The Night Journey and Ascension
Perhaps two of the most significant and remarkable events in the Prophet’s life were his “Israa” (Night Journey) and “Mi’raaj” (Ascension). “Israa” refers to how one night Allah took Muhammad from the Ka’bah to Bait Al-Maqdis (the Sacred Mosque of Worship, i.e. Solomon’s Temple) in Jerusalem, and “Mi’raaj” refers to the Prophet’s actual ascension to heaven from Jerusalem.
The Prophet’s “Israa” is mentioned in the Qur’an in the following verse: “Glory to Allah Who took His slave on a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque whose presincts I did bless, in order that I might show him some of My signs. Verily, Allah hears and sees all things.” (17: 1).
Some sources indicate that the “Mi’raaj” (Ascension) is also described in Surah Al-Najm from the seventh to the eighteenth verse. There is a difference of opinion concerning when the “Israa” and “Mi’raaj” occurred. Some sources place the event in the first year of prophethood, or Ramadan 17, during the twelfth year of prophethood, or in Muharram or Rabi’ Al-Awwal in the thirteenth year of prophethood.
The story of the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension is both beautiful and instructive. It began when the angel Jibreel descended on the Ka’bah with a “Buraq” – an animal bigger than an ass and smaller than a donkey, that could travel to the farthest horizon with one stride. The Prophet and Jibreel rode the Buraq to the Sacred Mosque of Worship in Jerusalem. Once there, the Prophet tethered the animal outside the mosque where former prophets had tied their mounts.
The Prophet entered the mosque to find assembled there all the previous prophets, whom he then led in prayer, Jibreel brought two vessels to the Prophet, one filled with wine, the other with milk. The Prophet chose the second vessel. Jibreel commented on the Prophet’s choice: “You chose milk in accordance with the purity of your nature. Hence you have received guidance and your followers have too. Had you chosen the wine, your followers would have been astray.”
The Prophet was then taken to the first level of heaven, which was the first stage of his Ascension. Jibreel asked for the door to be opened for the Prophet, and there stood Adam , the first man prophet. Adam said, “Peace be upon you,” to which the Prophet responded, “And upon you be peace.” Adam then testified that Muhammad was the Prophet of Allah. Adam looked to his right and smiled, and then looked to his left and wept. The Prophet saw two groups of people on either side of Adam, and the ones he smiled at were the believers, while the ones that caused him to weep were the unbelievers.