In certain narrations 27 Rajab is reported to have been the historical date on which the Prophet (sawa) experienced the miraculous journey of the Israa and the Mi’raj when he was taken from Makka (from the home of Umm Hani, the sister of Imam Ali (a.s), where he had been resting after the Ishaa prayers) to Baitul Muqaddas in Jerusalem and from there through the ascension into the seven heavens and beyond.
This is an occasion that all Muslims venerate and consider holy and is a means to building unity due to it being the common heritage of all Muslims, yet a small group of people who are only focussed on sowing discord in the Ummah even try to use this event to falsely create the impression that Shia consider Imam Ali (a.s) to be greater than the Prophet (sawa) by sensationalising certain exaggerated narrations in this regard.
This article seeks to unequivocally rebut such lies and actually possibly offer some fresh insight into how the scholars of the School of Ahlul Bait (a.s) consider the Mi’raj to have been an occasion that displays the unmatched status of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) that every creation should view with awe.
Basic Historical Narration
The basic information regarding this miraculous journey is well known and includes the fact that the journey was undertaking on a “burraaq” on a historical plain first (from Masjidul Haraam to Masjidul Aqsa) which is referred to as the “Israa” and mentioned in Verse one of Surah Israa. At Masjidul Aqsa he is reported to have prayed Salaah with all the previous Prophets in attendance who followed him.
Thereafter the journey was in the form of an ascension (Mi’raj) into the seven heavens and beyond and some of the details of this aspect of the journey is mentioned in Surah Najm. Much detail has been reported about this aspect as well in ahadith which includes travelling through each level of the seven heavens where he stopped and met certain Prophets and again prayed there with those Prophets following him.
Throughout this journey, Jibra-eel (a.s) was the companion of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) until a certain point in the Mi’raj when Jibra-eel (a.s) indicated that he reached his limit but that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) would continue on his own.
This is where Prophet Muhammad (sawa) reached the “lote-tree” called “Sidratul Muntahaa” as referred to in Surah Najm Verse 14 and the most secretive communication occurred between Allah and Prophet Muhammad (sawa) which is simply referred to in the words
فَأوْحَی إِلَی عَبْدِهِ مَا أوْحَی
“And He revealed to His servant what He revealed” (Surah Najm: 10),
a point at which Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is referred to as having been as close as a distance of
فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أوْ أدْنَی
“the measure of two bows or even closer” (Surah Najm: 9)
which basically indicates a state of Union between the Lover and His Beloved. At this point Prophet Muhammad (sawa) “Certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.”
Upon his return to the house of Umm Hani, the next morning he narrated the incident to his people and among the Quraish many people would not believe this story. And they verified his account by comparing the descriptions he provided about Jerusalem (which Prophet Muhammad sawa never visited before) to the accounts of those who have been there and found it to be accurate. And various other methods were used to verify his narration.
The initial scepticism was based on the practical impossibility of undertaking such a vast journey in such a short period, but Allah who is the Creator of Time is obviously capable of causing one to cross the limits of time and thus experience such an amazing journey.
Furthermore there are many who believe that the journey was only a spiritual one. This would not really make the incident miraculous as many people have amazing experiences in dreams and the Quraish would not have objected in the manner in which they did if it was a mere spiritual journey. Thus the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) say that “whoever doubts the Mi’raj is not one of us” as believing in it is “one of the necessities of Religion.”
There are many other details regarding the experiences of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) on that night that I have left out for the sake of brevity as you are most likely already familiar with it.
Mi’raj was to honour inhabitants of the heavens with ziyarah of Prophet Muhammad (sawa)
We have already indicated that the apparent reasons for the Israa and Mi’raj based on the Quranic verses quoted earlier were for Allah to show Prophet Muhammad (sawa) some of His signs and to have a secret communication with him.
Now a very important question can be asked regarding why did Allah have to take Prophet Muhammad (sawa) on a journey to show him His signs and to have this secret communication with him and why it could not just have occurred while he was resting in his bed in the house of Umm Hani?
