By Hwaa Irfan
In the turbulent times that we find ourselves in, imbedded in the month of voluntary fasting, seeking forgiveness, and giving charity, is The Night of Ascension/The Night Journey, Al Isra and Al-Mi’raj الإسراء والمعراج , the two-fold journey of the last prophet of Divine Revelation, Prophet Muhammed (SAW). The 27th of Rajab this year falls on July 08th 2010. A journey of spiritual heights has left a symbolic remembrance on all generations of Muslims to come every year like a renewal, to explore the meaning in our own lives.
Al- Isra The Night Journey
The archangel Jibreel/Gabriel, messenger of Divine Mercy, made a visitation to Prophet Muhammed (SAW), presenting him with the blessed winged white horse Al-Buraq – the horse of the prophets. To the farthest mosque, Bait Maqdis in Jerusalem, Prophet Muhammed (SAW) flew, where he tethered Al-Buraq and prayed two rakats (round of prayers). After Prophet Muhammed (SAW) prayed archangel Jibreel brought Prophet Muhammed (SAW) two vessels of which Prophet Muhammed (SAW) took the vessel of milk, the other being of wine of which archangel Jibreel told Prophet Muhammed (SAW)
“”Praise be to Allah Who guided you to Al-Fitra (the right path); if you had taken (the cup of) wine, your nation would have gone astray.”
Al-Miraj The Ascension
On Ibrahimic/Abrahamic ascent archangel Jibreel took Prophet Muhammed (SAW) to the gate of heaven at which the following conversation ensued:
“…Then he took me to heaven. Gabriel then asked the (gate of heaven) to be opened and he was asked who he was. He replied: Gabriel. He was again asked: Who is with you? He (Gabriel) said: Muhammad. It was said: Has he been sent for? Gabriel replied: He has indeed been sent for. And (the door of the heaven) was opened for us and lo! we saw Adam. He welcomed me and prayed for my good” (Muslim 1 #0309).
And so the above questions and answers were repeated for the 2nd – 7th heavens. At the 2nd heaven Prophet Muhammed (SAW) was met by Maryam and Yahya bin Zakariya, his maternal cousins, at the 3rd heaven he was met by Prophet Yusuf/Joseph who prayed for the well-being of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). At the 4th heaven he was met by Prophet Idris/Enoch who also prayed for Prophet Muhammed (SAW) well-being and ascended with Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and archangel Jibreel to the 5th heaven to be met by Prophet Harun/Aaron who also prayed for the well-being of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). At the 6th heaven Prophet Muhammed (SAW) was met by Prophet Musa/Moses who also prayed for the well-being of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). At the 7th heaven they were met by Prophet Ibrahim/ Abraham in the presence of 70,000 visiting angels. After seeing the beauty of the Lote Tree, which revealed many signs:
“Then Allah revealed to me a revelation and He made obligatory for me fifty prayers every day and night. Then I went down to Moses (peace be upon him) and he said: What has your Lord enjoined upon your Ummah? I said: Fifty prayers. He said: Return to thy Lord and beg for reduction (in the number of prayers), for your community shallnot be able to bear this burden. as I have put to test the children of Isra’il and tried them (and found them too weak to bear such a heavy burden). He (the Holy Prophet) said: I went back to my Lord and said: My Lord, make things lighter for my Ummah. (The Lord) reduced five prayers for me. I went down to Moses and said. (The Lord) reduced five (prayers) for me, He said: Verily thy Ummah shall not be able to bear this burden; return to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter. I then kept going back and forth between my Lord Blessed and Exalted and Moses, till He said: There are five prayers every day and night. O Muhammad, each being credited as ten, so that makes fifty prayers. He who intends to do a good deed and does not do it will have a good deed recorded for him; and if he does it, it will be recorded for him as ten; whereas he who intends to do an evil deed and does not do, it will not be recorded for him; and if he does it, only one evil deed will be recorded. I then came down and when I came to Moses and informed him, he said: Go back to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter. Upon this the Messenger of Allah remarked: I returned to my Lord until I felt ashamed before Him”. (Muslim 1 #0309).
From Prophet Muhammed (SAW) ascension we were given the means to our own; to rise above the limitations we set on ourselves from the ego/nafs and to rise to meaning and potential of the soul. Through means of remembrance/dhikr, and training of the soul through prayer and jihad an nafs (the personal struggle of the soul).
“And We granted the vision (Ascension to the heavens “miraj”) which We showed you (O Muhammad as an actual eye witness) but as a trial for mankind.’ (17.60) (Al-Bukhari 77 #610)
The human mind is a limited entity that draws upon the space-time continuum, and can only draw from comparative reasoning. Just as now there are those who confine themselves to the limitations of their minds, when Prophet Muhammed (SAW) returned from Al-Miraj, many disbelieved his recount because they were too enslaved by the limitation of their minds.
