Adopted from Mariful Qur'aan by Mufti Mohammed Shafi (RA)
سُبۡحَـٰنَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَسۡرَىٰ بِعَبۡدِهِۦ لَيۡلاً۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡمَسۡجِدِ ٱلۡحَرَامِ إِلَى ٱلۡمَسۡجِدِ ٱلۡأَقۡصَا ٱلَّذِى بَـٰرَكۡنَا حَوۡلَهُ ۥ لِنُرِيَهُ ۥ مِنۡ ءَايَـٰتِنَآۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ هُوَ ٱلسَّمِيعُ ٱلۡبَصِيرُ
Pure is He Who made his servant travel at night from al-Masjid al-Har am to al-Masjid al-Aqsa the environs of which We have blessed, so that We let him see some of Our signs. Surely, He is the All Hearing, All Seeing. 
Described in this verse is the event of Mi'raj (the Ascent to the heavens, or al-Isra', the midnight journey of the Holy Prophet ~ which is a signal honor and distinctive miracle of our Messenger of Allah (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam). The word: أَسۡرَىٰ (asra) is a derivation from: أِسۡرَىٰ (isra') which literally means to make someone travel at night. After that, the introduction of the word: لَيۡلاً۬ (lailan) also makes this sense very clear. Then, by placing this word as a common noun, the indication released was that during this event the time spent was that of a part of the night - not even that of the whole night. The journey from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa mentioned in this verse is called al-ٰIsra' and the name of the journey from here to the seven heavens is al-Mi'raj. Isra' stands proved under the definitive textual authority of this verse and the Mi'raj finds mention in the verses of Surah an-Najm and is proved by AHadith appearing in an uninterrupted succession. The word: بِعَبۡدِهِ (His servant) used here for the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) is special. It shows that, in this magnificent setting of honor and welcome, when Allah Ta'ala, on His own, elects to call someone 'His servant', a unique bond of love lies embedded therein and that this is the highest honor any man could ever have.
This is similar to what has been said in another verseعِبَادُ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلَّذِينَ يَمۡشُونَ عَلَى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ هَوۡنً۬ا (and the servants of Ar-Rahman [the Most Merciful] are those who walk on the Earth gently - al-Furqan, 25:63) where the objective is to increase the prestige of those who are acceptable with Him. From here, we also learn that the highest achievement man is capable of is to become a perfect servant of Allah - for, on this eve of special honor, the quality of ideal servitude, out of his many attributes of perfection, was chosen. Then, the presence of this expression yields yet another beneficial outcome in that no one gets the wrong impression of divinity from this wonderful journey by night which, from its beginning to the end, is full of extra-habitual miracles. This is something like what happened with the Christians who fell into deception over the event of Sayyidna 'Isa (AS) being raised unto the heavens. For this reason, by saying عَبۡدِ ('abd: servant), it was declared that, despite all those attributes, achievements and miracles, the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) was still a servant of Allah, not god.
The Qur'an, Sunnah and 'Ijma' prove that the Mi'raj was physical:
It is proved from the text of the Holy Qur'an, and from Ahadith coming in uninterrupted succession mentioned later that the entire journey of the Isra' and Mi'raj was not simply spiritual, instead, it was physical like the journey of anyone else. The very first word of the Holy Qur'an in this Surah: سُبۡحَـٰنَ (Subhan: Pure is He!) carries a hint in this direction because this word is used to register wonder or introduce a great marvel. Had the Mi'raj been merely spiritual, just a matter of dream, what was there so unusual about it? As for a dream, every Muslim, even every human being, can see it and report that he or she went to the heavens, did this and did that.
The second indication embedded in the word: عَبۡدِ ('abd: servant) also points out in the same direction because 'abd is no spirit all by itself, instead, it is the name of the combination of body and spirit.
In addition to that, when the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) related the event of Mi'raj to Sayyidah Umm Hanl (RA), she advised him not to mention it before anyone otherwise people would falsify it even more. Had this been the matter of a dream, what was there in it that needed to be falsified?