The answer to this question is very deep and reveals the secret behind this journey which one should ponder upon deeply. When this question was posed to Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s) he replied “Allah wanted to honour the Angels and the inhabitants of the heavens with the ziyarah of the noble presence of Prophet Muhammad (sawa)!”
So even though the Israa and Mi’raj resulted in Prophet Muhammad (sawa) being shown the signs of Allah, the real motivation for this revelation of these signs occurring via a journey to the heavens was to honour the inhabitants of the heavens with his presence.
Thus whenever he met the Prophets in the different levels of the heavens Prophet Muhammad (sawa) honoured them by making salaah of jama’at and leading them in the salaah! What better honour than that can one ask for?!
In reference to other Prophets like Ibrahim (a.s) Almighty Allah says that he was shown the “Dominion of the heavens and earth”. This occurred with Ibrahim (a.s) being physically in this world, but the signs that were to be shown to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) during the Mi’raj were Most Sublime such that Almighty mentions in the verse “Verily he saw of the Greatest signs of His Lord.”
Allah takes Prophet Muhammad (sawa) for the mi’raj
Though the Mi’raj involved a special occasion when Allah privately communicated with Prophet Muhammad (sawa), the Quran mentions incidents in relation to other Prophets as well where Almighty Allah privately communicated with Prophets. One such incident of interest relates to Prophet Musa (a.s) where a specific time and meeting place was set for this communication to occur.
Thus the Quran says in Surah A’raf Verse 142:
وَوَاعَدْنَا مُوسَى ثَلاَثِينَ لَيْلَةً وَأَتْمَمْنَاهَا بِعَشْرٍ فَتَمَّ مِيقَاتُ رَبِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ لَيْلَةً وَقَالَ مُوسَى لاَخِيهِ هَارُونَ اخْلُفْنِي فِي قَوْمِي وَأَصْلِحْ وَلاتَتَّبِعْ سَبِيلَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
“And We appointed with Musa a time of thirty nights and completed them with ten so the completed time with his Lord was complete forty nights…”
This verse makes reference to the meeting that was set.
The next verse says something very interesting when it says “And when Musa came to Our appointed time….” Note that Allah says that Musa (a.s) came to the meeting! I repeat for the sake of emphasis that Musa (a.s) had to come on his own for this great meeting where Allah was going to privately communicate with him!
But in the case of Prophet (sawa), Almighty Allah says in Surah Israa Verse 1
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَي بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلاً مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَي الْمَسْجِدِ الاَقْصَا الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ ءَايَاتِنَآ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
“Glory be to the One who took his servant from Masjidul Haraam to Masjidul Aqsa to show him from among Our signs.”
This verse says that, unlike Prophet Musa (a.s) who had to come to the meeting by himself, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was actually taken by Almighty Allah as if to say that “Allah fetched him” and he did not come himself to this meeting!!
Reason for use of the term “Abd” or “Servant”
In the Quran Almighty Allah seldom mentions the name of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) (in fact it only appears four times in Quran) and always addresses him by certain spiritual titles including “Oh Messenger”, “Oh Prophet”, etc. Though all of these titles are honourable, Allah does not mention any of them in the incident of the Mi’raj and rather refers to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as “His servant (abd).”
Closer reflection on the reason for the use of this title as “servant” instead of any of the other honourable titles is because the position of “Ubudiyyat” or “servitude” to Almighty Allah is the highest station that one can reach and thus the most honourable and inclusive of the possible titles that could have been used.
Thus the Mi’raj was the most special journey that was undertaken by Allah’s most special loved one.
What type of servitude of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is referred to?
So Almighty Allah says that “He took His servant on a journey by night.” What type of servitude is referred to in this verse?
