SUNSET SATURDAY JUNE 16: Muslim countries illuminate with candles and electric lights tonight as the faithful stay up for prayer: It’s Isra and Mi’raj, also known as the Night Journey. Islamic tradition tells of a miraculous night when the Prophet Muhammad took a physical and spiritual journey to a faraway mosque and then, after prayer, to heaven. (Wikipedia has details.) Opinions vary on ways to define this journey, from the spiritual to the physical, although both the Quran and Hadith describe this event in Muhammad’s life.
Children are at the heart of Isra and Mi’raj events, as young people flock to mosques to hear the story of Muhammad’s adventure. It’s believed that Muhammad’s heart was purified by the Archangel Gabriel before he was able to enter the seven levels of heaven; once there, however, Muhammad was able to probe further into heaven than Gabriel was allowed. After stories and prayer today, children partake in food and treats.
Accounts describe a 40-year-old Muhammad who was a merchant in Mecca; he had been receiving messages from Gabriel for some time. Muhammad had begun to preach to others in Mecca. (Get an Islamic perspective at OnIslam.net.) During this time, Muhammad told of a journey he had taken with Gabriel. Muhammad told of a lightning steed, called the Buraq that had taken him to the “farthest mosque” and, accompanied by Gabriel, Muhammad led other prophets in prayer. Muhammad then was taken by the Buraq to heaven, where he spoke with more prophets and finally with God. The Islamic tradition holds that this is the evening when Muhammad was told that Muslims must pray five times per day. Today, most Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Generally, this is a holiday when workplaces are closed in Muslim countries—but the Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles and continually “moves earlier” through the standard calendar. This year in the United Arab Emirates, for example, school exams conflict with Isra and Mi’raj; although many UAE bodies will be closed today, the Ministry of Education declared the examinations will still be held. (Read the full story here.)