Isra and Mi’raj

A 16th century Persian miniature painting celebrating Muhammad's ascent into the Heavens, a journey known as the Miraj. Muhammad's face is veiled, a common practice in Islamic art.

A 16th century Persian miniature painting celebrating Muhammad’s ascent into the Heavens, a journey known as the Miraj. Muhammad’s face is veiled, a common practice in Islamic art.

The Isra and Mi’raj (Arabic: الإسراء والمعراج ) refer to two parts of a journey the Islamic prophet Muhammad took in one night of the year 1 BH (621 CE) [1]. Isra (Arabic: الإسراء ) is an Arabic word referring to what Muslims regard as Muhammad’s miraculous night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem — specifically, to the site of Masjid al-Aqsa. Mi’raj (Arabic: المعراج ) is an Arabic word referring to the second part of the journey, particularly the ascension of Muhammad from Masjid al-Aqsa to the heavens.

This celebrated event in Islam is considered to have taken place before the Hijra and after Muhamad’s visit to the people of Taif. It is considered by some to have happened just over a year before the Hijra, on the 27th of Rajab; but this date is not always recognized. In Shi’a Iran for example, Rajab 27 is the day of Muhammad’s first calling or Mab’as. However, in many parts of the Muslim world, this date is celebrated as Lailat al Miraj.

A majority of Muslims consider it a physical journey but some Islamic scholars consider it a dream. Both opinions are discussed in the article.

The event

The Qur’an

Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).— translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali

The following verse is referred by some scholars to show that it was a dream[2] while others disagree:[3]

Behold! We told thee that thy Lord doth encompass mankind round about: We granted the vision which We showed thee, but as a trial for men,- as also the Cursed Tree (mentioned) in the Qur’an: We put terror (and warning) into them, but it only increases their inordinate transgression!— translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali

The following verses are said to refer to this event:[4]

For indeed he saw him at a second descent, Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass: Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!— translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali


This event has been discussed in detail in hadith literature.

The night Allah‘s Apostle was taken for a journey from the sacred mosque (of Mecca) Al-Ka’ba: Three persons came to him (in a dream while he was sleeping in the Sacred Mosque before the Divine Inspiration was revealed to Him…they came on another night, i.e. after The Divine Inspiration was revealed to him. (Fateh-Al-Bari Page 258, Vol. 17) and he saw them, his eyes were asleep but his heart was not…So those angels did not talk to him till they carried him and placed him beside the well of Zam-Zam…He then ascended with him to the heaven of the world and knocked on one of its doors. The dwellers of the Heaven asked, ‘Who is it?’ He said, “Gabriel.” They said, “Who is accompanying you?” He said, “Muhammad.” They said, “Has he been called?” He said, “Yes” They said, “He is welcomed.” … Then Gabriel took him around that Heaven and behold, he saw another river at the bank of which there was a palace built of pearls and emerald. He put his hand into the river and found its mud like musk Adhfar. He asked, “What is this, O Gabriel?” Gabriel said, “This is the Kauthar which your Lord has kept for you.” Then Gabriel ascended … On each Heaven there were prophets whose names he had mentioned and of whom I remember Idris on the second Heaven, Aaron on the fourth Heavens another prophet whose name I don’t remember, on the fifth Heaven, Abraham on the sixth Heaven, and Moses on the seventh Heaven because of his privilege of talking to Allah directly. Moses said (to Allah), “O Lord! I thought that none would be raised up above me.”… But Gabriel ascended with him (the Prophet) for a distance above that, the distance of which only Allah knows, till he reached the Lote Tree (beyond which none may pass) and then the Irresistible, the Lord of Honor and Majesty approached and came closer till he (Gabriel) was about two bow lengths or (even) nearer. (It is said that it was Gabriel who approached and came closer to the Prophet. (Fate Al-Bari Page 263, 264, Vol. 17). Among the things which Allah revealed to him then, was: “Fifty prayers were enjoined on his followers in a day and a night.” Then the Prophet descended till he met Moses, and then Moses stopped him and asked, “O Muhammad ! What did your Lord en join upon you?” The Prophet replied,” He enjoined upon me to perform fifty prayers in a day and a night.” Moses said, “Your followers cannot do that; Go back so that your Lord may reduce it for you and for them.” So the Prophet turned … till the enjoined prayers were reduced to only five prayers…The Prophet returned to Moses who asked, “What have you done?” He said, “He has lightened our burden: He has given us for every good deed a tenfold reward.” Moses said, “By Allah! I tried to make Bani Israel observe less than that, but they gave it up. So go back to your Lord that He may lighten your burden further.” Allah’s Apostle said, “O Moses! By Allah, I feel shy of returning too many times to my Lord.” On that Gabriel said, “Descend in Allah’s Name.” The Prophet then woke while he was in the Sacred Mosque (at Mecca). Sahih Bukhari 9:93:608
The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I was brought al-Buraq…who would place his hoof a distance equal to the range of vision. I mounted it and came to the Temple (Bait Maqdis in Jerusalem)… prayed two raka’ah in it, and then came out and Gabriel brought me a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. I chose the milk, … Then he took me to heaven… we saw Adam. He welcomed me and prayed for my good…. The (gate) was opened for us, and lo! Idris was there. He welcomed me…(The gate) was opened for us and then I was with Aaron. He welcomed me prayed for my well-being…(The gate) was opened for us and there I was with Moses…(The gate) was opened for us and there I found Abraham…Then Allah revealed to me a revelation and He made obligatory for me fifty prayers every day and night…I then came down and when I came to Moses and informed him, he said: Go back to thy Lord and ask Him to make things lighter. Upon this the Messenger of Allah remarked: I returned to my Lord until I felt ashamed before Him. Sahih Muslim 1:309
The Prophet said, “When the Quraish disbelieved me (concerning my night journey), I stood up in Al-Hijr (the unroofed portion of the Ka’ba) and Allah displayed Bait-ul-Maqdis before me, and I started to inform them (Quraish) about its signs while looking at it.Sahih Bukhari 6:60:233


