The Prophet had been visiting one of his cousins in the centre of Mecca, so he decided to spend the night in prayer beside the Kabah, as he loved to do. Eventually he went to sleep for a while in the enclosed area in the northwest of the Sanctuary, which housed the tombs of Ishmael and Hagar. As he was sleeping, the Prophet was shaken three times by the Archangel Gabriel, who led him through the Sanctuary gate to where a Buraq was standing. This Buraq, a fabulous milk white, winged, horse-like creature transported the Prophet on his back, as the Archangel Gabriel led the Buraq.
The first stage of this journey was from Mecca to the Dome of the Rock or the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, as it says in the Quran:-
“Glory to Him, who made His servant travel by night from the sacred place of worship (the Kabah in Mecca) to the furthest place of worship (the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him some of Our signs: He alone is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.” (Quran 1:17).
In Jerusalem, the Archangel Gabriel offered the Prophet a choice between three drinks, that of wine, milk and water. The Prophet chose milk, which became a very important example to Muslims and the Sufis, being the way between the paths of asceticism and indulgence – the middle way. This exemplified the Prophet’s teachings and example that we should choose the middle path – one of moderation and tolerance and not extremism. They were then greeted by all the other Prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus, who welcomed the Prophet into their fellowship and asked him to preach to them. Afterwards, Muhammad led all the other Prophets in prayer. This emphasizes that to be a Muslim is to accept all the other Prophets.
Then the Prophet remounted the Buraq and with the Archangel Gabriel they began the Ascension part of their Journey. At each stage of their ascent, the Prophet met and conversed with some of the greatest Prophets. In the First Heaven, he met Adam, who presides over this Heaven; Jesus and John the Baptist in the second Heaven; Joseph in the third; Enoch in the fourth; Moses in the fifth; Aaron in the sixth and Abraham in the seventh Heaven, on the threshold of the Divine Realm.
The Lote Tree marks this boundary between the Heavens and the Divine Realm and it was here that even the Archangel Gabriel and the Buraq could not proceed. Only the Prophet Muhammad was able to traverse this Realm on his own, to the Realm of the Divine Throne, being beyond human conception, to extremely close proximity to God – to within “two bow-lengths away or even closer”, as confirmed in the Quran:-
“and then approached – coming down until he was two bow-lengths away or even closer – and revealed to God’s servant what He revealed. The Prophet’s own heart did not distort what he saw. Are you going to dispute with him what he saw with his own eyes? A second time he saw him: by the lote tree beyond which none may pass near the Gardens of Restfulness, when the tree was covered in nameless splendor. His sight never wavered, nor was it too bold, and he saw some of the greatest signs of his Lord.” (Quran 53:8).
The Prophet was taught most of the Muslim prayers by the Angels but the final part of the prayers were conveyed directly to the Prophet from God, at this time.
The following morning, although he knew what the response would be, the Prophet told of his night journey to the inhabitants of Mecca, who apart from his small group of Companions did not believe him. However on questioning and although he had never been there physically, the Prophet described Jerusalem in detail, which was verified by people that had been to Jerusalem. They also asked him to describe what he saw on his transportation back from Jerusalem to Mecca. The Prophet described the caravans travelling in the desert towards Mecca and when people went out by camel immediately to check this, they found the Prophet’s accounts to be completely accurate.
The Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension was a unique, super-human experience that has given Muslims and the Sufis both inspiration and instruction. As the Quran reveals, the Prophet not only made this journey spiritually but also with his physical body, as he saw God with his own eyes. This concept, the Divine Realm and the Divine Throne, although beyond human conception, are there for us to contemplate. They have formed a blue-print for the great Sufi Saints to gain closeness to God by leaving everything behind, including their self, their ego, to make the spiritual ascent of the perfect man or woman.