Lecture 1 and 2 in the Ramadaan series:


15 & 16 April 2021 (1 and 2 Ramadaan 1442)

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

First of all, we pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant us the Taufeeq to benefit from this great month of Ramadaan. Indeed, we are very privileged to be blessed once again with this great favour of Allah (SWT) in our lifetime.

Of course, fasting, recitation of the Holy Quran, nawafil (recommended salaah), duas (supplication), charity are all great Ibadah (acts of worship) of this holy month of Ramadaan. Since it is the month of the Holy Quran, an important responsibility is to understand it and reflect on its verses and divine message.


Every year, we take different discussions around the Holy Quran during these nights of Ramadaan. You will recall that last year we tried to answer various questions around the Holy Quran. This year, we would like to draw lessons from chapter 17 of the Holy Quran, Surah Israa’, also known as Surah Bani Isra’eel or Surah Subhaan.

This is a Meccan Surah, meaning it was revealed to our beloved Prophet (a.s) while he was in Mecca ie. before the migration to Madina. That being said, there are a few verses where our religious scholars believe that they were revealed in Madina, but as a whole, this Surah is indeed Meccan.

This is very clear from the subjects discussed in this Surah. The theme of Meccan Surahs is very different from the Madani Surahs ie. chapters of the Quran revealed in Madina. 

Meccan Surahs largely address principle or foundational matters such as our ideology ie. Tauheed, Shirk, Hereafter, Prophethood and other important aspects of Aqeedah. Even when they speak about Akhlaq (moral character), Meccan Surahs tend to address principle positions on such Akhlaqi issues. Similarly, principle issues of fiqh (jurisprudence) are addressed in Meccan Surahs, instead of them elaborating on extensive details.

Surah Israa’ (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran) has 111 verses. There are some important topics on commonly relevant issues which we will discuss extensively in this series. At the same time, I wish to clarify that this series of discussions will be reflections of Surah Israa’ rather than a Tafsir (commentary), as it is not possible to discuss all 111 verses during these limited number of nights we have in Ramadaan.

This will mean we will breeze through quite a number of verses and then elaborate in greater detail on the most pertinent lessons addressing our practical realities today. This will be our methodology to complete our discussion about Surah Israa’ by the end of this sacred month of Ramadaan.


The subjects discussed in Surah Israa’ is indeed very interesting. Let us run through a list of the main ones:

1.       Tauheed (monotheism)

2.       Ma’ad (resurrection)

3.       Denial of Shirk (polytheism)

4.       Nubuwwat (Prophethood), especially the guidance of Quran, the Quran as the remedy, the Quran as the truth revealed from Almighty Allah (SWT)

5.       Insan (humanity) and its honour (verse 70)

6.       Akhlaq (manners) towards parents (verse 23)

7.       Ruh (the soul)

8.       Ibadah (worship) in the form of the night prayers ie. salatul layl

9.       How our actions influence our belief system eg. the impact of sin on our Aqeedah and world view

10.    Major sins which are declared forbidden eg. murder, adultery etc.

You will notice that many popular verses which you will find framed or in the form of calligraphy, are from Surah Israa’. Examples relevant to the topics noted above are the following excerpts from verses 70 (in reference to the honour of human beings) and verse 23 (in reference to our parents).

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ

70. “And surely We have honored the children of Adam”

وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا

23. “”And your Lord has commanded that you shall not serve (any) but Him, and goodness to your parents.”


– I will be presenting from “Tafsir al-Mizan” by Allama Tabataba’i (r.a).

– In addition, I will also be presenting from “Tafsir Namoona” by Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi, as this has greater relevance to day-to-day issues.

– I will also incorporate “Tafsir Noor” by Sheikh Mohsin Qara’ati, which is an easy Tafsir with some very thought-provoking aspects he presents.

– I will also intersperse my presentations with the Tafsir of my teacher and grand scholar of our time, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, specifically for those delicate points and deeper aspects of certain verses in our discussion.

– It is my intention to also incorporate the Tafsir of Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Hussain Fadlallah for the socio-political aspects associated with the verses of Surah Israa’ we will cover.

– I wish to also bring in aspects of the Tafsir of notable Sunni thinkers, such as Fi Zilal al-Quran (In the Shade of the Quran) by Sayyid Qutb of Egypt.

This is the realm of resources we will draw from during this journey of reflections on Surah Israa’ during these nights of Ramadaan.


