The event referred to in this verse is known "Mi`raj" and "Isra"'. According to authentic traditions, this took place a year before Hijrah. In the traditional and biographical literature, its details have been related by a large number (25) of the Companions. Anas bin Malik, Malik bin Sa`asa`ah, Abuzar Ghifari, and Abu Hurairah (Allah be pleased with them all) have related details of the event. Besides them, `Umar, `Ali, `Abdullah bin Mas`ud...........(Allah be pleased with them) have also related some parts of this event.
In this verse, the Qur'an mentions only a part of the Journey, i.e., from Masjid-i-Haram to the Temple at Jerusalem. The object of this journey as stated here was that Allah willed to show His servant some of His signs. The Qur'an does not give any details other than this but we find further details in the traditions, which are to this effect:
One night the Angel Jibril transported the Holy Prophet on al-Buraq from Masjid-i-Haram to Masjid-i-Aqsa (the Temple). There the Holy Prophet offered his prayers along with the other Prophets. Then he took him towards the higher spheres, where he met some of the great Prophets in different spheres. At last he reached the Highest Place in the Heavens, and was received in audience by Allah. It was there that besides other important instructions five daily Prayers were prescribed. Then he returned to the Temple and from there came back to Masjid-i-Haram. During this Journey, according to many traditions, Paradise and Hell were shown to him. We also learn from authentic traditions that on the following day when he mentioned this event, the disbelievers of Makkah scoffed at him, and some of the Muslims also were skeptical about this.
The above additional details based on the traditions cannot be said to be against the Qur'an, for these are additions to the details given in the Qur'an; therefore, the details related in the traditions cannot be. rejected on the plea that they are against the Qur'an. Nevertheless, if one rejects any part of those details which are given in the traditions, one cannot be declared a renegade. On the other hand, if one rejects the details given in the Qur'an, one does become a renegade.
There are different versions of this Journey. Some say that this happened in a dream, while others are of the opinion that the Holy Prophet was fully awake and went on the Journey with his own physical body; some others say that it was merely a mystic vision which was shown to him. The opening words of this verse: "Glory be to Him, who transported His Servant..." however, clearly show that it was a super-natural event which was brought about by the unlimited power of Allah. It is quite obvious that if the event had been merely a mystic vision, it would not have been introduced by the words which imply that the Being Who brought about this event is free from each and every kind of weakness and defect. Again the words "transported His servant one night" also show that this was not a dream or a vision but a physical journey in which Allah arranged that the Holy Prophet should make observation of His Signs with his physical eyes. Therefore, one is bound to admit that this was not a mere spiritual experience but a physical journey and visual observation which Allah arranged for His Prophet.
It is strange that some people are of the opinion that this extraordinary journey could not be possible, but now when man with his limited-very limited power has been able to reach the moon, it is absurd to deny that Allah with His limitless powers could enable His Messenger to make this journey in the extraordinary short time it took.
Above all, the question whether a thing is possible or not, can arise only in the `case of human beings whose powers are after all limited, but such questions cannot be raised where the All-Powerful Allah is concerned. Only such a person who does not believe that Allah is able to do everything can raise objections against this wonderful Journey about which Allah Himself says that He transported His Servant one night from Masjid-i-Haram to Masjid-i-Aqsa. Likewise all the objections raised against the various details which are given in the traditions are frivolous, except two, which are plausible:
First, if we accept these details, then we shall have to admit drat Allah is confined to a certain place: otherwise there was no need that His Servant should be transported for this purpose to a certain place. Secondly, according to traditions, the Holy Prophet was enabled to observe Paradise and Hell where he saw some people suffering from torment. The objection is: why should sane people be awarded punishments or rewards before the Final Judgment after Resurrection?
As regards the first objection, it is true that Allah is Infinite by Himself, but in dealing with His creation, He employs those means which suit His imperfect creation not because of any limitation of His, but because of the limitations of His creation. For instance, when He speaks to any of His creature, He adopts the same limited mode of conversation as the addressee can understand, though He has limitless modes of speech. Likewise, when He desires to show some of the wonderful Signs of His Kingdom to a servant. He transports him to the place where the' Signs are to be shown. It is obvious that the servant cannot see at one and the same time the whole of the universe as Allah does, for Allah has no need to go to any place at all for this purpose but the servant has. The same applies to the appearance of the servant before the Creator. Though Allah is not confined to any locality, it is necessary for the servant to go to the place where His manifestations have been concentrated for his observation because it is not possible for the servant with his limited powers to go in His Presence in His Infinite Capacity.
As regards the second objection, it is based on the lack of understanding the thing: many of the Signs which were shown to the Holy Prophet were symbolical. For instance, a small hole from which a fat ox came out but could not go back into it, represented mischief personified. In the same way the adulterers were shown as if they had fresh meat before them but instead of that they were eating rotten flesh. Similarly punishments for evil deeds shown to him were only symbolic observations of the punishments in the Hereafter so that he might see in advance the things which would take place in the Hereafter.
In regard to the Mi `raj it should be kept in view that all the Prophets were enabled by Allah to see His Signs in the heavens and the earth according to their ranks. And for this purpose all the material curtains were lifted so that they could see with their naked eyes the unseen realities, to which they were required to invite the people.
This was done so that the Prophets could say with full conviction what they had seen with their own eyes. For this experience would distinguish there from a philosopher who bases all his theories on guess-work and cannot say that he bears witness to what he claims. In contrast to philosophers, Prophets could say that they bore witness to the things which they presented because they had seen them with their own eyes.