سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
“Immaculate is He who carried His servant on a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose vicinity We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.” Sūrah al-Isrāʾ (17:1)
The 27th day of Rajab is the Biʿthat—the day when Allah delegated Muḥammad (ṣ) as His Prophet to deliver the final message to humanity. The Night Journey, or Miʿrāj, also occurred on the same date, according to scholars. On this journey, the Prophet (ṣ) ascended to the Heavens to witness Allah’s signs. Scholars agree that the Miʿrāj occurred several times, but according to some narrations, it happened at least 30 times.
One of the highlights of the Prophet’s (ṣ) dialogue with Allah on the Night Journey was when he inquired about gaining closeness to Allah. In one section of the Miʿrāj ḥadīth, the Prophet (ṣ) asks Allah:
O Lord! Guide me towards an action by which I will gain closeness to you. O Allah!
Before mentioning Allah’s response, it is essential to understand a few points. First, Allah alludes to the Prophet’s proximity to Him by calling him ʿabd or servant rather than by his name—Muḥammad (ṣ). The title “servant” is granted to those near Him; for such people in good standing with Allah, a night’s journey to witness His signs only honors their station. It is also worthy to note that prior to revealing Sūrah al-Isrāʾ, Allah commanded the Prophet (ṣ) to say:
رَّبِّ زِدۡنِى عِلۡمً۬ا
Rabbi zidnī ʿilmā
“My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” Sūrah Ṭāhā (20:114)
Allah orders the Prophet (ṣ) to ask Him for more knowledge. Therefore, the Miʿrāj is Allah’s reply to this request or duʿā. The journey thus becomes the means by which Allah taught the Prophet (ṣ) from His infinite knowledge. Nothing is comparable to Allah’s knowledge, not even that of Allah’s Messenger (ṣ) or his noble progeny (ʿa). Nonetheless, the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) is “the city of knowledge and wisdom,” and his family (ʿa), particularly Imām ʿAlī (ʿa), is “the gate” of that city. In several ḥadīth (traditions) and in Ziyārat al-Jāmiʿat al-Kabīrah, the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) are referred to as khazāʾinul-ʿilmillāh, or the treasurers of Allah’s knowledge. So, their (ʿa) knowledge surpasses that of everyone except Allah. Therefore, the Miʿrāj is also when the Prophet (ṣ) gained knowledge that he later imparted to humanity.
A second point to ponder is the significance of the Prophet (ṣ) asking for a means to gain closeness to his Lord. Even before ascending to the Heavens on the Night Journey, there was no being closer to Allah than the Prophet (ṣ). So, how do we understand the meaning of closeness (qurbah) to Allah? While performing our religious duties, whether it is prayer, fasting, or ablution, we must make intentions to do them “qurbatan ilallāh.” That is, we do them to gain closeness to Allah; yet, we often do so without understanding the depth of this closeness. Āyatullāh Saʾadat Parvar, in his commentary on the Miʿrāj ḥadīth, outlines two types of closeness.
The first is closeness in essence (qurbah dhātī). That is, closeness from Allah’s perspective—or how He views His own closeness to creation. This vantage point is expressed in the following verses:
وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِى عَنِّى فَإِنِّى قَرِيبٌۖ أُجِيبُ دَعۡوَةَ ٱلدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ
And when My servants ask you about Me, I am near; I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me. (2:186)
وَنَحۡنُ أَقۡرَبُ إِلَيۡهِ مِنۡ حَبۡلِ ٱلۡوَرِيدِ
We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (50:16)
The second is closeness by witnessing (qurbah shuhūdī), which is from the viewpoint of creation. For example, Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) recognized Allah’s closeness to creation, and then said: Allah is in everything without being a part of it and outside of everything without being separated from it. In other words, he testifies that everything exists by virtue of Allah’s closeness to His creation (qurbah dhātī). Another example of qurbah shuhūdī is found in the servitude of the Prophet ʿIsā (ʿa) and the angels. Allah states:
لَّن يَسۡتَنكِفَ ٱلۡمَسِيحُ أَن يَكُونَ عَبۡدً۬ا لِّلَّهِ وَلَا ٱلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةُ ٱلۡمُقَرَّبُونَ
The Messiah does not despise being a servant of Allah, nor do the angels who are stationed close to Him. (4:172)
Their willingness to be servants (ʿabd) testifies to Allah’s closeness to them. It also shows their understanding that servitude leads to nearness to Him. In fact, Allah blessed the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) with the Miʿrāj because of his (ṣ) servitude. Hence, Allah said, “Immaculate is He who carried His servant on a journey by night…” In this same vein, the Forerunners (as-Sābiqūn) mentioned in Sūrah Wāqiʿah, like the Prophets and angels, strive to be good servants of Allah. Some commentaries describe them as people who surpass others in faith and turn towards Allah. For this reason, they are the nearest to Him when compared to the ‘People of the Right and Left hand.’ They turn towards Allah in worship and supplications (duʿā). Although there is a lot of discussion around the authenticity of “Prayer is the miʿrāj of the believer,” which has been falsely attributed as ḥadīth, it rightly describes a servant’s level of devotion during worship. Duʿā (supplication), for such servants, is a means to communicate with Allah. Hence, both prayer and supplications are means to gain closeness to Allah. Obligatory prayers mandate a daily effort to gain closeness to Allah. Supplications, on the other hand, are not a compulsory part of daily worship. Nevertheless, the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) encourage using duʿā as a means of gaining closeness to Allah. For example, Imām as-Sajjād (ʿa), in the fifth duʿā of Ṣaḥīfah as-Sajjādiyyah, supplicates:
وَيَا مَنْ تَنْقَطِعُ دُونَ رُؤْيَتِهِ الْاَبْصَارُ، صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّد وَآلِهِ، وَأَدْنِنَا إلَى قُرْبِكَ
Wa yā man tanqaṭiʿu dūna ruʾyatihil-abṣār; ṣalli ʿalā Muḥammad wa ālih; wa adninā ilā qurbik
O He upon whom eyes fall short of seeing, bless Muḥammad and his family (ṣ), and bring us close to You.
