Verse 17:1 is one of the most misunderstood verses in the Quran, presumed to represent the event known as Isra’ Mikraj, where it was said that Prophet Muhammad was taken from Makkah to Jerusalem on a flying horse. Prophet Muhammad was then taken to the heavens to meet God, and received the commandment to pray 5 times a day, after repeated negotiations as advised by Musa, who seemed to know better than God.
However, this belief, supported by Hadith and Sirat was taken by reading verse 17:1 in isolation. The narrative by the Quran on the other hand, is completely different. And this is the reason why we need to read it as the Quran explain itself.
75:17 Indeed, upon Us its assembly (jam’ahu), and its readings (qur’ana-hu).
75:18 And when we read it (qar’ana-hu), then follow its readings (qur’ana-hu)
75:19 Then indeed upon Us, its explanation (bayana-hu)
17:1 Exalted is the one who (sub’ḥāna alladhī)
WITH His servants (BI-‘abdi-hi)
by night (Laylan)
from Al-Masjidi Al-Haraam, to Al-Masjidi Al-Aqsa
which We blessed (barakna) its surroundings,
that We may show him of Our Signs.
Indeed He, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.
17:2 AND We gave Musa the Scripture (Al-Kitab),
and made it a GUIDANCE for the Children of Isra-el,
“That not you take from other than Me as a Disposer of affairs.”
17:3 Offsprings whom we carried with Nuh. Indeed, he was a servant, grateful.
Traditional translations had implied that it was Muhammad in verse 17:1 that took the journey by night.
But verse 17:2 starts with conjunction “ And ” indicating a continuation of verse 17:1 – thus, relating verse 2 with verse 1.
And verse 17:2 mentioned Musa was given the Scripture for Guidance.
It was made as a Guidance for the night journey from Al-Masjid Al-Haraam, to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa,
So the Guidance (Hudan) was from the Scripture (Al-Kitab). [as per verse 2:2]
Musa > given The Scripture > for Guidance > from Al-Masjid Al-Haraam > to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa
In the following verses, we can see that the Quran is repeating the narration, making clear that this night journey was by Musa.
in Surah Ash-Shu’ara
26:52 And We inspired to Musa that, “Journey (asri) with My servant,
indeed, you (will be) followed.”
in Surah Ad-Dhukan
44:23 Then journey (asri) with My servants by night (laylan).
Indeed, you will be followed.
44:24 And leave the sea at rest. Indeed, they are an army drowned.”
in Surah TaHa
20:77 And verily, We inspired to Musa that, “Journey (asri) with My servants and strike for them a path in the sea (al-Bahri) dry; not fearing to be overtaken and not being afraid.”
20:78 Then followed them Firaun with his forces, but covered them from the sea what covered them
20:79 And led astray Firaun his people and (did) not guide them.
And the subsequent verses 80 & 81 described the blessed (barakah) surroundings mentioned in in 17:1
20:80 O Children of Isra-el! Verily, We delivered you from your enemy, and We made a covenant with you on the side of the Mount the right, and We sent down to you the Manna and the quails.
20:81 Eat of the good things which We have provided you and do not transgress therein, lest should descend upon you My Wrath. And whoever descends on whom My Anger, indeed, he has perished.
So based on verses 26:52, 44:23 and 20:77,
it was Musa that journeyed His servants.
So who were the servants ? As explained in 17:2 & 18:20, the servants were the Children of Isra-el
From the Lexicon:
أَسْرَىٰ Isra – He journeyed, or travelled, by night, transported (Taj Al-‘Arus, Ṣihah, Mokram, Mughrib, Miṣbah, Ḳamoos,)
إِيلُ El – name of God [an Arabized Hebrew / Syriac word ] (Ṣihah, Mokram, Ḳamoos,)
According to Ibn-El-Kelbee (Taj Al-‘Arus)
جَبْرَئِيلُ – Jibra-el
مِيكَائِيلُ – Mika-el
are similar to للّٰهِٱ عَبْدُ and الرَّحْمَانِ عَبْدَ
In other words, Children of Isra-el, also referred as My servants, are servants journeying for God (El)
Journey by Night is metaphorical
The term night (Layl) in the Quran used metaphorically to refer to the times of darkness that covers the light (nur) before the revelations. This is why such nights were given terms such as blessed (barakah) and The Measure / Determination ( Al-Qadr).
And the term bayatan also denotes planning by night : bayatan wa-hum naimuna : planned while they sleep.
