The Ascent (mi’raj) of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.)
Source: Inner Secrets of the Path by Sayyid Haydar Amuli
i) In the realm of form
The title of this section refers to the Prophet's will and intent to attain to this triad of gatherings in the realm of form ‑ just as he attains to them in the realm of inner meaning (in the various stations of sublimity between the heavens and the earth). Thus his movement in the realm of form from the Haram mosque to that of Kufah, then to the al‑Aqsa Mosque and then his ascent to the seven heavens, the Throne and the Footstool (as is related in the Qur'an) was for this purpose, namely for the three abovementioned gatherings. Such gatherings are a means whereby the Prophet's perfections may flow out to the people. The Prophet in fact draws them out of their state of imperfection and allows them to attain their own specific perfection, in accordance with their receptivity and capacity.
This ascent is related in the various Prophetic sayings of the `night journey' and is referred to in the Qur'an by Allah's words, `Glory be to Him Who made His servant to go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the al‑Aqsa Mosque (or `remote mosque') of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show you some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.' It has been narrated that all the prophets ask for this form of ascent from Allah ‑ a form which encompasses all the above‑mentioned gatherings.
Allah has also commanded His Prophet Muhammad to this, namely a crossing and ascent to these heavenly places by means of his body, in the realm of form; it is even reported that during his ascent to the sky he wanted to take off his sandals, just as Moses had done when he went up the mountain of Tur and the angel said to him, `O Prophet of Allah, do not take them off for surely we desire that the blessing of your sandals may reach our places (of abode).' Such things are by no means impossible for Allah, for He is the One Who renders everything possible and the One Who determines events.
Moreover, it has been established in the divine wisdom that the prophets, saints, perfected ones and spiritual poles possess great power in both the earthly and spiritual worlds: when a person becomes perfected and merits being the caliph of Allah in His earthly and spiritual kingdoms, then he is able to do anything he wishes within the realm of these two worlds ‑ consider, for example, the way in which some of the saints, of Allah are able to travel huge distances (within a space of time not normally possible) and are able to rise people from the dead.
There is also the example of Asaf (Solomon's vizier) who was able to cover a vast distance across the earth when he went to fetch the Throne of Bilqis (the Queen of Sheba). Moses, too, was able to separate the sea in order to drown the Pharoah and save his own people. Solomon controlled the winds, riding them and journeying where he willed (according to the Qur'an). Abraham was able to render the fire (into which he had been thrown) cool such that he was untouched by its flames. The Prophet himself, when desiring to demonstrate a miracle, was able to wield power in the lunar realm when he split the moon in the presence of the disbelievers and a number of other persons who were Muslims. Sham'un (one of the spiritual inheritors of Jesus) was able to wield power in the solar realm by moving the sun from the east to another position of his choosing. 'Ali, on whom be peace, also exercised authority in the solar realm when he twice caused the sun to move back to the place of prayer, once in Madinah and once in the region of Babul (as is described in the books of both the Sunnis and the Shiahs). There is also the example of Idris (Enoch) who ascended to the realm of the heavens where he has remained until the present time. Jesus himself also ascended to the heavens. It has been shown how the angels and the jinn are able to take whatever form they desire and that they are able to enter into whatever world they wish.
It is commonly agreed that man is more noble than they; indeed the angels have been commanded to make prostration before them and to serve and obey them in all matters. One may thus ask the question why man is unable to do the things of which the angels are capable. The truth of the matter is that man is in fact more capable than they are. This is evident when we consider the nature of the abdal (the spiritual guardians who hold sway over the world), and the way in which they change from one form to another, and how they may appear in more than one place at the same time. This is similar to the way in which the angel Gabriel appeared in this world in the form of (the Prophet's companion) Dahiya al‑Kalbi on several different occasions, as did other angels (when they appeared, for example, in aid of the Prophet on the day of the Battle (if Badr and that of Hunayn).
