Muhammad's Alleged Night Journey to the Jerusalem Temple

Sam Shamoun

According to the Quran, Allah allegedly took Muhammad on a journey from the Kabah in Mecca to the Temple at Jerusalem:

Glory to (Allah) Who did take His Servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque (Masjid al-Aqsa), whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things). S. 17:1

The Islamic traditions expand on the theme of Muhammad's travel to the Temple at Jerusalem, and even describe some of its features. The following is taken from Ibn Sa'd's Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir Volume I, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. (Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi - 110 002 India):

Muhammad Ibn 'Umar al-Aslami informed us; he said: Usamah Ibn Zayd al-Laythi related to me on the authority of 'Amr Ibn Shu'ayb, he on the authority of his father, he on the authority of his ('Amr's) grand-father; (second chain) he (Ibn Sa'd) said: Musa Ibn Ya'qub al-Zam'i related to me on the authority of his father, he on the authority of his (Musa's) grandfather, he on the authority of Umm Salamah; (third chain) Musa said: Abu al-Aswad related to me on the authority of 'Urwah, he on the authority of 'Ayishah; (fourth chain) Muhammad Ibn 'Umar said: Ishaq Ibn Hazim related to me on the authority of Wahb Ibn Kaysan, he on the authority of Abu Murrah the mawla of 'Aqil, he on the authority of Umm Hani daughter of Abu Talib (fith chain) he (Ibn Sa'd) said: 'Abd Allah Ibn Ja'far related to me on the authority of Zakariya Ibn 'Amr, he on the authority of Abu Mulaykah, he on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas and others; their consolidated narrations are: The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, was taken by night on the seventeenth night of First Rabi' before Hijrah, and one year before the blockade in the mountainpass of Abu Talib, to Bayt al-Muqaddas. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said: I was mounted on a beast whose size was between a donkey and a mule, with two wings in its thighs, which came up to its hoofs and were set in them. When I went near it to ride, it became restive. Thereupon Gabriel placed his hand on its head and said: O Buraq! are you not ashamed of what you are doing? By Allah no servant of Allah has ridden you before Muhammad, more honoured in the sight of Allah. It felt ashamed till it was covered with sweat, and became calm; then I mounted it. It moved its ears, and the earth shrank to such an extent that its hoofs (seemed to touch its surface) at the end of the range of our sight. It had a long back and long ears. Gabriel accompanied me and he never lost touch with me nor did I till we reached Bayt al-Muqaddas; and al-Buraq reached its halting place. It was tied there and it was the place where the beasts... of the Prophets were tied before the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. He (the Prophet) said: I saw the Prophets who had assembled there for me. I saw Abraham, Moses and Jesus and, I thought there must be some one to lead them (in prayers); Gabriel made me go forward till I offered prayers in front of them and inquired from them (about their mission). They said: We were commissioned with Unity (of Allah).

Some of them (narrators) said: The Prophet, may Allah bless him, had disappeared that night, so the members of family of 'Abd al-Muttalib went out to search him. Al-'Abbas went to Dhu Tuwa and began to shout: O Muhammad! O Muhammad! The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said: I am here. He said: O my brother's son! You have worried the people since the (beginning of the) night, where had you been? He said: I am coming from Bayt al-Muqaddas. He said: In one night? He said: Yes. He said: Did you experience anything which was not good? He said: I did not experience anything but good. Umm Hani said: He was taken on this journey from our house. He slept that night with us; he offered al-'Isha prayers, and then he slept. When it was pre-dawn we awoke him (to offer) morning (prayers). He got up and when he offered morning prayers he said: O Umm Hani! I offered al'Isha prayers with you as you witnessed, then I reached Bayt Al-Muqaddas and offered prayers there; then I offered morning prayers before you. After this he got up to go out; I said to him: Do not relate this to the people because they will belie you and harm you. He said: By Allah I shall relate to them and inform them. They wondered at it and said: We have never heard a thing like this. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said to Gabriel; O Gabriel! my people will not confirm it. He said: Abu Bakr will testify to it; and he is al-Siddiq. The narrator added: Many people who had embraced Islam and offered prayers went astray. (The Prophet continued,) I stood at al-Hijr, visualised Bayt al-Muqaddas and described its signs. Some of them said: HOW MANY DOORS ARE THERE IN THAT MOSQUE? I HAD NOT COUNTED THEM SO I BEGAN TO LOOK AT IT AND COUNTED THEM ONE BY ONE AND GAVE THEM INFORMATION CONCERNING THEM. I also gave information about their caravan which was on the way and its signs. They found them as I had related. Allah, the Almighty, the Great, revealed: "We appointed the vision which We showed thee as an ordeal for mankind". He (Ibn Sa'd) said: It refers to the vision of the eye which he saw with the eye. (pp. 246-248; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The following is taken from Alfred Guillaume's The Life of Muhammad (Oxford Uinversity Press Karachi), which is a translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasulullah:

