Belief in the Unseen represents a major and essential part of Islam. When we review the key principles of Islam such as belief in Allah, the Hereafter, Paradise and Hell, angels and jinn, past prophets and books, we find that all these issues are ghayb (unseen) and need unshakable conviction in Rasulullah SAW’s truthfulness. The Night Journey and Ascension (Al-Israa’ wa Al-Me’raj) posed a crucial test for early Muslims to assess their belief in the Unseen. This journey brought to light the unshakeable, firmly rooted faith of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and the weak faith of some other people who rejected Islam totally once they heard the story.
The event of Al-Israa’ and Al-Me’raj is recorded in the Quran and Hadith. It is the miraculous Night Journey of Rasulullah SAW which consists of two phases. Phase one covers his trip from Makkah to Jerusalem , known as Al-Israa’, and phase two covers his ascent from Jerusalem into the Heavens, known as Al-Me’raj. It is the opinion of some historians that Rasulullah SAW went on this remarkable journey on the night of Rajab 27 (in the seventh month of the Islamic calendar). Some authors refer to the year in which this event is recorded as the Year of Grief. It was the year in which Rasulullah SAW lost his beloved wife Khadijah RA and his dear uncle, Abu Talib, who had nurtured him as a child and protected him when he was proclaimed a prophet of Allah. During this same year, he went to the city of Ta’if to invite the people to Islam, but he was stoned and driven out of the city by the street urchins. Rasulullah SAW is reported to have said that the day in Ta’if was the most difficult day of his life.
Due to these three events, Rasulullah SAW was very sad, but Allah Almighty had a superb plan to relieve His Chosen Messenger from distress, as is embodied in the following Quran verse: [ Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far Distant Place of Worship the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed, that We might show him of Our tokens! Lo! He, only He, is the Nearer, the Seer ] (Al-Israa’ 17:1). The above verse refers to Al-Israa’, the journey from Makkah to Jerusalem .
In a hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari, Abu Dhar RA narrated the event of Al-Me’raj or Ascension, as described by Rasulullah SAW. Abu Dhar RA narrated as follows: Rasulullah SAW was in Makkah and the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) descended through the roof, opened his chest, washed it with Zamzam water, filled it with wisdom and faith, and then closed it. He was then taken by Jibreel to the nearest heaven, where Jibreel was asked by the gatekeeper, “Jibreel is there anyone with you?” He answered that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was with him. Again he asked, “Has he been called?” And Jibreel answered in the affirmative. The gate was then opened and they entered the nearest heaven, where they saw a man sitting with a large number of people on his right and also on his left. When he looked on his right he laughed, and when he looked at his left he wept. Then he said, “Welcome! O pious prophet and pious son.” Rasulullah SAW inquired from Jibreel who the man was and Jibreel informed him that he was Adam and the people around him were his offspring. Those on his right were the people of Paradise and on his left, the people of Hell.
They then travelled to the second heaven. Here Jibreel was asked the same questions as before and he gave the same response, and so the gate was opened. Anas RA reported that Abu Dhar RA added that Rasulullah SAW met Adam, Idris (Enoch), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), and Ibrahim (Abraham), but Abu Dhar RA did not mention in which heaven they were, except that Rasulullah SAW met Adam in the first and Ibrahim in the sixth. Each of these prophets welcomed Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and Jibreel identified each of them. Ibn Abbas RA and Abu Habba Al-Ansari RA reported that Rasulullah SAW also said that Jibreel ascended with him to a place where he heard the creaking of pens. Allah prescribed fifty Prayers on His followers.
When Rasulullah SAW returned with this order from Allah, he passed by Musa, who inquired, “What has Allah enjoined on your followers?” He replied, “He has enjoined fifty Prayers on them.” Musa advised him to go back and appeal for a reduction because his followers would not be able to bear it. So he went back to Allah (a few times) and appealed for a reduction until it was reduced to five per day, and Allah said, “These are five Prayers and they are all equal to fifty in reward, for My Word does not change.” Rasulullah SAW returned to Musa AS , who advised him to seek a further reduction, but he said he felt shy to ask again.
After this, he was taken by Jibreel to Sidrat Al-Muntaha or the Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary, which was shrouded in colours that are indescribable. He was then admitted into Paradise , where he saw that its walls were made of pearls and its earth was made of musk.
As we contemplate the occurrences of this remarkable night, we can say that Allah had a very good reason for Rasulullah SAW to be transported from Makkah to Jerusalem and then to the Seven Heavens. Jerusalem was the Qiblah or the direction towards which Rasulullah SAW turned in Prayer, and up to that time was the seat of learning for all previously revealed scriptures. This unique incident also demonstrates Allah’s infinite mercy to the believers. His benevolent gift of Prayer gives the believers the privilege of acquiring countless blessings and also forgiveness for their indiscretions.