"Purity is His Who transported His servant by night".
(Qur'an, XVII: 1)
"By the star when it setteth,
(Qur'an, LIII: 1 - 18)
"We have appointed the vision which We have shown thee".
(Qur'an, XVII: 62)
Tradition given by Katadah and Sabit :
"After that an animal was brought for me to ride; it was white, and its size between that of a mule and an ass, called buraq; it stretched as far as the eye could reach."
Tradition given by Anas :
"One day I was sitting alone when Gabriel came and tapped me on my shoulder; I stood up and, behold, there were two nests on the tree, and I sat on one of them and Gabriel on the other, and the gates of the first region were thrown open on our arrival, and behind a curtain I saw a great light and a window of rubies and pearls, and God revealed to me whatever He pleased."
The account of the meraj is thus related in the Qur'an and added to and composed by hadith (traditions) and stories which may be believed by the orthodox. To a mystic its mystery is as clear as is the secret of shaqq-i-sadr. Meraj was not, in fact, a vision as many have understood - it was a much greater realization than merely an exceptional dream : it was the realization the Prophet had of his journey towards the eternal goal. A person is master when he holds the torch of wisdom in his hand and rides on the wheel of love. When he proceeds towards the external, the whole universe becomes a revelation to him; when he progresses inwardly, he achieves the highest spiritual revelation. It was the Prophet's journey to the eternal goal which was called meraj. To the orthodox meraj is an occurrence that happened once in the Prophet's life, but to the Sufi it is one lesson and its attainment occupies the whole life of a mystic. Meraj was Muhammad's frequent realization, which sometimes, when conscious on the spiritual plane, he realized in such intensity, and it was given to the world as a single occurrence, as an example unfolding before mankind the mysterious planes of the inner being.
"Purity is His Who transported His servant by night".
This surah indicates that the purity which enabled Muhammad to undertake the inner journey was his God's, for no earthly being has entry above. This especially reveals a secret : the immortal part of Muhammad's being was in fact the heritage of the eternal Being. We see that the rubber ball can go up much higher than the brick, for the rubber ball is hollow and has space in it, which gives it admission into the space above; whereas the brick has no space within it and is at once attracted by the earth. Even the ball has not admission in the space for ever, for the rubber is a foreign substance which makes it return to the earth. Meraj may be called the birth of the soul, as it is said in the Bible : "Except a man be born again of water and of spirit, he can in no wise enter into the kingdom of God". That is : unless he be reborn of spirit - which means that the soul, the holy mother, must give birth to that knowledge which can recognize the Eternal Father. The transportation by night in this surah gives the thought of that state of mind which Muhammad brought about by his contemplation of God when all around and about him was as the darkness of night.
"Praise be to Him Who transported His servant by night f
In the account it is said that in the night of meraj Muhammad, engaged in his devotions to Allah, was carried from the mosque of Mecca to the mosque of Jerusalem, where he saw the signs of his Lord which were meant for him to see. In reality the mosque of Mecca, whence the Prophet started, was the physical body of man which was created for the glorification of God and was employed by Muhammad for this. To the Sufi's view the physical body of the God-conscious is the sacred temple of Mecca, the Ka'aba, the holy shrine. This can be seen symbolically in the takbir of namaz, where both hands held up on the level of the head make the head the dome of the mosque and both arms upraised its minarets. From this mosque, the physical existence, he was transported - in other words, drawn by the power of drawing of his Lord. He proceeded in his spiritual progress until he came to the realization of that state where he realized himself not as the temple of the physical body, but as the farther temple of eternal peace : Jerusalem - Dar-as-Salaam, the gate of peace. Not Jerusalem the great city of the Jews, but Masjidi Aqsa the innermost existence, void of name and form, where unearthly calm and eternal peace reign for ever. If the journey of the Prophet from the mosque of Ka'aba to the mosque of Jerusalem had been made in his dream, what speciality was there in meraj and what bliss did he attain there ? The meraj which is spoken of in the Qur'an must have more importance than merely an ordinary dream or vision.
It is told that Adam was beheld by Muhammad on his progress, and Adam welcomed him saying, "Worthy son and Master". Adam was sitting in the midst of men who were on his right hand and on his left. He turned to one side and smiled with joy, he turned to the other and sadly shed tears. The meaning of this the angels explained to Muhammad saying, "Those apparitions are the spirits of his children in the shape of men; on his right hand are those of Paradise, on his left the infernals. Therefore Adam smiles joyfully when he looks to the right hand, but weeps when he looks to the left." The beauty of this myth lies in the idealistic view of the seer. We see, for instance, in statues, on placards, the image of liberty. In fact there is no such person as liberty, but the statue is not only a representation of liberty - it tells what liberty means, because it is the picture of the ideal of liberty. This is the idealistic side of the view of the intelligent, who see every ideal in a certain image, and every image is expressive of that which it means.