As Muhammad was resting in the Kaaba, Gabriel came to him, and brought him the winged steed Buraq, who carried him to the “furthest mosque”, where he alighted, tethered Buraq, and led other prophets in prayer. He then got back on Buraq, and was taken to the heavens, where he toured heaven and hell (described in some detail), and spoke with the earlier prophets, and with Allah. Allah told him to enjoin the Muslims to pray fifty times a day; however, Moses told Muhammad that they would never do it, and urged Muhammad to go back several times and ask for a reduction, until finally it was reduced to five times a day.

Afterwards, the unbelieving Meccans regarded this as absurd, and some went to Abu Bakr and told him “Look at what your companion is saying. He says he went to Jerusalem and came back in one night.” Abu Bakr told them, “If he said that, then he is truthful. I believe him concerning the news of the heavens — that an angel descends to him from the heavens. How could I not believe he went to Jerusalem and came back in a short period of time — when these are on earth?” It was for this that Abu Bakr is said to have received his famous title “Us-Siddiq”, The Truthful.

Journey by Body and Soul, or by Soul only

It is widely believed amongst Muslims that Isra and Mi’raj was a physical journey of Muhammad, but some Islamic scholars consider it as a dream. They point to a verse in the same sura of Qur’an, …and We did not make the vision (Arabic: ru’ya or الرُّؤيَا) which We showed you but a trial for men… 17:60 and a hadith regarding Isra and Mi’raj in Sahih Bukhari, …Allah’s Apostle said, “O Moses! By Allah, I feel shy of returning too many times to my Lord.” On that Gabriel said, “Descend in Allah’s Name.” The Prophet then woke while he was in the Sacred Mosque (at Mecca). 9:93:608. Similarly Ibn Ishaq, author of first biography of Muhammad, has a tradition from Aisha that only Muhammad’s spirit had journeyed to “the distant place of prayer”, although later material written by Al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir differ in this opinion.[5] It is argued that it was a mode of revelation for the Prophet in symbolic form for the guidance of the Muslim nation. This event also foretold Muslims that God would now raise Muslims up as a superpower and Jerusalem would soon fall into their hands, which happened indeed within less than three decades of this event.[6][2] While some hadith material suggests that it was a physical journey and it is argued that this event wouldn’t be a “trial” for believers if it were a dream.[3]

(regarding the Verse) “And We granted the vision (Ascension to the heavens “Miraj”) which We showed you (O Muhammad as an actual eye witness) but as a trial for mankind.’ (17.60): Allah’s Apostle actually saw with his own eyes the vision (all the things which were shown to him) on the night of his Night Journey to Jerusalem (and then to the heavens). The cursed tree which is mentioned in the Qur’an is the tree of Az-Zaqqum.Sahih Bukhari 8:77:610

The Quran 53:13 reports that Muhammad saw Gabriel during the night Journey. Another incident when Muhammad saw Gabriel was reported in this verse 81:23.

Controversy over its historicity

Many non-Muslims regard the incident as implausible. However, while most scholars accept that Muhammad claimed to have made this trip, a few dispute this as well. Some believe that the prophet’s journey may have been one of the soul and not necessarily the body. Islamic scholars have debated this issue for centuries.

