Lailat al Miraj: Muslims celebrate ‘Night Journey,’ origin of faith’s daily prayers

Winged horse with human head on cloud, artistic depiction

Buraq, believed to be the steed that carried Muhammad on his Night Journey. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, MAY 5: Millions of Muslims worldwide celebrate two phenomenal “night journeys” today that shaped Islam on the holiday known as Lailat al Miraj. (Note: Date may vary based on regional moon sightings.) For one night, Muslims commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” in Jerusalem, and then, finally, to heaven, where he was purified and given instructions from Allah to pray five times per day. Muslim tradition also describes the prophet, accompanied by the archangel Gabriel, meeting other prophets during his journey: Adam, John the Baptist, Moses and Abraham, just to name a few. The events of this night are recorded in both the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet).

Did you know? The “night journeys” are believed to have taken place around the year 621 CE.

The events of this sacred night are divided into two parts: in Arabic, Isra and Mi’raj. As the traditional story is told, the Prophet Muhammad’s journey begins in Mecca, at a time when he was “in a state midway between sleep and wakefulness;” Muhammad was granted wisdom and belief, and was washed clean. After a greeting by the Gabriel, Muhammad mounted Al-Buraq—a mythical animal often depicted as a great flying horse with a human face— and traveled to the “farthest mosque” (believed to be at the present site of the Masjid al-Aqsa mosque, or “Temple Mount,” in Jerusalem), where he was tested by Gabriel at God’s command. When he passed the test, Muhammad then ascended to the nearest heaven.

Fast Fact: Isra describes the first portion of the night’s journey, from Mecca to the “farthest mosque” in Jerusalem; Mi’raj is the second portion of the journey, when Muhammad traveled to heaven.

Traveling through the seven levels of heaven, Muhammad finally reached the presence of Allah (God), and was told to instruct Muslims to pray 50 times per day; afterward, upon Moses’s suggestion, Muhammad begged for reductions, until Allah reduced the number to five. At that time, Muhammad returned to Mecca.

Did you know? Following Muhammad’s initial instructions, the earliest Muslims prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, although this location later was changed to Mecca.

LAILAT AL MIRAJ TODAY

Today, Muslims commemorate Lailat al Miraj by attending services at the mosque, relaying the story of the “night journey” to children and reciting specific nighttime prayers. Isra and Mi’raj observances are joyous, and often include festivities enjoyed by children and adults alike. Lailat al Mi’raj is one of the most prominent events on the Islamic calendar.

NEWS: The New Jersey state Board of Education this week approved a list of religious holidays in the upcoming school year, for which schools must allow excused absences. Updated annually, this list includes more than 100 holidays for 2016-2017, including Lailat al Miraj.

 

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Categories: Muslim

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  1. Paul Mojzes says:

    Surely the author did not mean to write:
    “Traveling through the seven levels of heaven, Allah finally reached the presence of Allah (God),” but that Muhammad reached the presence of God. (unless the author meant to equate Muhammad with God, which would be un-Islamic.

    • Stephanie Fenton says:

      Thank you for catching this typo! The intention was, indeed, to write that Muhammad reached the presence of Allah (God). This error has been fixed. Thank you for reading!

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