The quality of me’raj of the Prophet has been a subject of discussion for long and much has been said about its being physical or spiritual, although the Qur’an and the traditions clearly state that it was physical.1
However, some scientific notions have prevented a group of persons from accepting this reality.
Consequently, they have resorted to their own interpretations and considered the me’raj of the Prophet to be purely spiritual and have said that only his spirit travelled through all the worlds and then returned to his sacred body. Some have gone a step further and say that all these events were a vision and the Prophet saw different places and travelled through them in a dream.
The statement of the last group is so much distant from logic and reality that it should not at all be considered as a part of the traditions and opinions relating to me’raj. The reason for this is that when Quraysh heard that Muhammad(sawa) had claimed that he had travelled through all these places during a night they became very uneasy and got up seriously to give him the lie, so much so that his me’raj became the subject of discussion in all the assemblies of Quraysh.
In case his travelling through these worlds had been only a vision there was no point in Quraysh rising up to refute him and to create all the tumult(confusion). This is so because if a person says that one night, while asleep, he has dreamt this and that it cannot become an object of dispute and strife, for a dream is after all a dream and many impossible things can be seen in it. For this reason, therefore, this view is not worth further scrutiny(inspection). Unfortunately, however, some Egyptian scholars like Farid Wajdi have adopted this idea and supported it with baseless statements. In spite of all this, however, it is only proper to pass it over.
- What Is Spiritual Me’raj?
Those people who have not been able to solve some minute points related to physical me’raj have been compelled to resort to interpretation and have considered the Prophet’s me’raj to have been a spiritual one.
Spiritual me’raj means meditation (devotional exercise) about the things created by the Almighty and observation of His Grandeur and Beauty and absorption in thoughts about Him and glorifying His name and eventual freedom from material ties and worldly interests and crossing through all possibilities and entering into internal and non-material stages. And after going through all this process a special proximity to Allah is acquired, and it is not possible to define it.
If spiritual me’raj means meditation about the Grandeur of the Almighty and the extent of the creation, such a me’raj is undoubtedly not peculiar(unusual) to the Prophet of Islam as many Prophets and other enlightened and pure-hearted persons have also enjoyed this position, whereas the Quran mentions his me’raj as something peculiar(unusual) to him and an extraordinary distinction for him. Furthermore, the Prophet had been in the aforesaid condition during many nights2 whereas me’raj has been proved to be related to a particular night.
The thing which has obliged these persons to hold the said view (i.e. the me’raj was spiritual only) is the hypothesis (loosely theory) of the well-known Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, which has enjoyed great value in the scientists’ circles of East and West for a period of two thousand years and hundreds of books have been written about it, and it was considered till recently to be one of the established laws of natural sciences. It may be summarized as under:
There are two types of bodies in the world, elemental and celestial. An elemental body consists of the four well-known elements (water, earth, air and fire). The first sphere which we observe is the sphere of earth which is the centre of the world. Then come the spheres of water, air and fire and every one of them surrounds the other.
Here the spheres come to an end and the celestial bodies begin. Celestial bodies mean the nine skies which are connected with one another like the layers of an onion and are not at all capable of rending(split) and conciliation and separation and union and no creature can move straight through them, because this would necessitate separation of the components of the sky from one another.
The Prophet’s me’raj being physical necessitates that he should ascend from the center of the world in a straight line and should cross the four spheres and also rend the skies one after the other and the rending and conciliation of the skies is not possible and practicable according to Greek astronomy, the said thinkers have been obliged to consider the Prophet’s me’raj to be only spiritual, as nobody can restrain a spirit from performing a journey.
- Reply to The Above Criticism
These statements had some worth in those days when Ptolemy’s astronomy had not yet lost its value in scientific circles and some persons sincerely liked it and were inclined to it. In such circumstances it was possible that we might have played with the intricacies(complexity) of the Qur’an and had explained away the clear verses of the Qur’an as well as the traditions. These hypotheses have, however, lost their all-pervasive(penetrating) value and their baselessness has become evident. Only at times a mention of Ptolemy’s astronomy is made in connection with the history of science.
Furthermore, in view of the invention of various astronomical implements and powerful telescopes and descending of Apollos and Lunas on the surface of the moon, Venus and Mars and journeys of the astronauts on the moon have left no ground for these imaginary hypotheses. Nowadays the scientists consider the existence of four elemental spheres and nine inter-connected skies to be a mere myth and have not have not succeeded in seeing, with the help of scientific implements, astronomical tools and well-equipped eyes, the worlds which Ptolemy had created with his imagination and they consider to be valueless even view which is founded on his wrong hypothesis.
