Lailat al Mi’raj: From Mecca to heaven, Muslims mark Muhammad’s journey

Large stone mosque

According to the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad traveled to “the farthest mosque” on the night of Lailat al Miraj. That mosque is believed to be at the site of Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, pictured above. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, MAY 26: A spectacular “night journey” is celebrated by Muslims today, as the faithful recall the Prophet Muhammad’s travels on Lailat al Mi’raj. Most Muslims describe the journey as both physical and spiritual, as the Prophet journeyed from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” in Jerusalem, and finally to heaven, where he was met by several other prophets, was purified and received instructions from Allah Himself to pray five times daily.

The events of this night are recorded in both the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet), and the night was divided into two parts: these are known, in Arabic, as Isra and Mi’raj (translated literally, Mi’raj means “ladder.” Wikipedia has details ). Generally, this event is described as having taken place around the year 621 CE. Today, Muslims commemorate the event by attending services at the mosque, relaying the story of the “night journey” to children and reciting specific nighttime prayers. Lailat al Mi’raj is one of the most prominent events on the Islamic calendar.

THE STORY OF THE NIGHT JOURNEY

As the traditional story is told, the Prophet Muhammad’s journey begins in Mecca, at a time when he was “in a state midway between sleep and wakefulness;” Muhammad was granted wisdom and belief, and was washed clean. After a greeting by the archangel Gabriel, Muhammad mounted Al-Buraq—a mythical animal often depicted as a great flying horse with a human face— and traveled to the “farthest mosque” (believed to be at the present site of the Masjid al-Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem), where he was tested by Gabriel at God’s command. Passing the test, Muhammad then ascended to the nearest heaven. (Learn more from the Madina Institute.) As both Gabriel and Muhammad ascended the seven circles of heaven, they were greeted by numerous significant figures: Adam, John the Baptist, Moses and Abraham, just to name a few.

As the story goes in Muslim communities around the world: Upon reaching the presence of Allah (God), Muhammad was told to instruct Muslims to pray 50 times per day; afterward, upon Moses’s suggestion, Muhammad begged for reductions, until Allah reduced the number to five.

Finally, the Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca.

What‘s the difference between Isra and Mi’raj? Isra describes the first portion of the night’s journey, from Mecca to the “farthest mosque” in Jerusalem; Mi’raj is the second portion of the journey, when Muhammad traveled to heaven.

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)