TUESDAY, JUNE 28: Tonight, the day of Lailat al Mi’raj begins (continuing until sunset on Wednesday June 29) for millions of Muslims who annually recall two miraculous journeys of the Prophet Muhammad—journeys that shape Islam’s view of the world to this day.
Concerning the date: Muslim observances often vary around the world. Some Muslim countries may fix the date differently than others. In the U.S., community festivals sometimes are marked on weekends for the convenience of Muslim families.
Muslims describe the observance this way: Two supernatural journeys—called Isra and Mi’raj—took the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem, then took him from Jerusalem into the heavens where the Prophet spoke with other great prophets in the Abrahamic tradition.
Muslims teach that the Prophet’s heart was purified on this night by the archangel Gabriel—the same Gabriel mentioned in the Bible. According to Islamic tradition, the Prophet entered the seven levels of heaven with true knowledge and faith. Then, the Prophet eventually traveled upward until he encountered Allah, and from Allah he was instructed to alert Muslims of their obligation to pray five times per day (Salat). Muslims may disagree on whether this was a physical or spiritual journey, but all consider it a pivotal event.
Isra and Mi’raj observances are joyous and have something for all ages: Adults usually offer prayers and readings during the night and, the following day, children are delighted at festive Lailat al Mi’raj celebrations. (Wikipedia has details.)
This important Islamic event also ties Muslims to what has become the most-coveted piece of real estate on Earth: the “Temple Mount” or “Noble Sanctuary” in Jerusalem. Just how did these events lead to a strong Islamic connection? The story goes like this: In approximately 621 CE, Muhammad was resting in Mecca when the archangel Gabriel brought him a buraq—a winged horse that often is associated with prophets. Muhammad and the buraq first journeyed to the “Farthest Mosque,” a spot that a majority of Muslims believe is located in the heart of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. After leading other Abrahamic prophets in prayer there, this tradition holds that Muhammad mounted the buraq and was taken to the seven layers of heaven, where he spoke with other prophets including Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Following Muhammad’s initial instructions, the earliest Muslims prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, although this location later was changed to Mecca. Nonetheless, Temple Mount is still revered in the Islamic faith as the place where Abraham offered a son in sacrifice, and where King Solomon built the first temple.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.