Friday 4 October 2019

Overview: Surah Al Isra - The Night Journey: 17th Chapter of Quran

Sürah Al Isrāʼ " الإسراء " is the seventeenth surah with 111 ayahs with 12 rukus, part of the 15th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an. This sürah is a Al-Musabbihat sürah because it begins with the glorification of Allah. It also has one Sajdah e talawat  (prostration of recitation) in verse 109.

The sürah takes its name Sürah Al-Isrāʼ "الإسراء " from the very first verse which mentions the word " اَسۡرٰى " thus indicative of the time of its revelation on the occasion of Mi`raj (Ascension). Since the miracle of Mi`raj took place before Hijra (migration) to Medina, it is an early Meccan sürah.

This sürah is also known as Sürah Banī Isrāʼīl " بني إسرائيل‎ "  as mentioned in the verse 4. But this name is merely a distinctive appellation like the names of many other surahs and not a descriptive title, and does not mean that "Bani Isra'il" is the theme of this Sarah.

Before specifically discussing / presenting its background of revelation and exegesis, let us go back and see how the various surahs of the Quran have been grouped and the place of this sürah:
In the gradation of religious teaching (see Introduction to Sürah vii), we saw in the first seven Sürahs sketched the early religious history of man, and led that up to the formation of the new Ummat of Islam. 
Sürahs viii to xvi formed another series dealing with the formation of the new Ummat and its consolidation, and Allah's dealing with man taken as an Ummat and considered in his social relations in organised communities (see Introduction to Sūrahs vii, x and xvi).
We now come to a fresh series, (Sūrahs xvii-xxix), which may be considered in three parts.
(1)  Sürahs xvii-xxi begin with an allusion to the Isrā (of which more later), and proceed to religious history as touching individuals rather than nations. The old prophets and stories of the past are now referred to from this point of view.
(2)  Sürahs xxii-xxv refer to Hajj (pilgrimage), worship and prayer, chastity, privacy, etc., as related to a man's individual religious growth. 
(3)  Sürahs xxvi-xxix go back to the old prophets and stories of the past, as illustrating the growth of the individual soul in its reactions against the lives of the communities and the reactions of the communities to the lives of its great individual souls.
Let us now consider Sürah Al-Isrāʼ by itself. It opens with the night journey of the Holy Prophet: he was transported from the Sacred Mosque (of Makkah) to the Farthest Mosque (of Jerusalem) in a night and shown some of the Signs of Allah. The majority of Commentators take this Night Journey literally. The Hadith literature gives details of this Journey and its study helps to elucidate its meaning. The holy Prophet was first transported to the seat of the earlier revelations in Jerusalem, and then taken through the seven heavens even to the Sublime Throne. Miguel Asin, Arabic Professor in the University of Madrid, has shown that this Mi'rāj literature had a great influence on the Medieval literature of Europe, and especially on the great Italian poem, the Divine Comedy (or Drama) of Dante, which towers like a landmark in medieval European literature.

The reference to this great story of the Mi'rāj is a fitting prelude to the Journey of the human soul in its religious growth in life. The first steps in such growth must be through moral conduct-the reciprocal rights of parents and children, kindness to our fellow-men, courage and firmness in the hour of danger, a sense of personal responsibility, and a sense of Allah's Presence through prayer and praise.

According to the Traditions and books on the life of the Holy Prophet, this event happened one year before Hijrah. The dates oft quoted are the night of 27th of Rajab (though some quote other dates like 17th of Rabi' I) Thus, this Surah is one of those which were revealed in the last stage of Prophethood at Makkah.

The Holy Prophet had been propagating Tawhid for the previous twelve years and his opponents had been doing all they could to make his Mission a failure, but in spite of all their opposition, Islam had spread to every corner of Arabia and there was hardly any clan which had not been influenced by his invitation. In Makkah itself the true Believers had formed themselves into a small community and were ready and willing to face every danger to make Islam a success. Besides them, a very large number of the people of Aus and Khazraj (two influential clans of Al-Madinah) had accepted Islam. Thus the time had come for the Holy Prophet to emigrate from Makkah to Al- Madinah and there gather together the scattered Muslims and establish a state based on the principles of Islam. These were the conditions when Mi`raj took place and on his return the Holy Prophet brought down the Message contained in this Surah.

This Surah is a wonderful combination of warning, admonition and instruction, which have been blended together in a balanced proportion.

The disbelievers of Makkah had been admonished to take a lesson from the miserable end of the Israelites and other communities and mend their ways within the period of respite given by Allah, which was about to expire. They should, therefore, accept the invitation that was being extended by Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) and the Quran. Otherwise they shall be annihilated and replaced by other people. Incidentally, the Israelites, with whom Islam was going to come in direct contact in the near future at Al-Madinah have also been warned that they should learn a lesson from the chastisements that have already been inflicted on them. They were warned, "Take advantage of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) because that is the last opportunity which is being given to you. If even now you behave as you have been behaving, you shall meet with a painful torment."

As regards the education of mankind, it has been impressed that human success or failure, gain or loss, depends upon the right understanding of Tauhid, life-after- death and Prophethood. Accordingly, convincing arguments have been put forward to prove that the Quran is the Book of Allah and its teachings are true and genuine the doubts of the disbelievers about these basic realities have been removed and on suitable occasions they have been admonished and rebuked in regard to their ways of ignorance.

In this connection, those fundamental principles of morality and civilization on which the Islamic System of life is meant to be established have been put forward. Thus this was a sort of the Manifesto of the intended Islamic state which had been proclaimed a year before its actual establishment. It has been explicitly stated that that was the sketch of the system on which Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) intended to build human life first in his own country and then in the outside world.

Besides these, the Holy Prophet has been instructed to stick firmly to his stand without minding the opposition and difficulties which he was encountering and should never think of making a compromise with unbelief. The Muslims who sometimes showed signs of impatience, when they met with persecution, calumny, and crooked arguments, have also been instructed to face adverse circumstances with patience and fortitude and keep full control over their feelings and passions. Moreover, salat was prescribed in order to reform and purify their souls, as if to say, "This is the thing which will produce in you those high qualities of character which are essential for everyone who intends to struggle in the righteous way Incidentally, we learn from Traditions that Mi'raj was the first occasion on which the five daily Prayers were prescribed to be offered at fixed times.

This surah being a length surah with 111 verses, carrying a number of divergent subjects, it has been divided into four parts for ease of understanding and better comprehension:
  • Part I: Ruku / sections 1-2 [Verses 1-21] - The details of journey by night and signs of Allah
  • Part IIRuku / sections 3-5 [Verses 22-52] - Some commandments and explanations.
  • Part IIIRuku / sections 6-7 [Verses 53-70] - Allah advises to Prophet Muhammad and mention of Prophet Adam and Iblees.
  • Part IV: Ruku / sections 8-12 [Verses 71-111] - Mention of ungrateful of the man, message to man, the Resurrection and the ultimate Truth in the form of the Quran
We will begin with the details of Ascension of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to the seven Heavens in Part I in our next post.

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary / exegesis of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Juzʼ / Part backwards for chapters in 30th Juzʼ / Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 678 |
Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. [2] 
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources:
In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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