After that, when he did tell people about it, the disbelievers of Makkah called it a lie and made fun of him, so much so that some neo-Muslims became apostates (murtadd) after hearing the news. If this would have been the matter of a dream, the likelihood of such reactions was least warranted. And that he had experienced some spiritual Mi'raj in the form of a dream, before this or after that, does not become contrary to it. According to the majority of Muslim scholars, the word: ٱلرُّءۡيَا (ar-ru'ya) in the verse of the Qur'an: ~) وَمَا جَعَلۡنَا ٱلرُّءۡيَا ٱلَّتِىٓ أَرَيۡنَـٰكَ (And We showed you the scene - 17:60) means: رُءُیَھُ: seeing). But, it has been expressed through the word: رُویا (ru'ya, which is frequently used in the sense of seeing a dream). The reason for this expression could be that this thing has been called ru'ya in the sense of a simile. This is like someone seeing a dream. And if, ru'yii is taken to mean dream itself, then, it is also not too far out to say that the event of Mi'raj, in addition to its being physical, also transpired, before or after it, in the form of a spiritual Mi'raj as a dream as well. Therefore, the saying, that it was a dream, reported from Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (RA) and Umm al-Mu'minin Sayyidah 'Aishah (RA) is also correct in its place - but, it does not necessarily imply that physical Mi'raj did not take place.
It appears in Tafsir al-Qurtubi that the Ahadith relating to the event of al-Isra' are recurrent and uninterrupted. Naqqash has reported related narratives from twenty Sahabah of the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam). Then, Qadi 'Iyad has given additional details in Al-Shifa' (Qurtubi).
Imam Ibn Kathir has, in his Tafsir, reported all these narratives and after applying the standard rules of scrutiny has mentioned the names of twenty-five Sahabah from whom these reports come. Their names are:
Sayyidna 'Umar ibn al-Khattab,
Sayyidna 'Ali al-Murtaza,
Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud,
Sayyidna Abu Dharr al-Ghifari,
Sayyidna Malik ibn Sa'sa'ah,
Sayyidna Abu Hurairah,
Sayyidna Abu Sa'ld al-Khudri,
Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas,
Sayyidna Shaddad ibn Aws,
Sayyidna Ubaiyy ibn Ka'b,
Sayyidna 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Quraz,
Sayyidna Abu Hayyah ,
Sayyidna Abu Laila,
Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar,
Sayyidna Jablr ibn 'Abdullah,
Sayyidna Hudhayfah ibn Yaman,
Sayyidna Abu Ayyub al-Ansari,
Sayyidna Abu 'Umamah,
Sayyidna Samurah ibn Jundub,
Sayyidna Abu al-Hamra',
Sayyidna Suhayb al-Rumi,
Sayyidah Umm Hani',
Umm al-Mu'minin Sayyidah 'A'ishah,
Sayyidah Asma' bint Abi Bakr, After that, Ibn Kathir said:
As for the Hadith of al-Isra', there is a consensus of all Muslim on it. Only heretics and atheists have denied it. (Ibn Kathir)
A brief account of Mi'raj as reported by Ibn Kathir
After having explained the present verse in his Tafsir along with a detailed background of relevant Ahadith, Imam Ibn Kathir has said: The truth of the matter is that the journey of Isra' came to pass when the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) was awake, not dreaming. From Makkah al-Mukarramah to Baitulmaqdis, the journey was covered on buraq (a special heavenly horse to ride). When he reached the gate of Baitulmaqdis, he tied the buraq close to the gate, entered the Masjid of Baitulmaqdis and offered two rakaat of Tahiyyatul-masjid (prayer in honor of the Mosque) facing its orientation. After that, a staircase was brought which had steps to go up from below. Through this staircase, he went to the first heaven. After that, he went to the rest of the heavens. [Only Allah knows the reality of this staircase - what it was and how did it work and things like that. In our day too, many kinds of stairs are in use. There are stairs that escalate automatically and there are elevators that take one up. Therefore, falling into any doubt or suspicion about this miraculous staircase is not right.] On every heaven, the resident angels greeted him and on every heaven, he met blessed prophets who were stationed on a particular heaven, such as, Sayyidna Musa (AS) on the sixth heaven, and Sayyidna Ibraheem Khalillullah (AS) on the seventh heaven. After that, he went beyond the stations of all these blessed prophets and reached a plain where he could hear the sound of the pen writing destinies. And he saw the Sidratul-muntaha, the Far Tree in Jannah, on which moths in gold and variegated colors were falling from above by the command of Allah and which was surrounded by angels of Allah. And it was at this place that the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) saw Sayyidna Jibra'il al-Amin in his real form with six hundred wings. And right there, he saw a flag in green that had the horizon all covered up. And he also saw al-Bayt al-Ma'mur (the well-attended House believed to be located in Jannah exactly above the Baytullah in Makkah) sitting by which was the founder of the Ka'bah, Sayyidna Ibrahim (AS) with his back reclining against its wall. Seventy thousand angels enter this Bayt al-Ma'mur every day who shall be waiting for their turn to re-enter there right through the day of Qiyamah. And the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) saw the Jannah and the Jahannam with his own blessed eyes. At that time, first came the command that his people were being obligated with fifty prayers, then, these were reduced to five. This shows the importance and merit of Salah as being the foremost out of all acts of Ibadah.