The ideal of Adam - the father of humanity, whose welfare is his object, whose goodness is his pride, whose evil is his disgrace - appeared to the view of the seer Muhammad, pleased at the righteousness of the part of humanity which thinks and acts aright and sad at the part of humanity which is astray. The realization of this ideal was in reality a guiding torch kindled for Muhammad to illumine the journey towards the goal. Afterwards, they say, Muhammad was introduced to the chief of heavens and the controller of the infernal regions. This does not mean the heaven pictured with hur and malayak, among all luxurious surroundings, nor the Hell as a furnace of raging fires, but in reality he had insight into the joy and bliss in himself and others as the result of good deeds , and into the intense suffering which is caused by evil. Had this not been witnessed there could have been no chance of further realizations on the higher planes of existence. This was the necessary lesson for Muhammad who was meant to give the final divine law : to know perfectly what grade of reward is for which virtue, and what degree of suffering is for which evil.
Then the spirit-world was disclosed to the Master, - the different planes which were the other world, the world before, and where now he found himself dwelling. The Masters of the past whose names were known to Muhammad were now before him; among them Enoch, John the Baptist, Jesus, Joseph, Moses, Abraham, and many others. This vision can be explained as being the resurrection of the world within, which is clearly manifest to the chosen ones of God. It is natural that, if a fisherman were lifted up into the spirit-world, he would see around him the river, the sea, the nets, the fishes, fishermen and fishmongers; if a shepherd were in the spirit-world he would find himself in a field with cattle and poultry, among husbandmen. What then should a prophet see in the spirit-world if not the chain of prophets with whom he was linked, who were in reality himself under different names and forms, having appeared at different times ? He came face to face, so to say, with the different ideals of Nuri Muhammad of the past, and had the opportunity of studying the career and the results that each in turn had had. An expert musician is he who has studied past composers; an accomplished poet is he who has gone through the works of the poets of the past. This all was a drill before battle, a rehearsal before performance. The aim was still different; the goal was yet to come at which Muhammad was meant to arrive.
"Afterwards He approached the Prophet
The above surah tells us that this journey of spiritual enlightenment brought Muhammad - so to say, brought the mortal self - closer to the immortal being, yet leaving two bows' lengths distance, one bow's length from body to mind and the other from mind to soul. But then he rose even beyond this limit.
They say a buraq was brought for Muhammad to ride upon in his journey, a heavenly steed with the form of a horse, with wings, and a fair human visage. This is merely a symbolical explanation of the mystical course of the inner journey. Buraq is the symbolical name of the human breath, which in the Vedanta is called Prana, the very life. The breath circles round in the animal body and the human thought, the two aspects which in the Vedanta are termed Karmkand and Gnyankand, the vehicle of action and the vehicle of knowledge. So the visage of the buraq is expressive of thought, its body of action, and the wings denote the power in the breath to fly into the higher spheres, the breath being the only lift which can carry man from the lowest level of the earth to the highest summit of the heavens. When through the control of the animal passions man becomes human, then thought comes, as wings, to lift him from the earth and to convey him toward heaven, his true goal, his eternal abode. The very image of the buraq shows this. No doubt it is not so with everybody; only he who has grasped the rein of the breath in his hand - he is the rider of the buraq, he is its master.
The idea of the bird called Garuda among Hindus, the idea of the sphynx which existed among the ancient Egyptians, and the idea of Pegasus, the carrier towards heavenly bliss, demonstrate this same secret. Those who have insight into the symbology of dreams and visions can see a greater reality in this than a person who holds the objective world to be the only reality, for every soul sees the past, present, and future that concerns himself and his own surroundings in a fashion quite different from what he realizes later on as its result on the physical plane. To the artistic view of a seer this picture is a revelation, but to the view of the spirit-blind it is nothing, a blank paper.
The story goes on telling that, when the buraq was brought before Muhammad, the angel Gabriel seeing it restive - it neighed and kicked - said to it, "Knowest thou not what privilege is thine to-day ? Thou shouldest be proud that the pride of creation rides on thee". Then, it is said, the buraq no longer refused, but with vanity flew towards the Heavens, conscious of its bliss. The Sufi calls this the restiveness of the breath, which at first rebels against its rider and controller, until Gabriel, the inner guidance, inspires it, advises it to be proud of the master who is journeying from mortality to the world immortal, from slavery to sovereignty.
