet (saw) said, “Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa”. Abu Dzar further asked, “How long was the period between the building of the two Masjids”? The Prophet (saw) said, “Forty years.”” [Narrated by Bukhari]
This association was again asserted in the Quran, where Allah the Almighty says,
)سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَى بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلاً مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ) الإسراء: 1
“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” [Al-Isra: 1]
The association between the two Masjids in Islam is not confined within the Journey of Isra only; it was also manifested in the greatest worship in Islam – the prayer –when Allah commanded the Prophet (PBUH) to make al-Aqsa as the qiblah. It continued for sixteen months until Allah commanded to change the qiblah to Masjid al-Haram as mentioned in the Quran, “We have certainly seen the turning of your face 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 are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]” [Al-Baqara: 144]
The scholars have said that the association between the two masjids should make the Muslims feel their responsibility towards the liberation of Masjid al-Aqsa. They elaborated that this association must also cause the Muslims to feel that the threat towards al-Aqsa is a threat towards Masjid al-Haram and the subjugation of al-Aqsa is a step towards subjugation of Masjid al-Haram, since al-Aqsa is the gate to the Sacred Mosque. If al-Aqsa falls from the hands of the Muslims into the Jewish hands, it will become a threat to the Grand mosque and the land of Hijaz.
The significance of Mi’raj to Masjid al-Aqsa
Prophet Muhammad’s Mi’raj to the heavens from the land of al-Aqsa and his return to it indicates that Masjid al-Aqsa is the gate between heaven and earth. This asserts the significance of the Masjid as a responsibility of every Muslim. Previously, it has been smeared by the invaders’ greed to conquered Al-Aqsa because it is the Muslims’ gate that protects the nation, maintains its identity, and prevent the raids of crusaders and their likes on Masjid al-Haram.