Ziyad b. 'Abdullah al-Bakka'i from Muhammad b. Ishaq told me the following: Then the apostle was carried by night from the mosque at Mecca to the Masjid al-Aqsa WHICH IS THE TEMPLE OF AELIA, when Islam had spread in Mecca among the Quraysh and all the tribes.

... His companion (Gabriel) went with him to see the wonders between heaven and earth, UNTIL HE CAME TO JERUSALEM'S TEMPLE ...

In his story al-Hasan said: "The apostle and Gabriel went their way until they arrived AT THE TEMPLE AT JERUSALEM" ... (Guillaume, pp. 181, 182; bold and capital emphasis ours)

We next turn our attention to the sahih hadiths:

Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 233:

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:

The Prophet said, "When the Quraish disbelieved me (concerning my night journey), I stood up in Al-Hijr (the unroofed portion of the Ka'ba) and Allah displayed Bait-ul-Maqdis before me, and I started to inform them (Quraish) about its signs while looking at it."

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 228:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:

Regarding the Statement of Allah, "And We granted the vision (Ascension to the heavens) which We made you see (as an actual eye witness) was only made as a trial for the people." (17.60)

Ibn Abbas added: The sights which Allah's Apostle was shown on the Night Journey when he was taken to Bait-ul-Maqdis (i.e. Jerusalem) were actual sights, (not dreams). And the Cursed Tree (mentioned) in the Quran is the tree of Zaqqum (itself).

Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0309:

It is narrated on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I was brought al-Buraq Who is an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, who would place his hoof a distance equal to the range of version. I mounted it and came to the Temple (Bait Maqdis in Jerusalem), then tethered it to the ring used by the prophets. I entered the mosque and prayed two rak'ahs in it, and then came out and Gabriel brought me a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. I chose the milk, and Gabriel said: You have chosen the natural thing. Then he took me to heaven ...

The next set of hadiths all presume the existence of an actual mosque/temple in Jerusalem during Muhammad's time, just as there were actual mosques in Mecca and Medina:

Narrated Anas ibn Malik

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: The prayer of a person in his house is a single prayer; his prayer in the mosque of his tribe has the reward of twenty-five prayers; his prayers in the mosque in which the Friday prayer is observed has the reward of five hundred; his prayer IN THE MOSQUE OF AQSA (i.e. BAYT AL-MAQDIS) has a reward of fifty thousand prayers; his prayer in MY MOSQUE (the Prophet's mosque in Medina) has a reward of fifty thousand prayers; and the prayer in the Sacred Mosque (Ka'bah) at Makkah has a reward of one hundred thousand prayers.

Transmitted by Ibn Majah. (Al-Tirmidhi, Number 247- taken from the Alim CD-ROM Version)


... Abu Hurayra continued, "I met Basra ibn Abi Basra al-Ghiffari and he said, ‘Where have you come from?’ I said, ‘From at-Tur.’ He said, ‘If I had seen you before you left, you would not have gone. I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, "Only make a special journey to three mosques: the mosque of the Haram (Makka), this mosque (Madina), and THE MOSQUE of Ilya or the Bait al-Maqdis (two names of Jerusalem)."’" (He was not sure which expression was used.) ... (Malik's Al-Muwatta, Volume 5, Number 17; taken from the Alim CD-ROM Version)

The following commentary on S. 17:1 is taken from Tafsir Ibn Kathir-Abridged Volume 5, Surah Hud to Surat Al-Isra', Verse 38, abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, (Darussalam Publishers & Distributors; Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore, July 2000):

