Israk means the Prophet's journey from Mekah to Jerusalem, while Mikraj means his ascension to the heavens. The Al-Quran recorded the journey in surah Al-Isra (17) verse 1. Israk Mikraj is also reported in a hadith by Abbas Ibn Malik from Malik Ibn Sha'sha'ah and narrated by al-Baihaqi.
The miraculous Israk Mikraj happened in the year 621 AD. It was the twelfth year of the Prophet (PBUH)'s mission to call people to worship the only one God (tawhid). The year was especially hard as Mekah's Quraish pagan community had intensified their fierce opposition against the Prophet, especially after his main supporters, Khadijah and Abu Thalib, the beloved wife and uncle, passed away.
Allah (SWT) then comforted him by conducting the night journey. The Prophet (PBUH) rode a Buraq — a creature smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey — as a transportation medium which brought him to Heaven. He set forth on this journey with the Archangel Gibrail (Jibril).
During the Mikraj journey, the Prophet penetrated the seven heavens. He witnessed the sights of the hereafter such as Hell and Paradise and their inhabitants, the original face of Gibrail (Jibril), the Light of Allah (SWT), and encountered all of the past prophets.
After that he was brought to Sidrat al-Muntaha (the Lote Tree of the Furthest Boundary) and Al-Bait al-Ma'mur (the Sacred House) where he received Allah (SWT)'s order to observe five prayers (Solat) a day.
Besides its religious aspects, the story of Israk Mikraj, in addition, had spiced up the world of literature. In 1919, Professor Miquel Asin Palacios, a Spanish scholar and Catholic priest, came up with his earth-shaking thesis that Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy was influenced by the story of Israk Mikraj. Dante Alighieri or Durante degli Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote La Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy), an epic poem written between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is divided into three parts, the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The poem describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven; but at a deeper level it represents allegorically the soul's journey towards God.
Earlier, in the tenth century, the Israk Mikraj inspired a renown blind Muslim poet Abu'l A'la al-Ma'arri (973-1057) of Syria to write Risalat al-Ghufran (Epistle of Forgiveness). The epistle describes the journey of the poet in the realms of the afterlife and includes dialogue with people in Heaven and Hell.
Another author Al-Nisaburi or Abu'l-Qasim 'Abdalkarim ibn Hawazin bin 'Abdalmalik ibn Talhah ibn Muhammad al-Qushairi al-Nisaburi wrote Kitab al-Mi'raj (Book of the Ascension).
His book concerned with Prophet Muhammad's ascension into the Heavens, following his miraculous one-night journey from Mekah to Baitul Maqdis (Jerusalem).
In the second half of the thirteenth century, Al-Nisaburi's Kitab al-Mi'raj was translated into Latin as Liber Scale Machometi (The Book of Muhammad's Ladder), and has some slight similarities to the Paradiso, such as a sevenfold division of Paradise in Dante's Divine. It was also translated into Spanish, and then into Old French (1264).
In 1950, British Jesuit priest and philosopher Frederick Copleston argued that Dante's respectful treatment of Averroes (Ibn Rusyd), Avicenna (Ibn Sina), and French philosopher Siger of Brabant indicates his acknowledgement of a "considerable debt" to Islamic philosophy.
Although expressing skepticism regarding the claimed similarities, Italian orientalist Francesco Gabrieli recognised that it was "at least possible, if not probable, that Dante may have known the Liber scalae and have taken from it certain images and concepts of Muslim eschatology".
Meanwhile, Italian philologist Maria Corti pointed out that during his stay at the court of Alfonso X, Dante's mentor, philosopher Brunetto Latini, met Bonaventura de Siena, a Tuscan who had translated the Kitab al Miraj from Arabic into Latin. According to Corti, Brunetto may have provided a copy of that work to Dante.
Dante's The Divine Comedy itself became a masterpiece for centuries, inspiring 20th-century Western literary men such as TS Elliot, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, among others.
Today, Muslim scholars and teachers who give lectures at Israk Mikraj functions usually talks on the metaphysical voyage from various dimensions, not only from religious and literary point of views but also technology, especially space technology.
A theme which could motivate Muslims, particularly the younger generation, is to look back at the miraculous event and to look ahead by studying and mastering the sciences.
The Brunei Times