Middle Eastern Mythologies


What is the Story of the Night Journey to Jerusalem and Muhammad’s Ascent?

The Night Journey to Jerusalem story is full of marvels, and it is found in various versions. It usually begins with Muhammad having gone in the middle of the night to the Kabah to worship. There he fell asleep only to be awakened by Jibril and two other angels, who washed his heart with the waters of the well Zamzam. The winged horse, al-Buraq, arrived and was instructed by Jibril to carry the Prophet to “the Farthest Mosque” Isda, usually thought to be the al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. Once in Jerusalem, Muhammad prayed at the temple-mosque of the Rock, where he was recognized by Ibrahim, Musa, and Isa (Abraham, Moses, and Jesus) as their superior. When presented with a choice of wine or milk he chose the latter and was praised by Jibril for having chosen the “true religion.” Now, with Jibril, Muhammad made the steep and difficult climb up the ladder (miraj) leading through seven heavens, at each stage learning something more about true Islam, until finally he reached the place of divinity, where he either saw Allah or signs of Allah.

There are many auxiliary stories associated with the Night Journey to Jerusalem. Some say al-Buraq took Muhammad to Mount Sinai, where God had spoken to Musa, and to the birthplace of Isa. In most versions Muhammad passes through symbolic visions representing the sinfulness of humanity as well as the serenity of the faithful. An amusing tale has it that Allah ordered Muslims to pray fifty times a day and that when Muhammad reported this to Musa, Musa urged the Prophet to return to God to request something less onerous. God agreed to five times.

The myths about Muhammad and the words of God, the Night Journey to Jersulam, and the Ascent tie the Prophet firmly to those world heroes like Gilgamesh, Buddha, and Jesus, who all embark on significant quests for the truth about the nature of existence.

A 1514 illustration from the Bustan of Sa’di at the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a scene from the Night Journey of Muhammad.


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