Likewise, in the 47th duʿā, he supplicates:
وَانْزَعْ مِنْ قَلْبِي حُبَّ دُنْيَا دَنِيَّةٍ تَنْهى عَمَّا عِنْدَكَ، وَتَصُدُّ عَنِ ابْتِغَآءِ الْوَسِيلَةِ إلَيْكَ، وَتُذْهِلُ عَنِ التَّقَرُّبِ مِنْكَ
Wan-zaʿ min qalbī ḥubba dunyā daniyyatin tanhā ʿammā ʿindak; wa taṣuddu ʿanib-tighāʾil-wasīlati ilayk; wa tudhhilu ʿanit-taqarrubi mink
O Allah, remove from my heart the love of this mundane world, which keeps me from everything that is with You, and prevents me from seeking a means towards You, and distracts me from gaining closeness to You.
The objective of gaining nearness to Allah is evident in these supplications. Moreover, in the latter duʿā, the Imām (ʿa) outlines a strategy for achieving closeness. First, the servant must rid himself of love for the world and for all things that hinder him from turning towards Allah. After that, the servant’s love must be refocused, as the Imām (ʿa) supplicates in the Prayer of the Lovers:
أَسْأَلُكَ حُبَّكَ وَحُبَّ مَنْ يُحِبُّكَ، وَحُبَّ كُلّ ِ عَمَلٍ يُوصِلُنِي إلىٰ قُرْبِكَ
Asʾaluka ḥubbaka wa ḥubba man yuḥibbuk; wa ḥubba kulli ʿamalin yūṣilunī ilā qurbik
I ask You for love of You and for love of those who love You, and for love of every action that makes me close to You.
In the second step for achieving nearness, Allah’s servants must love Him, those who love Him, and every action that draws them close to Him. In many respects, this duʿā reflects the Prophet’s (ṣ) dialogue with Allah in Miʿrāj when he asked for an action by which he could achieve closeness. In response, Allah said:
Make your nights into days, and make your days into nights.
Allah’s response is not merely about staying awake all night and engaging in day-time activities at night. What He intended is that closeness is achieved through worship during the night, as He states in Sūrah al-Muzzammil, verses 2-3:
قُمِ ٱلَّيۡلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلاً۬ (٢) نِّصۡفَهُ ۥۤ أَوِ ٱنقُصۡ مِنۡهُ قَلِيلاً (٣)
Stand in vigil [prayer] through the night, all but a small part (of it)
Furthermore, the Prophet (ṣ) asked Allah for clarification during the Miʿrāj, to which Allah responded:
Make your sleep prayer and make your food hunger.
Perhaps the easiest way to transform one’s night and day is to sleep while in ablution; for the Prophet (ṣ) said, “Whosoever sleeps in a state of purity is considered to be fasting and praying.” But Allah’s servants are challenged to go beyond this preliminary practice, to pray, read the Qurʾān, and remember their Lord at night—even if it is for part of the night. That is, a person can begin by reciting five minutes of Qurʾān before Fajr prayer, or by reciting duʿā, or engaging in any action that Allah loves. Once stamina is built up, a person can stay up longer and engage in more worship, yielding greater closeness to Allah. In Sūrah al-Isrāʾ (17:79), He says:
وَمِنَ ٱلَّيۡلِ فَتَهَجَّدۡ بِهِۦ نَافِلَةً۬ لَّكَ عَسَىٰٓ أَن يَبۡعَثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامً۬ا مَّحۡمُودً۬ا
And keep vigil for a part of the night, as a supererogatory prayer for you. It may be that your Lord will raise you to a praiseworthy station.
The above verse may explain why some believers adopt the popular saying “Prayer is the miʿrāj of the believer.” Through the night prayer, a servant gains nearness to Allah and rises to a praiseworthy station, maqām maḥmūd. A station that is, without doubt, the station of the Messenger of Allah (ṣ) since he is the addressee in the verse. In fact, one of the Prophet’s (ṣ) titles is Maḥmūd because herose to this station. So, the servants who walk in the footsteps of Muḥammad (ṣ) will be raised to a praiseworthy station. They will become neither Prophets nor Messengers, nor will they reach the level of servitude (ʿubudiyyah) of Muḥammad (ṣ). But, they will avoid walking in the footsteps of Shayṭān, as Allah says, ,”Do not follow the footsteps of Satan.” Moreover, by making our tahajjud (the night prayer), the servants of Allah will be transforming their nights into days and days into nights, as Allah advised His Messenger (ṣ) to do while on the Night Journey.
Al-Kāfī, Vol. 8, P. 18.
Noble Qurʾān, 17:1.
Noble Qurʾān, 56:10.
Noble Qurʾān, 56:8-11
Kanz al-ʿUmmāl, Vol. 9, P. 277, Ḥadīth #25999.
Noble Qurʾān, 2:168 and 208; 6:142; 24:21