The Holy Qur'an

Commentary on a verse of the Holy Quran “Spiritual Ascention of the Holy Prophet”

THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS COMMENTARY ON A VERSE OF THE HOLY QURAN SPIRITUAL ASCENSION OF THE HOLY PROPHET Glory be to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Distant Mosque, the environs of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. Surely, He alone is the Hearing, the Seeing. (1 7 : 2) The verse is supposed by almost all Commentators of the Quran to refer to the £.L> *-‘ (Spiritual Ascension of the Holy Prophet). The subject of Miraj has become much complicated and confused on account of the many divergent traditions that deal with it. Contrary to popular view we are, however, inclined towards the opinion that the present verse deals with the f~\^> –“* I (Night Journey) of the Holy Prophet while his Miraj (Spiritual Ascension) has been dealt with in Sura Al-Najm. That Sura removes all the obscurities and ambiguities that have confused the popular mind in regard to this important subject. In Sura Al-Najm we have:- It is nothing but a revelation that is revealed. The One of mighty powers has taught him (this knowledge): the One Possessor of strength. So He manifested His ascendance (over everything) and He revealed His word when he was on the uppermost horizon. Then he drew nearer (to God), then he came down to (His creatures), so that he became, as it were, the one chord of two bows or closer still. And He revealed to His servant that which He revealed. The heart (of the Prophet) was not untrue to that which he saw. Will you then dispute with him concerning that which he saw? And cer- tainly he saw Him a second time, near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass, near which is the Garden of Abode. This was when a wonderful and glorious Divine manifestation covered the Lote-tree. The eye deviated not nor did it wander. Surely, he saw the greatest of the Signs of his Lord. (53 : 5-19). These verses give a graphic description of the Miraj, for the facts mentioned in them all relate to it, e.g., the Holy Prophet went up to the Lote-tree; (2) the Lote-tree was covered with “something”; (3) the Prophet saw the Paradise (the Garden of Abode) near the Lote-Tree; (4) he became, as it were, the one chord of two bows; (5) he saw God (and the heart of the Prophet was not untrue to that which he saw); and (6) the word of God descended on the Lote- tree. All these details have also been mentioned in the traditions THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS which deal with the Miraj. As for the Lote-tree, Abu Huraira (as reported by Ibn Jarir, Ibn Abu Hatim, Ibn Merdawaih, Abu Yala and Baihaqi) says, “In the night of Miraj, after having seen other Prophets of God in heaven, the Holy Prophet proceeded further till he reached the Lote-tree.” The same fact has been mentioned in the tradition quoted on the authority of Abu Said al-Khudri by Ibn Jarir, Ibn Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim Ibn Merdawaih, Baihaqi, and Ibn Asakir, and in the tradition quoted on the authority of Malik Ibn Sasa by Ahmad bin Hanbal, Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Jarir and in the tradition quoted on the authority of Anas by Bukhari (Bukhari, Chapter on Miraj Al-Khasais al-Kubra, vol. 1 pp. 153, 167 & 174). The second important detail mentioned in Sura Al-Najm is that when the Prophet reached the Lote-tree, he saw it covered with some extraordinary thing (53 : 17). This has also been mentioned in the traditions that deal with Miraj. In the tradition reported by Abu Huraira to which reference has been made above we read cJL^j3_E.o^aeJiJiiiV;j^ii i.e., when the Holy Prophet reached the Lote-tree, the light of the Powerful and Glorious Creator covered it (Al-Khasais al-Kubra, vol. 1 p. 174). Similarly, in the tradition reported by Anas we have: “Then the Lote-tree became covered with a special divine grace so much so that in its newly changed condition its beauty defied all description” (Muslim, Kitab al-Iman). The third incident referred to in Chapter 53 (Al-Najm) is that the Holy Prophet saw Paradise near the Lote-tree. This has also found mention in traditions which deal with Miraj. In the tradition quoted on the authority of Abu Said al-Khudri by Ibn Jarir and mentioned in some other books of Hadith we read: a^i\j j\<.i> i.e. after I had seen the Prophets in the heavens I was taken up to Paradise. This is followed by the words LS*~-li,iJj—• Ji^*ij ji,i i.e. after the Paradise I was led up to the Lote-tree (Ibn Jarir, vol. 15 p. 11). The fourth important detail mentioned in Chapter 53 is that when the Holy Prophet had a vision of those celestial scenes he was transported into a highly spiritual state which has been described in the words, So that he became, as it were, the one chord of two bows or closer still. This fact has also been mentioned in the traditions about Miraj. In the tradition reported by Abu Said al-Khudri and referred to above we find the words: t^Ji-Moj—^j^ t_>U”oVSaI> i.e. between God and the Prophet there was the one chord of two bows or closer still. THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The fifth important and relevant incident mentioned in Chapter 53 is that during the Miraj the Prophet had a vision of God Himself (53 : 12). This fact has also been mentioned in the traditions quoted by Ibn Merdawaih on the authority of Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr (Al-Khasais al-Kubra, vol. 1, p. 177), and by Muslim on the authority of Ibn Abbas (Muslim, Kitab al-Imari). In the latter tradition we read o£/*«;>l>a?»