John Wansbrough (a leading exponent of extreme scepticism regarding early Islamic sources, best known for his theories of extremely late Quranic composition), argues that the entire story of the Isra and Mir’aj constitutes later Islamic scriptural exegesis designed to explain away the vagueness of ayah 17:1 (a literary phenomenon he claims was common in early Islamic and Jewish theology.) He holds that this verse probably does not even refer to Muhammad, and that no evidence links it to Jerusalem: “Far from providing unambiguous witness to the Arabian prophet, this particular scriptural image (israa’ bi-abdeehee laylan) is employed, in but slightly varying forms, only to describe Moses’ departure from Egypt” (Wansbrough, Quranic Studies).

The term “Masjid al-Aqsa” (the farthest mosque) in the Qur’an

The “farthest Mosque” (al-masjid al-Aqsa) in verse (17:1) of the Qur’an is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the site at the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem on which the mosque of that name now stands. This interpretation is already given by the earliest biographer of Muhammad — Ibn Ishaq — and is supported by numerous Hadith. The term used for mosque, “masjid”, literally means “place of prostration”, and includes monotheistic places of worship such as Solomon’s Temple, which in verse 17:7 (in the same sura) is described as a masjid.

Many Western historians regard this as the originally intended interpretation, for instance Heribert Busse and Neal Robinson (see references.)

However, some disagree, arguing that at the time this verse of the Qur’an was recited (around the year 621, unless one follows Wansbrough) many Muslims understood the phrase “furthest mosque” as a poetic phrase for a mosque already known to them, a mosque in Heaven, or as a metaphor. For the following reasons, they find it unlikely that this verse referred to a location in Palestine: But it is also true that initially Muslims used to pray while facing towards “bait-ul-muqadas” or the temple mount or the holy land. Later on the Qibla was changed to Mecca. So it would be wrong to say that in that period muslims had no connection with Palestine.

  1. There were already two places that Muslim tradition of that time period called “the furthest mosque”; one was the mosque in Medina (Arthur Jeffrey, The Suppressed Quran Commentary of Muhammad Abu Zaid, Der Islam, 20 (1932): 306) and the other was the mosque in the town of Jirana, which Muhammed is said to have visited in 630, although Solomon‘s Temple is of course further than either. (Alfred Guillaume, Where Was Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa? Al-Andalus, (18) 1953: 323–36)
  2. When Muslims finally did conquer and occupy Jerusalem, they are not known to have identified the Temple Mount with “the furthest Mosque” until 715.

In 715 the Umayyads built a new mosque on the Temple Mount; they named this Mosque al-masjid al-aqsa, the Al-Aqsa Mosque or “furthest mosque”. AL Tibawi, a Palestinian historian, argues that this action “gave reality to the figurative name used in the Koran.” (AL Tibawi, Jerusalem: Its Place in Islam and Arab History, Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1969, p. 9.)

The evidence is insufficient to confirm whether a specific meaning had been attached to this verse before the Muslim conquest and occupation of Jerusalem. However, it is known that by twenty-five years after the conquest the account of the Isra and Mir’aj was generally attached to the Temple Mount.

There is an opinion among some Muslim scholars that “the furthest mosque” in Qur’an actually points to the Temple of Solomon and not Masjid Al-Aqsa, which was built by Omer Bin Khattab (c. 581-644), the Muslim caliph who conquered Jerusalem in 637.[7]

Modern Observance

Muslims celebrate this night by offering optional prayers during this night, and in many Muslim countries, by illuminating cities with electric lights and candles. In India this day is observed by taking fast, while some consider its celebration a Bid‘ah (an innovation in the religion).

See also


  1. ^ http://christdot.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=5095&hl

  2. ^ a b c A Question on the Night Journey of the Prophet (pbuh), understanding-islam.com, Al-Mawrid Institute

  3. ^ a b Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an (tafsir), 17:60

  4. ^ Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an (tafsir).53:13

  5. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam and Muslim world, Macmillan reference, USA, 2004. p.482

  6. ^ Shehzad Saleem. Ascension of the Prophet (sws). Renaissance – Monthly Islamic Journal, 8(7-8). July & August 1998

  7. ^ Moiz Amjad, The Position of Jerusalem and the Bayet al-Maqdas in Islam, understanding-islam.com, Al-Mawrid Institute


External links


3 Responses to “Isra and Mi’raj”

  1. July 18, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    dkbjrfwgu mawlvs bcwj lrgkhut yfje raljwebp rjsct

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