Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Miraaj: Did Prophet Muhammad Corporeally Ascend to the Heaven?

We read in the Quran [17:1]:
“Glory to (Allah), who did take His Servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless, - in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the one Who heareth and seeth (all things).”

As this is an important verse, we should also read another translation to make sure that what we have quoted above is the correct translation of its Arabic text.

N. J. Dawood’s translation of the verse reads:

“Glory Be to Him who made His servant go by night from the Sacred Tempe to the farther Temple whose surroundings We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He alone hears and observes all.”[1]

As we can see, there is no serious discrepancy in either of the two translations, as both of them are almost identical. The addressee of the verse was Muhammad. Both the translations confirm through the words “did” and “made” that Muhammad had, indeed, made a physical journey by night from the sacred mosque of Mecca to the Furthest Mosque, the location of which is, however, not mentioned in the verse. Since the verse has not identified the Farthest Mosque, we will depend on the Muslim commentators to find out its identity as well as the implication it carries for Islam and its doctrines.

In a footnote to the verse, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall confirmed that the Mosque referred to in the verse was located in Jerusalem.[2] N. J. Dawood is of the same opinion.[3] Abdullah Yusuf Ali, having been helped by hadith literature as well as by the study of them - the latter having enabled him to elucidate the mystical meaning of the journey - maintained:

“The holy Prophet was first transported to the seat of the earlier revelations in Jerusalem, and then taken through the seven heavens, even to the Sublime Throne, and initiated into the spiritual mysteries of the human soul struggling in Space and Time.”[4]

The exact location of the so-called ‘Farthest Mosque’ (‘Masjidul Aqsa’ in Arabic) thus established, let us now focus on whether the night journey Muhammad had made was corporeal or not.

But before doing that, let us note that curiosity to know the unknown has always been one of the mankind’s compelling instincts. It is not that this instinct is possessed only by humans, even animals, such as ape and bear et al, are also born with it that allows them to know their surroundings before venturing out into a difficult and dangerous world of their own.

The fact that man has always been curious to know about himself, his supposed creator, his surroundings and the universe is manifest from the religious scriptures, in which, at least eighty-five percent of today’s world population firmly believe and on which they rely to live ‘righteous lives.’ From these scriptures, we learn how our distant ancestors had tried to uncover the secrets of the heavens (the skies).

Because humans have originated from a single couple (i.e. Adam and his wife), all of them naturally spoke a single language. Using the unity brought to them by their common language, they took to building a tower; its top designed to reach the Gardens (heavens), thus giving them the opportunity to see or hear what was going on within their walls.

In course of His inspection of the earth, Allah became dumbfounded when He saw, in progress, the construction of the tower, which, if He allowed to go ahead, was going to expose to its builders all the secrets they hold.

Faced with a serious situation, Allah confounded their language and scattered them all over the world so that they could neither understand each other, nor had the required strength to complete the tower.[5]

At the time Allah had taken the above stated action, He was not aware of a simple fact: the builders of the tower could not have built it beyond the earth’s atmosphere, as its outer space is devoid of oxygen. Under the circumstance, if our ancestors had been allowed to proceed with the construction of the tower, none of us would be living on earth to talk about their foolishness today!

The fact that Allah is wont to inviting humans to visit Him in His home in the Gardens is also inferable from one of the verses of the Quran, though the people to whom it was addressed did not take it seriously. In it, He is believed to have said:

“Even if We opened out to them a gate from heaven, and they were to continue (all day) ascending therein,”

“They would only say: “Our eyes have been intoxicated: Nay, we have been bewitched by sorcery.”[6]

Since Allah has clearly indicated that humans could enter the Gardens corporeally, there is no reason for us to think that Muhammad, the best and the most capable man among all humans, had not traveled in person to see Him in one of them; the impracticability of the voyage for an ordinary mortal to undertake, without Allah’s active help, through an oxygen-less and turbulent space being a subject that does not fall within the scope of our present commentary.

