32 – “The Light of Thy Countenance”

Fatimah, the widow of Abu Talib, had entered Islam, either before or after her husband’s death, and so had her daughter Umm Hani’, the sister of ‘Ali and Ja’far; but Umm Hani”s husband Hubayrah was altogether impervious to the message of God’s Oneness. He none the less made the Prophet welcome when he came to their house, and if it was the time for a prayer during one of these visits the Muslims of the household would pray together. On one occasion, when they had all prayed the night prayer behind the Prophet, Umm Hani’ invited him to spend the night with them. He accepted her invitation; but after a brief sleep he rose and went to the Mosque, for he loved to visit the Ka’bah during the night hours. While he was there, the desire to sleep came over him again, and he lay down in the Hijr.

“Whilst I was sleeping in the Hijr,” he said, “Gabriel came to me and spurred me with his foot whereupon I sat upright, yet I saw nothing and I lay down once again. A second time he came; and a third time, and then he took me by the arm and I rose and stood beside him, and he led me out to the gate of the Mosque, and there was a white beast, between a mule and an ass, with wings at his sides wherewith he moved his legs; and his every stride was as far as his eye could see.”[1]

The Prophet then told how he mounted Buraq, for so the beast was named; and with the Archangel at his side, pointing the way and measuring his pace to that of the heavenly steed, they sped northwards beyond Yathrib and beyond Khaybar, until they reached Jerusalem. Then they were met by a company of Prophets -Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others- and when he prayed on the site of the Temple, they gathered together behind him in prayer. Then two vessels were brought before him and offered him, one of wine the other of milk. He took the vessel of milk and drank from it, but left the vessel of wine, and Gabriel said: “Thou hast been guided unto the path primordial, and hast guided thereunto thy people, O Muhammad, and wine is forbidden you.”

Then, as had happened to others before him -to Enoch and Elijah and Jesus and Mary- Muhammad was taken up out of this life to Heaven. From the rock in the center of the site of the Temple he again mounted Buraq, who moved his wings in upward flight and became for his rider as the chariot of fire had been for Elijah. Led by the Archangel, who now revealed himself as a heavenly being, they ascended beyond the domain of earthly space and time and bodily forms, and as they passed through the seven Heavens he met again those Prophets with whom he had prayed in Jerusalem. But there they had appeared to him as they had been during their life on earth, whereas now he saw them in their celestial reality, even as they now saw him, and he marveled at their transfiguration. Of Joseph he said that his face had the splendor of the moon at its full,[2] and that he had been endowed with no less than the half of all existing beauty.[3] Yet this did not diminish Muhammad’s wonderment at his other brethren, and he mentioned in particular the great beauty of Aaron.[4] Of the Gardens that he visited in the different Heavens he said afterwards: “A piece of Paradise the size of a bow is better than all beneath the sun, whereon it riseth and setteth; and if a woman of the people of Paradise appeared unto the people of earth, she would fill the space between Heaven and here below with light and with fragrance.”[5] Everything he now saw, he saw with the eye of the Spirit; and of his spiritual nature, with reference to the beginnings of all earthly nature, he said: “I was a Prophet when Adam was yet between water and clay.”[6]

The summit of his ascent as the Lote Tree of the Uttermost End. So it is named in the Qur’an, and, in one of the oldest commentaries, based on the sayings of the Prophet, it is said: “The Lote Tree is rooted in the Throne, and it marks the end of the knowledge of every knower, be he Archangel or Prophet-Messenger. All beyond it is a hidden mystery, unknown to any save God Alone.”[7] At this summit of the universe Gabriel appeared to him in all his archangelic splendor, even as he was first created.[8] Then, in the words of the Revelation: When there enshrouded the Lote Tree that which enshroudeth, the eye wavered not nor did it transgress. Verily he beheld, of all the signs of his Lord, the greatest.[9] According to the commentary, the Divine Light descended upon the Lote Tree and enshrouded it and all else beside, and the eye of the Prophet beheld it without wavering and without turning aside from it.[10] Such was the answer -or one of the answers- to the supplication implicit in his words: “I take refuge in the Light of Thy Countenance.”