- An Unrhythmical Song
The leader of the Shaykhiyah sect (Shaykh Ahmad Ehsai) has sung another song in the pamphlet entitled ‘Qatifiyah’ and has tried to satisfy both the groups in a new manner. He says that the Prophet went for me’raj with a ‘barzakhi’3 (Herculian) body. In this way, according to his own thinking, he has satisfied those who believe in physical me’raj, because he has admitted that the me’raj took place along with body and has also removed the difficulty with regard to the skies, because, in order to penetrate through the skies, it is not necessary for a ‘barzakhi’ body to rend them.4
Nevertheless, the enlightened, truth-seeking and unbiased persons consider this view also to be
worthless and opposed to the Qur’an and clear text of the traditions, just like the previous view (the me’raj being spiritual), because, as has already been said, when you place the verse of the Qur’an relating to me’raj before a linguist (human translator skilled in langusages) he will say that the speaker means the worldly elemental body for which the word ‘abd’ (servant) has been used in the Qur’an and not the word ‘Herculian’, because the Arab society was not at all conversant(familiar) with this and other similar words and in Surah al-Isra’ only the common groups and individuals have been addressed.
Now the factor which has prompted him to adopt this forced interpretation is that very Greek myth about the system of existence according to which it is firm like Lawh-i Mehfooz (The Protected Tablet). But now that all the scientists refute this view it is not at all proper that we should continue to follow it blindly.
If the scholars of the past have said something on account of their being optimistic (expecting the best in all possible ways) about the old astronomy they can be excused and are not much to blame, but it is not proper for us, during the present times, to ignore the Qur’anic realities on account of a hypothesis which has been refuted by the body of scientists.
- Me’raj and Modern Scientific Laws
Some of those interested in natural sciences, who are anxious to fix a natural cause for every event and a physical agent, for every phenomenon, have chosen to deny the very basis of me’raj and think that modern natural and scientific laws do not confirm to the me’raj of the Prophet. For example, they say:
- Modern science says: In order to get away from the earth, it is necessary to neutralize its gravity. If you fling a ball in the air, the power of gravity brings it back to the earth. With whatever force you fling it, it will come back to the earth again. If we wish to neutralize the gravity of the earth fully, so that the ball should move on and should not return to the earth, it will be necessary to fling at the minimum speed of 25,000 miles per hour.Hence, the Prophet went out of the zone of gravity and became weight-less. But here the question arises as to how he performed the journey at this speed without necessary facilities.
- The atmosphere in which one may breathe does not exist beyond a few kilometers of the earth. Thereafter, as we go higher, air becomes thinner and still more unfit for breathing and occasionally we reach a point where there is no air at all. How did the Prophet manage to live without oxygen while performing his journey in the aforesaid regions?
- The mortal rays and celestial stones destroy every terrestrial body which is touched by them. They do not, however, reach the earth on account of their collision with the regions of air and in fact these regions serve as a coat-of-mail for the inhabitants of earth. In the circumstances, by what means did the Prophet remain safe from these mortal rays?
- Human life is deranged as and when the pressure of air increases or decreases and man can live in only a particular pressure of the air which does not exist in the upper regions.
- The speed at which the Prophet performed his journey was decidedly more than the speed of light. Light travels at the speed of 300,000 kilometers per second and modern science has proved that nobody can travel at a higher speed than that of light. Keeping this scientific law in view, how did the Prophet commence his journey at a speed higher than that of light and then returned safe and sound?
- Reply to The Above Objections
When we stretch the natural laws to this extent the number of difficulties crosses the limit of those enumerated above. However, we inquire from these gentlemen the purpose of explaining these natural laws. Do they mean to say that journey in the upper worlds is impossible?
It should be said in reply that fortunately the scientific research by the astronomers of Eastern and Western blocs have made this matter something usual and possible, because, by their sending into space the first artificial satellite in 1957, which was given the name of ‘Sputnic’, it became clear that the power of gravity can be neutralized by means of a rocket.
Similarly, by their sending space-ships carrying astronauts by means of rockets it became clear that the thing which man considered to be an obstacle in the way of his journeying in the upper worlds is remediable with the help of science and technology, and, with these industrial and scientific tools available to him, man can solve the problems of mortal rays and the difficulty about the lack of air in which one could breathe.
