Isra and Mi'raj
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The Isra and Mi'raj (Arabic: الإسراء والمعراج, al-’Isrā’ wal-Mi‘rāj) are the two parts of a Night Journey that, according to Islam, the prophet, Muhammad, took during a single night around the year 621. It has been described as both a physical and spiritual journey. A brief sketch of the story is in surah al-Isra of the Quran, and other details come from the hadith, collections of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of Muhammad. In the Isra part of the journey, Muhammad travels on the steed Buraq to "the farthest mosque" where he leads other prophets in prayer. He then ascends to heaven in the Mi'raj journey where he speaks to God, who gives Muhammad instructions to take back to the faithful regarding the details of prayer. This remembrance of this journey is one of the most significant events in the Islamic calendar.
The events of Isra and Mi'raj are referred to briefly in the Qur'an. For greater detail, they have been discussed in Hadith literature, reported sayings of the prophet which supplement the Qur'an. Of the hadith, two of the best known are by Anas ibn Malik, who would have been a young boy at the time of Muhammad's journey of Mi'raj.
Within the Quran itself, surah al-Isra, the 17th chapter, was named after the Isra. In it, the first verse briefly describes the Isra. There is also some information in a later verse and another sura an-Najm, which some scholars say is related to the Isra and Mi'raj.
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).— Quran, Chapter 17 (Al-Isra) verse 1
And [remember, O Muhammad], when We told you, "Indeed, your Lord has encompassed the people." And We did not make the sight which We showed you except as a trial for the people, as was the accursed tree [mentioned] in the Qur'an. And We threaten them, but it increases them not except in great transgression.— Quran, Chapter 17 (Al-Isra) verse 60
And he certainly saw him in another descent,
At the Lote-tree of the Utmost Boundary –
Near it is the Garden of Refuge –
When there covered the Lote Tree that which covered [it]
The sight [of the Prophet] did not swerve, nor did it transgress [its limit].
He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.— Quran, Chapter 53 (An-Najm), verses 13–18
From various hadith we learn much greater detail. The Isra is the part of the journey of Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem. It began when Muhammad was in the Masjid al-Haram, and the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl or Jibrāʾīl) came to him, and brought Buraq, the traditional heavenly steed of the prophets. Buraq carried Muhammad to the Masjid Al Aqsa, the "Farthest Mosque", in Jerusalem. Muhammad alighted, tethered Buraq to the Temple Mount and performed prayer, where on God's command he was tested by Gabriel. It was told by Anas ibn Malik that Muhammad said: "Jibra'il brought me a vessel of wine, a vessel of water and a vessel of milk, and I chose the milk. Jibra'il said: 'You have chosen the Fitrah (natural instinct).'" In the second part of the journey, the Mi'raj (an Arabic word that literally means "ladder"), Buraq took him to the heavens, where he toured the seven stages of heaven, and spoke with the earlier prophets such as Abraham (ʾIbrāhīm), Moses (Musa), John the Baptist (Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā), and Jesus (Isa). Muhammad was then taken to Sidrat al-Muntaha – a holy tree in the seventh heaven that Gabriel was not allowed to pass. According to Islamic tradition, God instructed Muhammad that Muslims must pray fifty times per day; however, Moses told Muhammad that it was very difficult for the people and urged Muhammad to ask for a reduction, until finally it was reduced to five times per day.
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Masjid al-Aqsa, the farthest masjid
The place referred to in the Quran as "the farthest mosque" (Arabic: المسجد الأقصى, al-Masjidu 'l-’Aqṣá), from surat al-Isra, has been historically considered as referring to the site of the modern-day al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. However, the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was not built during Muhammad's lifetime. The Jerusalem interpretation was advanced by the earliest biographer of Muhammad (ca. 570-632) – Ibn Ishaq (ca. 704-761/770) – and is supported by numerous ahadith. The term used for mosque (Arabic masjid) literally means "place of prostration" and includes monotheistic places of worship but does not lend itself exclusively to physical structures but a location, as Muhammad stated "The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying". When the Rashid caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem after Muhammad's death, a prayer house was rebuilt on the site. The structure was expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and finished by his son al-Walid I in 705. The building was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt, until the reconstruction in 1033 by the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir, and that version of the structure is what can be seen in the present day.
Many Western historians, such as Heribert Busse and Neal Robinson, agree that Jerusalem is the originally intended interpretation of the Quran. Muslims used to pray towards Jerusalem, but according to the following verses of their Quran, God changed this direction, the Qibla, to instead direct to al-Masjid al-Haram:
And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful. We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.— Quran, Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah) verse 143-144
The Lailat al Mi'raj (Arabic: لیلة المعراج, Lailatu 'l-Miʿrāj), also known as Shab-e-Mi'raj (Urdu: شب معراج, Šab-e Mi'râj, Persian: شب معراج, Šab-e Mi'râj) in Iran, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and Miraç Kandili in Turkish, is the Muslim holiday celebrating the Isra and Miʿraj. Some Muslims celebrate this event by offering optional prayers during this night, and in some Muslim countries, by illuminating cities with electric lights and candles. The celebrations around this day tend to focus on every Muslim who wants to celebrate it. Worshippers gather into mosques and perform prayer and supplication. Some people may pass their knowledge on to others by informing them The story on how Muhammad's heart was purified by the archangel Gabriel, who filled him with knowledge and faith in preparation to enter the seven levels of heaven. After salah, food and treats are served.
The al-Aqsa Mosque marks the place from which Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. The exact date of the Journey is not clear, but is celebrated as though it took place before the Hegira and after Muhammad's visit to the people of Ta'if. It is considered by some to have happened just over a year before the Hijra, on the 27th of Rajab; but this date is not always recognized. This date would correspond to the Julian date of February 26, 621, or, if from the previous year, March 8, 620. In Shi'a Iran for example, Rajab 27 is the day of Muhammad's first calling or Mab'as. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and surrounding area, marks the place from which Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven, is the third-holiest place on earth for Muslims.
Many sects and offshoots belonging to Islamic mysticism interpret Muhammad's night ascent – the Isra and Mi'raj – to be an out-of-body experience through nonphysical environments, unlike the Sunni Muslims or mainstream Islam. The mystics claim Muhammad was transported to Jerusalem and onward to the Seven Heavens, even though "the apostle's body remained where it was." Esoteric interpretations of the Quran emphasise the spiritual significance of Miʿraj, seeing it as a symbol of the soul's journey and the potential of humans to rise above the comforts of material life through prayer, piety and discipline.
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