>b i.e. twice the Prophet saw God with the eyes of his heart. The sixth notable detail mentioned in Chapter 53 is that God spoke to the Holy Prophet near the Lote-tree (53 : 111). This fact has also found a mention in the traditions. For instance, in the tradi- tion reported by Abu Huraira wehave^i3i>—~1 Ism or the Night Journey of the Holy Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem, with which the present verse deals, took place in the eleventh year of the Call (Zurqani, vol I, p. 306). Christian writers, however, put it in the twelfth year of the Call (Muir, Life of Muhammad, 1923 o, 121). Traditions relating to this incident also corroborate the date referred to above. Accord- ing to the traditions quoted by Ibn Merdawaih and Ib’n Sa’d the Isra took place on the seventeenth of Rabi al-Awwal, a year before the Hijra (Al-Kasais al-Kubra, vol. I, p. 162). Similarly, a tradition quoted by Baihaqi on the authority of Ibn Shihab, relates that the Isra took place a year before the Hijra. Another tradition also quoted by Baihaqi places the Night Journey to Jerusalem six months before the Hijra (Al-Kasais al-Kubra, vol I. p. 162). All these traditions go to prove that the Isra took place six months or a year prior to the Hijra and it has been shown above that the Miraj took place about the fifth year of the Call. Thus the two incidents are separated from each other by an interval of six or seven years and therefore cannot be identical; the Miraj must be regarded as quite distinct and separate from the Isra. Irrefutable evidence which shows that the Miraj and the Isra were two separate incidents is the fact that it was during the fifth year of the Call that the five daily prayers, were enjoined upon Muslims. If the Miraj be considered as identical with the Isra, then it will also have to be admitted that the five daily Prayers were enjoined upon Muslims in the eleventh or twelfth year of the Call which is evidently wrong because all traditionists agree that the five Prayers were prescribed in the very early years of the Call. It may incidentally be stated here that the Miraj itself seems to have occurred twice. As it appears from the Hadith, the first Miraj occurred in the beginning of the Holy Prophet’s ministry when the foundation of the Shariat may be said to have been laid and Prayers were made obligatory. V/hich seems to have taken place in the first year of the Call (Bukhari, Chapter on Tauhid; Jarir, vol 15. p. 4). The second or the better known Miraj took place about the fifth year of the Call when the five prescribed Prayers were made obligatory and Chapter 53, containing a description of it, was reveal- ed (or it may have taken place even earlier and may have been subsequently referred to in Ch. 53). The Isra however, is quite a separate event which undoubtedly occurred in the eleventh or twelfth year of the Call when the Prophet was living in the house of his cousin Ummi Hani, after the death of his wife, Khadija, which THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS took place in the tenth year of the Call after the Prophet had come out of the Valley ( •~T̂ *-i ) of Abu Talib. In addition to this strong historical evidence, other relevant circumstances also lend support to the view that the two incidents are quite distinct and separate from each other: (1) The first evidence in this connection is furnished by the Quran itself. It gives an account of the Prophet’s Miraj (Spiritual Ascension) in Chapter 53 but makes no reference to his Isra (Night Journey to Jerusalem). While in the present Sura it speaks of his Isra but omits all allusion to his Miraj. This shows that the two incidents took place separately and, therefore, could not be men- tioned together. It is inconceivable that the Quran should have mentioned the concluding portion of this incident in one Sura and the first portion of the self-same incident in another Sura five years later. (2) The Second evidence which supports this inference is the fact that there was only one person, namely Urhmi Hani, who was present with the Prophet during the night when the Isra (Spiritual Night Journey to Jerusalem) took place and she speaks only of his visit to Jerusalem and makes no mention of his