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Continued from “Rajab”:

We are advised to consider carefully what happens next, and to do so disavowing any notion of time and space that we have, for in truth it is beyond our capacities to really envisage. It is reported that the Prophet described the size of the heavens; he likened the first heaven, in comparison to the second heaven, as similar to a small ring in the desert. He continued in this way, until he likened the sixth as being the size of a ring in the desert compared to the seventh. Our realm – the entirety of it – our world and the worlds and the galaxies and the universe in which we reside, is contained in the first. Imagine, for a moment, what that means about the extent of creation in total. And then, give up your pretence.

The Prophet ascends through the heavens, gate by gate; at each point, Gibril asks for the gate to be opened, and the angel assigned to that gate asks who is with Gibril, if the Prophet was sent, and if it is time for him to ascend to the heavens. Each time, Gibril answers yes, and the Prophet enters the heavenly realm in question. He encounters the Prophets Adam, Isa, Yahya, Yusuf, Idris, Harun, and Musa, and there are stories narrated about each of these encounters. There is one in the sixth heaven that I recall in particular – that the Prophet passed by Prophets who had with them less than ten followers in all, while others had a large company, and others had not even one follower. In this is a good reminder: it is not about popularity. It is about truth.

Then the Prophet sees a huge mass, and he asks, “What is this throng?” He was told: “This is Musa and his people. Now raise your head and look.” He raised his head and saw another huge dark mass that was covering the firmament from every direction he looked. He was told: “These are your Community, and besides these there are seventy thousand of them that will enter Paradise without giving account.”  

Then they ascended to the seventh heaven. Gibril asked for the gate to be opened. Someone said:     — “Who is this?”   — “Gibril.”   — “Who is with you?   — “Muhammad.”   – “Has he been sent for?”   — “Yes.”   – “Welcome to him, from his family! May Allah grant him long life, a brother and deputy, and what excellent brother and deputy! What an excellent visit this is!” The gate was opened. The Prophet saw Sayyidina Ibrahim sitting at the gate of Paradise on a throne of gold the back of which was leaning against the Inhabited House (al-bayt al-mamur). With him were a company of his people. The Prophet greeted him and he returned his greeting and said: “Welcome to the righteous son and the righteous Prophet!”

It is related from one of our teachers that Sayyidina Ibrahim says: “Oh Muhammad, Give salam to your ummah from me and convey to them my advice: the world (dunya) is of a passing nature and swift in its decline. In the eyes of the Everlasting it is but base and contemptible matter. He attributes to it not even the value of a fly’s wing. Tell them not to waste their lives in the pursuit of its vain beauties, its pomp and palaces; not to be deceived by its many and varied tastes, by promises of grandeur and large followings. For it is the world to come, which is lasting, and eternal. Therefore, tell them to busy themselves in following the pure ways of the Shari’a by night and by day, and the guidance contained in your Sunnah so that they might thereby gain the good pleasure of Allah. The Gardens of Paradise are vast, so let them plant there many, many trees.

The Prophet is reported to have said: “How does one plant a tree in Janna?” He replied: “La hawla wa-la quwwata illa billah al-‘Ali al-‘Azim – There is no change nor might except with Allah the Exalted, the Almighty!”   (Another version says: “Convey my greetings to your Community and tell them that Paradise has excellent soil and sweet water, and that its seedlings are:     subhan Allah: Glory to Allah!   wal-hamdu lillah: and Praise to Allah!   wa-la ilaha illallah: and there is no God but Allah! wallahu akbar: and Allah is greatest!”)

Remember these, and reflect! And remember: Bayt al-Ma’mur is to the dwellers of Janna like the Ka’aba is to the inhabitants of the earth. Indeed, it is said that it is directly above the Ka’aba, and that every day 70,000 angels enter it, and never return; their dhikr when making tawaf around it is ‘Labbayk Allahumma labbayk’ (‘At Your service! oh Allah, at Your service!’) and this continues daily until the Day of Judgement, reminding us of the numbers of angels that are in creation. Far more than the mankind and the jinn.