We will start with a brief point on the Bismillah. According to the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), “Bismillahir rahmanir rahim” is part of every Surah. I am not exaggerating when I say that this “Bismillahir rahmanir rahim” has everything, as it is basically a summary of the whole Quran. Therefore, the Ahlul Bait (a.s) have taught us that this is the greatest verse of the Holy Quran ie. “Bismillahir rahmanir rahim”.

Moving on to verse 1, we read that Surah Israa’ (as the name suggests) starts with the story of the Mi’raj of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). This verse also has a direct link to the subject of Nubuwwat (Prophethood).

سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ

“Glory be to Him Who made His servant to go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the remote mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”

Surah Israa’ starts with the glorification of Almighty Allah (SWT) ie. Subhaan. There are six Surahs of the Holy Quran which start with the glorification of Almighty Allah (SWT), including Surah Israa’.

We will all be familiar with this verse, as it is recited everywhere on the night of Mi’raj, 27th night of Rajab, relating to the journeys of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) from Masjidul Haraam in Mecca, to Masjidul Aqsa in Jerusalem, and then from there, the Heavenly ascension.

The Mi’raj therefore has two parts:

–          Journey in the earth (Israa’), which is described here in Surah Israa’;

–          Journey in the Heavens (Mi’raj), which is described in Surah Najm (chapter 53 of the Holy Quran)

There are only a few verses of the Holy Quran which describe the event of Israa’ and Mi’raj. Most of what we know about this event is from Hadith narrated from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s).


There are crucial, striking points embedded in this first verse of Surah Israa’. We will extract these for our reflection and defer the extensive discussion about the event of Mi’raj. The first striking point is that of the term “asraa”, which is a journey of travel specifically at night. In contrast, the day journey is called “sehr”.

So then, let me introduce a delicate point right away, from Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli. The start of the verse states “Immaculate is Allah (SWT) who carried him (Rasulullah (SAWA)).” Normally, the journey towards Almighty Allah (SWT) and heavenly goals is done by the traveller. Example, the beginning of verse 143 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran) states that Nabi Moosa (a.s) came to the place where Allah (SWT) promised to meet:

وَلَمَّا جَاءَ مُوسَىٰ لِمِيقَاتِنَا

“When Moses came to the place appointed by Us”

We see this similar trend in the Holy Quran with other Prophets (a.s) too, where it states that they came to the agreed point of meeting. However, in this verse 1 of Surah Israa’, it is different in reference to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) in that it states that Almighty Allah (SWT) took him!

So then, going to the meeting point is one thing, but being carried to the meeting point is an extra special status. According to Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, this is a clear indication of the greatness of Rasulullah (SAWA), such that when he wanted to go towards Allah (SWT), it was Allah (SWT) who took him to the Heavens, rather than him making the journey!

He did not see, but rather, Almighty Allah (SWT) showed him His signs! Seeing is one thing, but being shown is on another level!


Generally, when the Holy Quran refers to other Prophets (a.s), Almighty Allah (SWT) refers to them by their names. Our Prophet, Muhammad (SAWA) has various respected titles like Nabi and Rasul, for example. However, in this verse describing the Heavenly journey, Almighty Allah (SWT) refers to him as “abd” (servant) ie. he carried his servant (asra bi’abdihi)!

This is because being “abd” (servant) of Almighty Allah (SWT) is the highest status a person can achieve! If someone is truly “abd” (servant), then he has the capacity of being Nabi, Rasul, Khataman Nabiyyin, Imam, Hujjatullah, Habib and Mahboob of Allah (SWT) as well! All these levels of status are reached by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) from being “abd” (servant) of Almighty Allah (SWT).

To summarize the discussion so far, our reflections on verse 1 of Surah Israa’ reveals that:

–          This verse describes the first part of the divinely journey of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) to the Heavens.

–          Surah Israa’ only deals with the aspect of this journey on the earth, whereas Surah Najm (chapter 53 of the Holy Quran) describes the heavenly aspect of the Mi’raj in six verses.

–          This heavenly journey of Israa’ was at night, and the title used by Almighty Allah (SWT) towards Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was “abd” (servant).

–          We therefore understand that this station of being “abd” of Almighty Allah (SWT) is the highest status! If someone is truly “abd”, he can be Nabi, Rasul, Wali and also Imam!

–          This servitude in its real sense is the preface for the flight towards Almighty Allah (SWT). This means that we need to free ourselves from the slavery of everything other than Almighty Allah (SWT) in order to fly towards him.