After that, he alighted back into Baytul-maqdis and, with him, so did the blessed prophets he had met on different heavens (as if) they had come to see him off as far as Baytul-maqdis. At that time, as it was time for Salah, he offered the prayer with all prophets. It is also probable that this Salah was the Salah of Fajr the same day. Ibn Kathir says that this event concerning the prayer with prophets led by the Holy Prophet ~ has come to pass, as held by some, before he went to the heavens. But, as obvious, this event took place after the return because it has been reported in the incident relating to his meeting with blessed prophets at different heavens that it was Sayyidna -Jibra'il (AS)who introduced him to all prophets. Had this event relating to his leading the prayer passed earlier, no introduction was needed there - and, for that matter, it is obvious enough that the real purpose ofthis journey was to visit with the heavenly hosts. Doing that first appears to be more likely. Once he was done with the real mission, all prophets came to say good bye to him up to Baytul-maqdis and by making him the Imam of the prayer through a signal from Sayyidna -Jibra'il, his precedence over others was demonstrated practically.
After that, he departed from Baytul-maqdis riding buraq and reached Makkah al-Mu'azzamah while it was still dark. (And Allah, the Pure and the High, knows best).
The testimony of a non-Muslims about the event of Mi'raj
It appears in Tafsir ibn Kathir that Hafiz Abu Nu'aym al-Isbahani, in his book, Da la'il al-Nubuwwah , has reported a narrative from Muhammad ibn Ka'b al-Qurazi on the authority of Muhammad ibn 'Amr al-Waqidi *(RA) giving details of the event as follows:
The Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) sent Sayyidna Dihyah ibn Khallfah (RA) with a blessed letter from him to the Roman Emperor, Caesar. After that, he has given a detailed account of how Sayyidna Dihyah reached the Emperor, delivered the letter, and how intelligent he was in his mission (an event present in the Sahih of al-B'ukhari as well as in all trustworthy books of Ahadith). Towards the end of it, it has been reported that Hiraql, the Roman Emperor, once he had read the blessed letter, ordered that all Arab traders who were visiting the country at that time should be assembled together. He wanted to investigate into the background of the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam). The royal order was carried out. Abu Sufyan ibn Harb and those with him visiting Syria at that time with their famous trade caravan were presented before the Emperor. Details of the questions asked by the Emperor are present in the Sahih of al-Bukhari and Muslim, as well as elsewhere. Abu Sufyan was really eager to use this occasion to say things about the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) which show his insignificance. But, says Abu Sufyan : Nothing stopped me from doing that except that I may slip and say something which turns out to be a lie and I stand disgraced in the eyes of the Emperor and my own comrades keep taunting me for being a liar. Certainly, then it occurred to me that I should relate the event of Mi'raj before him. The Emperor would himself conclude from it that it was a lie. So, I said: I shall describe before you what he claims to have happened to him regarding which you will yourself realize that it was a lie. Hiraql asked:
What event is that? Abu Sufyan said: This claimant of prophet-hood says that, one night, he left Makkah al-Mukarramah, reached this Masjid Baytul-maqdis of yours and, then, within that night, before dawn, he returned to us in Makkah al-Mukarramah!
At that time, the leading scholar of Elia' (Baytul-maqdis) was standing close to Hiraql, the Roman Emperor. He disclosed that he knew that night. The Emperor turned to him and inquired as to how did he come to know about it. He submitted that, as a matter of habit, he would not sleep at night until he had closed all gates of Baytul-maqdis. That night he habitually closed all gates but one which would not close despite his effort. He summoned his staff. They all tried but they too failed to close it. The panels of the gate remained simply unmoved from their place. It seemed as if they were trying to move some mountain. Rendered helpless, he called technicians and carpenters. They looked at the gate and decided that the weight of the building has come to rest on the panels of the gate. There was no way it could be closed before morning. When morning comes, they said, they will see how this could be fixed. Nonplussed, he returned leaving both panels of the gate ajar. As soon as it was morning, he came back to the gate where he noticed that someone had made a hole in the rock close to the gate of the Masjid which gave the impression that some animal was tied down there. At that time he had told his colleagues: Perhaps, Allah Ta'ala has caused this gate not to close today because some prophet was to come here. And then, he also stated that this blessed prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) has also offered his prayer in this Masjid of ours. Thereafter, he has described further details. (Ibn Kathir, p. 24, v.3)
The date of the event of al-Isra' and Mi'raj
Imam al-Qurtubi has said in his Tafsir that the narratives of Hadlth regarding the date of Mi'raj are quite different. According to Musa ibn 'Uqbah, this event came to pass six month before the Hijrah to Madinah. Sayyidah 'A'ishah (RA) says that Umm al-Mu'minin Sayyidah Khadijah (RA) had passed away before the injunction making Salah a Fard (obligation) was revealed. Imam Zuhri says that the event of the sad demise of Sayyidah Khadijah (RA) took place seven years after the call to the mission of prophet-hood.