Previous Prophets are also referred to in the Quran as “servants” of Allah and Surah Saffaat (among others) has many references to previous Prophets as “servants”. For example with reference to Prophet Nuh (a.s) verse 81 says
إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“Surely he was of our believing servants.”
And the same is said about Ibrahim (a.s) in verse 111. It should be noted that in these two examples Allah is speaking about two of the “ulul atham” or great five Prophets.
Furthermore notice in the two examples presented above that though Nuh (a.s) and Ibrahim (a.s) are referred to as “servants”, but the reference to them being “servants” is qualified with the attribute of being “believing servants.”
Sometimes one’s servitude to Almighty Allah may be referred to as one being “Abdul Khaaliq” that is “Servant of the Creator” or Abdul Razzak” that is “Servant of the Provider.” In Surah Furqaan Verse 63 Allah makes reference to “And the servants of Rahman (The Most Beneficent).” In these examples reference to the servitude of servants of Allah is qualified with being Servants of “an Attribute or Name of Allah.”
The highest level of servitude that one could reach is commonly understood to be “Abdullah” or “Servant of Allah.” The name “Allah” is the comprehensive name that includes all the attributes of Beauty and Majesty. So being the servant of “Allah” would be understood to reaching the highest level of servitude to Almighty Allah.
But in the verses which refer to Israa and Mi’raj, Almighty Allah does not even say that He took “Abdullah” for the Mi’raj! In other words even the term “Abdullah” has an element of “Qualified servitude” hidden in it.
By Almighty Allah simply saying “Glory be to the One who took His servant”, that is referring to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as an “Abd” or “servant” without any attached qualification to the word “Abd”, Almighty Allah is saying that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is on the level of “ubudiyyat” in its most comprehensive (“Mutlaq”) and absolute sense that cannot be surpassed in any way!!
Who took Prophet Muhammad (sawa) for Mi’raj?
After understanding how Allah uses the best possible title for Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as being His “servant” whom He took on the Israa and Mi’raj, the next very important matter to reflect on is how Allah refers to Himself as being “the One who took His Servant.”
Again as referred to above one would have expected the verse to read “Glory be to Allah who took His servant on a night journey” and this itself would have been a comprehensive reference to the One who is the complete possessor of all attributes of Beauty and Majesty.
But it should be known that in Irfaan, the Ahlul Bait (a.s) teach us that Allah is known through His Beautiful Names and one should always reflect on these. It is NOT POSSIBLE to know the “Thaat” or the “Essence” of Allah.
So if Almighty had to refer to Himself in the words of “Glory be to Allah who took His servant for a night journey” then in a sense the One who took him could be known.
Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, the great present day mufassir of Quran (May Almighty protect him and prolong his life) says that by using the words “Glory be to THE ONE who took HIS servant for a night journey”, Almighty Allah is referring to Himself through the pronoun “THE ONE” and taking “HIS” servant. This use of the pronoun is reference to an even higher level of Tauheed of Almighty Allah which alludes to the UNKNOWN Essence of Almighty Allah!
Thus when people of Tasawwuf often refer to Almighty Allah, they stress on three Names of Allah which they consider and understand to be on the highest level, namely the Names “Hayy”, “Qayyum” and “Haq” that is “The Living, The Self-Subsisting and The Truth.” But their thikrs do are not limited to these three Names through which one can best know Allah, their thikr is extended from the known to the unknown! Thus they say “Huwal Hayyun Qayyum, Huwal Haq, Huwal Huw” that is “He is the Living, He is the Self-Subsisting, He is the Truth, HE IS HE!!”, meaning in reference to the Essence of Allah, He CANNOT be known!
Prophet Muhammad’s (sawa) Comprehensive Servitude cannot be known!
On the same basis as discussed above regarding the use of the pronoun “Glory be to THE ONE”, we find that Almighty Allah also uses a pronoun to refer to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) when He says “who took HIS slave”….this use of the pronoun “HIS” slave also indicates that the complete Reality of the servitude of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) cannot be known!
So what was Mi’raj??