- “Look at what your companion is saying. He says he went to Jerusalem and came back in one night.” Abu Bakr replied, “If he said that, then he is truthful. I believe him concerning the news of the heavens—that an angel descends to him from the heavens. How could I not believe he went to Jerusalem and came back in a short period of time—when these are on earth?”
Yet, there were those whose souls were ready and submitted to the state of Islam.
I have been confronted with many questions from those of us who feel no benefit in the tool of our miraj/prayer due to the many features of secular life, and the materialistic imposition that certain communities place on individuals in the name of Islam, that causes a rift of the body from the nature of man, the nature upon which we have come into this existence. The secular demands are so pervasive that the mind is unable to connect with the rest of ones being. This kind of rift is what leads to mental disorders, and identity crises reducing Islam down to a series of ritual, as we lose sight of the sacred in our lives. Tensions seep in as a part of our relationship with ourselves, and the relationship with others and the environment, leaving the consequential problems that ensue which finds us asking “Why is this happening to me”. Yet, even up until the gate to the first heave Prophet Muhammed (SAW) was tested when archangel Jibreel gave him the choice between wine and milk.
When we find our prayers lacking meaning, when we find the sense of rejuvenation lacking after prayer, we must seize the opportunity and ask inwardly without answering “Why?” The importance of prayer and how we pray cannot be understated, which underlies the way in which we were given prayer as an act of worship.
“Yet, the meaning of the prayers are not to be understood solely through the study of their external form or their impact upon Islamic society, as fundamental as those may be. By virtue of the degree of man’s ihsan, and also by virtue of the grace (barakah) contained within the sacred forms of the prayers, man is able to attain inwardness through the very external forms of the prayers. He is able to return, thanks to the words and movements which are themselves the echoes of the inner states of the Holy Prophet, back to the state of perfect servitude (ubudiyyah) and nearness to the Divine (qurb) which characterize the inner journey of the Holy Prophet as the Universal Man (al-insan al-kamil) to the Divine Presence on that nocturnal ascent (al-miraj), which is at once the inner reality of the prayers and the prototype of spiritual realization in Islam”. – Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
Prayer is a process of neglecting the very heart of us, by living only the external. It is a process of “interiorization” as Nasr describes it, and in that interiorization is the means by which we stay connected to our inner selves, our subconscious enough to wake up to a greater reality that encompasses all that has been created by Him, including the landscape of our inner lives. By praying 5 times a day, we offer ourselves the chance to take time out from the pressures around us, to connect with Him who created us, to reflect ad to return to the rest of the day in a state of greater inner balance above the mundane material world.
‘Amr Khaled reminds us yet again of a much neglected aspect of Al-Miraj and that is:
“All the prophets stood aligned to pray. They were waiting for what Jibril had to say. Jibril told Muhammad (SAWS) to lead the prayer and they all prayed two rakats. As much as this incident came to honor Muhammad (SAWS), it was also a commandment. The prophets came to handover to him the leadership banner of mankind. Accordingly, prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was now responsible for the earth and so are we now. Do you feel that you are responsible? We represent 20% of the world population, yet we still get all our theories, sciences, and studies from the other 80%. We stopped giving and adding to humanity 200 years ago”.
And I ask do we feel responsible in these turbulent times to be true to ourselves, our families, each other , the environment and the rest of humankind, because it is not Islam that denies the rest of humankind. Humankind has reached the limitation of its collective mind, to find that it is not capable of creating alternatives. If we as Muslims treat Islam in the same manner then the mercy that is mankinds falls short not becuase it is short, but becuase we are short of our becoming. So here we are on one earth, living demarcations of the mind that is causing us much suffering and pain. These turbulent times is an offering, an offering to let go of what is not good for us, making way for the change we need to become so that we can transform our lives for the better. Ask ourselves:
• Why is this happening?
• What is it I am being asked to learn from it?
• How am I going to be changed by it?
• How am I resisting the change that wants to come?
• What is the change that wants to come?
• Then wait for the answers to come, because you will only be asking with a mind that will only compare on what has already been lived!
“And similarly, when God moves (any) servant through his (inner spiritual) states in order also to cause him to see His Signs, He moves him through His states. ” – Muslim philosopher Ibn Arabi (1165 – 1240)
Khaled, A. On the Path of the Beloved. http://amrkhaled.net/articles/articles1113.html
Nasr, S H. The Interior Life in Islam Vol. III, Nos. 2 & 3. http://www.al-islam.org/al-serat/interior-nasr.htm