Glory be to Him Who made His servant to go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the remote mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing. [Shakir 17:1]
According to historians, the first Me'raj of our Prophet (SAW) occurred on the 27th night of the month of Rajab in the year before Hijra. While the Holy Prophet finished his night prayers in the house of Umme Hani, the sister of Ali ibn Abu Talib, the angel Jibrail came to him with the invitation of the Lord of the worlds to have a journey to the highest heaven. Hadhrat Jibrail first took him to the Ka'bah (the Masjid al Haram) and from there he was taken to the farthest Masjid in the heavens.
Although aqsa generally means "the farthest", some of the translators and commentators have taken this word to mean Masjid al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Farthest is an adjective used to refer to the Masjid in the most distant heaven. The distance between the Masjid al Haram and the Masjid al Aqsa in Jerusalem is just a few hundred miles which cannot be described as farthest. Moreover, logically the journey to Jerusalem was meaningless when the divine purpose was to show the Holy Prophet the wonders and the glory of the kingdom of Allah.
According to the Ahl ul Bayt (A), the Me'raj was a physical ascension, not a vision or dream in sleep or slumber, because even ordinary men see such things in their dreams. It was no doubt a spiritual realisation but attained by an actual journey. To bring the position of the Holy Prophet (SAW) to the level of ordinary mortals, many have reported that the Me'raj was only a vision. However, almost all the Shia historians and a large number of Sunni authorities have rejected this point of view and have accepted the fact that it was a physical ascension.
Those who doubt the great miracle of the physical ascension of the Holy Prophet (SAW), should also doubt as to how Allah could create the universe out of nothing, or how He could make virgin Maryam give birth to Prophet Isa, or how could Isa preach the message of Allah from his cradle as a just born infant, or how could Allah split the sea to save Musa; and how could the several other miracles mentioned in the Quran take place if the doubters insist upon empirical justifications. The physical journey of the Holy Prophet to the arsh in the highest heaven known as Me'raj, is one of the greatest miracle of our Prophet (SAW) bestowed by the Almighty Lord of the worlds.
It is found in history that among the celestial lights, where he received from Allah (swt) the order for five daily prayers, he saw his own name together with that of Ali a.s. inscribed on the arsh. Then all the secrets of creation and what happened in the world since its creation and what will take place till the end of time were disclosed to the Holy Prophet (SAW). Experiencing this breathtaking event, The Holy Prophet (SAW) said: "Peace from the Lord be on all the righteous servants of Allah, and peace be on all of you (O angels), and His grace and His bounties."
Allamah Majlisi in Bihar-al-Anwar, vol.77, pp. 21-30 mentions a long conversation which took place between Allah (swt) and our Prophet (SAW). Among several questions our Prophet asked Allah (swt), two of the questions were:
1). "O Lord, which is the best action that your servant can perform in Your service?"
Allah (swt) replied: "No act is better than trusting in Me and being content with whatever I have destined. O Muhammad, those who love others for My sake, receive My love. And those who show kindness for My sake and develop friendships for My sake are dear to Me. I have made it incumbent upon Me to love those who have trust in Me. And there are no bounds and limits to My Love."
2). "O Lord, guide me to an action that will draw me closer to You!"
Allah (swt) replied: "Convert your days into nights and your nights into days." The Prophet (SAW) asked: "How?"
Allah said: "Strive in a way that your sleep becomes an act of worship - and never stuff your stomach to its full! He added: "My love is linked with the love for the poor and the deprived - so get close to them and participate in their gatherings such that I get closer to you. Keep the rich and the worshippers of the transient world away from you and stay away from their gatherings."
When the Holy Prophet returned to Makka from his journey, before he related his experiences, Imam Ali (A) began to give every detail of his journey. The Holy Prophet said: "I and Ali are of one and the same light."
Article contribution by Marhum Muallim Mustafa Mawjee