While the Isra did happen (17:1, 53:1-18), fairytales associated with it do not make any sense when scrutinized under Quran’s light. First I will sum up this story, and then I will take a look at it Quranicly.
This story is usually called in Muslim literature the story of AL-ISRA’A and AL-MI’RAJ or the prophet Muhammad quit night journey (al-isra’a) from MAKKAH to AL-MASJID AL-AQSA (the farthest mosque) in Jerusalem, then his ascension to heaven (al-mi’raj) and his return in few minutes back to MAKKAH. They said it happened on 27th night of Rajab (the 7th lunar month) in 621 AD (Muhammad was then 50-year old).
When he met the Lord, he received at first fifty daily salats. Following Moses’ advises who was in the 7th heaven, Muhammad was going back and forth to the Lord debating in behalf of believers, who were down in earth, to lighten the number of salats for them. He could not do it anymore, out of shyness, when the Lord lowered many times this number fifty down to only five.
They said that since every good deed is rewarded tenfold, therefore whoever upholds salat five times daily, is rewarded fifty fold. The original ordinance and decision of Allah remained then unchanged!!!
Let’s look now at this story under Quran’s light, which I sum up in the following seven points:
1. First of all, Muhammad was summoned during the Night of Destiny in Ramadan (the 9th lunar month) to the ultimate place and he only received the Quran (2:97, 2:185, 17:1, 44:3, 53:1-18, 97:1-5). This flight could not happen then in Rajab (the 7th lunar month) as this story states.
2:185 “The (lunar) month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran (started to be) revealed as a guidance for the whole of mankind …”
17:1 “Glory be to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque (at Makkah) to the Distant Mosque (In Heaven), the precincts of which (too) We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. Infact, He alone is the All- Hearing, the All-Seeing.”
44:3 “Truly, We revealed this (Book) in a Night full of blessings (Lailatul Qadr, as) we were to warn (people against evil).”
53:1 And as the star fell away.
53:2 Your friend (Muhammad) was not astray, nor was he deceived.
53:3 Nor does he speak from personal desire.
53:4 It (the Quran) is a divine inspiration.
53:5 He has been taught by the One mighty in power.
53:6 Free from any defect, he (Gabriel) became stable.
53:7 While he (Gabriel) was at the highest horizon.
53:8 Then he (Gabriel) drew nearer by moving down.
53:9 Until he (Gabriel) became as near as two bow-lengths or nearer.
53:10 He (Allah) then inspired to His servant (Gabriel) what He (Gabriel) inspired (to Muhammad).
Allah inspired to his servant Gabriel and he inspired on the heart of Muhammad.
So the Quran was sent down on the heart of Muhammad
53:11 The heart (of Muhammad) did not invent what it saw.
53:12 Do you doubt him in what he saw?
53:13 And indeed, he (Muhammad) saw him (Gabriel) in another descent.
53:14 At the ultimate point.
53:15 Near it is the eternal Paradise.
53:16 The whole place was overwhelmed.
53:17 The eyes did not waver, nor go blind.
53:18 He has seen from the great signs of his Lord.
2. Muhammad did not receive anything else, especially salat. Salat was given to Abraham (21:73, 22:78), and Muhammad was merely his follower in that (16:123).
3. There are similarities between the debating part of this story and the story of Abraham in the Bible (Genesis 18:17-33). Abraham was debating with the Lord in behalf of the people of Sodom (Lot’s people) to not destroy them if there were fifty righteous people among them, until this figure became only ten.
However, here is what Quran says about this event.
29:31-32 And when Our messengers came to Abraham with important news, they said, `We are going to destroy people of this township for its inhabitants are certainly wrongdoers.’ (Abraham) said, `But Lot is (living) there (in that township).’ THEY SAID, `WE KNOW VERY WELL WHO ARE (LIVING) IN IT. WE WILL SURELY SAVE HIM AND HIS FAMILY EXCEPT HIS WIFE, WHO IS AMONG THOSE WHO STAY BEHIND.’
11:74-76, And when awe departed from Abraham and the good tidings came to him, he started pleading with Us for the people of Lot. Surely, Abraham was gentle, tender-hearted and oft-returning (to Us). (THEREUPON WE SAID TO HIM,) `ABRAHAM! TURN AWAY FROM THIS (PLEADING NOW), for your Lords command has decidedly come. They are certainly going to receive a punishment that cannot be averted.’
Abraham’s intentions and Allah answering prayers are not the issues here. The issue here is, “Does Allah change His commands once they are issued? Could someone with prayers make Allah do so?” The answer to both questions, as shown from the two ayat above, is NO.
Therefore, if a part in the Bible, or in any other book (scripture, philosophy…) for that matter, says otherwise about this event and this issue, then this part is false. Quran came to AUTHENTICATE previous scriptures and to GUARD them, not to confirm their falsehood.
4. During this flight, Muhammad received Quran. He must be then at most 40-year old (the age he declared his prophethood), not 50 as this story states.
5. The natural question here is this. Does it mean that Muhammad, Moses, or Abraham is more merciful toward the people and more knowing about what they could do than Allah? I seek Allah for His forgiveness.
6. Muhammad is described here as visiting al-aqsa mosque (the farthest mosque) in Jerusalem. But this mosque was only built 65 years after Muhammad’s death! Even its Arabic name al-aqsa was taken from Quran (17:1), not the other way around.
7. There is another interesting version of the same story by Ibn Ishak, the first recorder of Muhammad’s biography. He lived much earlier than any other recorder of this story; which makes his version trustworthier historically. In his version, he said that Muhammad informs his wife about his flight when he woke up for Fajr salat. He told her the flight happened while he was sleeping after Esha salat. His narration talks about Esha (evening) and Fajr (dawn) salats. Therefore, Muhammad could not possibly receive salat in his flight!
From the seven points above, we conclude easily that the story of Isra and Miraj as known in most Muslim literature does not hold water when scrutinized under Quran’s light. Isra or Muhammad’s ascent to heaven to the farthest place of prostration, however, did happen where he received Quran.