The Nightly Journey to the Beloved
The modern mind responds in different ways to one of the most important events in Prophetic and Islamic history - the "Me'raj" or the nightly Ascension of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), through the seven heavens, and into the divine presence of his Beloved, Allah. While some relate to the whole divine incident as a magnificent symbolic story, yet others wonder how such a fantastic journey could be possible! Some scientific minds go on to argue as to how if man, with science and technology can reach into space and up to the moon, ascending the Prophet (SAW) unto Him would thus not be a difficult task for Allah, Who has created and controls the entire universe! Some are reminded through the Me'raj, of the Power, Glory and Majesty of Allah and the great love that was shared between Him and His dear Prophet and many more refer to this magnificent incident to discover mystical secrets and meanings. However, there is no doubt to the validity of this nocturnal event since it has been explicitly verified by the Book of Truth, the Glorious Qur'an; as well as by numerous Prophetic Traditions (Ahadith). Firstly, let us refer to the main verse in the Glorious Qur'an that describes the Me'raj of the Prophet (SAW). The Qur'an says:
"Glory be to Him Who made His servant to go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing." (17:1)
According to authentic traditions, while the Prophet (SAW) was in Mecca, one glorious night, by Allah's will, he (SAW) was ascended on the `buraq' (a divine vehicle) from the Masjid al-Haram to the Masjid al-Aqsa in Bait al-Muqaddas, from where he was taken up to the heavens and into divine Presence, where he witnessed Allah's Glory and the Magnificence of His creation - returning to Mecca, all within only a few moments.
The exact day and date of the Me'raj is controversial and some Islamic historians have reported it as the night of the 27th Rajab in the tenth year of the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (SAW); while some others have recorded it as the 17th Ramadan in the twelfth year of his Prophethood. Some other historians, however, have placed the event as having taken place in the early years of Prophethood.
Most famous Muslim exegetes have written extensively on the details of the Me'raj and its various aspects; right from discussing as to whether this journey was physical, spiritual or symbolic; to describing in vivid details, what the Prophet (SAW) witnessed during the various stages of his heavenly journey. Details of the conversations that the Prophet (SAW) had with the other preceding Prophets of Allah like Ibrahim (AS), Musa (AS), Nuh (AS), etc. are also described in details by most interpreters of the Qur'an and the Traditions.
However, in the following discussion, we are going to concern ourselves with the conversation that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had at the climax of his nocturnal journey with his Most Beloved Allah. The purpose of this article is to access deep knowledge through the direct Words of Allah that is meant to be used by all believers on their Path of training and developing themselves to be fit for divine presence and prepare for the ultimate meeting with Allah, on the Day of Resurrection - the destination of every true Lover of Allah.
The following Qur'anic verses describe the prelude to the ultimate divine meeting between Allah and Prophet Muhammad (SAW), in these words:
"... And he (Muhammad) is in the highest part of the horizon. Then he drew near, then he bowed, so he was the measure of two bows or closer still. And He revealed to His servant what He revealed. The heart was not untrue in (making him see) what he saw. What! Do you then dispute with him as to what he saw? And certainly he saw Him in another descent, at the farthest lote-tree.... Certainly he saw of the greatest signs of his Lord." (53:7-18)
The dialogue that followed between the Creator and His best creation has been narrated in the following words through Imam Ali (AS), who had heard it directly through the Prophet (SAW).
After bowing to the Majestic Almighty Lord and greeting Him, the first question that the Prophet (SAW), who always considered himself as the devoted and faithful servant of his Lord, the Creator, and who was completely annihilated in the love for his Beloved, asked Him, was:
"O Lord, which is the best action that your servant can perform in Your service? Allah said: `No act is better than trusting in Me and being content with whatever I have destined. O Muhammad, those who love others for My sake, receive My love. And those who show kindness for My sake and develop friendships for My sake are dear to Me. I have made it incumbent upon Me to love those who have trust in Me. And there are no bounds and limits to My Love.'
Allah began His conversation with love since the entire creation, in fact, revolves around love.
Allah continued: `O Ahmad! Do not be like little children who get distracted by colorful nothings. They become arrogant when they are served with delicious and sweet foods and forget about everything else.'
The Prophet (SAW) then requested Allah saying: `O Lord, guide me to an action that will draw me closer to You!'
Allah said: `Convert your days into nights and your nights into days.'
The Prophet (SAW) asked: `How?'