Further the story tells that Muhammad went on from there with Gabriel. They sat on two nests which were upon a tree - on one nest Gabriel, on the other Muhammad. Then the gates of heaven were opened, and Muhammad saw behind a curtain a great light and a window of rubies and pearls, and God revealed to him whatever He pleased. The interpretation of this symbol can at once be understood without the slightest doubt by the mystic, the wayfarer on this path. The tree spoken of in this story is the tree which is in the human body, the root of which is in the centre while the top reaches the crown of the head. Yogis name the root Kundali, and the top Brahmand, the abode of Brahma; among Sufis these are termed Arsh and Kursi. The two nests on this tree of life are the two factors of the two important senses, sami and basir, hearing and sight. "That We might show him some of Our signs, for verily He is the seer, the hearer." When Muhammad, led by his guiding angel, controlled and stopped both these senses, closing them from the external world, then the veil which hides spirit from matter, Heaven from earth, was lifted, the light manifested, the heavenly gems and jewels, the reflections of which are the cosmic signs - the sun, the moon, the star, the planet - and all such jewels as diamonds, rubies and pearls. It was the abstract plane revealed to Muhammad. He not only saw the beautiful signs like gems, rubies, pearls, and the heavenly light, but it was as if a window was thrown open to peep forth, to pass through in order to enter the heavens, the inner world.
"And God revealed unto him whatever He pleased.
In other words, he saw here the signs which are the reason of reasons, the origin of origins - which form in these inner planes first, and then manifest externally, while man, not understanding the secret of life, says, "This it is which has created this, and that it is which has destroyed that", not knowing that there is something else which had created this, nor understanding that it is something different which has destroyed that.
"Air, earth, water, and fire are God's servants.
They say that Muhammad then proceeded to the angelic world; and that the angels welcomed him and congratulated him upon this honour. It is the welcome and congratulation of the spiritual plane to the long-departed soul, imprisoned in the physical body, when it has become able to escape from it at will, and when it visits its true abode. Then comes the voice of welcome from the denizens of that plane. They say the angels addressed Muhammad saying, "Come, O Master, O brother !" - which reminds one of the parable that Attar wrote in which he tells of a parrot kept in a golden cage in the palace of a king, which yet was never pleasing to him. One day he managed to escape from the cage and reached the jungle, his original dwelling place where his brethren lived. They welcomed him saying, "Hail to thy mastery, to thy courage, O brother, that thou hast contrived to return out of the prison where many of us have gone and have been lost for ages".
Further it is said that a bowl of milk and a goblet of wine were brought to Muhammad as offering at the feast. Muhammad preferred the milk to the wine and received it thanking the bearer. In this picture the milk is expressive of wisdom, while the wine symbolizes ecstasy. These are the two aspects of the highest bliss which is attained only in the spiritual plane. If he had cared for ecstasy only, how could he have helped humanity with divine wisdom - the purpose for which he had a special message ?
Proceeding still further, what did he find? Bait-ul Mamoor, or Masjidi Aqsa : he realized the undivided Consciousness, never overshadowed with the illusions of the worlds of variety. There Muhammad invoked the great name of his Lord : "There is no God but Thou, O Only Being !" The answer came from that eternal Consciousness, which re-echoed in his conscience, "True, true !" There the vanity of the One Who alone deserved all praise was satisfied, and therefrom came the words, "Had I not created thee, O Muhammad, I would not have created the whole universe" - as it would come from the lips of a beloved listening to the praise of a lover who said, "Praise is to none but thee, thou art the only one, the all-good, the whole world to me". And the beloved would say, "But if thou wert not here, my admirer, the whole world would be nought to me".
Then it is said that Gabriel could go no farther leading the buraq, and Muhammad tied it to the same stone to which all the Masters in the past had tied it. The secret of this, from the Sufi point of view, is the inability even of the light of guidance to work in the highest plane whereto even the breath, the buraq, has no power to rise.
"It is no other than a revelation which has been revealed unto him.
He appeared in the highest part of the innermost being; that was the at-one-ment, as it is said in the Bible, where neither the guiding light, Gabriel, nor the breath, the buraq, had entry, nor had they any work left to perform. This was the place of absolute peace, the Bait-ul Mamoor, Masjidi Aqsa, the eternal goal. There, they say, sixty thousand angels enter every day and none comes out - which means that thousands of purified souls, drawn from the external being, enter into this eternal goal and become merged in it, as a bubble in the water, once lost, is lost for ever. This experience was such that language can never explain it. Even if the soul had a tongue to speak of it, the mortal ears could not listen to it.
"We have appointed the vision which We have shown thee."