Someone can reach this high status of Mi’raj, and be at such close proximity to Almighty Allah (SWT), as referred to in verse 9 of Surah Najm (chapter 53 of the Holy Quran):

فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنَىٰ

 “So he was the measure of two bows or closer still.”

Despite reaching this extent of spiritual progress, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is still “abd” (servant) of Almighty Allah (SWT)! Therefore, when we speak about the Auliya of Allah (SWT), who have achieved great status in His court, we should not exaggerate. We should remember that, after having achieved everything, they are still “abd” (servant) of Almighty Allah (SWT).


This journey, the Israa’ and Mi’raj, took place in one night, whereas travelling from Masjidul Haraam (Mecca) to Masjidul Aqsa (Jerusalem) would take at least weeks, if not months with the modes of transport in those days. So then, this again shows the most unique and miraculous nature of this journey of Israa and Mi’raj, that it happened in one night.

The reference to Rasulullah (SAWA) as “abd” again says to us that this journey was with his full existence. In other words, this was a physical journey and ascension. It did not happen in his dream! The simple question that is frequently asked is whether Rasulullah (SAWA) was in his bed that night or not. The straightforward answer is no, he was not in his bed.

Abd applies on the whole existence of the person, and not only the soul. This is unfortunately where many people have a problem, because they find it impossible to comprehend how this could have been a physical ascension all in one night? How can the physical body travel such a huge distance, all in the same night?

The simple answer is that this verse starts with “Subhaan”, meaning “immaculate is Allah (SWT), free from any weakness or defect”, and He is the one who carried Rasulullah (SAWA). So then, how can it be impossible?


This remains a constant debate amongst scholars, whether it was a journey of the physical body or was it a dream.

It is very clear amongst the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), that this journey was a physical one. If this journey was only in a dream, then what is the big deal? Why would this verse start with “Immaculate is he…”? What would be the great significance of this if it was purely a dream, because you and I can also fly in our dreams!!! We see things in our dreams which is beyond our imagination in our practical life.

This was indeed a physical ascension without doubt. In fact, there are even some Hadith recorded from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) which state that anyone who denies this physical ascension is a non-believer, because such a person is denying the might and power of Almighty Allah (SWT).

When we study the narration about Mi’raj and Hadith reported about this miraculous event, we understand and realise that Rasulullah (SAWA) experienced certain things on this sacred journey which are not material. The question then is, if Rasulullah (SAWA) went with his material body, then how could he see non-material things with his material body?

Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli beautifully explains what it means when we reference someone for saying something hundreds of years ago. We will say it in the form of words or through listening, but the words of the person and your listening are only tools, as there is meaning, and content hidden behind the tools of words and listening. This content is not material, but we still capture it while remaining in our material body.


There are Hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) where he says that he saw Nabi Moosa (a.s) and Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) on the Mi’raj. How is this possible if they already passed away? What did he then see, as their bodies were not around?

Let me ask a question. When the Holy Quran speaks about Lady Mariam (s.a) and her stress, it narrates that Angel Jibra’eel came to her. Now, think about it, Angel Jibra’eel is non-material, whereas Lady Mariam (s.a) is a material existence. How could she manage to see Angel Jibra’eel, who is non-material ie. cannot see with your eyes? The Holy Quran explains that Angel Jibra’eel came before Lady Mariam (s.a) in the form of a human being. We read this at the end of verse 17 of Surah Mariam (chapter 19):

فَتَمَثَّلَ لَهَا بَشَرًا سَوِيًّا

“And he appeared before her as a man in all respects.”

So then, if there were other people there at the time, would they have also been able to see Angel Jibra’eel? The answer is NO! Only Lady Mariam (s.a) had the capability of being able to see Angel Jibra’eel. Similarly, what our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) saw on the Mi’raj was with his capability of being able to see into the afterlife.

With that, I think we have categorically proven that this journey of Mi’raj was not only with his soul or in a dream. It was indeed the physical ascension altogether.


The start of this heavenly ascension was from Masjidul Haraam (Mecca) to Masjidul Aqsa (Jerusalem). There is a difference of opinion regarding which house this started from in Mecca. Some reports indicate that it was from the house of the sister of Imam Ali (a.s), Ummi Haani, or from Masjidul Haraam itself.

In fact, in those days, Masjidul Haraam was a reference used for the whole city of Mecca. There was no mosque at that time. It was only the Ka’bah, surrounded by houses on its periphery.

So, the Israa was from Masjidul Haraam to Masjidul Aqsa, the mosque described in this verse as being blessed. There are two possibilities in terms of how this area of Masjidul Aqsa was blessed. Firstly, Mecca was a very dry, barren land where nothing grows. Masjidul Aqsa on the other hand is very fertile, full of trees and fruit.

