By Sadia Dehlvi
Jun 06, 2013
Tonight is Shab-e-Meraj, the ascension of Prophet Muhammad to the Heavens. The event falls on the 27th night of Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic calendar, and is one of the most celebrated events in Muslim communities around the world. The night journey is a tale of love between Allah and Muhammad, his beloved.
In Islamic traditions, Meraj is a two-fold event that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and his ascent from the Al Aqsa mosque to heaven. One night, during the 10th year of Muhammad’s prophecy, angel Gabriel woke him up and travelled with him to Jerusalem. From the Dome of the Rock, carried by Al Buraq, the heavenly steed, Muhammad rose to the Heavens to meet the Lord. At different layers of Heaven, he encountered Abraham, Jesus, Moses and some other prophets. They shared their stories, insights and concerns for all of creation.
This nocturnal journey forms the very foundation of the ultimate Sufi experience. This mystic voyage demonstrates that union with God is possible. Masjid Al Aqusa, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, remains Islam’s holiest site after Mecca and Medina, for it marks the place from where the ascension took place. Shab-e-Meraj is a celebration of Islamic pluralism, for the Prophet travelled to the heart of the older Semitic traditions.
There is a wonderful story of Omar in Jerusalem. Omar was the second caliph of the Islamic Caliphate. After conquering the city of Jerusalem in 638 AD, Omar was escorted by the Greek patriarch to the main church of the city. It was time for Muslim prayer so the patriarch invited Omar to pray right beside the tomb of Christ. The caliph declined, walked across and prayed on the street. Omar explained that if he had prayed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, some misguided Muslims attempting to celebrate the first Muslim prayer in Jerusalem, might convert the church into a mosque and that should never happen. A small mosque was later built and still exists, across the church, at the spot where Omar prayed. The caliph signed an edict allowing Christians to keep their churches in the best part of town.
Omar then asked the whereabouts of the great mosque of Prophet Solomon, mentioned in the Quran. The Christians had burnt down the Jewish temple and left the ruins to show the subjugation of Judaism. To Omar’s horror, he discovered the Byzantines using it as a garbage dump. The Muslims cleared the rubble, sprinkled rose water, helped restore the place of worship and asked the Jews who had fled the city to return. Some 70 Jewish families were invited to settle in Jerusalem, living side by side with the Muslims.
On this special night, I recall the spiritual relevance of the Prophet’s ascension. Also, Omar’s story demonstrates the Islamic message of justice, compassion and acceptance of the other.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam