What Is Miraj?
Deriving from the root uruj meaning "to ascend, to rise," the word miraj means "a vehicle for ascending." As a term it refers to the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) ascension to the heavens and his rise to Allah's presence. Islamic sources generally take up the event of the miraj in two stages. The Prophet's journey in one night from the Masjid-i Haram to the Masjid-i Aqsa is called the isra, and his ascension from there to the heavens is called the miraj. This distinction in literary sources is due to both terms being mentioned in Quranic verses. Deriving from the root sary meaning to walk at night, it is also called suraya in the Quran. According to the Quranic surah, in order to show signs of His power, Allah made his servant (the Prophet) take a night journey from the Masjid-i Haram to the Masjid-i Aqsa, the surroundings of which were made holy (Al-Isra 17/1). Together with not being mentioned in the Quran, the plural form of the word, maarij, meaning "degrees of rising" was attributed to Allah (Al-Maarij 70/3). It is also found in a verse with the meaning of "ladder."
The image of ascension to heaven is also found in ancient Indian and Persian mythology and in the Jewish and Christian traditions.
According to common points of narrations related to the miraj in Buhari and Muslim, the event occurred as follows: One evening when the Prophet was at the Kaaba in the place called Hijr or Hatim (in some reports he was in between sleep and wakefulness), Gabriel came. He opened the Prophet's chest and, after washing it with zamzam water, he filled it with faith and wisdom and then closed it. He mounted the Prophet on a steed called Buraq and took him to Beytulmaqdis. When the Prophet prayed two raqats of prayer and came out, Gabriel brought two cups, one full of milk and the other full of wine. When the Prophet chose the cup of milk, Gabriel said, "you chose what is natural," and then he took him to the heavens. In each heaven he met respectively with the prophets Adam, Jesus, Joseph, Enoch, Harun and Moses; finally he met with Abraham in the seventh heaven where the Beytulmamur is located. When they arrived at the place called the Sidret'ul-Munteha, the Prophet heard the scraping of the pens of the recording angels and he ascended to Allah's presence. Here Allah made 50 times of prayer mandatory. On the return Moses said that praying 50 times a day might be a heavy burden on the ummah and he advised that the Prophet Muhammad ask Allah to reduce it. The Prophet petitioned in the Divine Presence until the number of prayers was reduced to 5 times a day and then continued his dialogue with Moses (Buhari: Salat, 1; Tawhid, 37; Anbiya, 5; Bad'ul-halk, 7; Manaqib, 24/ Muslim: Iman, 259, 262-263; Fazail, 164). According to one report, the final verses of Baqara Surah were revealed to the Prophet during the miraj and the good tidings that those who did not ascribe partners to Allah would be forgiven was given (Musned, I, 422; Muslim, Iman, 279).
There are some differences in sound reports regarding the miraj such as the report that the Prophet directly ascended to heaven from the Masjid-i Haram. However, when accepting that isra and miraj occurred on the same night and when all the reports are taken into consideration, it is understood that the Prophet stopped by the Masjid-i Aqsa and led the prayer here for a group of prophets that included Abraham, Jesus and Moses (Muslim, Iman, 259; Ibn-i Hisham, II, 37-38). According to other narrations, when the Quraish accused the Prophet of lying when he described the event and asked him questions about the Masjid-i Aqsa, Allah showed him the masjid and he answered their questions (Musned, I, 309; Buhari, Manaqibu'l-ansar, 41).
When Did It Happen?
According to the report accepted as the soundest, the miraj came after the first and second migrations to Abyssinia, in the period following the death of Khadija and Abu Talip one year before the Migration. Most Muslims celebrate Miraj on the 27th night of Rajab.
Which Masjid Was the Masjid-i Aqsa Mentioned in the Miraj?
There is no explanation in Quranic verses as to which masjid was the Masjid-i Aqsa mentioned in the miraj. It is only stated that its environs were made holy. The possibility is dwelt on by some that it could be a heavenly masjid since masjid-i aqsa means the "faraway masjid," and the Quran (Ar-Rum 30/3) refers to Palestine as the "adne'l-arz" (closest place) (M. Hamidullah, I, 93). However, when both historical data and the expressions in the verses are considered, it is understood that the temple mentioned is an historical reality. Just as the fact that the masjid was not present at that period does not show that the Masjid-i Aqsa did not exist earlier in Jerusalem, it is known that the Masjid-i Aqsa was the first qibla of Muslims. The place believers turn towards when making worship in respect to the belief of unity in the monotheistic religions is a vehicle not a goal. The building on this space being destroyed centuries ago and being rebuilt or not existing from time to time does not obstruct the space's spiritual position.
Did the Miraj Take Place Spiritually or Physically?