Then the Prophet was raised up to the Lote-tree of the Farthest Limit [of creational knowledge]. Someone on his mount could travel under its shade for seventy years and still not come out of it. Each leaf could wrap up this Community entirely. One version says that one of its leaves could wrap up all creatures.  On top of each leaf there was an angel who covered it with colors which cannot be described. Whenever he covered it by Allah’s order it would change. One version says: It would turn into sapphire and chrysolite, the beauty of which is impossible for anyone to praise according to its merit. On it alighted moths of gold. The Prophet is reported as having said: “Upon this tree I saw such a number of angels that only Allah can know. They enfolded all the leaves of that tree and glittered like locusts, flashing like stars.” All of these angels came to greet the Prophet, ‘alayhi salat wa salam.

It is said that Sayyidina Gibrıl had his place upon the branches of this tree, and his was a branch made of green emerald. One of our teachers spoke of it like this:

“Upon that branch there is a carpet spread of light, and on it there is a mihrab made of red ruby (yaqut). This mihrab is the place of the Angel Jibrıl. Before it was placed a seat of honor reserved for the Prophet upon which no one had sat since the day it was first set in place. This seat was surrounded by forty thousand seats upon which angels sat reciting the Injıl. To the left there were also ten thousand seats made of beryl, and the angels seated upon them were writing out the Zabur (Psalms). Forty thousand other angels reciting the Zabur surrounded each seat. Behind us there were ten thousand more seats of red ruby. The angels seated on these were writing out the Qur’an, and around each seat there were seated another forty thousand angels reciting the Qur’an This has been explained as follows. The wisdom of the Torah being placed before the Prophet, the Injil to his right, and the Zabur to his left is this: before the Prophet, revelations (including theTorah, Zabur, and Injil) appeared in the world and begun fulfilling his mission, the Books had already been revealed containing descriptions of the Prophet to come and telling of his characteristics and excellence, and of the preeminent position of his nation among all other, previous nations. The Qur’an was placed behind him because its Judgment (hukm) will remain valid and unsurpassed until the Day of Judgment, and even the Day of Judgment itself will be conducted by its rulings. It is a sign of its remaining free and safe from abrogation, substitution, alteration or corruption.”

From the base of the tree issued four [more] rivers: two hidden rivers and two visible ones. The Prophet asked: “What are these, O Gibril? He replied: “As for the hidden ones, they are two rivers of Paradise (and later on, we are told that one of them is called Kawthar, and the other is called Rahma). The visible ones are the Nile and the Euphrates.”  

[Ibn Kathir said: “What is meant by this – and Allah knows best – is that these two rivers (the Nile and the Euphrates) resemble the rivers of Paradise in their purity, sweetness, fluidity, and such of their qualities. As the Prophet said in the hadith narrated by Abu Hurayra: al-‘ujwatu min al-janna, The Date [of Madina] is from paradise.’ That is: it resembles the fruit of Paradise, not that it itself originates in Paradise. If the latter were the actual meaning then the senses would testify to the contrary. Therefore, the meaning which imposes itself is other than that. Similarly, the source of origin of these rivers is on earth.”]

It is then said that the Prophet entered Paradise, and that on its gate, he saw written, “Charity is repaid tenfold, and loan eighteenfold.”   The Prophet said: “O Gibril, how can the loan be more meritorious than charity?” He replied: “Because one asking for charity may still have some need left, while the borrower does not borrow except his need is fulfilled.”

The Prophet is reporting as having seen an angel at the Lote-Tree, greater than all the angels he had previously seen; embellished upon him in the most wondrous of ways was the shahada of Islam. The Prophet asked Gibril, where did this angel dwell, and he replied, “in Paradise, there is a place to the right of the Divine Throne, that is the abode of this angel. From there he was brought here.”