The conclusion we draw from the above analysis is that the Mi’raj was an event wherein the “One who cannot be known” took His slave whose “Servitude cannot be known” for a journey to have a secret communication wherein what was revealed to him “Cannot be known!” Thus Surah Najm Verse 10 says
فَأوْحَی إِلَی عَبْدِهِ مَا أوْحَی
“And He revealed to His slave what He revealed.”
So why does Quran refer to Allah being “The One” who took Prophet Muhammad (sawa) for the Mi’raj?
After this long discussion we are reaching the climax of the matter.
When Almighty Allah makes reference to His other slaves in the Quran it is often by name and in a plural fashion. For example in Surah Saad Verse 45 it says
وَاذْكُرْ عِبَادَنَآ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ
“And remember Our servants Ibrahim and Ishaq and Ya’koob”
or in verse 41 it says
وَاذْكُرْ عَبْدَنَآ أَيُّوبَ
“And remember our servant Ayyub.”
But in the verse on the Israa, Allah makes reference to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as “His slave” in an unqualified manner (which has been explained earlier) as well as in a “singular” form. This reference in a “singular” form to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is a hint at him reaching the “maqaam” or “station” of “wahdah” and being in the most absolute servitude to the station of “Oneness” of Almighty Allah.
This is the point wherein this most perfect ever spiritual traveller has reached a point of absolute “Fana-fillah” or “total annihilation” into the Oneness of Almighty Allah, a point at which “He is not He any more”, in other words Prophet Muhammad (sawa)’s persona disappears and thus has no more will of his own and since this is the case, unlike Musa (a.s), Prophet (sawa) cannot “come to a meeting with Allah” but Allah takes him for the meeting!
Hadith of Qurbun Nawaafil
This station of spiritual reality might appear to seem like “shirk” or “ascribing partners to Allah” but is actually the highest level of Tauheed which is contemplated in an extremely widely accepted and reported Hadith called the Hadith of Qurbun Nawafil. In this Hadith Qudsi it says “Almighty Allah said, ‘Whoever has mutual animosity with the wali (friend) of Mine, I declare war upon him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties that I have imposed upon him; and My servant continues to draw near to Me with nawaafil (supererogatory) works so that I would love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks. Were he to ask of Me, I would surely give him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant it to him.”
By Prophet Muhammad (sawa) becoming completely annihilated into the Oneness of Allah, he does not do anything out of his own, Allah does it for him, and thus Allah took him for the Mi’raj.
A note on the claims that Shia consider Imam Ali (a.s) higher than Prophet Muhammad (sawa)
Even though the above exposition more than sufficiently demonstrates that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is held in the highest esteem in the School of Ahlul Bait (a.s), questions have been raised regarding the veracity of certain narrations relating to Imam Ali (a.s) with respect to the Mi’raj. We did say in the introduction that it is commonly accepted by both Schools of Thought (Sunni and Shia) that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) experienced the Mi’raj while he was at the home of Umm Hani, the sister of Imam Ali (a.s). Facts of history cannot be changed and should not be challenged to suit ones prejudice. So note the following in relation to the questions raised:
- On the question of whether Almighty Allah spoke to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) at the Sidratul Muntahaa (the place where Jibraeel (a.s) was not present) through the voice of Imam Ali (a.s) , the answer is yes we do believe that as there are such narrations in the books of the School of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the contents of the narrations is perfectly in line with logic.
- On the question of whether there was an angel “in the shape of Imam Ali (a.s)” we do not accept this narration as it is an exaggeration.
It should be emphasised that exaggeration and deviation occurred in all Schools of Thought and is definitely not confined to certain Shia sects. In principle, any exaggerated claims suggesting the status of Imam Ali (a.s) being higher than Prophet Muhammad (sawa) are not accepted by us.
An exposition of the status of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as viewed by the scholars of the School of Ahlul Bait (a.s)
By: Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
16 May 2015