Al-Isrā Wal-Mi’rāj – A Trial of Faith
Of the Islāmic Lifestyle Solutions
Of the numerous emotionally-driven objections launched at the sīrah (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ by orientalists, apologists and atheists, the vast majority of criticism has been directed toward his miraculous Night Journey. In a time of logic and logic-worship, the modern man cannot fathom the intricacies of the Night Journey and follow to swiftly and ignorantly reject the notion as mere ‘fairytale’. This is because the secular age has given rise to the ‘belief’ that only empirical knowledge can determine the validity of an ideal, and seeing as though God is immaterial, there can be no assessment of the existence of God, so naturally, the conclusion is that God is a myth, and so too, His scripture. To limit knowledge only to empiricism is a great disservice to the faculties of knowledge as it leads to more questions than answers. How do we explain consciousness? What about the intellect? Or mass transmissions as a source of knowledge?
However intellectually unethical that may be, for the educated Muslim, this scepticism stands to prove the veracity of the Qur’ānic discourse in how it dealt with the reactions of the people towards this particular event in history.
The Al-Isrā wal-Mi’rāj refers to the incident that took place in the latter Meccan period whereby the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, was accompanied by arch-angel Gabriel u, from the Sacred House in Mecca to Al-Musjid Al-Aqsā in Jerusalem and thereafter to the seven cosmic strata of time and space, and beyond.
Upon his return, he informed his community about the journey, and the commands revealed therefrom. This presented an opportunity for the disbelievers to further demonize the Prophet ﷺ, by accusing him of lying as they rejected the idea. Their main arguments were that there was no possible way for the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, to have completed even the first leg of his journey in a single night, let alone a celestial journey beyond the heavens. Thus it was a problem of ‘logic’.
Like majority of sceptics today, the rejectors demanded proof for the journey. They knew him well and he was known to have never made the journey to Jerusalem, and so it was ‘logically’ decided that they would question him regarding the landmarks and details located at Al-Aqsā as this would surely call his bluff.
The people gathered to begin interrogating him as the hadith clarifies,
حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ بُكَيْرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا اللَّيْثُ، عَنْ عُقَيْلٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ، حَدَّثَنِي أَبُو سَلَمَةَ بْنُ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ، سَمِعْتُ جَابِرَ بْنَ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ” لَمَّا كَذَّبَنِي قُرَيْشٌ قُمْتُ فِي الْحِجْرِ، فَجَلاَ اللَّهُ لِي بَيْتَ الْمَقْدِسِ، فَطَفِقْتُ أُخْبِرُهُمْ عَنْ آيَاتِهِ وَأَنَا أَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهِ
Narrated by Sayyidunā Jābir bin ‘Abdullāht, that he heard Allāh’s Apostler saying, “When the people of Quraysh did not believe me (i.e. the story of my Night Journey), I stood up in Al-Hijr and Allāh Y displayed Jerusalem in front of me, and I began describing it to them while I was looking at it.”
The inquisitors must have been perplexed at the accuracy of his answers as they could not see the ‘evidence’ which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, was looking at when answering their questions. Nonetheless, God Almighty provided the Prophet ﷺ, with the means to overcome the plot of the people and he was able to answer their questions with ease. Thus, their plan worked against them and instead of vilifying him, the people were more inclined towards him.
Contemplatively, if he could prove the first part of the journey –which was already a physical impossibility based on the available modes of transportation at the time-, then it only strengthens the possibility of the second leg of the journey as well.
The Trial of Faith
Some 1400 years later, there are still those who look to this event and raise objections upon it based on the same logical premises, and this is no surprise to the educated Muslim because the Qur’ān states,
وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الرُّءْيَا الَّتِىٓ أَرَيْنٰكَ إِلَّا فِتْنَةً لِّلنَّاسِ
“…and We did not make the sight which We showed you (O Prophet Muhammad) but as a trial for humankind…”
The Qur’ānic choice of words citing ‘humankind’ is an appeal to all (including believers), that irrespective of one’s religious background, Al-Isrā wal Me’rāj may pose a threat to one’s belief. The modern age is an ideal case study for this as it proves that many who are weak in faith, and who believe in the empirical system of knowledge as the only source of deducing truth, experience difficulty in comprehending the Night Journey as a real event in history.
Atheists find it really difficult to grasp this particular journey as it is beyond their understanding, and whatever is outside their methodology of analysis is rendered null and void. This however, is not a flaw of the Night Journey, or belief in the transcendental realm of reality at all. Instead, it is an epistemological flaw as they have limited their understanding of reality only to sensory perception.
The infamous Richard Dawkins continuously cherry-picks at this particular incident from the prophetic biography and incessantly refers to it in a condescending tone as something out of a fairy-tale. Naturally, his followers have adopted the same fallacious philosophy and without any objective study they mockingly reject the narrative. This has caused those who are weak in faith, (those whose foundations are not firm on the knowledge of essentials of Islāmic creed) to fall prey to the predatory atheistic rhetoric, and to therefore being ‘questioning’ the logic of a divinely ordained journey.
Conversely, for a person who believes in something beyond the physical world, the metaphysics of Al-Isrā wal Mi’rāj is easily understood. This is because a believer in the concept of an All-Powerful, All-Wise Creator knows that nothing within this cosmos is beyond the power of God Almighty to control. Herein lies the fundamental difference between one who harbours doubts and one who holds belief. The believer never once wavers in his understanding of the magnificence of God Almighty knowing well that even though the far reaches of this cosmos may be too vast for a human being to explore, but if God Almighty decrees, then He can make it pass through the eye of a needle easily, whether by the shrinking of the universe to fit into the eye of the needle, or by the expansion of the eye of the needle to encompass the cosmos. As difficult as atheists may find this, they need not search for answers in religious texts for it, but a simple peak into history ought to reveal that a few hundred years ago if we told people that metal would fly, nobody would accept that and it would be laughably rejected. Today however, metal is flying in the form of aircrafts, satellites orbiting space, etc.