And even now the sciences relating to space are in a state of expansion and the scientists are confident that after some time it will be possible for them to lead their lives in one of the celestial spheres and they will travel quite easily to the moon and to Mars.5
These scientific and technical developments clearly show that such an activity is hundred per cent possible and is not something beyond reason.
It is possible that some persons may argue that such a journey cannot be undertaken without scientific and mechanical implements and as the Prophet did not possess these resources during the night of me’raj how could he travel in such worlds without them?
Reply to this statement becomes quite clear from our foregoing discussions about the miracles of the Prophets and especially from the detailed narrative which we have penned earlier about the events of the ‘Year of the Elephant’ and the incident of Abrahah’s army being killed with small stones, for it is an established fact that the things which ordinary persons do with implements and scientific tools can be done by the Prophets with the blessings of Allah, and without any apparent and external means.
The Prophet of Islam went to me’raj with the blessing of Almighty Allah to Whom the entire creation belongs and Who is the Creator of this wonderful system. It is He who has given gravity to the earth and cosmic rays to the sun, and has created different layers in the atmosphere. And He can take these things back and control them whenever He likes.
In case the schedule of the historical journey of the Prophet was accomplished under the command of Allah all these laws decidedly surrender before His absolute Will and are in the grip of His power every moment. In the circumstances what difficulty should there be if the Lord who has given gravity to the earth and cosmic rays to the heavenly bodies should take His chosen servant out of the center of gravity with His unlimited power and without any apparent means? Allah who has created oxygen can certainly create air for His Chosen Prophet in the areas where air does not exist.
The efficacy of a miracle is basically different from that of the natural causes and the strength of man. We should not consider the strength of Allah limited like our own. If we cannot perform a job without means, we should not say that the Omnipotent Allah cannot also perform it. From the point of view of difficulty and its solution the bringing to life of the dead, the transformation of a rod into a boa and keeping Prophet Yunus alive in the belly of a fish in the depth of the sea-the events which have been confirmed by the Heavenly Books and have been narrated for us-are not unlike the me’raj of the Prophet of Islam.
In short all the natural causes and external impediments are controlled and conquered by the Will of Allah. His Will does not concern only that which is an impossibility, but besides that He can do whatever He likes, whether or not man possesses strength for it or not.
No doubt we are addressing here those people who recognize Allah with the qualities and attributes which are peculiar to Him and who believe that He is Omnipotent and can do whatever He wills.
Ref – The Message, Chp 22: Meraj – The heavenly ascension.
- The great Shi’ah jurist, the late Shaykh Tabrasi, has stated in Tafsir-i Majma’ul Bayan that all Shi’ah scholars are unanimous that the ‘Me’raj’ was physical, vol. III, page 395.
- Wasa’il, Book of Fasting, chapter-prohibition of fasting.
- Barzakhi body is like the body with which man performs all deeds in a dream.
- The pamphlet entitled ‘Qatifiyah’ is one of his 92 pamphlets which were published collectively in 1273 with the name of “Jawame’ul Kalim”. The text of his remarks is as under: “In the event of ascension as the body goes above it abandons the elements connected with every one of the spheres at that very place and moves on. For example, it leaves the element of air in the sphere of air and that of fire in the sphere of fire. And at the time of its return it regains all that it had abandoned”. Hence, at the time of ‘Me’raj’, the Prophet abandoned every one of the four elements of his body (in the past the basic elements were considered to be four) in their respective spheres and went for me’raj with a body which was devoid of these elements. Such a body cannot be an elemental body and can be nothing else than ‘barzakhi’ (according to his terminology a ‘Herculian’ body). In the book entitled ‘Sharh-i Ziarat (pages 28 – 29) the Shaykh states that the nine skies are not capable of rending and conciliation.
- After artificial moons had been sent in the space, a twenty-seven year-old Russian named Major Gagarin first commenced his journey into space in a space ship on Wednesday, 12th April 1961. He was the first human being to undertake such a journey. His spaceship went 302 kilometers above the earth and he travelled round the earth for one hour and thirty minutes. Thereafter spaceships were sent into space by America as well as by the Soviet Union. Eventually Apollo-12 with all its occupants landed on the moon and it was for the first time that man set his foot on it. This schedule has been put to test a number of times thereafter and has been usually successful. All these activities go to show that landing of man on the surface of the spheres is possible. And the thing which man does by scientific methods is done by his Creator by means of His Great Will.