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MI`RAJ. Muhammad’s ascent to God and return to the world is known as the mi`raj, literally, “ladder.” This specialized term is sometimes used synonymously with isrd’ or “night journey,” when God “carried his servant [Muhammad] by night” (Qur’an, 17.1). Qur’anic commentators take this verse, along with surahs 53.1-21 and 81.19-25, to refer to the mz’rdj. From earliest times the ascent has been one of the grand themes of the Islamic popular and elite imaginations and the complement of that other grand theme, the descent of the Qur’an. Western scholars have devoted a great deal of attention to the mi`raj, typically struggling to distinguish various strands in the accounts and to identify the historical facts.

Most versions of the mi`raj tell the story something like this. Gabriel came to Muhammad at night, mounted him on a winged beast called Buraq, and took him to Jerusalem, where Muhammad led all the prophets in prayer. Then Gabriel took Muhammad up through the seven heavens, introducing him to the angels and the prophets residing in each of them, and then to hell and paradise. Finally Muhammad went alone into the presence of God. On the way back down Muhammad took leave from the prophets in each heaven. Moses, whose community has the heaviest legal prescriptions, sent Muhammad back to God several times so that that the number of daily prayers might be reduced from the original fifty.

The significance of the mi’raj for the Islamic tradition can be summarized on three levels, corresponding to practice, faith, and spirituality, or to the shafah, Islamic thought, and Sufism. The connection with the shari `ah appears most clearly in the role given to Moses in reducing the daily salats (prayers) from fifty to five. Only after the mi`raj were these salats instituted. A saying sometimes attributed to the Prophet suggests the inner meaning of the daily prayer: “The saldt is the mi`raj, of the believer.” Thus the fundamental pillar of Islam is a ladder that takes the believer to God and back to the world. Significantly, the ladder that the Prophet climbed is identified with that whereby believers mount up to God after death; in a similar way, the straight path (sirat) established by the shari`ah becomes embodied as the “bridge” (sirat) over hell at the resurrection.

The mi`raj, raises important issues in Islamic thought. Was it simply spiritual, or was it corporeal as well? Did the Prophet see God, or did God remain veiled? The answers proposed to such questions by different thinkers had implications for many other theological issues, especially in the domain of eschatology. Another set of questions, important among philosophers and Sufi thinkers, has to do with the structure of the cosmos and its mirror image, the human soul. Hence the mi`raj, becomes an important key to the Islamic understanding of both cosmology and psychology.

From early times, Sfifi authors looked upon the mi’raj as the model for the return to God in this life. In Mi’raj al-salikin al-Ghazali takes the mi`raj, as the guide for the soul’s rational development, pointing out that “proofs are the ladders by which creatures mount up to their Lord.” Sufi poets like Sana’i, `Attar, and Rumi employed the mi’raj accounts to describe the ascending levels of the soul’s perfection. Ibn al-`Arabi developed the cosmological, psychological, and spiritual implications of the mi`raj in detail, especially in the works in which he describes how he himself ascended to God following in the Prophet’s footsteps; but, he writes, “My journey was only in myself.”

[See also Muhammad, article on Life of the Prophet.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bowering, Gerhard. “Mi’raj.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade, vol. 10, pp. 552-556. New York, 1987. Morris, James. “The Spiritual Ascension: Ibn `Arabi and the Mi’raj.” ” Journal of the American Oriental Society 107 (1987): 629-652; 108 (1988): 63-77.

Schimmel, Annemarie. And Muhammad Is His Messenger. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985. See chapter 9.

Schrieke, Bertram, et al. “Mi’radj.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 7, pp. 97-105. Leiden, 196o-.

WILLIAM C. CHITTICK

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/miraj/
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  • writerPosted On: August 13, 2014
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