WAS THE ME’RAJ A PHYSICAL OR…
WAS THE ME’RAJ A PHYSICAL OR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY?
Whilst humankind progresses in the social, political, and technological fields, there is a steady decline in the in the religious consciousness in the wake of modern western civilization. For the first time in our history, we are witnessing the emergence of a godless society. A society whose epistemology is based on rational inquiry and external observation. It is this methodological approach which has been responsible for the rise of Atheism, Darwinism, Naturalism, and every other ‘ism’ whose basis forms the premise of a world that functions without the will of God.
We have seen this highly contagious disease of the mind spread to even the shores of Islam. As a result, Muslims are now dependent on rationale and reason as the primary source of knowledge. Hence, questions about Islam, the Qur’an, the Prophets (peace be upon them all), Paradise, hell, etc. are becoming more and more objective to a critical point. We must remind readers to take note of the definition of faith, viz. belief without proof.
In the wake of this continuous bombardment on Islam, the most criticised aspect of the life of the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) is the famous night journey known as the Me’raj. Whilst the Me’raj is hailed as the greatest miracleby Muslims in humankind’s brief history, there are those within the ranks of Islam who battle with the subject. One of the more common objections placed on the subject of the Me’raj is with regards to whether it was a spiritual, or physical journey. This essay will aim to shed some light on the subject by analyzing the premise of their objections and further respond with a rebuttal to prove that the Me’raj was indeed a journey both in body and spirit. We must further emphasize that this is also the majority opinion of the Ulama of old.
The Me’raj was a spiritual journey and not a physical one as the primary source of Islamic law (Al-Qur’an) states very clearly:
Behold! We told thee that thy Lord doth encompass mankind round about: We granted the vision which We showed thee (O Muhammad ﷺ) but as a trial for men, – as also the Cursed Tree (mentioned) in the Qur’an: We put terror (and warning) into them, but it only increases their inordinate transgression! (Surah Al-Israa,V.60)
This is more than sufficient to prove that the Me’raj was a spiritual journey as the word ‘vision’ implies that it was not physical.
The above conclusion is in consequence of misinterpretation due to lack of understanding the vastness of arabic language or due to blatantly calculated misinformation.
Commentating on the above verse, Imaam Fakhruddin Raazi (Rahimahollah) mentioned that the word ‘Ro’yaa’ also means, to see with the eye. He explains in his masterpiece better known as ‘Tafseer Kabeer’:
“The Ulama have mentioned that the word ro’ya means “vision” as well as “to see with one’s own two eyes”. Very few have taken the meaning of ro’ya in this verse to mean that the entire story of the Me’raj was a“vision”. This is a weak and false claim.”
The above view is further strengthened by the great and noble member of the household of the Prophet ﷺ(sallallahu alayhi wa sallam),Hadhrath Abdullah ibn Abbas (radhiyallahu anhuma) who stated that the word ‘Ro’yaa here means ‘Ro’yal Ain’ (seeing with the eye).
The morning after the Me’raj, the Beloved Prophet ﷺ(Sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) explained his journey to the Meccans. This resulted in a blatant rejection of his claim. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that their reason for objecting was based on the fact that they understood the journey to be a physical one. Why else would they object? If the journey was explained to them by the Noble Messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) as a spiritual journey, there would not have been a single objection. Why not? As barbaric and ignorant as the pagan Meccans were, they were human beings who also went to bed at night and experienced dreams. Everyone in the world experiences dreams. In dreams, we enter a realm beyond our control. If the Prophet (peace be upon him_ ﷺ explained the Me’raj as a dream, then any one of those Meccans could have made the same claim as he did the very next day. They objected because it was beyond their capacity (similar to those who disbelieve in God, and those who are weak in faith) to fathom how a man could have traveled in one night from the Holy sanctuary of Makkah, to Jerusalem, then to penetrate the seven cosmic strata, to surpass all of creation and enter into a timeless, space-less place (La Makaa) to meet with his Lord, and proceed to make the journey back? Physically??? All in a single night??? This was their premise for objection. They understood that Muhammad(peace be upon him) ﷺ explained his journey to them as a ‘physical’ one.
Furthermore, if we were to assume that the above mentioned verse was in fact in reference to the Me’raj as a spiritual journey, then the very context of the verse would be called into question. The verse mentions that the ‘ro’yaa’ which Nabi Muhammad (peace be upon him)ﷺ was shown, was done so as a ‘trial’ for humanity. After careful analysis of the Me’raj, we conclude that the ‘trial’ was for those who would accept or reject the Me’raj as a ‘miracle’. The disbelievers rejected it and thus ‘failed’ the trial. Personalities such as Sayyidona Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu) seized the moment to display utter loyalty and faith in the words of his Messenger (peace be upon him)ﷺ, and thus ‘passed’ the trial. If the Me’raj was only a spiritual journey, then it would lose the splendor of being categorized as a ‘miracle’. After all, if a ‘dream’ was regarded as a miraculous event, then every morning until the final hour would be deemed miraculous for billions of people on a daily basis. The Me’raj was indeed, both in body and in spirit.
