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).
“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” (Quran 17:1)
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. 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 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 the one who supported the Prophet (PBUH) 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. “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (Quran 94:5). 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 cut open (the part of his body) between his throat and the middle of his chest (heart) and took all the material out of his chest and `Abdomen and then washed it with Zamzam water with his own hands till he cleansed the inside of his body, and then a gold tray containing a gold bowl full of belief and wisdom was brought, and then Jibril stuffed his chest and throat blood vessels with it and then closed it (the chest).” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
At the conclusion of this event, the Prophet (PBUH) was presented with a white animal, between a horse and a donkey. “Buraq” would take him on the journey.
Events at Masjid al-Aqsa (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.
“Those messengers – some of them We caused to exceed others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree.” (Quran 2:253). 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. “Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was presented with two cups—one containing wine and the other milk—on the night of his night journey at Jerusalem. He looked at it and took the milk. Jibril said, ‘Thanks to Allah Who guided you to the Fitra (i.e., Islam); if you had taken the wine, your followers would have gone astray.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Ascension to the Heavens: The Beginning Of Mi’raj
The Prophet (PBUH) described how this event took place. “Then, Jibril ascended along with me to the nearest heaven and requested for the gate to be opened. He was asked: ‘Who is there?’ And he replied: ‘Jibril.’ He was asked: ‘Who is with you?’ And he said: ‘Muhammad.’ Then he ascended to the second heaven and requested for the opening of the gate. He was asked: ‘Who is there?’ And he said: ‘Jibril.’ He was asked: ‘Who is with you?’ He replied: ‘Muhammad.’ In the same way, he ascended to the third, fourth, and all the heavens (i.e., until the seventh). At all of the gates, he was asked: ‘Who is there?’ He replied: Jibril.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Meeting the prophets
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, “Welcome, my son! O, what a good son you are!” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Around that Heaven, there was a river with a palace of pearls and emeralds at the bank (Night Journey). The Prophet (PBUH) asked Jibril about the river. He replied, “This is the Kauthar, which your Lord has kept for you.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
At the second Heaven, the Prophet (PBUH) encountered the cousins, Isa and Yahya (a.s.). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) greeted them, to which they replied, “Welcome, O Pious Brother and Pious Prophet!” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
On to the third Heaven, and the Prophet (PBUH) met Yusuf (a.s.). He greeted him, to which the prophet replied, “You are welcomed, O brother and a Prophet!” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
At the fourth Heaven, the Prophet (PBUH) met Idris (a.s.) and offered him his greetings. He replied, “You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The Prophet (PBUH) went on to the fifth Heaven and met Harun (a.s.). He greeted him, and the prophet replied, “Welcome to you! What an excellent brother and Prophet.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i)
Next, the Prophet (PBUH) ascended to the sixth Heaven and saw Musa (a.s.). He greeted him, to which the response was, “You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.” After departing, Musa (a.s.) began to cry. Upon being asked about the reason for that, he said, “I weep because after me there has been sent (as Prophet) a young man whose followers will enter Paradise numbers in greater than my followers.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The immense respect shown by all of the prophets shows the high status of the Prophet (PBUH).
The Seventh Heaven and Beyond
The Prophet (PBUH) rose to the seventh Heaven, where he encountered Ibrahim (a.s.). He greeted him, and in response, Ibrahim (a.s.) said, “You are welcomed, O son and a Prophet.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
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, “This is Al Bait-ul-Ma’mur where 70,000 angels perform prayers daily, and when they leave, they never return to it (but always a fresh batch comes into it daily).” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
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, “Behold! Its fruits were like the jars of Hajr (i.e., a place near Medina) and its leaves were as big as the ears of elephants. Behold! There ran four rivers, two were hidden, and two were visible.” (Sahih al-Bukhari) 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
“And he certainly saw him in another descent at the Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary –Near it is the Garden of Refuge – When there covered the Lote Tree that which covered [it]. The sight [of the Prophet] did not swerve, nor did it transgress [its limit]. He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.” (Quran 53:13-18)
There is some confusion over whether the Prophet (PBUH) saw Allah with his eyes. However, several authentic statements clear this up. The Prophet (PBUH) was asked whether he saw Allah, to which he replied, “He is veiled by Light, how could I see Him.” (Sahih Muslim)
After this, Allah spoke directly to the Prophet (PBUH). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) did not provide details about the interaction, but he said, “Then the prayers were enjoined on me: They were fifty prayers a day.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
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. “Your followers cannot bear fifty prayers a day, and by Allah, I have tested people before you, and I have tried my level best with Bani Israel (in vain). Go back to your Lord and ask for reduction to lessen your followers’ burden.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
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, “I have requested so much of my Lord that I feel ashamed, but I am satisfied now and surrender to Allah’s Order.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Return to Makkah
The Prophet (PBUH) descended from the Heavens and 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. “But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” (Quran 8:30)