Every year, the month of Rajab carries to us the memory of the Prophetic night journey to Jerusalem and ascension to the realms of the highest heaven. We live in a world that tends to make many earthly celebrations; sometimes knowing their meanings and sometimes not. We actually invent reasons to celebrate in order to change the routine of our life, the miserable tone of the news of killing and natural disasters. Even when we try to celebrate, we are not free from individuals who try to annoy us by questioning why and on what basis are we celebrating.
In Islam, what is important is the meaning and the means; the occasion which we celebrate and the way we celebrate it. Why do we celebrate is the first question and how we celebrate it is another important question. Celebration is a kind of promotion, a form of reinvigorating an occasion and mentally and socially rejuvenating its characters and events. Since we cannot resurrect the characters physically, what we are actually reviving are the meanings and the lessons. Many events we pass by in life but none of them turns into an icon of inspiration; only those that leave a massive effect are to be celebrated and commemorated.
Births and deaths, marriages and having children are amongst many other landmarks in the short span of human life. As humans, these remarkable events are precious, they are not deserted or forgotten by time; rather, age increases them in beauty and genuinity. They move from cotton, paper and leather to silver, gold and diamond. The fragrance of years adds to their subtlety and adorns them with warmth. Years just add to the memories, rather than bury them.
How we celebrate is another question that can be realized and answered only by asking what we are actually celebrating. We live in a world that is really impoverished in meanings and distracted by the outward from the inward. People give very limited time or no time to reflection. When we celebrate, we recycle the events to be usable in the present time, this involves a deep process of re-reading the details of the events and a deeper reading of the current situation; analysis of the current ailments and extracting the medicine from the past.
This was a unique Qur’anic way of teaching Muslims how to use the past to envision the future and step safely into it. After the battle of Uḥud, the defeat was summoned to make Muslims self-conscious and awaken the hearts heavy with sadness to heed the lessons and move forward with steadfast steps and unshakeable trust in Allah. The Qur’anic lessons read, “O believers! Is it that when an affliction strikes you – while you have already afflicted [your opponents] with one twice as great – that you say: How could this be? Rather say to them [O Prophet]: It is from the doings of your own souls. Indeed, God is powerful over all things. Thus, what afflicted you the day the two armies met [at Uḥud] was by the permission of God, so that God might make known the true believers; and that He might make known those who are hypocrites. For when it was said to them: Come! Fight in the path of God, or defend us [against our foes]! They said: If we knew [with certainty] that there will be fighting we certainly would follow you [to the battlefield]. On that day, they were closer to unbelief than to belief. They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts. And God knows best what they suppress.” [3: 165 -167]
The way of celebration therefore should move from the mere repetition of the events to combining the past with the present and weaving a lively canvas that gathers the iconic event in modern context in such a manner that every viewer will connect to it.
Living the age of scientific miracles:
One of the most significant shades of the night journey and ascension is ‘believing in miracles’ at times of denial. When the Prophet g came to tell his people about the journey, they were in complete denial; their minds were unable to believe and encompass a story of a human being travelling a distance that normally takes a month in one night. They trusted in their own senses and did not want to go beyond that. They were crippled by their limited faculties from embracing the fact that they are limited; they turned the God-given gift into an idol which they started to worship besides the One who endowed them with it. Prophet Abraham prayed to Allah to: “And keep me and my children from worshipping idols.” [14: 35) People erect their idols inside before turning to idols outside.
With the lapse of time, the miracle of night journey and ascension could have become more believable since man has now travelled through space to other planets and made long journeys in a brief time. However, what still remains is man’s complete trust in his senses or at least experimental knowledge. Science is the new god of man; the new reasoning is experiment and laboratory is the new house of worship. Living the age of scientific miracles, we should always remember that they are qualified by being scientific. A miracle is unqualified; it is absolute because it is done by the power of the absolute. While man can do, God has given him the ability to do. The word idol is a combination of the first person pronoun; the ugly ‘I’ and the verb ‘do’ and ends with the closing stuck letter ‘l’. interestingly enough it sounds ‘idle’. When man makes himself an ‘idol’ this what he ends up with.
Ibn Abi Jamrah said, “The mind has a limit where it stops and the truth, in truth, is that which has been mentioned in the sacred revealed texts that are supported with sacredness and Divine light. This is the truth that comes from the realms of truth where the minds are taken by silence and astonishment.”