The Prophet is narrated as having gone to that angel, greeted him, and the angel responds, “Good tidings to you, and to your nation! The Almighty has decreed that your nation might have a most singularly blessed month so that He might forgive them their sins. This holy month is the month of Ramadan and it is meant as a gift for you and your nation. For its sake your nation will find forgiveness. I have been sent here this very night to announce to you this great gladness.” He said more to him about this, but we must move on.

The Prophet was taken up to a point where he heard the scratching of the Pens [writing the divine Decree]. He saw a man who had disappeared into the light of the Throne. He said: “Who is this? Is this an angel?” It was said to him, no. He said: “Is it a Prophet?” Again the answer was no. He said: “Who is it then?” The answer was: “This is a man whose tongue was moist with Allah’s remembrance in the world, and his heart was attached to the mosques, and he never incurred the curse of his father and mother.”  

Then the Prophet sought Gibril to go further, but Gibril said, “You go ahead, for in the eyes of Allah, you are more honoured than I and all the world contains.” The Prophet continues, and Gibril follows, until they reach a veil, which Gibril shakes.

A voice is heard from behind it, saying, “Who are you?” Gibril says, “I am Gibril, and Muhammad (saw) is with me.” And then an unknown angel says, “Allah akbar, Allah akbar” – and the voice replies, “‘My servant has spoken truly, I am indeed the Greatest, no Greatness is due to any but Me.” The unknown angel repeats the shahada, and the voice replies, “‘My servant has spoken truly, I have sent Muhammad as My Messenger and My Prophet.”

The unknown angel says, according to one of our teachers, “Ya Muhammad, Allah has honoured you with perfect honour over all those who went before you and who are yet to come.’ I then asked Gibrıl, ‘Who is this angel?’ Gibrıl told me, ‘I swear by the Might and Glory of Allah who has sent you as His Messenger of Truth: I have never seen this angel, I do not know who he is or anything about him, but you are now about to find out.’ I then asked, ‘Are you not going any further then? Does a true friend leave his friend in midstream?’ Gibril then said, ‘Oh Rasul Allah, every angel has his place and station beyond which he cannot go. If I advance even the breadth of a finger, the Wrath of Allah will burn me. My ultimate station is the Lote Tree. Up to this very moment, I have never gone as far as this point. For your sake and honor, however, I have been given permission, and I have brought you here. But I can proceed no further than this.”

And then, as our teachers taught us, the unknown angel stretches forth his hand, and brings the Prophet to the other side of the veil. Passing through the veil and more veils, the Prophet is narrated as having said he beheld many amazing things – and then reaches the Divine Throne. Most of what he saw, there is no narration of him revealing it to us. But we do know that when faced with a glimpse of the Divine Beauty, the Prophet then recites what becomes a part of our salat: “At-tahiyyatu li-llahi wa-salawatu wa-tayyibtu. All praise belong to Allah and prayers and good things”, and in response he is told, “al-salam ‘alayka ayyuhun nabiyyu wa rahmutullahi wa barakatu.” And then the Prophet says, “al-salam ‘alayna wa ‘ala ibadillahi al-salihin.” Later, Gibril is informed of this discourse, and he adds the shahada.

Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki, the teacher of our teachers, reminds us of the long-standing position among Ahl al-Sunna that the Prophet, ‘alayhi salat wa salam, sees his Lord; and falls into prostration (sajda). As Imam al-Qushayri says: “Allah made our Prophet hear His Speech without intermediary on the Night of Ascension, and of Musa also, He took the Covenant without intermediary. But our Prophet enjoyed an additional state: in addition to hearing the words addressed to him, an unveiling of vision.” [Indeed, there are narrations from the great Imams, such as Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, and Imam al-Shafi’i, that the believers themselves will see Allah on the Day of Resurrection, and in Paradise – of course, in a way without modality, nor similarity, nor direction. But, yes, even if we are forbidden from specifying how. At the same time, our scholars generally teach us that such sight in this world, in this dunya, does not happen. There is disagreement among the scholars as to whether it is possible but doesn’t happen anyway. There is also further disagreement among the scholars, and even among the Sahaba, as to whether the Prophet saw Allah – Sayyid Muhammad b. ‘Alawi al-Maliki goes into this in more detail.]