According to some Hadith narratives, the event of Mi'raj happened five years after the call to prophet-hood. Ibn Ishaq says that the event of Mi'raj took place at a time when Islam had spread throughout the tribes of Arabia generally. The outcome of all these narratives is that the event of Mi'raj dates back to several years before the Hijrah to Madinah.
Al-Harbi says that the event of al-Isra' and Mi'raj has happened during the night of the 27th of Rabi'ath-Thani, one year before Hijrah and Ibn al-Qasim adh-Dhahabi says that it took place eighteen months after the call to prophet-hood. Esteemed Muhaddithin (Hadith scholars) who have mentioned these different narratives have not followed it up with any decisive statement. And as commonly known, the 27th night of the month of Rajab is the Night of Mi'raj. (And Allah, the Pure and the High, knows best).
Al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Aqsa
Sayyidna AbU: Dharr al-Ghifari (RA) says that he asked the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) 'Which Masjid of this world comes first?' He said, 'Al-Masjid al-Hariim.' Then he inquired, 'Which one after that?' He said, 'AI-Masjid al-Aqsa.' Then he tried to find out the intervening time difference between the two whereupon he said, 'Forty years.' After that, he added, '(as for the order of these masajid, this is it) but, Allah Ta'ala has made the entire Earth a masjid for us. Wherever comes the time of Salah, offer it right there.' (Reported by Muslim)
Early Tafsir authority, Mujahid says that Allah Ta'aIa has made the site of Baytullah two thousand years before He made the entire Earth and that its foundations reach as far down as the seventh (strata of) Earth and that al-Masjid al-Aqsa was made by Sayyidna Sulayman (AS). (Reported by an-Nasa'i with sound chains of authority from Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar) (Tafsir al-Qurtubi, p. 137, v. 4)
And al-Masjid al-Haram is the name of the Mosque that stands around the Baytullah ash-Sharif while, on occasions, the entire Haram is also identified as al-Masjid al-Haram. In terms of this second sense, the dichotomy of those two reports - some hold that the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) left for the nocturnal journey, al-Isra', from the home of Sayyidah Umm Hani (RA)while others say that he departed from the section of Baytullah known as Hatim - stands removed. If we were to take al-Masjid al-Haram in its general sense, it is not far out to believe that he may have been there in the home of Sayyidah Umm Hani (RA) first, then he walked over to the Hatim of Ka'bah and then began the journey of al-Isra' from there. Allah knows best.
Al-Masjid al-Aqsa and blessings of the Syrian environs
The word: حَوۡلَ (Hawl: environs) in the verse: بَـٰرَكۡنَا حَوۡلَهُ (the environs of which We have blessed) means the entire land of Syria. It appears in a Hadlth that Allah Ta'ala has made the land from the 'Arsh (Divine Throne) to the river, Euphrates and, out of this, He has bestowed particular holiness on the land of Palestine. (Ruh al-Ma'ani)
The blessings it has are both religious and worldly. As for religious blessings, it has been the Qiblah of all past prophets, and their home, and the last resting place. And that its land is green, lush and verdant with streams, rivers and fruit farms etc. shows its worldly blessings.
Sayyidna Mu'adh ibn Jabal (RA) reports that the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) said: Allah Ta'ala says: 0 land of Syria, thou art My region chosen from many and I shall make My chosen servants reach thee. (Qurtubi) And it appears in a Hadith of the Musnad of Ahmad that the Imposter will traverse the whole Earth but he will not be granted access to four Mosques:
Masjid of Madinah,
Masjid of Makkah al-Mukarramah,
Al-Masjid al-Aqsa and
*The Scholars of Hadlth say that Al-Waqidi is weak in Hadith narrations but a cautious Muhaddith like Imam Ibn Kathir has reported his narration for the reason that this matter is not connected with 'Aqa'id or Halal and Haram and in such historical matters his narration is trustworthy - Muhammad Shafi'
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