Allah said: `Strive in a way that your sleep becomes an act of worship - and never stuff your stomach to its full! He added: `My love is linked with the love for the poor and the deprived - so get close to them and participate in their gatherings such that I get closer to you. Keep the rich and the worshippers of the transient world away from you and stay away from their gatherings. O Ahmad, consider the gold and glitter of the world, and its lovers as distasteful and love the Hereafter and those who have faith in the Hereafter.'
The Prophet (SAW) asked: `Who according to You are the `people of the world' and who are the `people of the Hereafter'?
Allah said: `The people of the world' are those who eat too much, laugh too much, and sleep too much; those who get very angered and rarely get happy. They are the ones who never apologize when they wrong others and never forgive others. They are lazy in their worship and are bold in committing sinful acts. They have endless hopes and desires and even while their death is at hand, they do not see the need to evaluate their actions. They are of no benefit to other people and are talkative and lack of a sense of responsibility. They just love to eat and sleep. The `people of the world' are neither thankful for the Grace of Allah nor are they patient in times of distress. They consider the service of others towards them as insignificant and consider their own services as very great. They praise themselves even for things that they have not done and want things that they do not have any right to desire. They constantly talk about all their endless desires. They keep reminding people of their shortcomings and overlook their virtues.'
Then the Prophet (SAW) asked his Lord: `O Lord, do `the people of the world' have any other shortcomings?'
The Lord said: `O Ahmad, their greatest shortcoming is that they are steeped in ignorance and they never humble themselves in the presence of even those who have been their teachers. They consider themselves as highly intelligent but in the eyes of the truly aware ones, they are stupid and ignorant.'
After this, Allah enumerated the virtues of the `people of the Hereafter' and the `people of Paradise', in the following words:
`They are people of dignity (not shameless) and their ignorance is little while their benefits (to others) are many. People are safe and comfortable around them, even though they do not take life easy. They speak in measured words and evaluate their own actions regularly and constantly exert themselves for the same. Even when their eyes are asleep, their hearts are awake; and even though their eyes are always wet with tears, their hearts are at ease with the remembrance of Allah. When most others are enlisted among the unaware ones, the `people of the Hereafter' are enlisted among those who constantly remember Allah.'
The Lord further added: `They praise Allah at the beginning of every grace and thank Him at the end of it. All their supplications are granted by Me and I honor all their requests. The angels are pleased and happy in their presence. The unaware and ignorant people are as good as dead in their eyes and Allah is the Ever-Living and Eternal to them.'
'And nothing else exists for them except Allah. Most people die just once in their lives but the `people of the Hereafter', die seventy times each day in their battle with the carnal self (nafs), and are re-born purer each time. When they stand before Me in worship, they are like a firm foundation with strong (iron) fences and are thus unshakable and nothing can distract them from My Presence. I swear by My Dignity and My Grandeur that I will grant them with a pure life, at the end of which, I will personally take away their souls. I will open the doors of the skies for their souls to soar and will drop all the veils in their presence. I will command the Paradise to adorn itself for these pure ones.'
`O Ahmad, worship has ten parts; nine parts of which are the strife for the lawful (halal). As long as your food and drink are lawful, you are under My protection. O' Ahmad, do you know what a better life is?'
The Prophet of Allah (SAW) said: `No, my Lord'!
Allah said: `A good life is the one, the liver of which does not forget Me even for a moment; and does not forget My grace and favor. Such a one, is not neglectful towards My rights, even for a second and seeks My satisfaction, night and day. An eternal life is granted to the one who strives without ease for salvation. The world, in the eyes of such a one is very insignificant whereas the Hereafter is precious.'
'Such a one gives priority to My pleasure and satisfaction above his own personal desires and constantly seeks My approval. He gives great importance and attention to My rights and knows that I am always aware of all his actions. Every time such a one is tired and tempted by sin, he looks towards Me and purifies his heart from that which I dislike. He despises Satan and his whisperings and does not permit the presence of Iblis in his heart. And when he reaches this level of service and purity, I place a special kind of love in his heart and take his entire heart under My command. I open the eyes and ears of his heart till he can hear with the ears of his heart and can witness My Grandeur and Magnificence with the eyes of his heart!
In the final part of this heavenly conversation, Allah mentioned the following awakening sentences:
`O Ahmad, if a servant prays to the extent of the earth and the skies, and fasts until he abstains from food like the angels and lives in utter asceticism and austerity - but if his heart contains even a speck of love for the world and its power or its adornment, in the Hereafter, he will never be near to Me. And I will take away love from his heart.'
`My peace and greetings upon you and praise to the Lord of the Universe'!" (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 77, pp. 21-30)