There are different narrations that reveal the conversation that took place thereafter. What we might highlight here is the following, gathered in different parts from different teachers of ours. One of the most key – perhaps the most key – things emphasised therein is the simple truth that Allah wants what is best for us, and is a forgiving, merciful Lord. It is narrated to us that Allah asked the Prophet:

“And what are these works that are compensation for sins committed?” The Prophet answers: “On a cold day, to perform one’s ablutions with cold water and in such a way that one’s limbs are wetted entirely; to walk the distance required to join the prayer in congregation; after having prayed one prayer, to wait for the next; these are actions that are compensation for sins. Whoever performs such work will live his life in goodness and righteousness and only good will be his lot. He will be as pure as on the day his mother brought him into the world. Whoever persists in these three actions, I pray and plead that his may be a goodly life. May he always be surrounded by goodness and remain as pure as on the day he was born.”

It is reported that Allah questions him further: “Which are those actions that lead to high stations in Paradise?”, and the Prophet replies: “To share food with people and to show hospitality, to give salam to a Muslim whom one encounters on the road, to get up for prayer at night when everyone is asleep – these three actions lead to high stations in Paradise.” And then, it is narrated that Allah says: “Speak, oh Muhammad!”, and commands him to recite the following supplication:
Allahumma inni as‘aluka fiamalan bi-l-hasanati wa tarkan li-l-munkirati,
wa ‘idƒa aradta bi-qawmin fitnatan wa ana fi-him, faqbidni ilayka ghayra maftun.

Oh my Lord, I ask of You to be granted good works and to be released from bad actions, and should You have decreed disaster for a people, and I should be among them, then take me from their midst before calamity takes its toll.”

It is narrated by our teachers that on this night, Allah tells the Prophet,
“Now ask of me what you wish, it will be granted.” And the Prophet says:    
“To this I said, ‘Oh Lord, grant us Thy Forgiveness; unto Thee is the homecoming. (al-Baqarah 2:285) Admit us to Your Divine Presence having granted us Your Mercy and Forgiveness.’
Thereupon the Almighty replied, ‘I have forgiven you and your nation.’

And after this, the Lord of Majesty and Might spoke:
“…all the believers securely believe in Allah
and His Angels and His Books and His Messengers.
We make no distinction between any one of His Messengers. The [each] say, “We hear and we obey.”
Grant us forgiveness and unto You is the final destination.
Allah does not burden any soul except with what it can bear
To its account is what it has merited [by way of goodness]
and against it is what it has earned [by way of the evil it did].” (Al-Baqarah)

And after this, Allah is said to have said: “Oh Muhammad, this night is the night of gifts, ask therefore for whatever you wish, it will be granted.” And the Prophet reads: “Oh our Lord, do not condemn us if we forget or unwittingly do wrong.” (al-Baqarah 2:286) The reply comes: “I have forgiven you and your nation for whatever sins they have committed from heedlessness and forgetfulness. And I have forgiven them the sins that they were forced to commit. So ask again, it will be granted.”

The Prophet continues: “Oh our Lord, do not lay a load on us as You burdened those who came before us!” (al-Baqarah 2:286). And then he is narrated as saying: “I made supplication for my nation that they might not be burdened with all the weight that previous nations had to bear.”

