It is believed that the Isra and Miraj occurred approximately a year before Hijra, or the migration of the Prophet (pbuh – peace be upon him) and his community from Mecca to Medina around 622 A.D. The one-night journey consisted of Prophet Muhammad being taken by the Archangel Jibrael (Gabriel) (pbut- peace be upon them) first from Mecca to Jerusalem and then into the heavens. During this journey, the Prophet (pbuh) stopped at several significant locations before reaching Jerusalem, such as Bethlehem, and also met the Prophets of the past, including Ibrahim (Abraham), Isa (Jesus), and Musa (Moses) (pbut).
One of results or aspects of this journey that is most often mentioned is the establishment of the five daily obligatory prayers. However, if one reads the story of the journey in detail, it is realized that there were many lessons included. For example, the Prophet (pbuh) met the many prophets and/or heard the stories of important figures of the past, such as the hairdresser of Fir’aoun (Pharaoh)’s children who is seen as a most pious and brave woman.
He also saw some of the ultimate rewards or punishments for people who were engaged in respective good or bad acts in the world. Knowledge of this helps us understand the severity or value of certain acts in Islam and act accordingly.
In addition, as the Prophet (pbuh) continued his ascension, he passed through the seven levels or realms of the heavens. Throughout these levels, he saw the different aspects of heaven and hell that are described throughout the Qur’an, such as the gardens and rivers of paradise. When he reached the final place in his journey, he is believed to have met Allah, God, Himself and received the directions mentioned before that established the five obligatory prayers.
The Prophet (pbuh) then descended and returned to Jerusalem and then returned to Mecca. When he returned, non-Muslims and even some Muslims questioned the validity that this journey took place within one night, as normally traveling to Jerusalem and back during those times took over a month. However, the Prophet (pbuh) was able to perfectly describe the mosque at Jerusalem when inquired by those who had previously been there, which, along with other miraculous narrations by the Prophet, indicated the truth of his claims.
There are several aspects of this event that has caused debate between Muslims, or Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, the Dome of the Rock which currently exists in Jerusalem is believed to be located on the site from which the Prophet (pbuh) ascended into the heavens. Therefore, this is one of the reasons it is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. As is well-known, this site is also holy in Judaism and Christianity.
Debates and discussions have taken place throughout history over whether the event was an actual physical experience or more of a spiritual one, such as a vision. The majority of Islamic scholars have stated that this was a miraculous physicalexperience in which the Prophet (pbuh) took part in this journey and ascension in body and spirit.
Finally, some Muslims celebrate or commemorate the event by making special prayers on Laylatul Miraj, while some are of the belief that it is impermissible to do so because it was not specifically prescribed by Allah in the Qur’an or by the Prophet (pbuh).
Regardless of the opinion, one practice that should be made a habit in every Muslim household is to at least reflect on this amazing story. There are several resources online that explain the event in detail referencing various hadiths (narrations of the Prophet’s sayings and actions). As mentioned, there are several lessons to be learnt about life and society in general and the Islamic faith. It can serve as a valuable refresher for adults and a great learning opportunity for children.