Islam follows the lunar calendar, called the Hijri calendar, which means holidays and special months are not lined up with the typical Gregorian calendar that Western countries follow.
The Hijri calendar has 12 months. Most of us have heard of one particular month, Ramadan, but other than this the Islamic months are foreign to most of us. We will talk about the month of Rajab, which is one of the four months when Muslims are prohibited from fighting.
Rajab is considered a sacred month because it marks the anniversary of the Isra and Miraj, the night journey Muhammad claimed to have visited Jerusalem and from there made to heaven. This claim was one of Muhammad’s attempts to win over the local Jewish tribes and Christians and have them believe in his prophethood.
Why should Christians care about Islamic sacred dates?
There are several reasons why we need to research and learn about the holidays that our Muslim friends celebrate:
- It will give us more context and knowledge and help us as we navigate discussions about these holidays.
- We gain insight on how to connect with our Muslim friends on a personal level during these holidays.
- We learn to what level they are devoted to their practices and beliefs.
What is the story of Isra and Miraj?
The story of the Isra and Miraj is only mentioned one time in the Quran, in one lonely verse, with much more detail given in the Hadith. (Not sure what the difference is between the Quran and Hadith? Learn more here). Here is what the Quran tells about this incident:
“Glory be to the One Who took His servant Muḥammad by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque whose surroundings We have blessed, so that We may show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He alone is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” Quran 17:1
The story goes that Muhammad was taken one night on an animal similar to a donkey to visit Jerusalem, particularly the place of the Temple, and then he ascended into the different levels of heaven as he visited and conversed with major biblical prophets.
There are more details in the Hadith. To break down the story, we will divide it into two parts, Isra and Miraj.
Isra is the section of the story where Muhammad travels from Mecca in Saudi Arabia to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the back of a small horse/donkey in a few seconds– a journey that today takes almost two hours by plane.
The second part of the story is the Miraj, where Muhammad supposedly visited the seven layers of heaven, meeting with a different prophet at each level of his ascension: Adam, Jesus & John the Baptist, Joseph, Seth, Aaron, Moses, and Abraham.
Once Muhammad reached the seventh layer of heaven, he went into the Baitul Ma’mur, a house that is directly above the Kaaba (the place of pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia), where 70,000 angels supposedly perform their daily prayers.
After this stop, Muhammad goes deeper into the seventh level of heaven with the angel Gabriel to the Sidrat Al-Muntaha, which is a small tree at the edge of heaven. Muhammad is supposedly the only prophet to have crossed this boundary. This is the place where Allah cuts down the requirement of daily prayers for Muslims from fifty to five after Muhammad’s plea, a negotiation similar to that of Abraham with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.
(The details of the Isra and Miraj story are from this source)
What purpose does Isra and Miraj serve for Muhammad?
Now that we have covered the entire story, it brings up the question: What is the point of Isra and Miraj? What purpose does this story serve in Muhammad’s new religion?
At the beginning of Muhammad’s mission, a peaceful time called the Meccan period, Muhammad did everything he could to convince the Jews and Christians who lived in the Arabian Peninsula to accept him as a prophet. This is why Jerusalem was a stopping point in his alleged night journey and why he visited with major prophets of the Bible on the way. Muhammad was trying to prove that he was on the same tier as Moses and Abraham.
The Meccan period is the first period of Muhammad’s “prophethood” where he was a peaceful proselytizer, trying to have his tribe and the surrounding tribes, including the Jews and Christians believe in him. But his efforts were futile. The Jews and Christians rejected him, and he was even cast out of his own city Mecca by his tribe.
After this failure, Muhammad changed his method, transitioning from peace to violence. This period is called the Medinan period because it started in the city of Medina, and from there Muhammad spent the last 10 years of his life waging over 29 battles, killing, destroying, and forcing tribes to submit to Islam.
How can Christians talk about the Isra and Miraj event with their Muslim friend?
Even though you as a Christian don’t believe in Muhammad’s night journey, debating the validity of this story will not reflect Christ-like love to your Muslim friend. On the contrary, it may only shut them down from talking to you about their faith. They will see it as an attack on their spiritual texts, the Quran and Hadith, and an attack on Muhammad, their most revered prophet.
So what can you do? Use this time to get to know your Muslim friend’s religious journey better! Here are some questions you can ask them:
- Will you explain the story of Isra and Miraj to me?
- What are you doing to celebrate Isra and Miraj?
- Do you have any special traditions with the month of Rajab?
- Why would Muhammad need to negotiate with Allah about how many prayers to pray?
- Is it hard balancing between the lunar and Gregorian calendar?
Using unique holidays like this will show your Muslim friend that you earnestly care about them. It is key to find a balance between asking them what they are doing for this holiday versus supporting and affirming the story of Muhammad’s journey. If they are less devout, asking about this holiday may motivate them to research their religion more seriously and understand if they truly believe what their religion teaches.
Pray for them during this month that the Lord might intervene in their practices and rituals with His presence.
Prayer for your Muslim friend to have their eyes opened
Dear Lord, thank you for giving me this opportunity to get to know my Muslim friend. Please open up their eyes to the lies of Islam and pique their curiosity for the truth. Let me be a light in their life that shines Jesus’ love on them. Amen.