10:27 And those who earned the evil deeds, the recompense of an evil deed is like it, and will cover them humiliation. Not they will have from Allah any defender. As if had been covered their faces with pieces from the night of darkness. Those are the companions of the Fire, they in it will abide forever.
>>The Darkness of the Night conceals their vision from the truth.<<
28:71 Say, "Have you considered: if Allah should make for you the night continuous until the Day of Al-Qiyamah, what deity other than Allah could bring you light? Then will you not hear?"
>>The Darkness of the Night constantly conceals their hearing until the moment of their consciousness set upright (Yawmil- Qiyāmati).<<
28:72 Say, "Have you considered: if Allah should make for you the day continuous until the Day of Al-Qiyamah, what deity other than Allah could bring you a night in which you may rest? Then will you not see?"
The Darkness of the Night constantly conceals their vision until the moment of their consciousness set upright.
The term night is used because the revelation is during our state of darkness / ignorance.
44:3 Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night. Indeed We were to warn.
91:3-4 When the Day when it shows it. When the Night when it draws a veil over it.
93:2 And the Night when it covers with darkness
97:1 Indeed, We sent down the Reading during the Night of Determination (Laylati Al-Qadri)
So when the Quran mentioned the word night, it does not mean a period between sunset and sunrise which probably last not more than say, 16 hours depending on the season ( a maximum of less than 80km walking non-stop at 5 km/h ). If we take this as a physical journey, then the physical distance would be very limited during the night, whether on foot or on camels. This journey by night is not something we measure by physical distance to determine geographical locations.
Journey by night is a metaphor of the quest in the period of darkness before the revelation. The Quran also describes the beginning of the revelation as the Dawn (Al-Fajr), bringing light into Day.
This journey by night was not just by Musa, but was also prescribed for Lut.
Lut’s Travel by Night
11:81 They said, "O Lut! Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, never they will reach you. So journey (asri) with your family in part of the night (al-Layli) and (let) not look back anyone of you, except your wife. Indeed, it will strike her what will strike them. Indeed, their appointed time (is) morning. Is not the morning near?"
15:65 So journey (asra) with your family in a portion of the night (al-Layli) and follow their backs, and not let look back among you anyone, and go on where you are ordered."
The Quran does not support the popular belief that verse 17:1 was about Muhammad’s night journey, known as Isra’ Mikraj. Riding a mythical flying donkey was pure fabrication, with borrowed elements from the Persian literature, Arda Viraf night journey. The fabled story even narrated that Musa had better knowledge and wisdom from God, that God is unaware of the implication of ordering prayer 50 times a day (1 prayer every 29 minutes). So we have every reason to doubt that all the details that were said to be the result of this event.
The Quran refutes such miraculous event known as mukjizat. We only need to read the Quranic verses in the same Surah of the following verses.
17:89 And verily We have explained to mankind in this Quran from every example, but refused most of the mankind except disbelief.
17:90 And they say, "Never we will believe in you until you cause to gush forth for us from the earth a spring.
17:91 Or you have for you a garden of date-palms and grapes, you cause to gush forth the rivers within them abundantly.
17:92 Or you cause to fall the sky, as you have claimed, upon us (in) pieces or you bring Allah and the Angels before (us).
17:93 Or is for you a house of ornament or you ascend into the sky. And never we will believe in your ascension until you bring down to us a book we could read it." Say, "Glorified (is) my Lord! "What am I but a human, a Messenger."
17:94 And what prevented the people that they believe when came to them the guidance except that they said, "Has sent Allah a human Messenger?"
Only those who disbelieve would have made such request for a miracle to make them believe. Even so, would they when the real signs were shown upon them? Everything must follow the Laws of Allah, and Allah does not change His laws for the sake of making the disbeliever to believe.
The miracle night journey as narrated in the hadith and Sirat, in 621AD from Makkah to Jerusalem was not supported by the Quran.
Journey by Night was clearly metaphorical. It wasn’t a physical journey.
Which means, Al-Masjid Al-Haraam and Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in the Quran were not physical places.
Al-Masjid Al-Haraam in the Quran is neither Egypt, nor Makkah.
Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in the Quran is not the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
If we understand the actual Quranic message of 17:1, the whole basis of the origin of the 5 ritual prayers in the traditional narrative will simply collapse.
* below are various images that can be found in Google Search Image of Buraq, images from the past trying to depict the mythical creature.