The Isra and Mi’raj (Arabic: الإسراء والمعراج, al-’Isrā’ wal-Mi‘rāj) are the two parts of a Night Journey that, according to Islam, Muhammad took during a single night around the year 621 CE. It has been described as both a physical and spiritual journey. A brief sketch of the story is in surah al-Isra of the Quran, and other details come from the hadith, which are collections of the reports, teachings, deeds and sayings of Muhammad. In the Isra’, Muhammad traveled on the steed Buraq to “the farthest mosque”. Traditionally, later Muslims identified the mosque as a location in the physical world, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. At the mosque, Muhammad led other prophets in prayer. He then ascended to the heavens in the Mi‘raj, speaking to God afterwards. The remembrance of this journey is one of the most significant events in the Islamic calendar.
Thought to be referred to in the Quran as “The farthest mosque”, al-Aqsa is considered the third holiest Islamic site, after Mecca and Medina.
The place referred to in the Qur’an as “the Farthest Masjid” (Arabic: المسجدِ الأقصى, al-Masjidi ‘l-’Aqṣá), from surat al-Isra, has been historically considered as referring to the site of the modern-day al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem interpretation was advanced by the earliest biographer of Muhammad (ca. 570 – 632) – Ibn Ishaq (ca. 704 – 761/770) – and is supported by numerous ahadith. The building of the Masjid in Jerusalem was not present during Muhammad’s lifetime, and the term used for mosque (masjid (Arabic: مَـسْـجِـد)) literally means “Place of prostration,” and includes monotheistic places of worship, but does not lend itself exclusively to physical structures but a location, as Muhammad stated “The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying.” Therefore, the phrase “Al-Masjidil-Aqsa” means that there was a place, but not necessarily a building, where Muhammad prostrated to God or worshiped Him, in the “Blessed Region.” When the Rashid caliph ‘Umar conquered Jerusalem after Muhammad’s death, a prayer house was rebuilt on the site. The structure was expanded by the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and finished by his son al-Walid I in 705. The building was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt, until the reconstruction in 1033 CE, by the Fatimid caliph ‘Ali az-Zahir, and that version of the structure is what can be seen in the present day.
Islamic scholars such Heribert Busse and Neal Robinson, believe that Jerusalem is the originally intended interpretation of the Qur’an. Muslims used to pray towards Jerusalem, but according to the following verses of their Quran, God changed this direction, the Qiblah, to instead direct to al-Masjid al-Haram:
And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful. We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do