Episode 16: The Ascension
was during this period that the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him found
himself transported at night to the Kaʹbah and from there to the place in
Jerusalem, where Masjid‐ul‐Aqsa now stands. Then he was borne to the celestial
regions where he witnessed the seven heavens, met the Prophets of yore and saw
the remarkable signs of divine majesty about which the Qur’an says:
“The eye turned not aside nor yet was overbold, verily he saw one of the greater revelations of his Lord.” [Qurʹan (53:17‐8)]
Occurrence of the event at that time was meant to confer dignity upon the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him ; it signified something like viands of higher regale in order to console and alleviate the feelings of distress caused to him by the persecution of the pagans at Ta’if. After the Ascension incident, the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him told the people about his nocturnal journey, but the Quraysh mocked him and shook their heads stating that it was inconceivable and beyond the bounds of reason. When Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) saw the Quraysh accusing the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him of falsehood he said, “What makes you wonder about it? If he said this, then it must be true. By God, he tells me that the revelation descends upon him from Heaven in a flash or in an instant during the day or night and I testify for him. This is even more unimaginable and difficult than what seems to astound you.ʺ (Ibn Kathir, Vol. II, p. 96, Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, p. 399)
REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF ASCENSION
The ascension did not occur in a routine or ordinary run of things only to demonstrate the profound phenomena of the Kingdom of God in the Heavens and the earth to the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him of Islam. More than that, such a prophetic journey of tremendous importance alludes to a number of other significant and complex realities of far‐reaching concern to humanity. The two Soorahs of Isra and An‐Najm revealed in connection with this heavenly journey indicate that Muhammed was charged with the office of Prophethood for both the Houses of God, those in Jerusalem and Makkah, and was sent as the leader of the east and the west or the entire human race ‘til the end of time. As the inheritor of all the Prophets of old, he represented the fulfillment and consummation of mankind’s religious development. His nightly journey from Makkah to Jerusalem expresses, in a figurative way, that his personality conformed and alluded to the oneness of Bait‐ul‐Haram (K’aba at Makkah) and Masjid‐ul‐Aqsa in Jerusalem. That all the Prophets arrayed themselves behind him in Masjidul‐Aqsa shows that the doctrine of Islam, preached by him, was final, universal and all comprehensive‐‐meant for every class and section of human society throughout the ages.
The event is, at the same time, indicative of the comprehensiveness of the Prophetʹs Prophethood, the place accorded to his followers in the great task of humanity’s guidance and the distinctive character of his message. The ascension of the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him represents a demarcation line between the regional, limited and variable rules of divine guidance entrusted to the Prophets of old and the global, comprehensive and abiding principles of faith conferred to the universal leader of human race. Had the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him been a sectional or regional guide, a national leader, the savior of any particular race or the restorer of the glory of any particular people, there would have been no need to honor him with ascension to the heavens nor would he have been required to perceive the hidden phenomena of the Heavens and the earth. Nor would it have been necessary to create a new link between the celestial and the earthly surface of the Divine Kingdom; in that case the confines of his own land, his surroundings environs and the times would have been sufficient enough and there would have been no need for him to divert his attention to any other land or country. Neither his ascension to the most sublime regions of the Heavens and to the “Lote‐Tree of the Farthest Limit” nor even the nocturnal journey to the far away Jerusalem, then in the grip of the powerful Christian Empire of Byzantium, would have been necessary at all.
The ascension of the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him was a divine proclamation that he had nothing to do with the category of national or political leaders whose endeavours are limited to their own country and nation. For they serve the nations and races to which they belong and are a product of their time, they serve the need of a particular juncture.
The Prophet peace be and blessings upon him of Islam, on the contrary, belonged to the luminous line of the Messengers of God who communicate the inspired message of Heaven to the earth. They are links between God and his creatures. Their messages transcend the limitations of time and space, race and color and country or nation, for they are meant for the exaltation of man irrespective of color, race or country.
On this occasion, God made fifty prayers a day obligatory for the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him and his followers. The Prophet peace be and blessings upon him constantly implored God for the reduction of the burden of prayers until the Lord was also pleased to limit these to only five times daily. The Lord was also pleased to declare that whoever properly performs these five times daily prayers would be recompensed for all the fifty daily prayers enjoined earlier. (Al‐Bukhaari, Kitab‐us‐Salat).