<from Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa> means the Sacred House which is in Jerusalem, the origin of the Prophets from the time of Ibraham Al-Khalil. The Prophets all gathered there, and he (Muhammad) led them in prayer in their own homeland. This indicates that he is the greatest leader of all, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and upon them. (Ibid., p. 551; bold emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir includes the following hadith:

I remember being in Al-Hijr, and the Quraysh were asking me about my Night Journey. They asked me things about Bayt Al-Maqdis that I was not sure of, and I felt more anxious and stressed then than I have ever felt. Then Allah raised up Bayt Al-Maqdis for me to see, and there was nothing they asked me about but I told them about it. And I remember being in a gathering of the Prophets. Musa was standing there praying, and he was a man with curly hair, as if he were one of the men of Shanu'ah. I saw 'Isa ibn Maryam standing there praying, and the one who most resembles him is 'Urwah bin Mas'ud Ath-Thaqafi. And I saw Ibrahim standing there praying, and for the one who most resembles him is your companion (meaning himself). Then the time for prayer came, and I led them in prayer. When I finished, a voice said, 'O Muhammad, this is Malik, the keeper of Hell,' so I turned to him, and he greeted me first. (Ibid., p. 571; bold emphasis ours)


"The truth is that the Prophet was taken on the Night Journey when he was awake, not in a dream, and he went from Makkah to Bayt Al-Maqdis riding on Al-Buraq. When he reached THE DOOR OF THE SANCTUARY, he tied up his animal by THE DOOR AND ENTERED, where he prayed two Rakahs to 'greet the Masjid'...

"Then he came back down to Bayt Al-Maqdis, and the Prophets came down with him and he led them in prayer there when the time for prayer came. Some claim that he led them in prayer in heaven, but the reports seem to say that it was in Bayt Al-Maqdis. In some reports it says that it happened when he first ENTERED...

"Then he came OUT OF BAYT AL-MAQDIS and rode on Al-Buraq back to Makkah in the darkness of the night. As for his being presented with the vessels containing milk and honey, or milk and wine, or milk and water, or all of these, some reports say that this happened in Bayt Al-Maqdis, and others say that it happened in the heavens. It is possible that it happened in BOTH places, because it is like offering food or drink to a guest when he arrives, and Allah knows best." (Ibid. pp. 572-573; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The following citations are taken from 'Abd-Allah Hajjaj's The Isra' and Mi'raj-The Prophet's Night-Journey And Ascent Into Heaven, Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd., London, second edition 1993. All bold emphasis ours:

Jabir Ibn 'Abd Allah heard the Prophet (S) say: "When Quraysh disbelieved me (about the Isra'), I stood up in al-Hijr (the unroofed part of the Ka'bah) and Allah displayed Bayt al-Maqdis to me. So I began to describe its features to them whilst I was looking at it." (Ibid., p. 5)

Al-Hafiz said, Ka'b ibn Ahbar narrated that the gate of heaven called Mas'ad al-Mala'ikah ("The angels' point of ascent") faces Bayt al-Maqdis. The 'Ulama' understood from this that the reason why the Prophet (S) was taken to Bayt al-Maqdis before ascent was so that he could be taken straight up...

Other, weaker, suggestions have also been put forward. For example: so that the Prophet (S) would see both of the Qiblahs on that night; or because Bayt al-Maqdis had been the place to which most of the previous Prophets had migrated, so the Prophet Muhammad (S) had to go there to have the same virtues as they had... (Ibid., p. 15)

It is said that the 'Isra happened twice, and on both occasions the Prophet (S) was awake. On the first occasion, he returned from Bayt al-Maqdis, and in the morning he told the Quraysh what had happened. On the first morning he told the Quraysh what had happened. On the second occasion he was taken to Bayt al-Maqdis, then on the same night he was taken up to heaven... But when he told them that he had traveled to Bayt al-Maqdis and returned in one night, they disbelieved him and asked to describe it, because some of them knew it, and they also knew that he had not seen it before... (Ibid., p. 18)

