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

Lailat al Mi’raj: From Mecca to heaven, Muslims mark Muhammad’s journey

Large stone mosque

According to the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad traveled to “the farthest mosque” on the night of Lailat al Miraj. That mosque is believed to be at the site of Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, pictured above. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, MAY 26: A spectacular “night journey” is celebrated by Muslims today, as the faithful recall the Prophet Muhammad’s travels on Lailat al Mi’raj. Most Muslims describe the journey as both physical and spiritual, as the Prophet journeyed from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” in Jerusalem, and finally to heaven, where he was met by several other prophets, was purified and received instructions from Allah Himself to pray five times daily.

The events of this night are recorded in both the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet), and the night was divided into two parts: these are known, in Arabic, as Isra and Mi’raj (translated literally, Mi’raj means “ladder.” Wikipedia has details ). Generally, this event is described as having taken place around the year 621 CE. Today, Muslims commemorate the event by attending services at the mosque, relaying the story of the “night journey” to children and reciting specific nighttime prayers. Lailat al Mi’raj is one of the most prominent events on the Islamic calendar.

THE STORY OF THE NIGHT JOURNEY

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 archangel 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, in Jerusalem), where he was tested by Gabriel at God’s command. Passing the test, Muhammad then ascended to the nearest heaven. (Learn more from the Madina Institute.) As both Gabriel and Muhammad ascended the seven circles of heaven, they were greeted by numerous significant figures: Adam, John the Baptist, Moses and Abraham, just to name a few.

As the story goes in Muslim communities around the world: Upon reaching the presence of Allah (God), Muhammad 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.

Finally, the Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca.

What‘s the difference between Isra and Mi’raj? 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.

CARE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JERUSALEM?

This week, ReadTheSpirit features a review—and a colorful preview video—of the large-screen film touring the world: Jerusalem.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Muslim

Isra and Mi’raj: Muslims recall Muhammad’s Night Journey

Room of Muslim women sitting and praying

Women pray during Lailat al Miraj. Photo courtesy of Flickr

EVENING of WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5: Muslims around the world will spend tonight awake in prayer, recalling the sacred Night Journey of Muhammad, one of the most spectacular stories from the Prophet’s life. English names for the holiday vary, but many Western sources spell it Isra and Mi’raj.

In predominantly Muslim countries, cities are illuminated all night in celebration. The following day, many will enjoy an official holiday to commemorate the event at a local mosque. (The UAE recently made the announcement, among others.)

Tradition, drawn from both the Quran and Hadith (collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), says that the Prophet was summoned by the archangel Gabriel and led to a white, winged animal: a Buraq, the steed of the prophets. Muhammad mounted the Buraq, and was taken to both “the farthest mosque” and then through seven levels of heaven, all in one miraculous night. It is on this night that Muhammad received the instruction from God that Muslims should pray five times per day.

Note: The exact date of this journey is unclear, although most believe it to be around 621 CE.

From the Hadith, we get a description of Muhammad’s initial revelation, while still in Mecca: “While I was at the House in a state midway between sleep and wakefulness … (an angel recognized me) … my abdomen was washed with Zam-zam water and (my heart was) filled with wisdom and belief.” (Wikipedia has details.)

INTERPRETATIONS OF THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY VARY

Interpretations of Isra and Mi’raj vary across the worldwide spectrum of Islam. Some Muslims hold that the entire journey was a spiritual experience; most believe that it literally took place. For example, the Australian-based Muslim Village blog recently posted an extensive column on Isra and Mi’raj describing as both mystical—beyond human reasoning—and quite real for the Prophet at the same time. Many Muslim columnists around the world will be posting reflections on the festival this week, most in languages other than English.

A painting on glass of the miraculous Buraq by Senagalese artist Gora Mbengue.

A painting on glass of the miraculous Buraq by Senagalese artist Gora Mbengue.

As the story is usually summarized: The Prophet Muhammad was greeted by Gabriel and given the Buraq, then the Prophet rode to “the Farthest Mosque”—now believed by many to be the modern-day Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem—and tethered the Buraq to so he could perform prayer.

Muhammad prayed, was tested and, after passing the test, was taken on the second part of his journey: Mi’raj, literally ladder, to the seven circles of heaven. On this part of the journey, Muhammad met Adam, Abraham and Jesus, finally making his ascent to the seventh layer. Muslim tradition says that Muhammad met God and was instructed to have Muslims pray 50 times per day; on his way back down, it was suggested by Abraham that Muhammad plead to God for a smaller number. Muhammad returned to God, pointed out that prayer 50 times per day was too much for the people, and had the number reduced. Muhammad returned to Mecca.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Muslim