Muhammad’s activities that are supposed to have preceded his journey support his physical ascension to the Gardens. Muhammad, son of Ishaq, born in A.H. 85 (i.e. seventy-three years after Muhammad’s death), and considered to be one of the earliest traditionists of Islam, reports, on the authority among others, of Umm Hani, a daughter of Abu Talib, who witnessed the event unfolding before her eyes, as well as on the basis of what Muhammad himself had related to al-Hasan, one of his Companions, saying:

“While I was sleeping in the Hijr Gabriel came and stirred me with his foot. I sat up but saw nothing and lay down. He came a second time and stirred me with his foot. I sat up but saw nothing and lay down again. He came to me the third time and stirred me with his foot. I sat up and he took hold of my arm and I stood beside him and he brought me out of the door of the mosque and there was a white animal, half mule, half donkey, with wings on its sides with which it propelled its feet, putting down each forefoot at the limit of its sight and he mounted me on it. Then he went out with me keeping close to me."

When I came up to mount he shied. Gabriel placed his hand on its mane and said, are you not ashamed, O Buraq, to behave in this way? By Allah, none more honourable before Allah than Muhammad has ever ridden you before. The animal was so ashamed that he broke out into a sweat and stood still so that I could mount him.”[7]

Philip K. Hitti’s short remark on the Muslims’ daily five prayers supports Ibn Ishaq’s assertion, for he writes: “The number five [daily prayers], according to al-Bukhari, was a comprise reached after Allah had asked for fifty on the occasion of Muhammad’s visit to the seventh heaven on his nocturnal journey (sur.17:1).”[8]

Martin Lings, also known as Sheikh Abu Bakr Sirajuddin, who was able to gather information on Muhammad’s activities from ‘earliest sources,’ almost fourteen hundred years after his subject’s death, made it clear that his nocturnal journey to Jerusalem and from there to the Throne of Allah was, indeed, a physical one. After describing how he was spurred by angel Gabriel with his foot, Martin quoted Muhammad himself, telling his followers:

“The Prophet then told how he mounted Buraq, for so the beast was named; and with the Archangel at his side, pointing the way and measuring his pace to that of the heavenly steed, they sped northwards beyond Yathrib and beyond Khayber, until they reached Jerusalem. Then they were met by a company of Prophets- Abraham, Jesus and others – and when he prayed on the site of the Temple, they gathered together behind him in prayer. Then two vessels were brought before him and offered him, one of wine the other of milk. He took the vessel of milk and drank from it, but left the vessel of wine, and Gabriel said: “Thou hast been guided unto the path primordial, and hast guided thereunto thy people, O Muhammad, and wine is forbidden for you.”

Then, as had happened to others before him – to Enoch and Elijah and Jesus and Mary – Muhammad was taken up out of life to Heaven. From the rock in the centre of the site of the Temple he again mounted Buraq, who moved his wings in upward flight and became for his rider as the chariot of fire had been for Elijah. Led by the Archangel, who now revealed himself as a heavenly being, they ascended beyond the domain of earthly space and time and bodily forms, as they passed through the seven Heavens he met again those Prophets with whom he had prayed in Jerusalem. But there they had appeared to him as they had been during their life on earth, whereas now he saw them in their celestial reality, even as they now saw him, and he marveled at their transfiguration. Of Joseph he said that his face had the splendor of the moon at its full, and that he had been endowed with no less than the half of all existing beauty. Yet this did not diminish Muhammad’s wonderment of his other brethren, and he mentioned in particular the great beauty of Aaron. Of the Gardens that he visited in different Heavens he said afterwards: “A piece of Paradise the size of a bow is better than all beneath the sun, whereupon it riseth and setteth; and if a woman of the people of Paradise appeared unto the people of earth, she would fill the space between Heaven and here below with light and fragrance.” Everything he now saw, he saw with the eye of the Spirit; and of this spiritual nature, with reference to the beginning of all earthly nature, he said: “I was a Prophet when Adam was yet between water and clay.”[9]

According to Martin, Muhammad did not know by whose foot he got stirred thrice in Mecca, and that he found out the stirrer’s identity only when he was in flight towards the Gardens. He also maintained his human form during his travel through the space; a transformation in his body took place only after he reached one of the Gardens, and when he found himself in the midst of the earlier prophets. It was only after his transformation did he begin to see everything around him with the eye of a Spirit, an ability that also enabled him to measure the width, length and height of a celestial woman’s light and fragrance with which, she would be able to fill the space that lies between the Gardens and our earth, if Allah ever allows her to perform this feat!