The Beloved wife of the Prophet ﷺ, Sayyidah Ayeshah radhiyallahu anha was once quizzed regarding the Me’raj. Her response was that the body of the Prophet (peace be upon him) ﷺ did not move. Hence it is quite clear that it was not a physical journey, but a spiritual one. After all, how could it be a physical journey if he did not move physically?
The above narration cited from Ibn Is’haaq proves to be anything but an objection upon the physicality of the Me’raj on multiple levels. The problems are two-fold. Firstly from the sanad (chain of narrators preceding the text of a hadith), and secondly from the matn (text). At each point there are objections which must be explored before blindly drawing to a conclusion.
With regards to the sanad, the scholars of hadith have placed an objection on the chain as it mentions, ‘I was explained by some family members of Abu Bakr that Ayeshah mentioned”. There is a discrepancy as to who these family members are as they are not mentioned by name. This brings into question the authenticity of the narrative. Until those family members are not clarified, it would be extremely illogical as well as biased to use the text as a baseline of determining whether the Me’raj was a spiritual journey only.
As for the matn, the objection is based on a logical yet sound argument. The rebuttal is formualted from the basic analysis of the Seerah (Prophetic biography). The Noble Seerah has been divided into two categories by the scholars of seerah. The Meccan period, and the Madinan era. The scholars agree that Sayyidah Ayesha (radhiyallahu anha) never lived with the Prophet (peace be upon him)ﷺ as his wife in the Meccan period of the seerah. She only began living with him as his wife in the Medinan era. Since the Me’raj took place in the Meccan period, the question which begs to be asked is, “How could she have witnessed whether or not the body of the Prophet (peace be upon him)ﷺ physically moved or not?” Some of the Ulama have opined that the statement in question may be regarded as the viewpoint of Sayyidah Ayesha (radhiyallahu anha) and no ruling may be passed on thereupon.
The Me’raj was a Journey in both Body and Spirit
The Qur’an & Sunnah are scattered with evidence suggesting that the Me’raj was indeed a journey both in body and spirit. The opening verse of the very chapter which introduces the Me’raj explains:
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things). (17:1)
The keyword here in the arabic text being, “عبد” or servant. In the arabic language, the word ‘abd’ is always used to call upon a person who is present in body and soul. An example of this may be understood by a typical funeral procession. Whilst alive, a person is addressed by name, in this case, the example for all intent and purpose is ‘Adbullah’. The moment Abdullah ceases to exist, he will no longer be addressed by his name, but will now be addressed as, “ميّت” (Mayyit). This proves that the Beloved Messenger (peace eb upon him) made the journey in both body and spirit. As we will shortly explain, Allah ﷻ in his infinite wisdom, intentionally chose to use the word ‘servant’ to describe the journey as a physical one. Had Allah ﷻ used the word, “رسول” (Messenger) instead of the word ‘servant’, the very context of the journey would have come crumbling down like a ton of bricks. We witness yet again a linguistic miracle of the Qur’an. Every word of the Qur’an is precise and cannot be replaced.
A Messenger is he, who is sent from Allah Ta Aala to creation, whilst a servant is he who commences his religious quest from mankind and makes the journey to Allah Ta Aala. If the word ‘rasool’ (Messenger) was used to describe the Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him)ﷺ in the journey, it would have rendered the entire journey to Allah Ta Aala redundant.
Further proof as an indication of the Me’raj being a physical journey is the following verse of the Qur’an:
“The eye did not turn aside, nor did it exceed the limit.” (Najm 53:17)
Commentating on the above verse, Imaam Qurtubi (rahimahollah) explains that “بصر” (basar) here means what he saw with his eyes.Of course it is only logical to deduce that the ‘seeing by the eye’ meant that it was physical as opposed to spiritual.
Whilst in a dream state, one is unable to manifest anything in the realm of the physical. This is common knowledge. If the Me’raj was indeed a spiritual journey only, why then do Muslims honor the ‘physical’ spots in Jerusalem by reciting nafl prayer or supplicating to Allah Ta Aala at those actual physical spots? Would that not be an act of total irrationality? Of course it would. Since the majority of Muslims are not devoid of rationale, it serves to strengthen the case of it being a physical journey.
The objections placed upon the physicality of the Me’raj are a result of studying the subject in isolation. it was indeed a journey in Body and Spirit.