There were many miracles in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Some of them enabled him to keep providing food and water for his companions, while others include the splitting of the moon. However, one of the greatest miracles Allah blessed His messenger with, was the night journey.
This event took place during the phase of prophethood, before the Muslims’ migration to Madinah. During the night journey, the Prophet (PBUH) was taken from Masjid al-Haram in Makka to Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, then to the heavens—where he met some prophets and spoke to Allah—and back to his abode in Makkah.
The story of what happened during the night journey is contained in the Quran. The events are further elaborated on in detail in the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).
Some Muslims, who may be of weak faith, reject the physical reality of the night journey. However, there is plenty of evidence that points towards the truth. This was indeed a physical journey undertaken by the Prophet (PBUH); the whole journey took place on one specific night. Consequently, it was one of the miracles that Allah blessed the Prophet (PBUH) with, and He is the All-Powerful Being capable of doing anything.
If you are interested in Quranic stories, you may want to read about the Four Stories of Surah al-Kahf.
The beginning of the night journey to Jerusalem (Isra’)
The Prophet (PBUH) had suffered two significant losses in recent times. In the 10th year of Prophethood, he lost his uncle, Abu Talib, who had looked after him since his childhood. Abu Talib was probably the one who supported the Prophet (PBUH) the most and provided him with tribal protection. This, despite the fact, that he didn’t accept Islam.
Then, a short while later in the same year, the Prophet (PBUH) lost his wife, Khadijah (r.a.). Khadijah (r.a.) was the most significant support for him in his early years of Prophethood. She helped him through the difficult phases and guided him. He dearly loved her. This year was thus called Aam al-Huzn or Year of Grief.
During the Prophet (PBUH)’s time of sorrow, he felt as though he was now alone. However, Allah consoled him, saying that alongside hardship comes ease (in Surah Shah). It was in this context that the night journey took place.
It is narrated in a Hadith by Anas bin Malik (r.a.) that three angels came to the Prophet (PBUH). This occurred while he was sleeping in the Sacred Mosque.
Jibril (a.s.) cut open his body between the throat and the middle of the chest. He then proceeded to take all out of the abdomen and chest and washed it with Zamzam water. A gold tray containing a bowl filled with belief and wisdom was brought forward, which Jibril stuffed into his chest and throat blood vessels, then closed the chest.
At the conclusion of this event, the Prophet (PBUH) was presented with a white animal, between a horse and a donkey. Hence, Buraq would take him on the journey.
Events at Masjid al-Aqsa during the night journey
The Prophet (PBUH) traveled via Buraq from Masjid al-Haram in Makkah to Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. The journey, which is estimated to be over 1000 kilometers, was conducted over a portion of the night.
The Prophet (PBUH) arrived at the Farthest Mosque, and there, he was met by a group of past prophets. He had the distinction of being appointed as the leader of the prayer as they prayed together. The other prophets stood behind him.
Another event took place after this, while the Prophet (PBUH) was still in Jerusalem. It is described in Sahih al-Bukhari. The Messenger (PBUH) was presented with two cups. One had milk, the other wine. He took the one with the milk. Jibril thanked Allah for guiding him on the fitra. He said that if he took the whine, the followers of Muhammad (PBUH) would’ve gone astray.
Ascension to the Heavens: The Beginning Of Mi’raj
The Prophet (PBUH) described how this event took place. in a Hadith record in the Sahihayn, Bukhari and Muslim. Jibril ascended to the neatest Heaven and asked for the gate to be opened. He was asked to specify who he was, to which he mentioned his name. When asked who was accompanying him, he mentioned Muhammad (PBUH). He then ascended to the other gates and the process was repeated.
Meeting the prophets during the night journey
At the first and nearest heaven, the Prophet (PBUH) met Adam (a.s.), the first man and prophet. The Prophet (PBUH) greeted him, to which Adam (a.s.) replied, welcoming him and calling him a good son.
Around that Heaven, there was a river with a palace of pearls and emeralds at the bank (Night Journey). The Prophet (PBUH) then asked Jibril about the river. He replied that it was the Kauthar which Allah kept for him.
At the second Heaven, the Prophet (PBUH) encountered the cousins, Isa and Yahya (a.s.). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) greeted them, and they welcomed him
On to the third Heaven, and then, the Prophet (PBUH) met Yusuf (a.s.). He greeted him, to which the prophet said that he was welcome, calling him a brother and prophet.
At the fourth Heaven, the Prophet (PBUH) then met Idris (a.s.) and offered him his greetings. He welcomed him as well.
