There’s dark malevolence sometimes about the Muslim quarter of the Old City, almost like a barely suppressed rage, particularly noticeable when passing from one quarter to another. Crossing the fence-line, yes it does feel exactly like that – from the Western Wall to the Al-Aqsa complex is rather like crossing an international boundary, which in a sense some would like it to be. This happens to be quite relevant today, since it marks the start of the holiday of the anniversary of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj (Night Journey and Ascension of the Prophet), greeted by children with applause and excited squeaking, since it’s a jolly good story.
The Isra begins with Prophet Muhammad resting in the Kaaba in Mecca, when the archangel Gabriel comes to him, and brings him the winged steed Buraq, the traditional lightning steed of the prophets. Harry Potter on board the hippogriff Buckbeak does rather spring to mind…The Buraq then carries Prophet Muhammad to the “Masjid Al Aqsa”, which according to The Prophet himself, was “the Noble Sanctuary” or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. No mosque existed there at that time, but, well, never mind. Prophet Muhammad alights, tethers Buraq, and leads the other prophets of Abrahamic descent in prayer. He then re-mounts Buraq, and in the second part of the journey, the Mi’raj, is taken to the heavens, where he tours the circles of heaven, and speaks with the earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and, of course Jesus, and then is taken by Gabriel to Allah. Allah instructs Prophet Muhammad that Muslims must pray fifty times a day; however, Moses tells Muhammad that this could be a problem and urges him to go back several times and ask for a reduction, until finally it is reduced to five times a day.
After Prophet Muhammad returned and tells his story in Mecca, the unbelieving townspeople regard it as absurd. I think I’m in agreement with most Islamic scholars – quelle surprise – who believe it all to have been a dream. No doubt the faithful all over the world are most grateful to the Prophet for his powers of persuasion, since stopping to pray every twenty-eight point eight minutes is likely to play hell with productivity, sleep pattern and sex life.
Happy hols, everyone.