journey to the heavens. She was the first person whom the Prophet informed of his Night Journey to Jerusalem and at least seven collectors of traditions have given her account of the incident on the authority of four different reporters who have reported the incident from her. All these four reporters concur in saying that the Prophet went to Jeru- salem and returned to Mecca the same night. If the Prophet had spoken of his Ascension to the heavens also, Ummi Hani could not have failed to refer to it in one or other of her reports. But she does not do so in any of her reports, which conclusively shows that during the night in question the Holy Prophet made the Isra or the Spiritual Night Journey to Jerusalem only and that the Miraj did not take place on that occasion. So the Isra or the Prophet’s Spiritual Night Journey to Jerusalem should not be confused with the Miraj or his Spiritual Ascension to heaven. (3) All the different reporters of this incident may be placed in three categories: (a) those who speak of the Prophet’s Ascension direct to heaven and make no mention of his Journey to Jerusalem: (b) those who speak first of his Journey to Jerusalem and then of his Ascension to heaven; and (c) those who only speak of his Journey to Jerusalem and make no mention at all of his Ascension to heaven. Of the reporters of this last group, there is a goodly number who say expressly that the Prophet returned to Mecca after his Journey to THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Jerusalem. It is evident that the reports of the first group point to the Miraj as being distinct from the Isra inasmuch as, according to them, the Holy Prophet was taken from his house direct to heaven, so Jerusalem could not lie in his way. The reporters of this group are Anas, Malik bin Sasa and Abu Dharr, who was one of the earliest converts to Islam. Similarly, the reports of those who speak only of the Prophet’s Journey to Jerusalem and make no mention of his Ascension to heaven also show that when he made his Night Journey to Jerusalem he did not ascend to heaven, for if he had ascended to heaven after his visit to Jerusalem, it is inconceivable that the reporters, after mentioning the less important part of the Vision, should have omitted to mention its more important part which related to his Ascension to heaven, and to his having seen God and having had communion with Him. The reporters of this group of traditions are Anas and Abdullah bin Masud, the latter being one of the earliest and best-loved of the Prophet’s Companions. Reports of the third group clearly state that the Prophet return- ed to Mecca after his visit to Jerusalem and did not ascend to heaven. These also demonstrate the two events to be distinct and separate from each other. The reporters of this group are Abdullah bin Masud, Abdullah bin Abbas, Aisha and Ummi Salma and Ummi Hani. All of them with the exception of Abdullah bin Masud, who, as stated above, was among the earliest converts to Islam, were the Prophet’s very near relatives and enjoyed his intimate and constant company. It is impossible to impugn their evidence. Another argument in favour of Isra being distinct from Miraj are the traditions which speak of the Prophet’s transportation to the heavens after his visit to Jerusalem and then of his return from the heavens to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem back to Mecca (Al-Kasais al-Kubra, vol. I p. 154). Now, going to Jerusalem before ascending to heaven may be considered as reasonable, for it served for the Prophet the purpose of offering Prayers at the place where a large party of heavenly Messengers had delivered their divine Message, but it is difficult to understand why the same route should have been followed during the return journey, when on his return from heaven the Prophet is not reported to have performed any specific act at Jerusalem. The only reasonable assumption is that the account of the Isra became mixed up with that of the Miraj. Anas seems to have related the account of both the Isra and the Miraj to some reporters who mixed up the two accounts and mistakenly thought that they formed the two parts of the same event and thus these THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS reporters were led to believe that while coming back from his Mir a] the Prophet went to Jerusalem from where he returned to Mecca. In fact, the confusion seems to have arisen from the same word >l>—^ \h means a night Journey) having been used for both the Holy Prophet’s >O—^i (Spiritual Night Journey to Jerusalem) and his £l>*» (Spiritual Ascension to heaven); and the resemblance that existed in some of the details in the description of the >’-> -I (Isra) and the Cl>—s-o (Miraj) heightened and confirmed it. Internal evidence of the traditions also point to the fact that the Ism and the Miraj were two distinct and separate events. The traditions which first give an