The claim that Muhammad had become a Spirit in one of the Gardens is, though, debatable, it, nevertheless, does not invalidate the fact that he had undertaken all the activities prior to his arrival at one of the Gardens in the form of a human being. Our assertion is strengthen not only by some of the renowned scholars of Islam,[10] but also by the fact that a Spirit does neither need to be spurred, nor a horse-like animal to travel from one place to another, nor a vessel to drink from. These apply only to humans, a fact that has induced us to conclude, momentarily, that Muhammad had, indeed, undertaken his journey to the Gardens via Jerusalem in the form of an earthly man.

The form in which Muhammad is alleged to have traveled through space already established beyond further questioning, let us now note some of the fallacies that have become an integral and essential part of the Muslim faith.

At the time Muhammad took off from Mecca on his celestial trip, there was a Mosque in the precincts of the Ka’aba that the Pagans called “Masjidul Haram.” In this mosque, the Pagans assembled to say their prayers to a host of their gods and also to carry out meditations in their spare time. Those among them who had no home of their own occasionally spent their nights in it.

Muhammad’s claim that he was ‘sleeping in the Hijr’ before being awakened by Gabriel with his foot indicates strongly that it was a structure that had four walls and a roof on top of it. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for him to sleep in it along with his cousin, Umm Hani, in the severe cold of the Meccan night.

The fact that Muhammad had traveled from one mosque in Mecca to another in Jerusalem suggests that the latter was also a structure, like the Meccan one, with four walls and a roof. It was a mosque in the real sense of the word, as there was no way for Allah to mistake a Jewish Synagogue or a Christian Church for a Muslim Mosque.[11] It is this assumption that leads us to believe that the venue in Jerusalem to which Allah had taken Muhammad, had a mosque in which he said his prayer in the company of some prophets of the yore, before taking off on his journey to the Gardens.

But does history support the existence of a “mosque” in Jerusalem in the time of Muhammad, when no Muslims could possibly live in this pre-dominantly Jewish City to worship in?

The truth of the matter is that there existed no “mosque” in Jerusalem at the time Muhammad is believed to have set his foot on its soil in 620 A.D. Faced with this reality, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, one of the foremost Muslim scholars of the 20th century, had to say the following in connection with the Farthest Mosques’ existence:

“The Farthest Mosque must refer to the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem on the hill of Moriah, at or near which stands the Dome of the Rock, called also the Mosque of Hadhrat ‘Umar. This and the Mosque known as the Farthest Mosque (Masjid-ul-Aqsa) were completed by the Amir ‘Abd-ul-Malik in A. H. 68 {i.e. in 690 A.D}. …”[12]

Recent critical study of the Quranic verse on Muhammad’s alleged journey to the Gardens via Jerusalem has opened up the minds of many logical Muslims, Ahmad Muhammad 'Arafa, a columnist of the Egyptian weekly Al-Qahira, published by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, being one of them. In an article published by the weekly, he has clearly demonstrated that that “the Sura of the Night of Journey” does not refer to a miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, but to the Prophet’s emigration (Hijra) from Mecca to Medina.”[13] The fact that his article was published by a government journal bears a strong indication to the fact that not only the Egyptian government, but also its religious establishments found his finding to be absolutely credible, hence their tacit approval to its publication by of it by a well circulated weekly of their country.

In the light of some of the logical and historical facts we have stated above, let us now explore the probable cause to hide which, Muhammad must have concocted one of the history’s greatest lies. It is a lie that has no parallel in the history of mankind, nor has any other man thus far been able to match it, despite mankind’s ability to transform their lies into a highly sophisticated and skilful art.

The night Muhammad was supposed to be on his way to the Gardens, he was spending it either in Hijr or in the house of Umm Hani, his cousin. A widow, she lived in Mecca with a female slave. How she earned her livelihood is not known to any historian of Islam.

