In Praise of the Heavenly Night Traveller

Dedication: To the one who flew from one sanctuary to another as the full moon traverses the night sky[1]

On 4 May 2016 / 25 Rajab 1437, after an evening conversation over music and recitation, food, animals, and the night ascension, a friend was inspired to recite and share the following verses —

صلوا على من قد سرى نحو السما
ليلا وعاد وما برحنا نوما
بالروح والجسم المطهر قد سما
قله وعلِّم من أبى تعليما

صلوا عليه وسلموا تسليما

صلوا على من قد رأى الرحمنَ
بالقلب بل بالعين منه عيانا
من قاب أو أدنى قريبا كان
فخذ الفوائد واحذر التجسيما

 صلوا عليه وسلموا تسليما

Qubbat al-Ṣakhrah, The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem (Photo by Sana Ullah)

— and I had to translate them when I went home. So here it is.

Invoke prayers for the one who traversed the heavens in a night 

Returning before we barely stirred from slumber

In spirit and purified body, he took flight

Humbling and teaching the one who rejected (him)

May blessings and peace upon him.

Invoke prayers for the one who beheld the Most Merciful

By heart and, indeed, the eye was witness

To One who was but a short distance—or intimately closer[2]

Take of its lessons and beware of anthropomorphism[3]

May blessings and peace upon him.

Sixteenth century depiction of the Mi’raj by Sultan Muhammad

[1] See the first verse of the chapter on the Night Journey and Ascension in The Mantle Ode by Imam al-Būṣīrī. He writes

سريتَ من حَرمٍ إلى حرَمٍ

‏كما سرى البدرُ في داجٍ  من الظُلَمِ

[2] The poet echoes the ninth verse from the Chapter of the Star in the Qur’an (Sūrat al-Najm 53:9) in which God is described as being “at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer.”

[3] I couldn’t think of a more poetic replacement for the technical term “anthropomorphism.” Part of me wanted to replace the term with “shortsightedness” — a secondary meaning, but it wouldn’t indicate the poet’s invocation of a doctrinal and philosophical position that has a name. Here, the poet is warning against conceptualizing the divine as bound by space and time and reading Qur’anic references to changes in space and time in a way that anthropomorphizes God.

Inside Masjid Al-Aqsa (Photo by Sana Ullah)

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