Muslim: One Night, Two Journeys On Isra and Mi’raj

DOME OF THE ROCK MOSQUE: Located in Jerusalem on what is called the “Temple Mount” or “Noble Sanctuary,” depending on one’s religious backgroundTHURSDAY, JULY 8: Tonight, many Muslims will remember how they received a central, sacred element of their religion during Isra and Mi’raj, an observance of the two-part Night Journey undertaken by Muhammad. (Dates vary. This date is especially observed by American Muslims; other Muslims around the globe observed this event last night.)

Muslim tradition teaches that Prophet Muhammad’s heart was purified on this night by the archangel Gabriel—the same Gabriel mentioned in the Christian Bible and in the ancient book of Daniel as well. As Muslims recall the story, the Prophet entered the seven levels of heaven with true knowledge and faith. Then, Prophet Muhammad eventually traveled upward until he met Allah, and from Allah he was instructed to alert Muslims of their obligation to pray five times per day (Salat). Devotees 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 during the night, accompanied by candles, and the following day, children are delighted at a festival known as Lailat al Mi’raj. (Wikipedia has details.)

AL BURAQ as depicted in a 17th century Indian Mughal miniatureThis 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? Well, 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.

Temple Mount and mosque in New York City in the news

At Ground Zero, in New York, some American Muslims are hoping to build a major new mosque and Islamic cultural center, while in Jerusalem, a new museum is planned for the concourse next to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. At Ground Zero, the Cordoba House would be a 15-story, $100-million structure with a mosque, auditorium, swimming pool, restaurant and bookstore. (An article in the Boston Globe has details.) Even some Muslims disagree with the proposed location of the Cordoba House, although it has found strong political support. In Jerusalem, the museum is also a hot subject of debate: archaeologists have petitioned, saying that the new building would damage an ancient Roman road that lies beneath the proposed building site. (Read the article here.) In the petition, the archaeologists insisted that it would be “impossible to exaggerate the cultural damage and the harm to antiquities” that would ensue if the road was encased by the building’s foundation pillars.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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