Ascension to Heaven and the unity of the divine message
By: Ali Gomaa
We have discussed in a previous article the miraculous nature of the Night Journey which indicated a partial departure from the natural laws of the cosmos in terms of time and place. Today we will tackle the second part of the blessed journey which has to do with the Prophet’s ascension to heaven. The ascension to heavens was a unique miracle that was especially and solely designed for the Master of creation, Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him).
In a fine and capturing moment, the Prophet ascended from the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem to the heavens and ended in the ultimate destination beyond which no one has ever reached. This miraculous ascension is considered a total revelation to the unseen and a complete departure from the laws of the earth in a way that transcends the intellect of the human along with both his senses and realization. Also what makes this miraculous event so special is that it broke both the laws of the cosmos and the elements of existence which are time, place, people and incidents. As for the element of time, we have discussed earlier how God folded the time for the Prophet in a way that was beyond the human reach and capacity to understand unless these minds were subjected to the light of faith.
As for the element of place, the journey transcended all places reachable by any creature be it a noble prophet or gracious angel as the Prophet transcended the seven heavens until he reached the ultimate destination in which he heard what no ear has heard and no eye has seen and no heart has ever imagined. He also transcended the element of people who enjoyed great state at God’s sight such as prophets and angels. Prophet Muhammad surpassed all the eminent states of the other prophets starting with Adam in the first heaven to Jesus and Moses passing by Abraham, the father of the Prophets. He also transcended Archangel Gabriel and at the point of departure, the Prophet asked Gabriel “is this point where friends go apart?” so Gabriel recited the verse which says, “[The angels say], “There is not among us any except that he has a known position.” 36:164
As for the last element of incidents, the Prophet had exceeded all the prominent states of other prophets and angels who were described by God in the Quran, “They exalt [Him] night and day [and] do not slacken.” 21:20
As for the heavens it was described not having a span except with a prostrating or a standing angel worshipping God. Therefore Archangel Gabriel could not bear the majestic lights of God Almighty so he left the Prophet to enter alone and receive revelation, knowledge and grace from God directly without Archangel Gabriel’s mediation which is a unique state that no prophet had ever reached. This state was described by God when He said, “And if it was not for the favor of Allah upon you, [O Muhammad], and His mercy, a group of them would have determined to mislead you. But they do not mislead except themselves, and they will not harm you at all. And Allah has revealed to you the Book and wisdom and has taught you that which you did not know. And ever has the favor of Allah upon you been great.” 4:113
These four elements of existence were described in the Quran when God says, “While he was in the higher [part of the] horizon. Then he approached and descended. And was at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer. And he revealed to His Servant what he revealed. The heart did not lie [about] what it saw. So will you dispute with him over what he saw? And he certainly saw him in another descent At the Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary – Near it is the Garden of Refuge –
When there covered the Lote Tree that which covered [it]. The sight [of the Prophet] did not swerve, nor did it transgress [its limit]. He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.
Therefore the issue of the full departure from the laws of nature is significant in the miraculous ascension to heaven as it became clear evidence and a strong proof of the point of meeting between the seen and the unseen worlds demonstrating God’s ultimate power and the gracious state of Prophet Muhammad. The second issue of the miraculous Night journey ad the ascension to heaven has to do with the Prophet’s meeting with all God’s previous messengers and prophets in heavens on his way to the ultimate destination. This incident indicates the unity of the divine message with which all God’s prophets and messengers were sent to convey the creed of oneness and to liberate humanity from the slavery of others and honor them with submission to God Almighty, the Lord of all worlds.
When we examine closely the conversation between the seal of all Prophets, Prophet Muhammad, and all the other prophets and messengers, we would find that they all admitted his prophethood out of their determination and faith to complete the divine message which combined them all together. The divine message comes from God and aims at fulfilling God’s ultimate will and plan and desires for reaching God’s satisfaction. The Prophets are all brothers and each of them plays his role which was designed for him along with completing God’s laws which corresponds to time, place and the circumstance in which he was sent. Prophet Muhammad came as the last brick in the divine building of prophethood and the last word of God from heaven to earth. This explains the great joy and warm welcome with which the prophets received Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Whenever Prophet Muhammad passed by any of the prophets who were among his forefathers, he would be welcomed by them saying “ welcome my pious son and pious prophet” and other prophets who were considered his brothers would welcome him saying, “welcome pious brother and pious prophet”.
We also noticed the Prophets’ advice to Prophet Muhammad when they advised him to be lenient and kind to his ummah. Prophet Abraham said to him, “O Muhammad, convey my greetings of peace to your ummah and tell them that the paradise …and tell them that Paradise is of pure land, its water is sweet, and its expanse is vast, spacious and even. And its seeds are SubhanAllah, walhamdulilah, wa la ilaha ilAllah, waAllahu Akbar.” [Muslim]
Prophet Moses as a sign of mercy to Prophet Muhammad’s ummah asked him to reduce the number of prayers each day and night from 50 to 5.
The event of the Night Journey showed a state of love, respect and veneration among all prophets and that there are no differences in the basic tenets of religion as their aim is one which is worshipping God, developing earth and purifying their souls. They took upon their shoulder the noble mission of extending a helping hand to extract people from the shadows of ignorance to the lights of guidance and knowledge. In our world today we are in a dire need of this mission and this could never be accomplished except when each religious community returns back to the original teachings of their prophets which commanded piety, goodness and planting the seeds of love and respect among the adherents of all prophets.