Her attestation of Muhammad’s trip from her house to Jerusalem is, in itself, a prove that supports our hypothesis, it being; her proximity to Muhammad that night enabled her to describe the time (masra), or the place from where he had departed on his journey without someone else’s knowledge. In fact, she confirmed that Muhammad was not sleeping in Hijr that night; rather, he was sleeping with her in her house[14] from where He was taken to the Gardens. Her story appears to be more credible than others, narrated by his clever companions. Had she not spent the night with him, it would not have been possible for her to know, firsthand, any detail of the journey. Muhammad spent the night with her even though she was not married to him.

It might have happened that when Muhammad was sleeping with Umm Hani, his followers needed to get in touch with him. They searched him everywhere, but could not find him. Asked in the morning where he had been the night before, he accounted his non-availability to some of his followers with a story, which they could never verify, no matter how hard they tried.

It was a lie that had not only put Muhammad’s inquisitive followers’ curiosity to rest; it also saved his prophetic mission from being destroyed by his clandestine rendezvous with Umm Hani, a cousin of his, having sex with whom was a major sin in the eyes of the very Pagans Allah despised from the core of His heart for their unethical ways of life!.

Muhammad’s claim that he met Allah on the seventh Garden scandalized the whole of Mecca. Even many of his own followers found it too hard to believe, making almost all of them to think about leaving Islam.[15] Abu Bakr intervened and affirmed as being true what Muhammad had told them. His action saved the situation, but the scandal kept Mecca abuzz for so long as Muhammad lived in it.

With his followers as well as his own migration to Medina in 622 A.D., the story of his alleged nocturnal journey began to fade away from the Meccans’ mind. It also disappeared almost entirely from the memory of his generation of Muslims, as we do not find any mention of it in the reputable literatures, both Islamic and historical, that were written, subsequent to his death, depicting the post-migration history of Islam.

The memory of the alleged journey surfaced, however, when important Muslim personalities began to realize a grave mistake, which their predecessors had made while requiring Muslims to pray five times a day, instead of three or four times, as actually mandated by the Quran.

None of the verses of the Quran, specifically, mandate five daily prayers for Muslims, despite the fact that saying prayers ritualistically is an important foundation of Islam. Nor are clear many of its verses on the prayers, save the following, which enjoined three or four, but not five, ritual prayers for the followers of Islam:

“And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night: For those things that are good remove those that are evil: But that the word of remembrance to those who remember (their lord):”[16]

Despite the fact that the verse has not prescribed five daily prayers for Muslims, yet some of their scholars have tried their best to have it conform to the number of prayers they have been offering to Allah after Muhammad’s death. Here is an example of how one such scholar has explained certain words of this verse in order to justify these daily five prayers:

“The two ends of the day: Morning and afternoon. The morning prayer is the Fajr, after the light is up but before sunrise. …The early afternoon prayer, ‘Zuhr,’ is immediately afternoon. …

Approaches of the night: Zulafun, plural of Zulfatun, an approach, something near at hand. As Arabic has, like Greek, a dual number distinct from the plural, and plural number is used here, and not the dual, it is reasonable to argue that at least three “approaches of the night” are meant. The late afternoon prayer, ‘Asr,’ can be one of these three, and the evening prayer, ‘Magrib,’ just after the sunset, can be the second. The early night prayer, ‘Isha,’ at the supper time when the flow of sunset is disappearing, would be the third of the “approaches of the night,” when we commit ourselves to Allah before sleep. These are the five canonical prayers of Islam.”[17]

Afternoon is one end of the day? Again, the late afternoon is an ‘approach of the night’? What about the morning and the evening? What do these times signify?

Despite what the learned scholar has tried to make out of the above verse, there still remains a dispute among Muslims whether prayers are to be performed five times or three times a day. Sunnis believe it to be five; Shias, by and large, consider it is three.[18] This is not because of the reason that the Quran is unclear on this vital aspect of the Islamic faith, but also because Musaylima, a supposedly false prophet, who propagated his own religion in the time of Muhammad, had prescribed three daily prayers for his own followers.[19]

Since the requirement of the five daily prayers was not possible for them to justify without Allah’s direct commandment, which was missing from the Quran, the Muslim personalities of the early time filled the void through the medium of Muhammad’s alleged visit to His Throne.