account of the Prophet’s visit to Jeru- salem and then of his transportation from Jerusalem to heaven also state that at Jerusalem he met the former Prophets, including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and that in the heavens he met the same Prophets again but could not recognize them. Now how did these Prophets whom he had met at Jerusalem reach the heavens before him and why could he not recognize them while he had seen them only a short while ago in the course of the same journey? If the two meetings had taken place separately and after long intervals it was possible that he could not have recognized some of them at the time of the second meeting in a changed atmosphere. But it is inconceivable that he should have failed to recognize them when he had met them only a short while ago in the course of the same journey. It having been established that the Isra and the Miraj were two separate and distinct events, it is necessary to give a somewhat detail- ed account of Isra as given in the traditions as it forms the subject- matter of the verse under comment. The most reliable account of it is to be found in the tradition quoted by Ibn Jarir on the authority of Anas bin Malik. It is briefly as follows: “When the Archangel Gabriel brought the Buraq to the Holy Prophet, he mounted it, and had gone only a short distance, when he saw an old woman. The Prophet asked Gabriel who she was, but Gabriel gave no answei to his question; on the contary he told him not to ask questions, just as Moses in his ^-‘j-*-0 (Spiritual Ascension) was told not to put unnecessary questions (18 : 71). After the Prophet had gone a little further he saw a man calling him by name from across the road in order to invite his attention to himself. But Gabriel asked him again not to heed his call. When the Prophet had proceeded a little further he met a party of men who greeted him with the greeting of peace. Gabriel told him to return their greeting. After this the Prophet reached the Holy House in Jerusalem. There Gabriel presented him with three cups containing water, milk and THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS wine. The Prophet took the cup containing milk and drank it and refused to accept the other two. Upon this Gabriel said to him, “Thou hast, indeed, chosen the right course which is in perfect harmony with a pure, unsullied nature. If thou hadst accepted water or wine, thou and thine followers would have been lost.” Then Adam and the other Prophets were presented to him, and the Holy Prophet led them in Prayers. After this Gabriel explained to him that the old woman he saw on the way was an embodied represen- tation of the life of this world and only as much was left of the life of the world as was left of the life of that old woman. As for the person who called him from across the road, he was Iblis, the enemy of God. The party of men who greeted him were the Proph- ets Abraham, Moses and Jesus (Ibn Jarir). This tradition serves as a key to resolve this whole allegory. It gives the most reliable and correct account of the Isra. It shows that the Journey to Jerusalem was no physical act but only a vision. This is clear from the following facts: (a) It is stated in this tradition that during the Night Journey to Jerusalem, the Prophet saw an old woman, a person standing on one side of the road, and three cups full of water, wine and milk (of which the Prophet chose the last), and Gabriel told him what all these things signified. The explanation and interpretation by Gabriel of the things the Prophet saw shows that the Journey was only a vision, for it is only things seen in visions that need interpretation and explanation. (b) The Night Journey has been spoken of as a vision in the present Sura (v. 61). Accordingly, we find that several Companions of the Prophet and some of the later scholars of Islam “have, on the basis of this verse, declared the Isra to be a vision. For instance, Ibn Ishaque and Ibn Jarir report that when Muawiya was asked concerning the Isra, he said that it was a vision which came out to be true (Manthur, vol 4 p. 197). Aisha is also reported to have held the same view. (Hisham and Maad, vol. 1) (c) We learn from the Hadith that when the Holy Prophet spoke of his Night Journey to Jerusalem he was asked to give a description of the Temple at Jerusalem. The Prophet is reported to have said that at that time God presented before his eyes an embo- died representation of the Temple and he was thus able to describe it as demanded of him (Ibn Kathir, vol. 6, p. 18). The Vision of the Prophet referred to in the present verse impli- ed a great prophecy. His journey to the Distant Mosque ( (j^^i^eJ-i ) meant his Emigration to Medina where he was to build a Mosque THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS which was destined to become later the Centre of all Faiths and Dispensations and the Holy Prophet’s seeing himself