Lailat al Miraj

by Vicki Garlock on April 12, 2018

Ascent of Muhammad to Heaven
16th century painting

Miraj Mubarak! Tomorrow (April 13, 2018) is the Muslim holy day honoring the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey. In America, it is often called Lailat al Miraj, but it’s also known as Isra and Miraj, al Isra Wal Miraj, and other variations on those themes.

The holiday commemorates a miraculous night in the life of Muhammad. There are only a few verses in the Qur’an that mention these events. Here’s the main one:

Surah 17, Verse 1 (Yusuf Ali translation)
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His Servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things). 

The remaining details of the story (and there are many!) are given in the Hadith. The Arabic word “hadith” simply means account/narrative/report, but in this particular case, we’re talking about the Hadith that is attributed to Muhammad in some way: stories he told, teachings he offered, advice he gave, and comments made in his presence that he seemed to agree with. As an Islamic text, the Hadith is second in importance only to the Qur’an.

The story of Muhammad’s wondrous night journey is told in The Book of Faith (Kitab al-Iman), Verse 309. Yes…it’s a VERY long verse. We have written a kids’ version of the story that you can find here. Or, you can read the summary below:

In the first part of the story, Muhammad is given a mythical creature to ride. The animal, named Buraq, is described as being white, winged, long-eared, and bigger than a donkey but smaller than a mule. Buraq takes Muhammad from the Kaaba in Mecca to “the farthest mosque” — thought by many to be in Jerusalem. While there, Muhammad prayed with the prophets who came before him.

Then, the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad and escorted him on his journey to the 7 levels of heaven. At each level, Muhammad was blessed by a past prophet: Adam, Jesus and John the Baptist, Joseph son of Jacob, Enoch, Aaron, Moses, and Abraham. In the 7th level of heaven, Allah revealed to Muhammad that his followers should pray 50 times a day. An interesting interchange between Allah, Muhammad, and Moses then follows. Eventually, it is decided that 5 prayers a day is sufficient.

The image at the top of this article is a 16th century watercolor painting of this night journey. The resolution isn’t great (although you can click on the image to see a larger version), but in the center, Muhammad is pictured riding on Buraq. Notice that Muhammad’s face is not actually shown. Instead, his visage is blank, and he is surrounded by flames/light. This is a conventional technique frequently used by artists since it is largely considered taboo to depict the face of the Prophet.

Although Lailat al Miraj is an important holy day for Muslims, there are few highly-accessible resources for non-Muslims, especially if you are interested in stories and crafts for kids. Some of the best resources can be found on Kay Tarapolsi’s web site, A Crafty Arab. Her site contains hundreds of craft ideas, printable templates, and book suggestions — all for kids. When I contacted her about Lailat al Miraj, she specifically suggested adapting this handprint prayer craft. You can also check out her 99 Creative Mosque Projects for other ideas.

The story of Muhammad’s night journey is amazing and awe-inspiring. It’s a fascinating story for kids, and it’s a great story for interfaith families since it features many prophets from the Judeo-Christian texts. Hopefully, additional resources — like the craft web sites and published books available for Ramadan and the Eid (al Fitr) — will be developed for Lailat al Miraj in the near future. In the meantime, the resources offered here will give you some insight into the importance of this holy day for the Islamic world, as well as a few ideas about how to start sharing it with your youngsters.

For additional kid-related resources, check out some of the links shown below. Please keep in mind that these stories and videos are intended for Muslim children/families.

The Story of Isra and Miraj

Israa’ and Mi’raj for Your Kids

The Miraculous Night of Al-Miraj

The Night Journey (video)

Isra’ Mi’raj Craft Book

For additional, grown-up information on Lailat al Miraj, check out these on-line news articles:

Lailat Al Miraj: The Basics (Huffington Post)

Lailat al Miraj (Read the Spirit)

Story of Laylat Al-Miraj (World Religion News)

 

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