The gift of Salah (prayer)
Prior to Isra and Mi’raj, the characteristics of prayer were different from what Muslims observe today. The current format of salah was revealed to the Muhammad SAW during his meeting with Allah SWT – if we think about it, it is a gift directly from Allah to all of us. Originally it was prescribed to be observed fifty times a day for Muslims. On his return from Sidrat ul Muntaha, Prophet SAW passed by Musa AS who persuaded him that his followers would not be capable of fulfilling this task and to ask Allah SWT for a reduction. The Prophet SAW returned to Allah SWT a few times and each time it was reduced by ten in number until Allah SWT ordained five prayers during the day and equalled them in reward to fifty. Thus, the second pillar of Islam was established in the heavens, the Salah, the most structured, blessed and intimate way of worshipping and communicating directly with Allah SWT, which none of the previous nations were blessed with.
During Isra and Mi’raj, Allah SWT promised that He will forgive the sins of true believers even if they are major sins. As long as a believer does not associate anything with Allah SWT, he is promised forgiveness from his Lord. Again, this was a message of encouragement, inspiration and hope.
Compared to the nations of the previous Prophets and Messengers, the nation of Prophet Muhammad SAW has been showered with more mercy and compassion than any other. Allah SWT has lightened the burden on us, and multiplied the rewards of our deeds. No other nation has enjoyed this extent of forgiveness and forbearance from Allah SWT. The mercy of Allah SWT on the followers of Prophet Muhammad SAW is explained below in the process of recording of our deeds - the Messenger of Allah SAW said that Allah the Glorious said:
"Verily, Allah Ta'ala has ordered that the good and the bad deeds be written down. Then he explained it clearly how (to write): He who intends to do a good deed but he does not do it, then Allah records it for him as a full good deed, but if he carries out his intention, then Allah the exalted, writes it down for him as from ten to seven hundred folds, and even more. But if he intends to do an evil act and has not done it, then Allah writes it down with him as a full good deed, but if he intends it and has done it, Allah writes it down as one bad deed."
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Is this not proof of Allah’s boundless generosity to us, and sufficient encouragement for us to remain strong in the path of Allah?
Did it really happen?
Based on our understanding of physics, Isra and Mi'raj defies logic. Sceptics would question how anyone can travel great distances in a heartbeat, cross the seven heavens, converse with angels, meet with Prophets who had died generations ago, or witness the joys of paradise and the horrors of hellfire. Therefore it has been debated whether this journey physically took place, or whether it was a just a vision.
The reality is that our Creator is the Inventor of all things. He creates life out of nothing; He created the galaxy in its complex and perfect order; He created the smallest bacteria to perfection down to its microscopic detail. Things such as physics, dimensions, space, time and distance are creations of Allah SWT, and by His Supreme command all these laws can be changed and reality as we understand it can be suspended. Isra and Mi’raj transcended all these physical laws that apply in our limited earthly dimension. Therefore, the majority of scholars believe that this journey happened physically, with the body and soul of the Prophet SAW.
Lessons from Isra and Mi’raj
It is a milestone in the journey of Iman for every believer to believe in the unseen and to have faith that Allah is sufficient for us. Through Isra and Mi’raj, the followers of Prophet Muhammad SAW have been given a glimpse of what awaits them in the hereafter, and what exists in the dimensions beyond our own.
This journey occurred at a time of extreme adversity during the Prophet’s SAW life and despite all the hardships, he remained steadfast and patient. Although the circumstances around him were unbearable, his faith in Allah was never shaken; hence he was rewarded with this wonderful journey. When Allah SWT showed Prophet SAW the extent of His power and command, he returned more calm and reliant on Allah; and this is what he communicated to his followers.
If we understand this, we will appreciate that whenever we face adversity, are oppressed, or all our means have been severed; we should go back to Allah SWT, rely on Him alone, have faith, and be patient. The sincere believer relies totally and utterly on Allah SWT to the exclusion of all else, and deals with his situation in the way that was exemplified by Prophet Muhammad SAW. He overcomes his calamities and tribulations by stepping closer to Allah SWT, by crying to Him and by surrendering himself totally to His Will. A believer accepts that whatever is happening, good or bad, is the best for him.
This world is a testing ground for us. Allah SWT constantly sends trials our way, and the sincerity of our faith comes to light by the way we deal with these tribulations.
In the face of oppression, the Prophet SAW dealt with his oppressors with kindness, mercy and forgiveness. While it is easy to be generous to the generous, and kind to the kind; the true strength of our character and faith is evidenced when we are able to treat our oppressors with kindness and generosity. A believer does not let oppression by others get him down; neither does he get angry at the situation or circumstances. He demonstrates self restraint to the extent he does not even raise his voice in anger. We have been taught by the Prophet SAW that when we are facing adversities, we should not retaliate but instead remain silent and only turn to Allah SWT for help.
Isra and Mi’raj reminds us that instead of complaining about our situation, we should question ourselves about what Allah SWT expects from us when He gives us a situation we dislike. It is the sunnah (sequence or methodology) of Allah that before we experience victory, we will be tried.
Our eyes should always remain on the ultimate prize - jannah. This will prevent us from straying from the right path when we are tested. In understanding Islam, we will understand that no situation is too tough for us to handle as believers – we should face all situations with patience and contentment while relying on Allah SWT to show us the solution. We should trust in Allah's Power, Will and Might, and believe without a doubt that He can open, guide and change the condition in the blink of an eye or even less.
Isra and Mi’raj may sound stranger than fiction, however it is a factual event and it is a deeply profound and moving journey that all of us should perform in our hearts. Muhammad SAW’s Lord is our Lord; time, space and distance are all His creations; similarly paradise and hellfire are not abstract concepts but real places which physically exist, and one of them is our final destination. We have been given sufficient descriptions of each to decide for ourselves which path we should take, and Allah SWT has shown His infinite mercy and compassion to help us choose the right path.
Therefore, regardless of when Isra and Mi’raj actually took place, we should celebrate it. The real celebration is to honour the message and purpose of the journey and to live according to the lessons it holds for us.
Rise up from our weaknesses to the strength and belief. We can say we need the physical journey to make firm steps towards Allah SWT by remembering Him, believing in Him and studying more about our faith, engage in good deeds, sacrifice time and money and feeling to please Allah SWT and honour ourselves and the message of Allah. It is a journey, spiritually and internally which should take place to believe in Allah, the Promise of Allah, the quality of Allah and deny the believe of the material life and the existing conditions. This is the challenge. May Allah SWT allow us to live the message in the level the Companions reached when they used to say, "What our eyes see is a lie, and what Allah promises is the truth." Once we live this message, it will set us free from the condition within, in peace within, happy, contented, elevated, dignified, regardless of any condition, whether positive or negative. Let us rise up and experience the sweetness of iman, the freedom, peace and happiness with Allah SWT.