The most important debate regarding the nature of isra and miraj was whether it was spiritual or physical. Most qalam and hadith scholars are of the view that the event took place physically while the Prophet (pbuh) was awake. If isra and miraj had taken place in a dream, this would have been an ordinary event and the Quraish would not have objected to it. Accordingly, the word "abd" means the total of the Prophet, spiritually and physically, and there is no reason to force an explanation here. Also, in the verse reading, "We granted the vision which We showed thee but as a trial for man" (Isra 17/60), the word "ru'yet" means seeing with the eye. If it had meant a dream seen during sleep, it would not have been a vehicle for a test. Evaluating different interpretations from Aisha and Muawiye ibn Abu Sufyan, scholars claim that these reports have problems in respect to hadith technique. Saying that in spite of their great volume Allah quickly moves the sun and the planets, Fahreddin ar-Razi claimed that other creatures could reach such a speed if Allah wills it. According to him, even if the Prophet's ascension appears to be improbable, it is necessary to look at Gabriel's descent in the same way. While the view that the miraj took place physically was being established, scholars of qalam emphasized the occurrence of the event within Allah's will and power. However, it is not easy to fully force this miraculous event, which is a divine sign, into a mental framework (Elmali, V, 3150).
Scholars who adopt the view that the night journey took place spiritually accepted as proof Aisha's saying, "The Prophet's body did not leave the ground; he made a spiritual journey;" Muawiye's saying, "The night journey was a true dream from Allah;" and Hasan-i Basri's not objecting to them (Ibni Ishak, 275; Ibni Hisham, II, 40-41). The word "ru'yet" in the 60th verse of Isra Surah expresses seeing with a vision rather than seeing with the eyes (Suyuti, Sherhu Qissati'l-Isra, p. 55).
Ibni Qayyum points out the difference between the miraj taking place in a dream and its occurring spiritually. According to him, Aisha and Muawiye said that this event took place spiritually, not in sleep. What a person sees while sleeping are examples of what he perceived with his senses while awake; thus, he sees the sky, but his spirit does not rise to it. One of the two groups that accept that the Prophet ascended says he rose with body and spirit, while the other says he made the night journey spiritually without his body. The second group did not claim that the miraj took place during sleep; they meant that the spirit made the journey.
Many contemporary authors hold the view that the night journey and miraj took place spiritually. Finding the proof of those who claim it happened physically to be weak, Shibli Numani says that the abd word in the first verse of the Isra Surah can refer to the spirit, that the body can change at any moment, and that the spirit is the permanent one. In addition, the places and events in the miraj belong to the spiritual realm except for the Masjid-i Aqsa. Consequently, in this experience the spirit left the body and made a journey in the heavenly realm. Again according to Shibli, making something a subject of a test does not necessarily make it extraordinary (Asr-i Saadet, II, 438-444). Muhammad Hamidullah says from the statement in the narration, "I was in a state between sleep and wakefulness," that this journey occurred when the Prophet was fully conscious, but under the domination of his spirit (Islam Peygamberi(Prophet of Islam), I, 92).
It is possible to conclude from related verses and hadiths that the isra and miraj occurred physically or spiritually. However, description and events found in respected sources, Buhari and Muslim in particular, support the view that the miraj occurred spiritually. When the account of the miracle and its function as proof of apostleship are looked at, it can be understood that the miraj has the nature of an extraordinary event that took place in the Prophet's spiritual world. It is obvious that the miraj, which took place after the death of the Prophet's wife Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib and after the physical-spiritual oppression he was subject to after returning from the Taif campaign, was a spiritual support Allah bestowed upon him. It appears correct for this divine blessing to be interpreted both from the perspective of Quranic verses and history in the manner that it will renew the message brought by the last prophet and the messages of the prophets whom he led in prayer at the Masjid-i Aqsa and with whom he spoke in the heavens and that the true religion will dominate all religions (Al-Fath 48/28).
Did the Prophet Speak with Allah?
The issue of whether or not the Prophet saw Allah rests on the Quranic verses informing that he drew as close to Allah as "two bows length" and that he saw Allah (An-Najm 53/ 7-14). The matter of who drew close to whom and who the Prophet saw is understood in two ways. Aisha, Abdullah ibn Masud, Abu Dharr al-Giffari, and Abu Hurayra from the Companions; Mujahid, Hasan-i Basri, and Qatade from the next generation and most of the commentators on the Quran accept that the drawing close took place between the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Gabriel. The other view is that it took place directly between Allah and the Prophet. The report from Anas ibn Malik via Shariq ibn Abdullah is proof of this. However, the text transmitted by Shariq, who is known to have a weak memory, is considered not to have been fully protected. In the reports it is recorded that only the Prophet and the angels were able to reach Sidretu'l-munteha and that going there pertained only to the Prophet. However, Islamic scholars indicated that even if there was such a meeting and the texts regarding it are correct, it can not be taken in an external sense. Allah's drawing close to the Prophet or vice-versa should not be explained in terms of space and distance, but in terms of a rise in the Prophet's degree and station, the acceptance of his prayers and his being made the subject of various blessings (Kadi Iyaz, I, 205). In addition, since Najm Surah was revealed before Isra Surah and since isra and miraj occurred on the same night, the verses regarding drawing close and seeing are not directly connected to the miraj event (Elmali, V, 3152).