The second understanding of how the area of Masjidul Aqsa was blessed is that this land is filled with barakah, because so many divine Prophets (a.s) came to this land.

What was the purpose of Mi’raj? Unfortunately, some people think that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) went on the heavenly ascension to see Almighty Allah (SWT). Almighty Allah (SWT) is not sitting on some throne to be met!

“Li nuriyahu min ayatina” in this verse means that Almighty Allah (SWT) wanted to show Rasulullah (SAWA) some of His signs. Rasulullah (SAWA) was already exposed to great signs of Almighty Allah (SWT) and that is how he was declared a divine Prophet (a.s). However, there were still many signs of Almighty Allah (SWT) that he was yet to experience. And to experience those signs, Almighty Allah (SWT) took him on this Mi’raj.

Another understanding, as explained by our 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), was that the purpose of Mi’raj was to honour Rasulullah (SAWA). He was honoured by going on this sacred, heavenly ascension, to honour the people of the Heavens!

Verse 1 ends by stating that Almighty Allah (SWT) is indeed all-listening and all-seeing. The reason for highlighting this at the end of the verse is an indirect message that Almighty Allah (SWT) sees, hears and knows that this “abd” (servant) by the name of Muhammad (SAWA) is capable and deserving to achieve this status of Mi’raj.

There are still plenty of discussions on the subject of Mi’raj, which we will defer to another time.


Let us now move towards the next few verses of Surah Israa’. Verse 2 reads as follows:

وَآتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلْنَاهُ هُدًى لِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ أَلَّا تَتَّخِذُوا مِنْ دُونِي وَكِيلًا

“And We gave Musa the Book and made it a guidance to the children of Israel, saying: Do not take a protector besides Me.”

After talking about our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) in verse 1, Almighty Allah (SWT) diverts our attention to Nabi Moosa (a.s) and his people ie. Bani Isra’eel. This verse says that the Torah was sent as a book of guidance for the Israelites.

The main message of the Torah was that the Israelites should not take any trustee except Almighty Allah (SWT). This is practical Tauheed. Aside from believing in One Allah (SWT), we should only and only depend on Allah (SWT) in our practical life too.

It is a very important message for the Israelites, who were depending too much on money, position, worldly status, blindly following their leaders, while they were supposed to depend on Almighty Allah (SWT) and Him alone!

Verse 3 describes Bani Isra’eel as the children of those whom were carried with Nabi Nuh (a.s), meaning those who were saved from that storm with Nabi Nuh (a.s) on the ship.

ذُرِّيَّةَ مَنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا

“The offspring of those whom We bore with Nuh; surely he was a grateful servant.”

This verse ends by stating that Nabi Nuh (a.s) was a grateful servant of Almighty Allah (SWT). While it is in the same verse as describing who the Israelites were, it is indirectly saying that they were not grateful.


Verses 4 – 7 open a very interesting discussion:

وَقَضَيْنَا إِلَىٰ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ فِي الْكِتَابِ لَتُفْسِدُنَّ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَّتَيْنِ وَلَتَعْلُنَّ عُلُوًّا كَبِيرًا

4. “And We had made known to the children of Israel in the Book: Most certainly you will make mischief in the land twice, and most certainly you will behave insolently with great insolence.”

فَإِذَا جَاءَ وَعْدُ أُولَاهُمَا بَعَثْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ عِبَادًا لَنَا أُولِي بَأْسٍ شَدِيدٍ فَجَاسُوا خِلَالَ الدِّيَارِ ۚ وَكَانَ وَعْدًا مَفْعُولًا

5. “When the first of the warnings came to pass, We sent against you Our servants given to terrible warfare: They entered the very inmost parts of your homes; and it was a warning (completely) fulfilled.”

ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَا لَكُمُ الْكَرَّةَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَأَمْدَدْنَاكُمْ بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ أَكْثَرَ نَفِيرًا

 6. “Then we gave you once again your turn against them, and We aided you with wealth and children and made you more in soldiery.”

