Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 17: The Night Journey

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn. 

The 17th surah of the Qur’an is named after one of the most important events in the life of Muhammad—the Night Journey.  Though the Qur’an itself doesn’t go into much detail about this event, later traditions (known as Hadith literature) developed the story in more detail.  Here’s the story of Muhammad’s night journey…

One night in the year 621 C.E., while Muhammad was living in Mecca, he was awakened by the angel Gabriel, who filled him with wisdom and belief.  The angel gave the prophet a white animal to ride, named Buraq.  This animal was sort of like Pegasus, because it could fly!

Buraq, the prophet's trusty steed.

Gabriel and Muhammad (riding Buraq) flew to Jerusalem, to the site of what would become the Al Aqsa Mosque (or, the Temple Mount).  In Muslim tradition, the city of Jerusalem is the third holiest place in the world (after Mecca and Medina).  There, the prophet prayed.  Gabriel tested Muhammad by offering him milk and wine to drink.  The prophet chose wisely (milk), and he was blessed.

Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Then Gabriel, Muhammad, and his trusty steed Buraq took a tour of the seven levels of heaven, stopping at each level to meet important prophets from the past.  They met Adam, Jesus, John the Baptist, Joseph, Idris, Aaron, Moses, and Abraham.  Each prophet warmly greeted Muhammad and said, “You are welcomed, O brother and a Prophet.”

Journey to the seventh heaven.

Finally, they reached the highest (seventh) level of heaven and came to God’s house, where they found a holy tree and four sacred rivers.  God told Muhammad to have his followers pray five times a day.  Originally, God wanted them to pray 50 times a day, but Moses helped bargain the Almighty down to five (I’m sure Muslims today are grateful for that!)  This is the origin of the Muslim tradition of salat, or praying five times a day.  Then Muhammad returned to his home in Mecca.

Salat, or praying five times a day, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

The story of the Night Journey is very important to Muslims.  The event is celebrated annually in a festival known as the Lailat al Mi’raj, which usually involves lots of lights, candles, prayer, food, and treats.  Some Muslim traditions interpret the story literally, while others see it as a more mystical, symbolic journey.

Muslims in Turkey celebrate Lailat Al-Mi'raj with prayers.

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