Surah 17. Al-Isra – The Night Journey
[Author’s Note] This is the 17th Surah of the Qur’an. Some exponents refer to it as Surah Bani Israel. It has 111 verses. Isra (Night Journey) is often confused with Me’raaj (Ascension). Since God is Omnipresent, the notion of anyone going to meet with Him at a place over the skies does not stand up to reason (57:4).
Isra signifies night journey and it refers to the beginning of the exalted Messenger's emigration from Makkah to Madinah by night. Verses 20:77 and 26:52 use the same term for migration of Prophet Moses along with his followers across the sea. Also consider 17:2.
Masjid Al-Aqsa means the Remote Mosque and refers to the ‘Remote Mosque’ in Madinah, the place where Muslims used to congregate before the Prophet's arrival to the city. Masjid here points to Masjid al-Qabaa in Madinah where it had been established by Muslims of the town.
The famous Masjid Al-Aqsa, the so-called 'Qiblah Awwal', the supposed First Holy Sanctuary, is widely known as Haram ash-Shareef in Jerusalem. But in fact, it was built in 72 AH (691 CE) by the Umayyad Ruler, Abdul Malik bin Marwan, about 60 years after the exalted Messenger passed on. The First Sanctuary was nothing but Ka’bah in Makkah. (See 3:96).
Jerusalem, until the Muslim conquest under the second Caliph of Islam in 637 CE, had been under the control of a few Byzantine Christians for centuries, and there was no person worshiping in a Masjid anywhere in the world but Madinah. So, the question of the presence of a Masjid in Jerusalem during the lifetime of the exalted Prophet should not arise.
Solomon’s Temple had been ravaged and completely destroyed by the Romans (General Titus) in 70 CE. Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 637 CE during the Rule of the second Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar Farooq. When he visited the place, he, along with his companions, continued to hold congregations in open grounds although Pope Severinus had given him the key to the City and invited him hold congregations in the Church of Holy Sepulture. Hazrat Umar feared that Muslims might start converting Churches into Masjids, so he politely declined. If a Masjid were present, he would have held congregations there.
The word Me'raaj (physical Ascension) nowhere occurs in the Qur’an. Yet, under erroneous history, it is a popular, though non-Qur’anic, belief among many Muslims that the exalted Messenger was taken up physically to the Skies to meet with God! The Qur’an sets the records straight by asserting that the First ever blessed Sanctuary on earth, the unifying point for all humanity, was the Ka’bah built by Prophets Abraham and Ishmael in Makkah about 2,500 years before Muhammad (S). And since Divine Laws remain unchanged under all circumstances, no human would physically ascend to the heavens. Bodily Ascension is a Biblical and not a Qur’anic theme at all.
Qubbah-tas-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem, near Al-Aqsa, was also constructed in 72 AH/691 CE by the same Abdul Malik bin Marwan. Jews wrongly contend that the Dome of the Rock was constructed over the site of the Second Jewish Temple. As mentioned above, it had been ravaged and completely destroyed by the Roman General Titus in 70 CE.
The exalted Messenger never ascended to the heavens. God is everywhere (57:4). The "brilliant" Muslim Muhaddithin and historians produce a lot of irrational and contradictory material on this subject:
01. Me’raaj happened in Madinah.
02. No sorry! It happened in Makkah.
03. It happened just before Hijrah.
04. Sorry! It happened 9 years before Hijrah.
05. The Prophet was sleeping at Umm Hani’s house - what?
06. Oh’ No! (That would be a big slander). He was sleeping in the Ka’bah. Gabriel held his hand and took him to Allah up there in the heavens.
07. Gabriel opened his chest and poured faith and wisdom from a platter of gold before taking him up there. (So, the Prophet had no faith and wisdom until then.)
08. Sorry! That surgery was performed in the desert when he was 3 years old with Haleema, the foster mother.
09. Gabriel took him straight to the heavens. Sorry again! The angel first took him to Jerusalem where he led 124,000 prophets in prayers.
10. No, it was not Gabriel. Burraaq (The Centaur with the head and face of a beautiful woman and the body of a horse) carried him to the heavens at lightning speed.
These are only a few of the numerous insults. The real ascension of the exalted Messenger was his character, and not some kind of Greek mythology.
The Prophet (S) riding a winged creature (Burraq) with the body of a horse and the face of a most beautiful woman, guided by Gabriel, meeting with God, receiving the "gift" of 50 prayers (Namaz) a day, Prophet Moses intervening to reduce the number to 5 (from 50), Muhammad a.s. leading 124,000 prophets in prayers in the Temple, is another funny but long story. Moses knew better than God and Prophet Muhammad. Let us leave it for another time.
With the Glorious Name of God, the Instant and Sustaining Source of all Mercy and Kindness
17:1 Glorious is He Who initiated the migration of His servant by night, from the Sacred Masjid to the Remote Masjid whose environment We did bless that We may show him some of Our signs. He is the Hearer, the Seer. [20:23. Signs that the Divine System will begin to prevail from there]
17:2 (Recall that Moses had to migrate from Pharaoh's kingdom to the Sinai Peninsula.) We gave Moses the Scripture and We appointed it a Guide to the Children of Israel, saying, “Choose no guardian besides Me.”