… we’d be praying 50 times a day.
Tonight was the night, 1,400 years ago, when God ordained that Muslims pray five times a day. But it didn’t start out that way. Every Muslim child—I think every Muslim child—knows this story. So I turn my attention to my other-than-Muslim readers, who may or may not have heard this story.
“One night, in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is in a deep sleep, the angel Gabriel awakens him. He takes him to a winged horse and they fly into the night, arriving in Jerusalem at Al-Aqsa, at what in present day is the Dome of the Rock. Standing there are the prophets Abraham, Jesus, Moses, and others (in spirit). They pray together. The angel then takes him on a night journey to the seven heavens. He sees the angels praying, he meets the prophets again, he sees paradise and hell, and finally, Gabriel takes him to the highest heaven. “I can go no further or my wings will burn,” Gabriel says. “You go on ahead.” Muhammad proceeds and finds himself in the presence of God Almighty. God does not reveal himself to him, but they have a conversation. This night journey and meeting with God is referred to as Isra Meeraj. God tells Muhammad that he and his followers should pray fifty times a day. After the conversation is over and Muhammad returns, he meets Moses (Peace be upon him) on the way down.
“How did it go?” Moses asks. Muhammad tells him about the fifty prayers.
“They will never be able to pray fifty times a day. Go back and request God to reduce the number,” Moses says.
The Prophet Muhammad goes back. God reduces the number to forty. On his way back, he runs into Moses again.
“What did God say?” he asks. “Forty prayers a day.”
“Go back. Your people won’t be able to comply. Mine couldn’t; yours won’t.” Prophet Muhammad goes back. God reduces the number to thirty. Moses sends him back again. This goes on from thirty to twenty to ten, until God says that five prayers is His final number.
“What did God say?” Prophet Moses asks.
“Five prayers a day.”“Go back. Even five will be too much.”
“I cannot go back. God said that this was His final number. I am also too embarrassed to go back again.”
So five it was. And five it has remained.”
Wasn’t that a beautiful story! As a child, I was fascinated. As an adult, when I had trouble keeping up with the five-prayers-a-day routine, I would say, ‘Thank you Moses!’ In recent years, as I have reflected on this story, it has taken on a new meaning for me. Prophet Moses mentoring Prophet Muhammad. How beautiful is that! With our cousins in faith, we are more than just ‘children of Abraham’; our prophets crossed paths in the spiritual realm of the heavens; Moses knew what the young Mohammad had not yet envisioned; Moses giving advice to Mohammad; Moses and Mohammad collaborating before approaching the Almighty. How unifying is that! How utterly cool! Even if one believes that Isra Meeraj didn’t really happen, that perhaps it was a vision, or just a dream—as some do—what did happen is that Prophet Muhammad related this story to his followers. He personally told the story of his encounter with Moses and with God. That alone says a lot about the message he was conveying i.e. that he and the prophets preceding him were on the same page, had the same concerns about compliance, spoke the same language, had the same message, worshiped the same God. That in essence, we have a shared legacy.
Tonight, Muslims around the world will be commemorating Isra Meeraj. Tonight is the night of blessings, when the angels descend and we pray into the late hours of the night, asking God for forgiveness, asking that He guide us on the right path, and make us worthy of His countless blessings. In these troubled times, I pray that we strengthen our bond with faith communities and honor the message of our prophets, peace be upon them.
Excerpt from ‘Threading My Prayer Rug. One Woman’s Journey From Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim.’