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1. Orientations
a. Figures
2. Koran
3. Theology
4. Concept of divine
5. Sharia
6. Muhammad
7. Cult and Festivals
8. Mecca
9. Cultic personalities
10. Caliph
11. Structures
12. Popular religion
13. Others
14. Calendar

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Islam / Cult and Festivals / Layla al-Mi'raj /
Arabic: 'isrā'

In Islam, a journey done by Muhammad from Mecca to a place the Koran calls 'al-masjid al-'aqsā and back. The journey's destination can be translated into "al-Aqsa Mosque", "the remote mosque", "the remotest mosque", or "the furthest place of worship".
It is by many early, and all modern theologians, an event paired with Mi'raj, the heavenly ascent of Muhammad. There is an annual festival commemorating the twin events, the Layla al-Mi'raj.
The journey happened during one night, before the Hijra. Muhammad was awoken by the angel Gabriel while sleeping near the Ka'ba in Mecca. Gabriel guided him to Buraq, a winged animal. It is told to have been smaller than a mule and larger than an ass, clearly suggesting that it was a horse-like animal. Several traditions make Buraq female, early Islamic paintings gives it a female head. As the story is told now, Muhammad and Buraq travelled to Jerusalem. On the road they meet several good and several evil powers, and paid visits even to Hebron and Bethlehem. When finally in Jerusalem, they encountered Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
As for both the nature of the journey, as well as its destination, there are three main theories:
The first makes it a journey directly to the gates of heaven. This understanding appears from Bukhari's traditions as well as from the historical accounts of the central Muslim historian, Tabari.
The second understanding is the one told above, claiming that "the remote mosque" is Jerusalem. This theory is somewhat newer than the first one, and seems to have been launched during the reign of the Umayyads, well-fitting their religio-political-geographical interests. This theory was never mentioned by Tabari. Considering the nature of this theory, the term al-Aqsa Mosque would not be the best translation, rather masjid should be translated with "place of worship: the place in question is nothing less than the Temple of Jerusalem.
A third understanding is that the isra' was merely a vision. In this vision what Muhammad sees is verily Jerusalem. There are several arguments to why this is the weakest of the three: the Koran expresses clearly that it was Muhammad who was brought on a journey, not his spirit. Also, if it was only Muhammad's spirit travelling, there would have been no need for the aid of Buraq, which by all means is presented as a physical being.
Koran sura 17: Night Journey
1 Celebrated be the praises of Him who took His servant a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Mosque, the precinct of which we have blessed, to show him of our signs! verily, He both hears and looks.
62 And when we said to thee, ‘Verily, thy Lord encompasses men!’ and we made the vision which we showed thee only a cause of sedition unto men, and the cursed tree as well; for we will frighten them, but it will only increase them in great rebellion.

By Tore Kjeilen