At the Lote Tree the Prophet received for his people the command of fifty prayers a day; and it was then[11] that he received the Revelation which contains the creed of Islam: The messenger believeth, and the faithful believe, in what hath been revealed unto him from his Lord. Each one believeth in God and His angels and His books and His messengers; we made no distinction between any of His messengers. And they say: we hear and we obey; grant us, Thou our Lord, Thy forgiveness; unto Thee is the ultimate becoming.[12]

They made their descent through the seven Heavens even as they had ascended. The Prophet said: “On my return, when I passed Moses -and what a good friend he was unto you!- he asked me: ‘How many prayers have been laid upon thee?’ I told him fifty prayers every day and he said: ‘The congregational prayer is a weighty thing, and thy people are weak. Return unto thy Lord, and ask Him to lighten the load for thee and thy people.’ So I returned and asked my Lord to make it lighter, and He took away ten. Then I passed Moses again, and he repeated what he had said before, so I returned again, and ten more prayers were taken from me. But every time I returned unto Moses he sent me back until finally all the prayers had been taken from me except five for each day and night. Then I returned unto Moses, but still he said the same as before; and I said: ‘I have returned unto my Lord and asked Him until I am ashamed. I will not go again.’ And so it is that he who performeth the five in good faith and in trust of God’s bounty, unto him shall be given the meed of fifty prayers.”[13]

When the Prophet and the Archangel had made their descent to the Rock at Jerusalem, they returned to Mecca the way they had come, overtaking many southbound caravans. It was still night when they reached the Ka’bah. From there the Prophet went again to the house of his cousin. In her words: “A little before dawn the Prophet woke us, and when we had prayed the dawn prayer, he said: ‘O Umm Hani’, I prayed with you the last evening prayer in this valley as thou sawest. Then went I to Jerusalem and there prayed; and now have I prayed with you the morning prayer as thou seest.’ He rose to go, and I seized his robe with such force that it came away, laying bare his belly, as if it had been but cotton cloth draped around him. ‘O Prophet of God,’ I said. ‘Tell not the people this, for they will give thee the lie and insult thee.’ ‘By God, I will tell them,’ he said.”[14]

He went to the Mosque and told those whom he met there of his journey to Jerusalem. His enemies were immediately triumphant, for they now felt they had an irrefutable cause for mockery. Every child of Quraysh knew that a caravan takes a month to go from Mecca to Syria and a month to return. And now Muhammad claimed to have gone there and back in one night. A group of men went to Abu Bakr and said: “What thinkest thou now of thy friend? He telleth us he went last night to Jerusalem and prayed there and then returned to Mecca.” Abu Bakr accused them of lying, but they assured him that Muhammad was in the Mosque at that moment, speaking about this journey. “If so he saith,” said Abu Bakr, “then it is true. And where is the wonder of it? He telleth me that tidings come to him from Heaven to earth in one hour of the day or night, and I know him to be speaking the truth. And that is beyond what ye cavil at.”[15] He then went to the Mosque to repeat his confirmation “If so he saith, then it is true,” and it was for this that the Prophet gave him the name as-Siddiq, which means “the great witness of truth” or “the great confirmer of the truth”. Moreover, some of those who had found the story incredible began to have second thoughts, for the Prophet described the caravans he had overtaken on the way home and said where they were and about when they might be expected to arrive in Mecca; and each arrived as predicted, and the details were as he had described. To those in the Mosque he spoke only of his journey to Jerusalem, but when he was alone with Abu Bakr and others of his Companions he told them of his ascent through the seven Heavens, telling them a part of what he had seen, with more to be recounted later over the years, often in answer to questions.


[1] I.I. 264
[2] I.I. 270
[3] A.H. 3, 286
[4] I.I. 270
[5] B. L. 6, 6
[6] Tir. 46, 1; A.H. 4, 66
[7] Tab., Tafsir, 53
[8] M. 1, 280; B. 59, 9
[9] Qur’an 53 : 16 – 18
[10] Tab., Tafsir, 53
[11] M. 1, 280
[12] Qur’an 2 : 285
[13] I.I. 271
[14] I.I. 267
[15] I.I. 265

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