This was a difficult time in the life of Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and this journey was a great compliment to him.
The deliverance of the message was entering a new phase, and the establishment of the Muslim nation was about to begin.
Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was feeling overwhelmed and alone. The vast majority of Makkans had refused to heed his call or accept his message. Both his beloved uncle and cherished wife had died, and this gift of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala offered him support and opened his eyes to the signs and wonders of the universe.
After travelling the enormous distance to Jerusalem on the back of al-Buraq, Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam reached the area known as Masjid al-Aqsa. He dismounted and tethered al-Buraq to a ring in the gate.
Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam walked into the Masjid to be met by a group of the previous Prophets ‘alayhim salaam; he then had the great honor of leading them in prayer. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala rewarded His Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and caused him to understand that the Prophets before him also went through difficult times preaching to their people. They stood behind Prophet Muhammad and acknowledged him as their leader. This was another indication of his importance and excellence as well as the nature of his message.
Before the advent of Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, all the Prophets delivered their message of submission to one God to their own people; Muhammad, however, had come for all of mankind.
The message was international, and this communication distributed worldwide was Islam. The Prophets of Allah stood behind the newest and final Messenger and supported him when his need was greatest. This congregation standing behind Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was a sign of real and everlasting brotherhood. Prophet Muhammad mentions in his sayings that all of the Prophets are brothers. (Bukhari)
The fact that this momentous occasion took place in Jerusalem is also of significance. This is the land of the Prophets; this is the land of Ibraheem, Ishaq, Musa and ‘Eesa (‘alayhi m salaam). Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala was forging a link between His sacred House in Makkah and Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala was also linking the so-called cradle of religion, the holy Land around Jerusalem, with the land of Arabia, the birthplace of the religion designed by the Creator, for all of humanity – Islam.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala established Al-Aqsa as one of the three Holy Masajid in Islam. The Sacred Mosque in Makkah, Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque, yet to be established in Madinah, and this Masjid in this blessed neighborhood of Jerusalem. It is only to these three Masajid to which Muslims can travel for the purpose of worship. One prayer in Masjid Al-Aqsa is worth 250 prayers elsewhere, excluding the Prophet’s Masjid where one prayer is the equivalent of 1,000 prayers and the Sacred Mosque in Makkah where one prayer contains the reward of 100,000 prayers. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala emphasized the significance and sacredness of Masjid Al-Aqsa, and for this reason it plays an important role in a Muslim’s life. Therefore it is guarded and protected zealously.
Al-Aqsa was the first qiblah in Islam, but this direction was later changed to the Ka’bah. The Night Journey and Ascension took place late in the Makkan period, while the qiblah changed to Makkah around 15 months after the Prophet’s migration to Madinah. From this, we can infer that the Muslims faced Al-Aqsa when praying for approximately three years before Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala changed the direction to Makkah. This by no means diminished the significance of Jerusalem or Masjid Al-Aqsa, it merely represented another step in the establishment of the message for all of humanity. The Sacred Mosque in Makkah was fixed as the central point in Islam.
The Journey and Miracle Continues
While still in the sacred precincts of Masjid Al-Aqsa, Angel Jibreel ‘alayhi salaam presented Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam with two cups. One was filled with milk, the other with wine. Prophet Muhammad chose the bowl of milk. Angel Jibreel said to him:
“Thanks be to Allah, who guided you to the fitrah; if you had taken the wine, your followers would have gone astray.” (Al-Bukhari)
It is difficult to translate the Arabic word fitrah into English; it denotes the natural and pure state in which one is born, an innate feeling that guides one to do the “right” thing. Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam instinctively chose right over wrong, good over evil, and the Straight Path rather than the crooked path to Hell.
It was from the city of Jerusalem, in the sacred precincts of Masjid Al-Aqsa that Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam commenced the next stage of his miraculous Night Journey. Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam ascended to the lowest heaven from a rock. This rock can be found inside the Dome of the Rock, the most famous symbol of Jerusalem. It is important to remember that although the Dome of the Rock is inside the Masjid compound, it is not Masjid Al-Aqsa and it is not the place of prostration where Prophet Muhammad led the previous Prophets in prayer. From the rock, now covered by the familiar golden dome, Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam ascended to the lowest heaven in the company of Angel Jibreel ‘alayhi salaam.
To be continued…
[Slightly modified. Originally posted at onislam.net]