إِنْ أَحْسَنْتُمْ أَحْسَنْتُمْ لِأَنْفُسِكُمْ ۖ وَإِنْ أَسَأْتُمْ فَلَهَا ۚ فَإِذَا جَاءَ وَعْدُ الْآخِرَةِ لِيَسُوءُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَلِيَدْخُلُوا الْمَسْجِدَ كَمَا دَخَلُوهُ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَلِيُتَبِّرُوا مَا عَلَوْا تَتْبِيرًا

7. “If you do good, you will do good for your own souls, and if you do evil, it shall be for them. So when the second promise came (We raised another people) that they may bring you to grief and that they may enter the mosque as they entered it the first time, and that they might destroy whatever they gained ascendancy over with utter destruction.”

The key messages from these four verses are as follows:

1.       Nabi Moosa (a.s) brought guidance for the Israelites and the major message of this guidance was that they should depend on Almighty Allah (SWT).

2.       News to the Israelites that there will be two major forms of corruption that will befall them. These two forms of corruption will cause great devastation for them. They will recover from this devastation and then it will happen again.


The grand commentators of the Holy Quran (mufassireen) have gone to great lengths to unpack these two disasters on Bani Isra’eel noted here. This is indeed a very interesting discussion to delve into.

The majority of commentators refer these verses to the history of the Jewish people, which is full of corruption unfortunately. They faced many problems due to their corruption. Disasters and calamities befell this nation of Bani Isra’eel.

There are two major calamities:

–          When the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II, attacked on Bani Isra’eel and left them completely destroyed, Almighty Allah (SWT) helped them to recover.

–          The second tragedy was when the Roman empire attacked on Bani Isra’eel, and they were again left destroyed and dispersed all over the world. They needed to have shelter, and they recovered after a very long time with the help of the most terrible thieves, dictators and murderers who supported them by stealing the land of other people and bringing them back to be established in the land of Masjiul Aqsa, Jerusalem.

This is one interpretation, with a historical context. On the other hand, there are commentators who have interpreted this within a future context. They argue that the Holy Quran is not referring to what happened to the Jews in the past.

Sayyid Qutb, the Sunni commentator of the Holy Quran addresses these verses in the context of World War 2, Hitler, the Holocaust and how the Jewish people were completely destroyed as a result. Other commentators of the Holy Quran have expressed a similar line of thinking, with the establishment of the Zionist movement.

These are the two commonly established positions on these verses, while the second position within the future context may have some shortcomings.


In my view, verse 7 noted above sums it up very beautifully, where Bani Isra’eel are told that, regardless of whether it is in the past or future, if you do something good, it will be good for yourself, but if you will be evil, then you won’t be able to run away from your own evil. This evil will come back to haunt you one day! This is such a crucial message!

This verse is saying to Bani Isra’eel that if you commit evil, oppressing people, occupying their land, killing and exploiting them and destroying them for your own purposes, then don’t think it will not come back to you. Indeed, it will finally come back to haunt!

In the same way that it occurred in history, where Bani Isra’eel were corrupt, having deviated from the path of guidance and deceived, the result was destruction. Now, by the hands of the King of Babylon, or the Roman Empire, the destruction suffered was by their own actions. There is deep detail to these historical events.

The deception and corruption in the history of these people, Bani Isra’eel, is well recorded. Their nature, which the Holy Quran is describing in verse 7 of Surah Israa’, is that they have an attitude of superiority when they come into power, thinking they can do whatever they want! This is the history of how Bani Isra’eel ruled and exploited the people. Then they got crushed, and recovered, only to repeat the same corruption, which results in a repeated disaster!


This Quranic description is a very accurate description of the mentality and approach of Bani Isra’eel. We see this with Israel today, who have stolen the land of other people through their evil, deceptive tricks and occupy the land of Palestine.

We see what they are doing now, after having been expelled from the land historically. Their nature historically has not changed, since they continue to occupy, steal and kill. They continue to have the attitude of superiority, such that the whole world must surrender to their desires.

Therefore, these particular verses of Surah Israa’ are also interpreted in the teachings of Ahlul Bait (a.s) as referring to the return of our awaited Imam Mahdi (atfs).

Referring back to verse 5 of Surah Israa’ cited earlier, we understand that after the second promise, Allah (SWT) sends His servants, possessing great might and power, to ransack the habitat of the mischief-makers. This is the promise which is bound to be fulfilled.  

We understand this verse as referring to the return of our awaited saviour, who will fill this earth with justice.

This principle which the Holy Quran establishes in verse 7, namely if you do good, it will be for yourself, was indeed addressed to Bani Isra’eel. That being said, the principle is not confined to Bani Isra’eel, as it is a principle which very much applies on us as well. We will be the ones to benefit from actions we take towards the right path. And conversely, if we commit evil, it will indeed catchup to us one day. There is certainly no running away from it!

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