Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Night Of Power And Destiny

The last of the Meccan phase of Muhammad's life is noted for alternate fortunes ranging between two extremes: gradual success and continual persecution. However, glimpses of favorable lights were appearing manifest on the distant horizon, to ultimately materialize in the event of the Prophet's Night Journey to Jerusalem and then Ascension through the Spheres of the Heavens.

As for its exact date, there is a difference of opinion about it. The following are the views about when it occurred:
  1. The Night Journey occurred during the year in which Allah honored Muhammad with Prophethood.
    This view was chosen by Imam at-Tabari.
  2. It occurred five years after the beginning of his Prophethood.
    This is the view preferred by Imam an-Nawawi and al-Qurtubi.
  3. It was the night of the 27th of Rajab during the tenth year of Prophethood.
    This view was chosen by 'Allamah al-Mansurpuri.
  4. It was sixteen months prior to the Migration to Medina,
    during Ramadan of the twelfth year of Prophethood.
  5. It was one year and two months prior to the migration to Medina
    meaning al-Muharram during the thirteenth year of Prophethood.
  6. It was one year prior to the migration,
    during Rabi'ul-Awwal in the thirteenth year of Prophethood.

The first three views are to be dismissed on the basis of the death of Sayyiduna Khadijah which was in Ramadan during the tenth year of Prophethood. She died before the five daily prayers were made obligatory, and there is no difference of opinion over the fact that the five prayers were made obligatory during the Night Journey.

As for the remaining three views, there is no sign indicating a preference for one over the other, except that the context of Surat al-Isra' supports that the Night Journey was very late on the timeline.

The Imams of Hadith narrate a number of details about this event the following of which is a summary:

ibn al-Qayyim said, "Allah's Messenger was carried physically — according to the most correct view — from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to Baytul-Maqdis in Jerusalem, riding on al-Buraq in the company of Archangel Gabriel. There, he alighted, tied the horse to a ring in the gate of the Mosque and led the Prophets in prayer.

Then, he ascended above Baytul-Maqdis to the lowest Heaven. Angel Gabriel sought permission to enter.

It was opened and he saw Adam, the Forefather of Mankind. The Prophet greeted him and Adam welcomed him, returned his greeting, expressed his faith in Muhammad's Prophethood. He saw the souls of martyrs on his right and those of the wretched on his left.

Gabriel then ascended with the Prophet to the second Heaven, sought entry and there he saw and greeted peace unto John, son of Zechariah, and Jesus, son of Mary. They returned his greeting, welcomed him and expressed their faith in his Prophethood.

Then they reached the third Heaven where they saw Joseph, son of Jacob, and greeted him.
The latter welcomed the Prophet, returned his greeting, and expressed faith in his Prophethood.

The Prophet, in the company of Gabriel, then reached the fourth Heaven where he met Enoch and greeted him. Enoch returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood.

Then he was carried to the fifth Heaven where he met Aaron and greeted him.
The latter returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood.

In the sixth Heaven he met Moses and greeted him. The latter returned the greeting and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Muhammad on leaving, saw that Moses began to weep. He asked about the reason. Moses answered that he was weeping because he witnessed a man sent after him as a Messenger who was able to lead more of his people to Paradise than he himself did.

Then Prophet Muhammad reached the seventh Heaven and met Abraham and greeted him.
The latter returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood.

Then he was carried to as-Sidrat al-Muntaha, the remotest Lote Tree in Paradise, and was shown al-Bayt al-Ma'mur, the Oft-Frequented House, encompassed daily by seventy thousand angels, so that the angels who once encompassed it would not have their turn again till the Resurrection.

He was then presented before Allah. He was brought near such that he was at the distance of two bow's length or less. Allah revealed to His servant as He willed, ordaining fifty daily prayers for him. On his return, he spoke to Moses, informing him that his followers had been enjoined to pray fifty times a day. Moses addressing the Prophet said, 'Your followers cannot perform so many prayers. Go back to your Lord and ask for a decrease in number.'
The Prophet turned to Gabriel, he nodded, 'Yes, if you desire,' and ascended with him back to the Court of Allah, Almighty, Glorious and Exalted is He, where He reduced the prayers by ten.
The Prophet then descended and reported that to Moses, who again urged him to request a further reduction. Muhammad once more begged his Lord to reduce the number still further. He went again and again at the suggestion of Moses for reduction in the number of prayers till these were reduced to only five.
Moses again asked him to implore for more reduction, but he said,
'I feel ashamed now of repeatedly asking my Lord for reduction. I accept and resign to His Will.'
When Muhammad went farther, a Caller was heard saying,
'I have imposed My Ordinance and lightened the burden of My servants.'"

ibn al-Qayyim and ibn Taymiyyah mentioned that there is some difference over whether the Prophet saw Allah or not. The result of the research into this matter being that seeing Him with the eye is not confirmed as a saying of any of the Companions, and that what is reported from ibn Abbas is seeing in general does not negate the first view. As for the saying in Surat an-Najm,

"Then he approached and came closer." [53:8]
The general consensus is that it is not the approach of the story of the Night Journey and Ascension, because, the approach mentioned in the Chapter of the Star relates to Archangel Gabriel and his coming closer to him, as stated by 'Aisha and ibn Mas'ud, and the rest of it supports that. As for the approach and coming closer that is mentioned in the Hadith of the Ascension, that clearly is about the Lord, Blessed and Most High, and his coming closer to Him. This is not contradicted by Surat an-Najm. Rather it merely that he saw him another time at Sidratul-Muntaha, and the 'him' in question is Archangel Gabriel, since Muhammad saw him manifested in his true holy visage twice: once on Earth, and once at Sidratul-Muntaha. Allah knows best.