The Lord is then narrated as saying: ‘I have granted ease to your nation and made their burdens light. So ask of Me what you want, it will be granted.’ The Prophet continues, repeating: “Oh our Lord do not burden us with what we have no strength to bear.” (al-Baqarah 2:286)

The Lord is then narrated as saying: ‘I will not place upon you and your nation burdens which exceed their strength to carry them. But ask more of Me, I will grant it.’
The Prophet continues, repeating: ‘Pardon us!’ (al-Baqarah, 2:286), and Allah is narrated as replying, ‘I have pardoned you and your nation.’ “Forgive us!” the Prophet continues (al-Baqarah 2:286), and Allah is narrated as replying: ‘I have forgiven you and your nation.’ According to one narration from our teachers, the Prophet then asks for pardon for each and every act of disobedience, to each of which the Lord Almighty replied, “I have forgiven them.” The Prophet is narrated as continuing: “Have mercy on us’, (al-Baqarah 2:286), and then Allah answered, ‘I have mercy on you.”

Then the Prophet is narrated as saying: “You are our Protector;” (al-Baqarah 2:286) and Allah said, ‘The Friend and Protector of all believers is Allah, Lord of Might and Glory; the unbelievers have no Protecting Friend.’ Then the Prophet said, ‘And help us against the people of the unbelievers’. (al-Baqarah 2:286).  And the Lord replies, “Up to the Day of Judgment, I have made you and your nation to be victorious over the unbelievers.”

It is narrated that Allah says to the Prophet: “Oh Muhammad, I have chosen you as My Beloved (habib), just as I chose Ibrahım as My faithful friend. To be the Beloved of Allah is even more excellent than being His friend. I have also privileged you with the vision of My Divine Beauty, and I have spoken to you without intermediary, even as I spoke to Musa.
Beyond this, I have given you the chapters of the Qur’an, al-Fatiha (The Opening) and the end of al-Baqarah (The Cow), which are both from the treasure troves of My Divine Throne. These were not given to any Prophet before you, but reserved for you and your nation.
Also, I have sent you as My Messenger to all the peoples of the world, to mankind and to jinn, be they black or white or of any other color or description; never before have I sent a Prophet with so universal a mission.’
I have also made the whole Earth to be as a Masjid, so that wherever you may find yourselves, you may pray and perform your worship.’
“I have granted you the right of intercession for whomever you desire. I have sent down to you the greatest and most august of all revealed scriptures, the Glorious Qur’an.
And I have split your breast and removed from you all sinfulness.
Among all the people belonging to your ummah, I have made one group in whose hearts resides the Holy Quran. This was not given to other nations before yours; they did not commit to memory the books their prophets brought to them. This privilege I have reserved for your nation alone.
I have made your nation more excellent than all previous You I have created before anything else, and I have sent you on your prophetic mission as the last of all the Prophets.
I have sent you for all people without exception, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner.
I have expanded your breast for you and relieved you of your burden and exalted your name, as I am not mentioned except you are mentioned with Me.
I have made your Community the best Community ever brought out for the benefit of mankind.
I have made your Community a mean and a middle.  
I have made your Community in truth the first and the last of all Communities.
I have made public address (al-khutba) impermissible for your Community unless they first witness that you are My servant and Messenger.
I have placed certain people in your Community with Evangels for hearts.
I have made you the first Prophet created and the last one sent and the first one heard in My court.
I have given you Seven of the Oft-Repeated (verses) which I gave to no other Prophet before you.
I have given you the last verses of Surat al-Baqara which constitute a treasure from under My Throne which I gave to no other Prophet before you.  
I have given you al-Kawthar.  
I have given you eight lots: Islam, Emigration (al-hijra), Jihad, Charity (al-sadaqa), Fasting Ramadan, Ordering Good, and Forbidding Evil; and the day I created the heavens and the earth I made obligatory upon you and upon your Community fifty prayers: therefore establish them, you and your Community.
To you I give the right of intercession for your ummah; Oh Muhammad, you may be the advocate on their behalf, and I pledge to accept all your intercessions.”
“Oh Muhammad, sometimes your ummah will be obedient to Me, at other times they will be rebellious. Their obedience to Me meets with My Pleasure, and to Me are acceptable all their works, which accord to My Good Pleasure; I forgive them their minor misdoings and accord to them generous recompense. For I am the All-Bountiful, and I show Myself to them in My aspect of Bounty. The disobedient among them are subject to My Judgment; but because it is the Judgment of past eternity, I forgive them their disobedience, for I am the All-Merciful, and I show them My Mercy.’
Oh Muhammad, say to your ummah: ‘The Lord Almighty says to you: just as you love a person that shows you loving kindness and generosity, I am much more deserving of your love and affection than any other in this world. I have created you when you were naught and I have given you a pleasing form and I continue to ceaselessly shower you with innumerable blessings.”
‘Had your ummah not been so sinful, I would have created a nation of sinners, so that I might make Myself known as the Forgiver of Sins in that I granted them forgiveness. Oh Muhammad, You are My Beloved, as you are My servant. All Creation I have brought into being for your sake alone. Because of the sins of your ummah, I have created My Oceans of Mercy.
Oh Muhammad, regard the high station of honor and dignity you have been granted, in that you are honored by an encounter with My Divine Beauty. I have granted you direct discourse with My Divine Person, without interpreter or intermediary. Whoever is acceptable to you is also acceptable to Me, and he who refuses you, is refused by Me, too.’
‘Indeed, you will be the first of all the Prophets to enter Paradise, and no Prophet can enter it before you. Your nation will be the first nation to enter Paradise and no other nation will be admitted before they have gone in.’
“Oh Muhammad, set not your hopes on any nation of mankind, for they have nothing at all. Let your hopes always be pinned on Me and let your talk be with Me, for to Me is your return. Do not become attached to this world in your heart, for I have not created you for this world.’