... I reached Bayt al-Maqdis, where I tied my beast (al-Buraq) to the hitching-post which all the Prophets before me used... Gabriel and I entered Bayt al-Maqdis where we both prayed two Rak'ahas"... "Then I entered the Mosque where I saw all the Prophets praying - some standing, some bowing and some prostrating... When the Prophet (S) reached al-Masjid al-Aqsa, he began to pray..." Another Hadith narrated by Ahmad tells us that when 'Umar entered Bayt al-Maqdis, he said: "I shall pray where the Prophet (S) prayed" - then he went forward to the Qiblah and prayed. (Ibid., p. 28)

'Ayat said: "It is possible that he prayed with all the Prophets IN Bayt al-Maqdis... Those who prayed with him IN Bayt al-Maqdis may have been there as souls only, or in body and soul. It is more likely that he prayed with them IN Bayt al-Maqdis before ascent; but Allah knows best." (Ibid., pp. 28-29)

The Book's glossary notes:

Bayt al-Maqdis: The name used for Jerusalem and in particular for the Mosque from which the prophet Muhammad (S) ascended to Heaven. (Ibid., p. 54)

M.A. Qazi's A Concise Dictionary of Islamic Terms, Kazi Publications, Chicago IL, 1979, p. 39 states:

Al-Masjid-al-Aqsa "The most distant Mosque." The temple at Jerusalem erected by Prophet Solomon (A.A.), also known as "Baitul-Maqdis" or Umar's Mosque.

Finally, Muhammad is purported to have said that a Muslim should visit the following three Mosques:

Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 2, Book 21, Number 281:

Narrated Quza'a:

I heard Abu Said saying four words. He said, "I heard the Prophet (saying the following narrative)." He had participated in twelve holy battles with the Prophet.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Do not set out on a journey except for THREE Mosques i.e. Al-Masjid-Al-Haram, the Mosque of Allah's Apostle, and the Mosque of Al-Aqsa, (Mosque of Jerusalem)."

That the phrase Bayt Al-Maqdis undoubtedly refers to the Temple structure located in Jerusalem as the preceding traditions affirm is further clarified in the following hadith:

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 585:

Narrated Abu Dhar:

I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Which mosque was first built on the surface of the earth?" He said, "Al-Masjid-ul-Haram (in Mecca)." I said, "Which was built next?" He replied "The mosque of Al-Aqsa (in Jerusalem)." I said, "What was the period of construction between the two?" He said, "Forty years." He added, "Wherever (you may be, and) the prayer time becomes due, perform the prayer there, for the best thing is to do so (i.e. to offer the prayers in time)."

This would place the erection of the Kabah at approximately 998 BC., since the construction of the first Temple was not completed by Solomon until BC. 951 (cf. 1 Kings 6:1-7:51).

The problem with all of this is that the first Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian armies in 587 BC. Furthermore, General Titus and his Roman soldiers leveled the Second Temple in AD. 70, more than five centuries before this alleged night journey to Jerusalem took place. In fact, the Temple that eventually became Masjid al-Aqsa did not come into existence until AD. 691 when Amir Abd-ul-Malik built it.

These preceding factors make it highly improbable to date Sura 17:1 to the time of Muhammad. This passage could have only been written sometime after the erection of Masjid al-Aqsa. This is further substantiated by the fact that Masjid al-Aqsa contains no early references to the supposed night journey. This is a strange omission since Muslims claim that Masjid al-Aqsa was erected in commemoration of this alleged event. The inscriptions that do mention the night journey are later additions made by Abdul Hamid II in 1876, nearly eleven centuries later.

In light of all this, we ask the following questions:

May God use this article to bring open-minded Muslims to the truth of his word, the Holy Bible.

In the service of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ forever. Amen.


One Muslim writer has seen how this Quranic reference and hadiths undermine the veracity of Muhammad's prophethood. Akbarally Meherally has written an article discrediting the hadith narrations that Sura 17:1 refers to a mosque in Jerusalem and tries to prove that this text is referring to a heavenly mosque that Muhammad saw during his night journey.

The main problem with his position is that he assumes that the passages in question (i.e. 53:6-7, 22-23; 81:22-23) all refer to the same event and also assumes that Sura 17:1 refers to the ascent of Muhammad into heaven. Yet he only knows of this alleged journey into heaven because the very hadiths which he now rejects told him so! In other words, without these narrations Meherally would have never known that these specific Quranic text are related, that they refer to Muhammad as the servant whom Allah took on a journey, and that this journey refers to an ascent into heaven.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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