Preparation precedes Elevation:
Prior to the journey, the Prophet g went through the last of four instances where his blessed chest was opened, cleansed and prepared for the experience. Imam Al-Ujhūri summarized in poetry these four instances saying:
The chest of the chosen one was opened,
When in the dwellings of Banū Sa‘d without a knife,
As happened to him when he was ten,
Then on mi‘rāj night and before receiving revelation
وشُقَّ صَدرُ المُصطفى وهو في * دار بني سعدٍ بغيرِ مُديةِ
كشقِّه وهو ابن عشر ثم في * ليلة معراجٍ وعند البَعثة
His chest was filled with mercy, compassion and more faith to reach the highest unprecedented levels of mercy as observed by Imam Al-Bulqīni. Observing the events that preceded this miracle unveils another important lesson that we have to internalize that is, God prepares his beloved ones to meet Him. If Allah deprives one from earthly things, it means he will soon welcome him with heavenly gifts. Do not let temporary and earthly deprivation deprive you from enjoying what He sends upon you. Ibn ‘Atā’illah says, “The arrival of tribulations is the time of celebration for seekers.” [ورودالفاقاتأعيادالمريدين] because those whose focus is Allah await for the times when He grants them attention and they know that gifts come with difficulties; and difficulties prepare them for something bigger and better.
Distracted is Never Delivered:
The Prophet g was a traveler in the night journey and ascension; every traveler should always focus on his destination. He should take note of the signs on the sides of the road and bear all the lessons he accumulates in the journey in mind without being diverted from his destination. One of the scenes of the journey of al-mi‘rāj (ascension) reads, ‘He passed by people whose tongues and lips are clipped by scissors of iron [in some narration of fire], once clipped, they become full again and made ready to be clipped one more time.” He g asked, ‘Who are these o Gabriel?’ He replied, ‘These are the orators of sedition; the orators of your community who say what they do not do.” [narrated by Imam At-Tabarāni and Abu Ya‘la]
Noting that, yet, continuing with his journey is a very interesting and reflection worthy point. He g did not stop to discuss it with Gabriel; he did not stop at any other of the many scenes that he saw. He continued his journey and did not lose focus as a due traveler should do. Each and every traveler should unravel his aim before he sets out on his journey as ‘ambiguity delays’.
This scene which is quoted earlier is quoted for a reason and the symbols there are really significant; the representation of the orators of sedition in this way unveils the devastating role they play in the society; they destroy and demolish, they cut and tear apart. Their destructive activity affects individuals, communities and societies and the gift God has given them i.e. the tongue is misused. Their punishment is that ugly image of lips and tongues clipped by iron scissors forever.
Search for Allah in Every Corner:
Seeking Allah’s pleasure and checking one’s relation with him in every situation especially at the toughest time in one’s life is very vital. The time before the night journey and ascension was very tough for the Prophet g as he lost his beloved supportive wife Lady Khadijah and his protective uncle Abu Ṭālib. When the persecution of Quraysh increased, he went to the nearby city of Taif seeking to deliver his message to its people. His journey was not very pleasant either; in fact, they were very hostile and evil with him. With a heart saddened by people’s refusal to accept Divine message, the Prophet g, ‘My Lord, if You are not angry with me, I do care not.” This keenness to find Allah at the toughest times have been the practice of the chosen servants of Allah. Jonah was in the belly of the whale remembering God. “Were it not that he was one who highly exalted God alone, he would have remained in its belly until the Day all are raised up for Judgment.” [37: 143 -144] He found Allah in the depths of that darkness, therefore, light shone upon him. Prophet Muhammad g searched for God at that difficult moment, therefore, he was raised and taken in that breathtaking journey.
He g instructed believers to look for Allah in every corner. If the day of judgment is about to arrive and people’s lives are really messed up, focus and look for Allah; if you have a little tree, go ahead and plant it. If you are meeting an army, do not forget your duty of remembering God. The Prophet g was on his death bed, yet concerned with prayer; his connection with God.
The night journey was a royal invitation for the one whose main focus was Allah; to be present in a presence previously unheard of, only because his heart was always in that presence and the body follows the heart indeed.
 Translations of the meanings of the Qur’an are taken from The Glorious Qur’an by Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad.
Shaykh Ahmed Saad