Al-Isra wa Al-Miraj

Stated origin of the Second Pillar of Islam: praying five times a day

Ten years into his preaching, Muhammad's uncle and guardian, Abu Taleb died followed shortly by his wife Khadijeh.

There then followed a event of the Night Journey or Al-Isra wa Al-Miraj of 24th Rajab 619 CE. Muslims speak of this as a matter of fact, but non-Muslims might well treat it as psychological and mystical given what seems to be Muhammad's propensity for visions. The story is as given.

The Night Journey started with the appearance of the Angel Gabriel (who had been bringing the revelation of the Qur'an). The angel led Muhammad to a white mule with wings attached to its thighs. This mule had carried other prophets, including Abraham, and was the buraq or spirit horse. Muhammad got on and went high into the sky.
He arrived at Jerusalem where he met many prophets including Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Abraham looked like no one else, but also no one did not look like him. Moses was tall, tanned, slim and with a hooked nose and curly hair. Jesus was red skinned of medium height with straight hair and many moles on his face. He looked like he had come out of a bath. His hair looked wet although it was not wet. Muhammad was asked to lead them in prayer and did.
Three dishes were placed in front of Muhammad containing water, wine and milk. Muhammad said he knew of the prophecy that if he chose water the Muslim community would drown, if he chose wine they would leave the true path, and if he chose milk they would follow the true religion of the one God. He chose and milk and drank from it. Gabriel confirmed the prophecy.
Then Muhammad lifted up to the first gate of heaven guarded by an angel Ishmael who was in charge of 12000 more and each of those had 12000 of their own. All these 144,000,001 angels guarded the one gate. Ishmael asked Gabriel if Muhammad was the one sent to deliver God's message to humankind and Gabriel confirmed this, so Muhammad was let through with some prayers.
Muhammad passed through seven heavenly realms. In the First Sky he saw Adam being shown the souls of his descendents both good and bad. In the Second Sky he saw Jesus and John, son of Zachariah. In the Third Sky he saw the handsome Joseph, son of Jacob. In the Fourth Sky he saw Idris, the prophet from before the flood. In the Fifth Sky he saw Moses' older brother, Harun, with his long white beard. In the Sixth Sky Muhammad met a tall man with a hooked nose and Gabriel said it was Moses. In the Seventh Sky Muhammad saw an old man in a seat by the gate to Paradise where 70,000 angels pass through each day but do not return until Judgment Day. Gabriel identified him as Abraham. Gabriel then took Muhammad into Paradise where he spoke to God.
God told him the importance of regular prayers. On the way back Moses asked how many prayers had been commanded and Muhammad said fifty a day. Moses told him to go back to God and get the number cut.  God reduced the number to ten a day but Moses again said this was too many. Muhammad returned and they were reduced to five times a day. Moses said this was still too many, but Muhammad told Moses he would be too embarassed to return to God again. Muhammad returned to Makkah.
Muhammad described his journey to followers but many did not believe he had gone to Jerusalem in one night, seen the Seven Heavens and had spoken with God. Some who stopped believing went to Abu Bakr and Abu Bakr saw Muhammad, asking him to describe Jerusalem. He did so, and Abu Bakr declared all the details were accurate and so Muhammad must have been there.

The journey:


Al-Gailani, N., Smith, C. (2002), The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories and Celebrations, Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 90-94.


Adrian Worsfold