The Mi’raj and the Prophetic Tradition ‘I Have a Time with God’ (li ma’a Allah waqt) — By Jehangir A. Merchant on imerg com

BY JEHANGIR A. MERCHANT

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While the Hoy Qur’an doesn’t speak of the event any more than what we have quoted, the version of the event in the books of Hadith is more detailed. However, the mysterious words and phrases mentioned in the quoted Qur’anic verses such as the Sacred Place of Worship (al-masjid al-haram), the Far Distant Place of Worship (al-masjid al-aqsa) , the Lote Tree of the utmost boundary  (sidrat al-muntaha), the Garden of Repose (jannat al-ma ‘wa) go unexplained, as do the references in the literary expressions and the Hadith to the mount of the Prophet (Buraq), the ladder (al-mi’raj) and so on. In this short essay, I wish to offer my interpretation about these terms.

Fragment from page 7 of the Bustan of Sadi. The last two lines of poetry on this page extol the Prophet’s miraculous ascension to the heavens (mi’raj): One night he sat (on his flying steed Buraq) and passed through the heavens. / In majesty and grandeur, he exceeded the angels. / So impulsive, he urged (his steed) into the plain of closeness (to God) / While Gabriel remained behind him at the Lote Tree (of the Limit). Image: Wikipedia.

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There have been exoteric and esoteric interpretations of mi’raj among Muslims. According to the esoteric interpretation, the mi’raj was a spiritual journey; it was a fitting example of a mystical experience, a breaking through into the unseen world, and a symbol of the rise of the soul from the bonds of the material world to the heights of mystical knowledge through the temple of the heart as noted in the following verses:

“On the path of God
Two places of worship mark the stages.
The material temple,
And the temple of the heart,
Make your best endeavour
To worship at the temple of the heart”. [5]

The Ismaili missionary Pir Shams, in speaking of the heart, says:

…dil manhe deval pujiye
Ane dil manhe dev dwar;
Dil manhe sanhiya aap vasey,
Dil manhe apey didar-re.

Translation:

In the heart worship your Lord,
In the heart is the Lord’s abode;
In the heart the Lord dwells,
In the heart His Face unveils.

The fulfillment of ritual polishing and worshiping in this inner sanctuary of the heart is symbolized by the Prophet’s retirement from his prayers. The journey begins in the heart, the Sacred Place of Worship (al-masjid al-haram). Love is represented by the celestial steed (Buraq) that carries the Prophet to a place in heaven (at-masjid al-aqsa, the Far Distant Place of Worship) where the angels sing praises of Allah.

The Love that we speak of here is divine, and it reminds the soul of its eternal home and leads it to the overwhelming vision of the Divine Light. Rumi says:

Love entered the mosque and said:
“o master and guide,
Tear the shackles of existence — why are you still in
the fetters of the prayer rug?
Let your heart not tremble because of the blow of my sword;
Put down your head if you want to travel
from knowing to seeing!” [6]

Buraq, the heavenly mount of the Prophet, is the symbol of Love. It has strong wings which carry the lover toward the roof of the Beloved:

That is Love, to fly heavenward,
To tear a hundred veils in every moment….[7]

The Prophet enters the temple in heaven (al-masjid, al-aqsa) and sees the assembly of Angels and Prophets and receives the salute of welcome from each of them in turn. Then he is brought three vessels containing wine, honey and milk. He drinks the milk, upon which Gabriel said to him, “O Muhammad! You have been rightly guided.” The contents of the three vessels respectively represent the three states — the state of ‘intoxication’ as in the case of the mystics, the state of ‘annihilation’ (fana) as experienced by Moses who fell senseless to the ground while God revealed Himself at the mountain [8] and the state of ‘prophetic sobriety’ as shown by the Prophet who returns from the Divine Presence without fainting.

Now begins the ascension by means of a ladder (al-ma‘arij) of sublime beauty, to the seventh heaven and into the presence of God.

“I turned my face and looked upward;
I found a ladder (al-ma‘arij)
with alternate rungs of silver and gold” – Prophet Muhammad. [9]

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