in the Vision leading other Prophets of God in Prayers signified that the New Faith — Islam was not to remain confined to the place of its birth but was to spread all over the world and the followers of all religions were to join its fold. His going to Jerusalem in the Vision may also be understood to mean that he was to be given dominion over the territory in which Jerusalem was situated. This prophecy was fulfill- ed in the Caliphate of Umar. The words of the verse also lend support to the view that the Vision constituted a prophecy about the great future of Islam. The Distant Mosque (c^’yi-Ast-u) that the Prophet saw in the Vision repre- sented his own Mosque at Medina, Jerusalem stood for Medina and his going to Jerusalem signified his Emigration to Medina. The Vision begins with the words ^o^c/*-1 (Glory be to Him) which indi- cated that the Emigration of the Prophet would rebound to the Glory of God. The word ote^ itself shows that the Vision embodied a prophecy; for a physical journey to the Temple at Jerusalem could not be regarded as evidence of the Glory of God. But as establishment of the Islamic State at Medina was to fulfil a prophecy, that event did serve as evidence of divine Glory. Thus the words, Glory be to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Distant Mosque, signified that God would take the Holy Prophet to a Mosque resembling u-^iust-Al (the Distant Mosque) at Jerusalem so that His word might be fulfilled. The words, ‘We might show him some of Our Signs’, pointed to the great possibilities of the Prophet’s Journey to Medina. The Prophet’s Emigration to Medina served as a prelude to the glorious future of Islam which was then hidden from the eyes of the world and thus God’s great Signs were manifested. The reason why the Holy Prophet’s Mosque was called J^^AZ^ (the Distant Mosque), and why Medina was shown to him in the Vision in the form of Jerusalem was that the blessings which God had conferred on the Mosque at Jerusalem were also in store in a greater measure for the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina. The Prophecy implied in the words, ‘Who carried His servant by night’, was fulfilled when the Prophet left Mecca at dead of night. He did not undertake this journey of his own accord but in pur- suance of God’s express command. And as in his Night Journey to Jerusalem in the Vision he was accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel, so in his Flight to Medina he was accompanied by his most faithful companion, Abu Bakr. The word “Gabriel”, means “man of God”, fitly applies to Abu Bakr and portrays his spiritual eminence. THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 10 This Vision may also be taken as referring to a spiritual journey of the Holy Prophet to a distant land in some future time. It meant that when spiritual darkness enveloped the entire world, the Prophet would appear in spirit a second time in the person of one of his followers, in a land far away from the scene of his first advent —in the Punjab. A pointed reference to this second advent of the Holy Prophet is to be found in 62, 3 :5. (The Holy Quran with English translation and Commentary volume II (part 1) p. 1404 to 1411). THE PROMISED MESSIAH SAYS When God A/mighty, observing the condition of the world and finding the earth filled with every type of disobedience, sin and misguidance, appointed me for the propagation of the truth and the reform of the people, then I, in obedience to this Divine command, sent forth the call through written and oral announce- ments that I was the person who was to arrive at the beginning of the century for revival of the faith. My purpose was to re-establish the faith which had disappeared from the earth and to pull mankind towards reform and righteousness and truthfulness through the power and strength that God had bestowed upon me, and through the magnetic power of His hand. It was also my purpose to correct their doctrinal errors and to reform their conduct. A few years thereafter, it was made quite clear to me through Divine revelation that the Messiah, whose advent among the Muslims had been promis- ed from the beginning, and the Mahdi whose advent had been Divinely decreed at the time of the decline of Islam and the spread of error, and who was to be guided directly by God, and who was to invite people to partake of the heavenly banquet, and whose coming had been foretold by the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, thirteen hundred years in advance, was myself. Divine revelation to this effect was vouchsafed to me so clearly and so continuously that it left no room for doubt. It was replete with grand prophecies that were fulfilled clearly as bright day. Its frequency and number and miraculous power compelled me to affirm that it comprehended the word of the One God, without an associate, Whose Word is the Holy Quran. (Tazkaratush Shahadatain, pp. 1-2).