When we accept the truth of the above and we realize that man is the noblest of creatures, then it is difficult for us not to accept too that all perfected men are capable of expressing special powers (in the manner described above); it would be difficult, too, for us not to accept that the noblest of prophets and saints were likewise capable of this and of greater things. Muhammad's ascent to the heavens is, in fact, of a lesser dimension than his influence over events in the lunar and solar realms and over Gabriel (when he wished to begin the ascent). It is most important that one understands and believes in these matters for any attempt to explain them away is of no use.
ii) In the realm of inner meaning
Most people agree that the ascent of the Prophet in the realm of inner meaning refers to his arrival at the Real during the time of the night journey and by means of the unification of essence (which is also known as the `unity of the separate after the gathering'). It also refers to his perception of the reality of things; this is reflected in his words, `We were shown things as they actually are' and `During that night I learnt the knowledge of the first and subsequent (peoples).' This station is connected to that of Abraham for Allah says of the latter, `And thus did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and that he might be of those who are sure.' This special relationship between the Prophet and Abraham is affirmed by the Qur'an and may be demonstrated by means of other proofs.
It is clear that this ascent (and other similar spiritual events) has no need of movement in the realm of form or of any notion of physical distance. When we talk about the movement of a particular person, then we are referring to his going from one place to another in the phenomenal world; the mi`raj that we are discussing, however, does not imply this kind of movement. When we talk about the movement of ideas in the mind, then we are referring to the way in which one can rationalize from principles to conclusions by means of thoughts.
According to the general consensus, however, such a way of thinking is a kind of veil. 'Ali has affirmed this when he says; `I have come to know Allah by abandoning thought.' Thus this station of the mi`raj is only attained by abandoning both these approaches and by no longer considering anything which inherently implies other‑than‑Him as valid. It is for this reason that ja'far ibn Muhammad al‑Sadiq, who was the Pole of the Age and the Imam of his time, said, `Whoever understands separation, as distinct from arrival and movement as distinct from stillness has reached a point of establishment in the vision of divine unity (tawhid).'
What is here meant by separation is the first separation of multiplicity, necessary by the inherent nature of creation; by arrival is meant the joining or gatheredness which is antithetical to it; by movement is meant the spiritual wayfaring; and by stillness one's establishment in the source of solitariness of the Essence. This arrival is also expressed as the annihilation of the slave in the Attributes of the Real by his abandonment of the attributes of his self; it is the realization of the station of the Names to which the Prophet refers with his words, `Whoever can enumerate these names will enter the Garden.' The separation is also expressed as the veiling of the slave by his own attributes and those of creation and by his attaching an absolute reality to them; those who veil themselves by seeing the outer (and what is other than Him) are of necessity far from the Real and the contemplation of Him although they may claim to be established in the station of tawhid.
All are agreed that there are four kinds of travel in the realm of inner meaning. The first is the traveling `to' Allah from the various stations of the self it is the arrival at the `clear horizon,' which is the final station of the heart and the beginning of the emanations of His Names. The second is the traveling `in' Allah by assimilating His Attributes and His Names; this kind of journey leads to the `higher horizon' which is the final point of the Presence of Oneness. The third is ascent to the source of gatheredness and the Presence of Solitariness: this is the station of the `two bow's lengths' as long as duality remains; when duality is removed then it is the station of `or closer still' and the final station of saintliness (wilayah). The fourth is travel `by' Allah `from' Allah in order to achieve perfection: this is the state of abiding after annihilation and separation after gatheredness.
Each of these different ways of travel has a beginning and an end; the beginning of each is clear from the beginning and end of each stage as we have described above. As for the end, that of the first is the removal of the veils of multiplicity from the face of Oneness. The end of the second is the removal of the veils of Oneness from the various aspects of multiplicity in the inner realm of gnosis. The end of the third is the removal of the limitation or restriction of the duality of outer and inner, by attaining to unity in gatheredness. The end of the fourth is the return from the Presence of the Real to creation in the station of constancy and perseverance; it is the station of reconciling gatheredness and separation by witnessing now the Real manifests throughout the various levels of creation and how the creation eventually disappears into the Real. In this station one sees the source of Oneness in the forms of multiplicity and the forms of multiplicity in the source of Oneness.
There are no further ways of travel or spiritual destinations beyond these four. Thus the mi`rajas a whole, be it with respect to a prophet, a messenger, a saint or a spiritual inheritor, is contained in the above four divisions. Any variations in the mode of travel which occur are connected to the capacity and receptivity of each particular person. Moreover, a mi`raj may take place during a whole night, a single hour or even a blink of an eyelid. Indeed, it may occur after striving for forty years or even forty thousand years since this kind of travel has no specific limits as to its nature and no specific time; `and that is the grace of Allah; He bestows it on whom He wishes and Allah is of mighty grace.'
