17 - Bani Israil (The Israelites)

5 Tafsir(s) related to verse 17.1


Glory be to Him — an affirmation of [God’s] transcendence — Who carried His servant, Muhammad (s), by night (laylan is in the accusative as an adverbial qualification; isrā’ means ‘to travel by night’; what is instructive about this mention [of laylan, ‘by night’] is that, through its being indefinite, there is an indication of the brevity of its duration) from the Sacred Mosque, that is, Mecca, to the Farthest Mosque, the Holy House [of Jerusalem], so called because of its distance from the former; the environs of which We have blessed, with fruits and rivers, that We might show him some of Our signs, the marvels of Our power. Indeed He is the Hearing, the Seeing, that is to say, the Knower of the Prophet’s (s) sayings and deeds. Thus He [God] was gracious to him by way of [carrying him on] the night journey, which comprised his encountering the [other] prophets, his ascension to heaven and the sight of the marvels of the [Divine] Realm and His communion, exalted be He, with him. For he [the Prophet] (s) said: ‘I was brought al-Burāq, a white animal, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule; it was able to place its hoof [back] towards its extremity and so I mounted it. It set off carrying me until I reached the Holy House [of Jerusalem]. [There] I fastened the animal to the ring where the prophets fasten [their animals]. I then went in and prayed two units inside it. As I came out, Gabriel came to me with a jug of wine and a jug of milk, and so I chose the milk. Gabriel said [to me], “You have made the right choice [by choosing] the primordial nature (fitra)”.’ He [the Prophet] continued [the narration], ‘We then ascended to the heaven of this world, whereat Gabriel asked to be let in. Someone asked, “Who are you?”. He replied, “Gabriel”, “And who is with you?”, “Muhammad (s)”, he said. “Has he been sent for?”. “Yes, he has been sent for”. Then it was opened for us, and lo! Adam stood before me; he greeted me and prayed for well-being for me. We then ascended to the second heaven and Gabriel asked to be let in. Someone asked, “Who are you?”. He replied, “Gabriel”, “And who is with you?”, “Muhammad (s)”, he said.


Glory be to Him Who carried, that is, [Who] raised him above [the blemishes of] material appendages and the deficiencies of similarity by the tongue of the state of disengagement and perfection at the station of servanthood wherein lies no power of disposal whatsoever, by night, that is, in the darkness of corporeal coverings and attachments of physical nature, since ascension and elevation can only be by means of the body, from the Sacred Mosque, that is, from the station of the sacred heart lest the idolater that are the corporeal faculties should circumambulate it and commit therein their acts of indecency and sins, and lest the misguided one of the animal faculties, the bestial and the predatorial - whose exposed shameful aspects, their excess and immoderation, by virtue of their being denuded from the garb of virtue - should perform the pilgrimage [there], to the Farthest Mosque, which is the station of the spirit, that is the furthest from the world of physical bodies, by means of the presential vision of the self-disclosures of the Essence and the august glories of the Face. Remember what we mentioned [before] about [the fact] that the rectification of each station can only be after rising to the one above it, so that you might understand His words 'that We might show him some of Our signs' as [denoting] the witnessing of the attributes. For even if the contemplation of the self-disclosures of the attributes should take place at the station of the heart, the Essence that is qualified by these attributes can only be witnessed in its perfection through the attributes of the Majesty and the Beauty upon rising to the station of the spirit. In other words, that We might show him some the signs of Our attributes from the point of view that these [attributes] are ascribed to Us and that We are witnessed by them and exteriorised in their forms. Indeed He is the Hearing, of his [the Prophet's] communions at the station of mystery seeking annihilation, the Seeing, of the potency of his preparedness and of his orientation to the locus of presential vision and his attraction thereto by the intensity of his love and the perfectedness of his yearning [for God].

Kashf Al-Asrar

Glory be to Him who took His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Farthest Mosque.

At the beginning of this surah He praised Himself, then He disclosed the nobility of MuṣṬafā and uncovered his eminence over the creatures. First He testified to His own faultlessness and men- tioned His own purity. He Himself praised Himself and showed the creatures His perfect power. He turned over the Messenger's miʿrāj to His own act, not the Messenger's act, so that the faithful will not fall into uncertainty and there would be an argument against the deniers. Thus the faithful will know that the marvels of power have no limit and that this state is not strange given the perfect power of the Powerful.

Another meaning is to display the nobility of MuṣṬafā and his eminence over the creatures of the world. Then the world's folk will know that his station is that of those snatched away on the carpet of companionship, not that of the travelers in the way stations of service. He who is snatched away is being pulled by the Real, but the traveler is traveling by himself. When someone is being pulled by the Real, he is in the way station of whispered secrets and joy and is fitting for generous bestowal and exaltation. But when someone is himself traveling, he keeps on wanting to gain access to the thresh- old of service and seeking for a rank to appear for himself. The former is the station of MuḤammad, the Real's beloved, and the latter is the station of Moses, the Real's speaking-companion.

Do you not see that He said about Moses, "Moses came to Our appointed time" [7:143], but He said about MuṣṬafā, "who took His servant by night." Moses was a comer, traveling by himself. MuḤammad was taken, snatched away from himself. He who walks with His feet is not like him who walks toward Him, and he to whose secret core revelation comes is not like him who is called to Him. The one who was traveling was absent through distance, so after separation he found union. The one who was taken was in the elevation of union at the outset, and he received the robe of bounty at the end.

Then He says, "His servant by night.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an

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.

Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

And from his own narration on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that he said regarding the interpretation of Allah's saying (Glorified be): '(Glorified be) He says: He is far exalted above and exonerated from having a son or partner (He Who carried His servant) He Who took His servant Muhammad, peace be on him, (by night) at the beginning of the night (from the Inviolable Place of Worship) from the Sacred Precinct, from the house of Umm Hani' the daughter of Abu Talib (to the Far Distant Place of Worship) far in distance, but close to heaven, i.e. the Mosque of Jerusalem (the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed) with water, trees and fruits, (that We might show him) that We might show Muhammad (pbuh) (of Our tokens!) of Our marvels, for all the things He saw that night were marvels of Allah. (Lo! He, only He, is the Nearer) of what the Quraysh say, (the Seer) He sees them just as He sees His servant Muhammad (pbuh).