While in His company, they say, Allah laid down, through Muhammad, the duty of fifty daily prayers on Muslims. He accepted it without considering their impact on his followers. Told by Moses that prayer is a weighty matter and that his followers would not be able to bear it, he returned to Allah and sought to have the number of daily prayers reduced. Allah cut the fifty daily prayers by ten first, but as Muhammad persisted with his request, Allah finally reduced their number to five.

The so-called heavenly sanction for the daily five prayers thus taken care of, the Muslim heavyweights added verse 1 to Sura 17, its aberrant rhyme[20] back-biting its origin, so that it could be used, whenever necessary, to defend the number of their daily prayers.

The latter-day Muslims also invented a number of Hadiths to strengthen their lie on Muhammad’s alleged visit to the Gardens. One such Hadith reads:

”Narrated 'Imran bin Husain:

The Prophet said, "I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women.”[21]

This Hadith, known as Sahih or authentic to all the Muslim scholars, leaves no doubt that Muhammad had, indeed, seen both the Paradise (one of the seven Gardens) and the Hell during his visit with Allah. It also tells Muslims something about the Hell that could not be true, especially, what the Quran says about its inhabitants.

On the question of who have entered the Gardens, the Quran clearly says: As soon as a person is buried, angels appear in his or her grave. They ask him or her various questions to find out how he or she lived on earth. Unsatisfactory answers mean that he or she lived a sinful life. This determination makes him or her liable for all the tortures the angels order the Hell to inflict upon the sinner’s person.[22]

Satisfactory answers prove to the angels that the respondent lived a pious life before his or her death. They, therefore, reward him or her by hooking the interior of his or her grave to the Gardens,[23] thus enabling him or her to live in the grave, until he or she is transferred on the Day of Judgment by Allah to one of the Gardens to live in it for ever in its soothing and comfortable ambience.

Martyrs, who die in the cause of Allah, are not required either to face the angels’ inquisitions, nor do they remain in their graves, for soon after their burial, Allah has their bodies transported to one of Gardens. They meet Him in their new abode and live in them with Allah giving them constant company.

It is the martyrs, Jesus Christ and other prophets and the angels that Allah has spoken about in verse 17:44 of the Quran. On the Day of Resurrection, all of them will shiver in fear, as they, too, would not know what will make their habitats tremble and shake before Allah folds all the skies into one of His hands. What will happen to the Gardens and the Hell after the skies are folded up is not mentioned in the Quran.

This proves that the skies are real things that Allah has created without pillars and that the Gardens, as well as the Hell, are located in them. The holder of a contrary belief will burn forever in the fire of Hell.


[1] The Koran, p. 197.
[2] The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, p. 204.
[3] The Koran, p. 197.
[4] The Holy Quran; vol. 1, p. 691.
[5] The Torah; Genesis; 11:4-8.
[6] The Quran; 15:14, 15.
[7] Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 182.
[8] History of the Arabs. p. 131.
[9] Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources, pp. 101, 102.
[10] Abul Ala Mududi, Tafhimul Quran, Vol. 2, p. 589.
[11] Cf. The Quran; 22: 40.
[12] Op. cit; vol. 1, p. 693.
[13] See Al-Qahira (Egypt); August 5, 2003.
[14] Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulallah. p. 184.
[15] Cf. Abul Ala Mududi, Tafhimul Quran, vol. 2, p. 588.
[16] The Quran; 11:114.
[17] Abudullah Yusuf Ali, op. cit. vol. 1, p. 545.
[18] Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, op. cit. p. 74.
[19] F. E. Peters, The Origins of Islam, p. 159.
[20] Cf. F. E. Peters; op. cit, p. 14.
[21] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 464.
[22] Cf. The Quran; 16:29.
[23] Cf. The Quran; 16:32.

Muhammad Asghar has contributed in Beyond Jihad — Critical Voices from Inside Islam. He is the author of e-book: Muhammad & Islam — Stories not told before