Al-Isra’: The Prophet’s Unique Journey
GLORIFIED (and Exalted) is He (Allah) Who took His slave (Muhammad, peace be upon him) for a journey by night from Al-Masjid Al-Haram [at Makkah] to Masjid Al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem], the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him (Muhammad, peace be upon him) of Our Ayat (proofs, evidence, lessons, signs, etc). Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer. (17:1)
Surah Al-Israa’ begins with glorifying Allah, the most fitting action to confirm the bond between Allah and His servants in the atmosphere of compassion and friendliness imparted by the mention of the night journey. The Surah emphasizes the position of man as Allah’s servant. The emphasis here is needed in the context of the Prophet’s ascension to heaven where no human being had gone before.
It is important in this context that the status of man’s servitude to Allah should always be remembered.
There must be no confusion of status similar to that which happened in the case of Jesus on account of his birth, his being raised to heaven at the end of his life on earth, and the powers that were given to him during life. All these caused some people to confuse his status and to claim that he had a divine nature. In its simplicity and purity, Islam insists that no similarity could ever exist between Allah and any creature.
The Arabic text of this opening verse uses the verb Asra, which denotes “traveling during the night.” It is sufficient then to use this verb to denote the time of the action. Yet the verse adds the word laylan or “by night” to give an added sense of the still night and the ease of travel.
The journey from the Grand Mosque to Al-Aqsa Mosque was one chosen by Allah, the Compassionate Who knows everything. It provided a link between all monotheistic faiths from the time of Abraham and Ishmael to the time of the last Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon them all). It also established a link between the holy places in all these religions. It seems that this unusual journey served as an announcement that the Last Messenger was the heir to the heritage of all former Messengers. His message staked a claim to all these holy places. Thus it becomes a journey that goes beyond the scope of time and place.
The opening verse describes Al-Aqsa Mosque as one with blessed environs. This description shows the blessings surrounding the mosque and flowing in abundance. This impression could not have been given with a direct description such as “the mosque which We have blessed.”
This is another example of the refined use of language characteristic of the Qur’an.
The Prophet’s night journey was a telling sign, and it was accompanied by others, as the opening verse says in stating its purpose : “…. in order that We might show him of Our Ayat…”. Covering the distance between the Grand Mosque in Makkah and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in a very short period that did not allow the Prophet’s bed to become cold is a sign of Allah’s power, whatever the means used to accomplish it. It opens our minds to new horizons in the universe and reveals latent potentials within mankind.
It shows that those human beings chosen by Allah to be the bearers of His message have the latent ability to receive whatever greater powers He wishes to give them. It is Allah Who has honored man, giving him a favored position among His creation, and endowed him with such potentials.
“Verily! He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.” He indeed hears and sees all that is beyond the reach of our hearing and seeing faculties.
It is especially impressive that the opening verse of this Surah starts with glorifying Allah: “Glorified (and Exalted) is He (Allah) Who took His slave for a journey by night.”
After defining the purpose of this journey, the Surah finishes with highlighting two of Allah’s attributes, perfect hearing and seeing that encompass all things.
This quick movement across purposes reflects the finest points of the expression used. The glorification is addressed to Allah Himself, and the statement about the purpose of the night journey comes from Him, while the description of Allah’s powers is made in the form of an indisputable statement. All these forms are combined in one verse so as to give their different imports.