10.7 The Celestial Journey
The more a prophet is rejected by men, the more he is loved by Allah; the more he is despised by men, the more he is honored by Allah. Mohamed had suffered and struggled much, and proved steadfast and unswerving; then came solace and encouragement.
One night when asleep in the house of his cousin Umm Hani, the daughter of Abu Talib, he was summoned away by the angel Gabriel who took him first on a visit to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, then accompanied him on a journey through the seven heavens. It was a stupendous journey whose memory sustained him through the years of struggle, patience, and privation that lay ahead of him.
He had prayed the evening prayers with Umm Hani and her family, and then they all went to sleep. At dawn he said to them,
"I prayed the evening prayers with you in this valley, then I went to Jerusalem where I prayed, and here I am praying the dawn prayers with you."
"Messenger of Allah," said Umm Hani,
"do not tell people this lest they reject and injure you."
"Indeed I shall tell," said the Prophet.
Then he went to the Kaaba where he began to recount his experience to the people. Fearless and of indomitable spirit, he cared not what they thought of him nor what they said about him, so long as he delivered every message he was commanded to deliver. On another occasion he received the following admonition:
"Honorable Messenger, deliver what was revealed to you from your Lord. If you do not, then you have not delivered His message. Allah gives you immunity from men; Allah does not guide deniers." (5:67)
He resolved to relate this most extraordinary experience even if half of Mecca laughed at him and the other half did not believe. He had to do what he had been ordered by Allah to do.
More than once the Koran reminds Mohamed of the patience and perseverance of the prophets in past times; more than once he is addressed compassionately and told that he has to continue, no matter how hard or depressing it may be.
Mecca listened in wonder. Those who did not believe were exultant. At last Mohamed had said something so wild and extraordinary that it proved him to be a liar. What! Go to Jerusalem and return on the same night, when it took their camels one whole month to go and one whole month to return. Impossible! It was as impossible to them as travel to another universe is to us today. As for the ascent to the seven heavens, it was so far from their imagination they could not even conceive of it.
Even some of those who believed wavered and went to Abu Bakr with the story. Amazed, at first Abu Bakr told them that they were inventing tales about the Messenger. When they assured him that it was Mohamed himself who was saying these things, Abu Bakr said,
"If he has said it, then he has said the truth. He informs me that the command comes to him from Allah during any hour of the night or day. That is much less accessible than Jerusalem."
Of deep faith and broad vision, Abu Bakr was immediately able to transcend above the material knowledge of his day. They knew of no conveyance to Jerusalem quicker than a camel, but he realized that to receive revelation from Allah was more extraordinary than a night journey to Jerusalem.
He went to the Kaaba and found the Meccans asking the Prophet to describe the Aqsa Mosque to them. Mohamed had never been there before this visit while Abu Bakr, who was a merchant and had travelled much, knew the place well. Mohamed was describing it, part by part, when Abu Bakr cried out in delight,
"You have spoken the truth, Messenger of Allah!"
From that day Mohamed gave Abu Bakr the name As-Siddiq, “the True”, because his faith was so deep that it knew no reservation and had no limits. All through Abu Bakr's life, both during the Prophet's lifetime and after it when he was the Khalif, it was this limitless faith that carried him through the worst crises.
Materialistic, with an envious nature and narrow vision, Quraysh continued to question Mohamed and demand concrete evidence, as if the vast realm of the supernatural could be explained with the terms of the limited, circumscribed material universe, but obligingly the Messenger complied. He told them that on the way he had seen a lost camel and further on its owner looking for it. He had called out to the man and directed him to where the camel was. At another place he had descended to drink, then replaced the cup in a particular way. On the return journey he had seen a caravan on its way to Mecca, which would arrive towards evening. The caravan did indeed arrive towards evening, and a desert Arab came in, dazed, to relate that a most amazing thing had happened to him. He had lost his camel, and then a voice from the clouds had spoken to him and told him where to find it. Quraysh then went to the place, far away from Mecca, where he had descended to drink, and found the cup placed as Mohamed had said it would be. Quraysh continued to ask questions, then check and re-check Mohamed's answers, in the hope of finding something they could use against him, but in vain, for every time they found that the material evidence supported his words. This did not make them more responsive to his call but, on the contrary, those who hated Mohamed envied him even more than before. The Koran, inimitable and vast, was beyond anything they could produce, but this journey to the seven heavens was so beyond their limited conceptions that the fact that Mohamed could produce material evidence simply made them furious.
Quraysh's insults, mockery, and invective against the Messenger increased, but tranquil and patient, he continued with his mission. This extraordinary journey had acted as a revitalizer and inspiration to him. It made him see beyond the immediate struggle, beyond the slow and painful passage of those days.
When he used to recall this decisive journey, he said that if he were ever allowed to return to that realm of splendor he would never willingly come back to this world, and he used to say also that no prophet had ever been tested as he was, for to return to this world of cares after the glimpse of everlasting joy above was a most painful experience.