Thus, the rejection or acceptance of the Night Journey is not a question of the narrative itself, but in reality, a questioning of the Divine power, and this is where the atheists, sceptics, and deviants will always faulter because their epistemology and understanding differs with ours. This is, in all probability why the verse of Al-Isrā in the Qur’ān is the only chapter that begins with the words Tasbīh (Subhān al-Lazhī) as opposed to other chapters that commence with Tahmīd (Al-Hamdu Lillāhil-Lazhī).
The word ‘Subhān’, whilst known to give off the meaning of glorification of God is also used to exhibit the perfection of God as being free from all defect and imperfect attributes, hence the glorification. This is evident from the verse of the Qur’ān that states,
وَجَعَلُوا لِلَّـهِ شُرَكَاءَ الْجِنَّ وَخَلَقَهُمْ ۖ وَخَرَقُوا لَهُ بَنِينَ وَبَنَاتٍ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ عَمَّا يَصِفُونَ
“And out of sheer ignorance they have ascribed jinns as partners of Allah, whereas it is He Who created them, and they have invented sons and daughters for Him! Purity and Supremacy is to Him, from all what they ascribe”
When we engage in the tasbih of Allāh ﷻ, we are essentially recognizing that unlike human beings and all created things, God Almighty is pure, perfect and thus free from any impurity and imperfection. Human beings are imperfect in countless ways. We are limited in our understanding. We are governed by laws of nature. We are controlled by emotions, thoughts, ideas, etc. God Almighty is the Creator of these laws and is not obliged to follow them.
Point of Interest – Simply put, a computer programmer creates a program and writes the code into the program. Within that code are all the laws that govern the program. Only the laws that are written into the program are accepted as well as all the external components that are allowed access into the program. And whilst they may have certain choices and options once granted access into the said program, they are still confined to those laws. The programmer however is outside of those laws and is not restricted to them. Likewise (and without similarity) God Almighty cannot be questioned about the limitations and confined understanding of human nature and law, when He is the Master and Commander of those laws!
The Wisdom of the Commencement of the Verse Regarding Al-Isrā
To clarify to the doubters of the Night Journey, God Almighty commenced the chapter by saying,
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
“Glorified (and Exalted) be He (Allah) [above all that (evil) they associate with Him] Who took His slave (Muhammad ﷺ) for a journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Harām (at Makkah) to the farthest mosque (Al-Musjid Al-Aqsā in Jerusalem), the precincts whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him (Muhammad ﷺ) of Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, etc.). Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.”
The word “Subhān” here is to prepare the mindset of the reader and to abolish all abhorrent ideas that may enter the mind of the believer via the wasawasah (dark suggestions of the devil). The believer must first acknowledge the following before the information of the journey is internalized;
God Almighty is perfect in every meaning of the word, and is therefore not limited.
Human beings are imperfect and are therefore limited.
His perfection allows Him to accomplish things that are beyond our faculty to comprehend.
Our imperfection restricts us and therefore causes us to wonder.
Hence before moving on to the miraculous nature of the journey, God Almighty first clarifies to the reader ‘who’ is responsible for such a feat. The contemplation for the reader should ignite the thought that if a mere human being was conducting such a journey, then the questions regarding the ‘how’ would be justified. However, when the administrator of the journey is the One who is free from the limitations that we ascribe to him, and He is All-Powerful, All-Hearing, and All-Seeing, then such a journey is not impossible at all because impossibilities fall under the rubric of imperfection in this regard, and Allāh ﷻ, is As-Subhān -The Perfectly Pure.
Atheists, apologists, and those who are weak in faith as a corollary of adopting the atheistic mentality of empiricism, begin to question the ‘how’ of the journey when in fact this is a distraction from the ‘who’, because once a believer affirms that the one who has decreed it is He who is not limited by time, space, and place etc. then the inquisition regarding the mechanics of the Night Journey becomes redundant to that believer as his or her belief in the ultimate power and wisdom of God closes the doors of objection to the ‘how’ when the ‘who’ is affirmed.
Subhāllāh! 1400 years later, the Qur’ān’s wisdom is on exhibition for all as it stated -without limitation to time- that the Night Journey would be a means of trial and tribulation for humankind in accepting the narrative. Whenever a Muslim sees or hears an objection upon the Night Journey based on ‘logical’ deductions, then one should know immediately recognize the truth of the Qur’ān and be thankful to Allāh ﷻ, for guiding us to Imān (faith) because those who are devoid of it may have sight, but no insight.
The Qur’ānic message continues to prove its validity even today, in the most secular age in human history. So instead of falling prey to many of these deceptive ideologies that are premised to destroy the belief in religion, remember, that faith is to believe without proof! So have faith, and inshā Allāh, in the Ākhirah you will ‘see’ the reality of the ‘hereafter’ that was denied ‘here and now’.
Co-Founder of the Islāmic Lifestyle Solutions
11/03/2021 – 27th Rajab 1442
Al-Bukhārī, Book 41, Hadīth Number 3886 and Book 65, Hadīth Number 4710. Similar narrations located in Muslim Hadīth 170 and Tirmizhī Hadīth 3133.
 Sūrah Al-Isrā, 17:60
 Sūrah Al-An’ām, 6:100
 Sūrah Al-Isrā, 17:1