The Prophet (PBUH) went on to the fifth Heaven and then met Harun (a.s.). Similarly, he greeted him, and the prophet replied with a message of welcome too.
Next, the Prophet (PBUH) ascended to the sixth Heaven and saw Musa (a.s.). He greeted him, and was welcomed After departing, Musa (a.s.) began to cry. Upon being asked about the reason for that, he said that he was weeping because, after him, there was now a prophet whose followers would enter Heaven in greater numbers than his own.
Hence, the immense respect shown by all of the prophets shows the high status of the Prophet (PBUH).
The Seventh Heaven and Beyond
During the next stage of the night journey, the Prophet (PBUH) rose to the seventh Heaven, where he encountered Ibrahim (a.s.). He greeted him, and in response, Ibrahim (a.s.) welcomed him.
After seeing Ibrahim (a.s.), the Prophet (PBUH) saw al-Bayt al-Ma’mur. He asked Jibril (a.s.) about the house, and he replied that it was al-Bait al-Ma’mur. Here, 70,000 angels performed prayers daily. They would never return – it was always a fresh batch that would come and pray.
The immense number of angels in this equation shows us Allah’s greatness. 70,000 unique angels daily mean over 25 million angels per just one year. Multiply that with the existence of the universe for thousands, and maybe millions of years, and the number of angels swells to an absolutely massive amount.
Next, the Prophet (PBUH) ascended to the highest point, which is Sidrat-ul-Muntaha. This is also known as the Lote-Tree of the Utmost, Farthest Boundary. He provided a brief description, saying that its fruits were like the jars of Hajr which was a place near Medina. Its leaves were as big as the ears of elephants. There were four rivers of which two were hidden and two visible. Jibril (a.s.) reported that the two visible rivers were the Nile and Euphrates, and the two hidden ones were in Paradise.
Talking to Allah and the Five Daily Prayers
There is some confusion over whether the Prophet (PBUH) saw Allah with his eyes during the night journey. However, several authentic statements clear this up. The Prophet (PBUH) was asked whether he saw Allah, to which he replied that Allah is veiled by light. Therefore, how could he see him?
After this, Allah spoke directly to the Prophet (PBUH). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) did not provide details about the interaction, but he said that Allah prescribed 50 daily prayers for him.
As the Prophet (PBUH) was descending, he passed by Musa (a.s.) and told him of the 50 prayers obligation. Musa (a.s.) urged him to go back to Allah. He said that his followers wouldn’t be able to pray 50 prayers a day and asked him to ask for a reduction from Allah, to lessen the burden.
So, Muhammad (PBUH) returned to Allah, who reduced 10 prayers. Musa (a.s.) told him to return and ask for more reduction, and this continued until the Prophet (PBUH) announced that Allah had made five prayers obligatory. Upon Musa (a.s.) asking him to return once again, the Prophet (PBUH) said that he felt ashamed of asking for more and was satisfied with the obligation of five prayers.
Return to Makkah
The Prophet (PBUH) descended from the Heavens and then returned to Makkah, only a few hours after he had departed. His faith was strengthened even further after he spoke to Allah. Now, he had the obligation of the five daily prayers to inform his fellow Muslims about. But, he also had to explain the night journey to the people of Makkah.
The Prophet (PBUH) was now seated in the mosque. Abu Jahl came to him and taunted him, asking him if there was anything new to report. Muhammad (PBUH) openly mentioned that he had been on a night journey to Jerusalem. An incredulous Abu Jahl dared him to repeat what he said in front of the people. The Prophet (PBUH) did so.
The people of Makkah began to ridicule him and treat the whole matter as something hilarious. Abu Jahl was delighted at his own handiwork. Nevertheless, Abu Bakr was amongst those who had no doubts whatsoever about what the Prophet (PBUH) was saying.
However, there happened to be some people there who had been to Jerusalem, so they asked the Prophet (PBUH) about what he saw. The Prophet (PBUH) was inspired by Allah to remember even the most minute details about the trip. Hence, the plans of the disbelievers fell flat on their faces, and he was proven to be right, as he had never traveled to Jerusalem previously.
A narration by Ibn Hisham states that the Prophet (PBUH) passed a caravan while returning to Makkah. Muhammad (PBUH) drank from the caravan’s water and noticed they had lost a camel. As a result, the Makkans sent someone to confirm the reports with the caravan, and they corroborated the story. As stated in Surah al-Anfal, people plan but Allah is the best of all planners.