It is reported that the Prophet said, among other things:
“My Lord has preferred me over everyone else.
He has sent me as a mercy to the worlds and to all people without exception, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner.
The entire earth was made a ritually pure place of prostration for me.  
I was given the words that open, those that close, and those that are comprehensive in meaning.
My Community was shown to me and there is none of the followers and the followed but he is known to me.  
And I have been ordered to perform fifty prayers daily.”

Eventually, the Prophet is rejoined with Sayyidina Gibril, who takes him by the hand and speeds away with him, until he reaches Sayyidina Ibrahim, who did not say anything. Then the Prophet reaches Sayyidina Musa who asked: “What did you do, O Muhammad? What obligations did your Lord impose on you and your Community?” The Prophet replied: “He imposed fifty prayers every day and night on me and my Community.” Sayyidina Musa says: “Return to your Lord and ask Him to lighten your burden and that of your Community, for, in truth, your Community will not be able to carry it.”

This is well known, and as our shaykh tells us, the Prophet went back and forth several times, until God said: “Let them be five prayers every day and night, and let every prayer count as ten. That makes fifty prayers. This word of Mine shall not be changed nor shall My Book be abrogated. Let whoever is about to perform a good deed, even if he does not ultimately do it, receive the reward of doing it, while if he does it, he shall receive it tenfold. Let whoever is about to commit a bad deed, and he does not ultimately do it, let not anything be written against him, while if he does it, let one misdeed be written against him.”    

The Prophet then descended, until he reached earth once again. Some of the ‘ulama say that he prayed again among the Prophets before setting off to Makka, mounted Buraq again, which he had tied in Jerusalem, and then departed.  

The kuffar of Makka doubted him, but when the Prophet answered questions about people and caravans he had seen on the way back, and what else he had seen in Jerusalem, they were left dumbfounded.

The doubters turned to Sayyidina Abu Bakr, and asked him, “But do you believe what he said, that he went last night to the Hallowed House and came back before morning?” He replied: “Yes! And (what is more): I do believe him regarding what is farther than that. I believe in the news of heaven he brings, whether in the space of a morning (i.e., the revelation that the Prophet brought regularly), or in that of an evening journey.” Because of this, Sayyidina Abu Bakr was named al-Siddiq: the Trusting and Truthful.

After more questions, which were answered precisely by the Prophet, leaving the doubters in their squalor, God revealed the verse: “We appointed not the vision which We showed you but as a test for mankind”. (17:60)              

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