Nizami’s Khamsa’s Five Poems, Tabriz, Iran, 1539–43 depicting the Prophet’s ascent into heaven
(Image: British Library Online Gallery)
The eve of the 27th Rajab, called Shab-eMiraj, is considered very auspicious. Throughout the world, Muslims commemorate this night with special prayers and zikr (remembrance of Allah, by chanting His names).
On the night of the 27th Rajab (621 CE), Prophet Muhammad undertook two journeys. The first – Isra – refers to him being taken by the Archangel Jibraeel from the Masjid-eHaram (Sacred Mosque) in Mecca, on a winged mule known as buraq, to the furthest mosque in Jerusalem.In the mosque that is now identified as Masjid-eAqsa,the Prophet found himself in the company of all the prophets and messengers from the time of Aadam, and he led the prayers. This was the physical journey.
The second was mirajor the spiritual journey undertaken by him to the heavens. As he crossed each of the eight heavens, he met the various other prophets. Jibraeel accompanied him on this trip till they reached the Lote Tree (sidrat-ulmuntaha), which marks the end of the seventh heaven. As soon as they got there,Jibraeel excused himself for being unable to accompany him any further, explaining to the Prophet that his wings would be singed if he did. The Prophet thus had to cross the last heaven alone.
At the end of the eighth, he found himself in divine presence. This symbolizes the state of pure consciousness of the divine, which the Prophet was able to ascend to after overcoming physical barriers. Even Jibraeel had a veil between him and the divine, but not so with the Prophet.
A very beautiful incident that I read while writing In Search of The Divine is the Khirqa e faqr:
Excerpt from it
“Fazle Haq’s masnavi, which has been cited in Hassan Abbas’s book the Prophet’s Heir, offers the following nugget from Islamic lore: The day after the miraj (night of ascension to heaven), the Prophet had a conversation with four close companions. He told them:
‘On the night of miraj I have received the khirqa-e faqr [roughly translated as “cloak of transcendent spiritual knowledge”] from God and I wish to give it to one of you. However, first I must know – how will you do justice to this gift?’ […]
The four men before him answered one by one, each convinced they were the right choice – the first one promising to spread justice, the second promising to proselytize Islam everywhere, the third promising to give a lot of charity. When the time came for Hazrat Ali’s response to be heard, he said simply, ‘I will conceal peoples’ flaws.’ And the Prophet replied, ‘You, Ali, are the one who deserves to have this.’
This episode is mentioned by many writers including Seyyid Hossein Nasr as it emphasizes Hazrat Ali’s ‘spiritual superiority and excellence in knowledge and wisdom.’