With this in mind, we should now examine Allah's words, `Glory be to Him Who made His servant go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the remote mosque (of al‑Aqsa) of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing' for they are pertinent proof of the truth of what we are saying. The meaning of `Glory be to Him, Who made His servant to go on a night' is glory be to Him Who made His real or `true' slave, namely Muhammad, go by night, that is, during the night of the multiplicity of form in the realm of creational and phenomenal realities; the meaning of `from the Haram Mosque' is from the heart of reality which is haram, that is forbidden to others to enter; the meaning of `to the remote mosque' is to the Presence of the Spirit and the world of witnessing which is the furthest or highest level of witnessing; Allah's words `of which We have blessed the precincts' refer to His bestowal of the blessings of gnostic realities; and the words `So that We may show to Him some of Our signs' refer to Allah's showing him of his ayat which all point to His Essence, His Attributes, His Names and His Actions, indeed to a contemplation of Him in His worlds of spirituality and corporeality. His words, `He is the Hearing, the Seeing' refer to the fact that Allah is the only True Hearer of the servant's prayers and the only One Who sees that each is answered.
One may express this still more lucidly by saying that the Haram Mosque is his true or real heart which is forbidden of access except to the Real Himself. The heart is the abode or the station of Allah; this is affirmed in His words, `Neither the earth nor the heavens can contain Me but the heart of the believing slave (contains Me).' This heart is connected to the Haram Mosque since the latter is the qiblah (direction of prayer) of the people of the earth and the former is the qiblah or focus for all the physical limbs and inner organs of man, as well as being the centre of man's capacity both in the realm of form and inner meaning or spirit.
Moreover, the heart is the first thing to appear as the form of man takes shape from the sperm, the blood clot and the lump of flesh in the womb; similarly, the Ka'bah was the `First House established for the people in the blessed place of Bakka.' The al‑Aqsa Mosque which is his spirit which has been `added' to him, as the following words of Allah testify: `And breathed into him of My spirit.' The spirit in the station of al‑Aqsa is in th highest station of witnessing and unveiling as the words of 'Ali affirm when he says, `And my heart (lives) by my knowledge of You and my spirit by my witnessing of You;' this is also affirmed in the words of his grandfather, `If the veil were lifted, it would not increase my certainty.' This station is connected to the al‑Aqsa mosque, which is the qiblah of the east for the people of Jesus; the spirit is also the qiblah of the heart of man, just as the heart is the qiblah of the whole body.
The Ka'bah is related to the concept of the mosque just as the mosque is connected to the Haram, and likewise the body may be seen to represent the Haram and the heart the mosque and the spirit the Ka'bah. His words: `of which We have blessed the precincts' is an indication of the spirit and that which surrounds it. We should understand from these words that Allah has blessed the area around it with the blessings of gnostic realities, secret wisdom and subtle intelligences.
The reason for the ascent and arrival at the Divine Presence is so that Allah may show him ‑ from His signs within the realm of the individual self, rather than from within the cosmic dimension ‑ a vision of His Essence and of His Qualities in the essence and qualities of Muhammad by way of an actual witnessing of the pre‑creational Source‑Forms; the reason too, is so that Allah may make him hear, or render him receptive to His words and His secrets and may make him perceive the meaning of His indications and His subtle hidden communications. This is because Muhammad is the caliph in Allah's mulk, or world, and in His malakut, or spiritual domain. It is he who fulfils Allah's command, both in His cosmic dimension and His realm of the self. The meaning of `His is the judgment, and to Him you shall be brought back' is that Muhammad holds judgment over these two domains; he alternately works with or withdraws from the inhabitants of these two domains; it is they who turn to Him for their needs and problems, that is, for whatever is of benefit to them, with respect to their religion and their daily life in this world. The following verse seems to indicate the words of such a caliph: My pen and my table in existence are given life By the Divine Pen and the Guarded Tablet.
My hand is the right hand of Allah in his spiritual domain; I carry out what I wish and the principles and duties are my pleasure and blessing.
A hadith of the Prophet reflects this idea: `Allah created Adam in His image;' again the import of the words of the gnostic, `I am the Truth and all those like me' and `Is there other than me in the two abodes?' is not lost on those who understand this science. This concludes our study of the mi`raj with respect to the self and the realm of inner meaning.