In some of the narrations it is reported that his chest was also split on this occasion. Among the things the Prophet witnessed during this event are the following:

He was presented with milk and wine. He chose the milk, and it was said,
"You have chosen wisely. Had you selected the wine, your nation would have been misled."

The Prophet saw two manifest rivers, — the Nile and the Euphrates  — and two hidden ones. It appears that the signification of the two manifest rivers, the Nile and the Euphrates, is that they symbolically describe the area in whose fertile valleys, Muhammad's Message would settle, the two hidden rivers being those in Paradise.

He had the opportunity to see Moloch, the Keeper of Hell, guarding the Gates with a terrifying frowning face. He saw Paradise and the Fire. He saw those who unjustly consume the property of orphans. They had snouts similar to those of camels, swallowing red-hot stones and then issuing it out of their backs. There were also people who take interest and usury with bellies too big to be able to move around; they are trodden by the people of Pharaoh when these are admitted into Hell. In the same abode, he saw the adulterers and fornicators offered a tasty fatty meat and a rotten smelly one but they always chose the latter. The licentious women were made to hang from their breasts.

The Night Journey raised a good deal of stir among the people and the disbelieving audience plied Muhammad with all sorts of questions. He told them that he saw the camels of Meccan merchants going to and fro. He also guided them to some of their animals that went astray. He informed them that he had drunk some of their water while they were fast asleep and left the container covered.

The disbelievers, however, found it a suitable opportunity to laugh at the Muslims and their creed. They pestered the Prophet with questions as to the description of the Mosque at Jerusalem, where he had never gone before and, to the astonishment of all, the Prophet's replies furnished the most accurate information about that city. He supplied them with all the news about their caravans and the routes of their camels.

However, all this increased in them nothing but flight from the Truth, and they accepted nothing but disbelief.

For the true Muslims, however, there was nothing unusual about the Night Journey. The Almighty, Allah, Who is Omnipotent, capable of creating the Heavens and the Earth by the mere act of His Will, is surely Powerful enough to take His Messenger beyond the Heavens and show him those signs of His directly, which are inaccessible and unseen to Man otherwise — the Ghaib.

The disbelievers, on their part, when to see Abu Bakr on account of this event, and he readily said,
"Yes, I do verify it."
It was on this occasion that he earned the title as-Siddiq  — the One who verifies the Truth.

The most eloquent and most concise justification of this Journey is expressed in Allah's Words:

" order that We might show him Our Signs." [Quran 17:1]
The Divine rules as regards the Prophets are as follows:

"Thus did We show Abraham the Kingdom of the Heavens and the Earth that he be of those who have affirmed Faith." [Quran 6:75] 
To Moses, his Lord said:
"That We may show you some of Our Greater Signs," [Quran 20:23]
In order that:
"...he be of those who have affirmed Faith." [Quran 6:75]
The Prophets, after seeing Allah's Signs, will establish their Faith on solid certainty too immune to be parted with. Indeed, actual observation is not the equal to mere information. They are in fact eligible for this Divine Privilege because they are ones who will bear burdens too heavy for other ordinary people to carry, and in the process of their mission, they will regard all worldly trials and sufferings too small to care about.

There are simple facts that emanate from this blessed Journey, and flow along into the flowery garden of the Prophetic biography, peace and blessings of Allah be upon its subject, Muhammad. The story of the Night Journey as we see in the Noble Quran is summarized in the first Verse of Suratul-Isra' and then there is a quick shift to uncover the shameful deeds and crimes of the Jews, followed by an admonition saying that the Qur'an guides to that which is most Just and Righteous. This arrangement is not in fact a mere coincidence. Jerusalem was the first scene of the Night Journey, and herein was the Covenant with the Jews which clearly laid out that they would be removed from Divine Favor and the Office of Leadership of Mankind due to the crimes they had committed against God, which no longer justified their occupation of that position.

The Message suggested significantly that the Office of Leadership would be taken over by Allah's Messenger, Muhammad, to hold in his hand both, headquarters of the Abrahamic Faith, the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and the Farthest Mosque in Jerusalem. It was high time for the Spiritual Authority to be transferred from a nation whose history was pregnant with treachery, covenant-breaching and aggression towards another nation blessed with piety and dutifulness to Allah, with a Messenger who enjoys the Privilege of the Quranic Revelation.

There, however, remains a crucial question waiting to be answered: How could this foreseen transition of Authority be effected while the Champion himself was left deserted and abandoned in the hillocks of the Arabian Peninsula?

This question in itself uncovered the secrets of another issue which referred to a phase of the Islamic Call and the appearance of another role it was about to take up, different in its course and noble in its approaches. The forerunners of that new task took the shape of Quranic Verses bearing the direct and unequivocal Warning accompanied by a severe Ultimatum directed to the polytheists and their agents:

"And when We decide to destroy a town, We send a definite Order to those among them who are given the good things of this life. Then, they transgress therein. Thus the Word is justified against them, and We destroy them with Complete Annihilation. 
And how many generations have We destroyed after Noah!
Sufficient is your Lord as Omniscient and Beholder of the Sins of His servants"
[Quran 17:16-17]
Together with these Verses, there were others revealed to show the Muslims the rules and items of the civilizations upon which they could erect their Muslim community, and foretelling their ownership of a piece of land, exercising full freedom over it and establishing a rightful society around whose axis the whole humanity would rotate. Those Verses in reality implied better prospects for the Prophet comprising a secure shelter to settle in, and headquarters safe enough to empower and embolden him to communicate his Message to the entire world as a whole: that was in fact the inner secret of the Blessed Journey. For this very Wisdom and the like we consider it appropriate to suggest that the Night Journey took place either before the First Pledge of 'Aqabah or between the two. Allah knows best.

 — Abu Hisham Safiur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum

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