"Then," Muhammad is quoted as saying: "a ladder was brought to me finer than any I have ever seen. It was that to which the dying man looks when death approaches." .. As in Jacob's dream in the book of Genesis, a ladder led up to heaven..
Muhammad say it was "that to which a dying man looks," and climbed it.
Did he feel as though he was dying, as he had during the first Quranic revelation on Mount Hira? Was this the death of the self that has been the goal of mystics of all faiths, the better to unite with the divine?
- The First Muslim, Lesley Hazleton
This is Karen Armstrong in her book, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet:
The Sufis were particularly interested in the experience and believed that Muhammad's supreme vision had been described in the Qur'an in Sura 53
Indeed he saw him another time
by the Lote-Tree of the Farthest Boundary
near which is the Garden of the Refuge,
where there covered the Lote Tree that which covered,
his eye swerved not, nor swept astray.
Indeed, he saw one of the greatest signs of his Lord.
As in the Hindu tradition, the Lote Tree marks the limit of human knowledge. The Qur'an makes it clear that Muhammad saw only one of the Signs of God, not God Himself, and later mystics emphasized the paradox of this vision, in which Muhammad both saw and did not see the Divine Essence.
..In the thirteenth-century Persian account by the great poet Farid ud-Din Attar, we are very close in spirit to John of the Cross, who also stressed the importance of leaving all our human concepts and experiences behind, going beyond what the Qur'an called the Lote Tree, the boundary of normal mundane knowledge. Attar shows that Muhammad ultimately had to leave everybody behind; even Gabriel could not accompany the Prophet on the last stage of his journey. Having gone beyond normal sense perception and beyond logic and reason in his flight, Muhammad entered a new realm of experience, but he still had to be prepared to leave himself behind.
He heard a call, a message from the Friend.
A call came from the Essence of the All:
'Leave soul and body, transitory one!
You, O My goal and purpose, enter now
And see My Essence face to face, My friend!'
In awe, he lost his speech and lost himself -
Muhammad did not know Muhammad here,
Saw not himself - He was the Soul of Souls,
The Face of Him who made the universe.
It is an experience common to all the major mystical traditions, an expression of the belief that no man can see God and live. But having died to himself and faced the experience of extinction, Muhammad was restored to an enhanced being. Later he brought this experience back and expanded the human capacity for the divine. The miraj became a paradigm of the mystical strain of Islam: Sufis always spoken of an annihilation (fana) in God which was followed by its revival (baqa) and an enhanced self-realization.
Some Muslims have always insisted that Muhammad made the journey to God's Throne in body, but Ibn Ishaq quotes a tradition from Aisha which makes it clear that the Night Journey and Ascension were purely spiritual experiences. However we choose to interpret it, mystical experience is a fact of human life and seems to be markedly similar in most traditions. The Buddhists would claim that such intimations of the ultimate and expansion of consciousness are purely natural states rather than an encounter with the Other.
It seems that, pushed to a state of extremity, the human consciousness produces a particular scenario or mystical landscape to describe this encounter - rather as, in an entirely different context, people who are at a physical extremity and are near to death, all seem to picture the experience in a certain way: going down a long passage, being met at a gate by somebody who tells them to return and so forth. In all religions some men and women have a particular talent for this type of activity and have cultivated these experiences by means of certain disciplines and techniques that, again are remarkably similar.
The miraj of Muhammad, as described by Muslim writers, is very close to the experience of Throne Mysticism in the Jewish tradition, which flourished from the second to the tenth century CE. The adepts would prepare themselves for their mystical flight and journey to God's Throne by special disciplines. They would fast, read special hymns that induced a certain receptivity, and use special physical techniques. Often it seems that they would put their heads between their knees as some of the Muslim traditions say Muhammad did; in other traditions, breathing exercises have been most important. Then they would experience a perilous ascent to God's Throne and, like the Muslims, they described the supreme vision in paradoxical ways that emphasize its essential ineffability. Mystics in this tradition also regarded its founders as heroes who had discovered a new path to God and risked personal danger while doing so.
Some aspects of the 'isra and the miraj are very close to mystical initiations when people are making a painful passage from one mode of life to another.
The miraj itself also resembles the initiatory experience of a shaman, which, according to the late American scholar Joseph Campbell, still 'occurs all the way from Siberia right through the Americas down to Tierra del Fuego'. He explains that in this early youth the shaman has 'an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward... The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it. The Bushmen, for example, induce this experience in a great marathon dance: one shaman described what happened when he fell into a trance and collapsed:
When I emerge, I am already climbing, I'm climbing threads, the threads that lie over there in the south. I climb one and leave it, then I climb another one. Then I leave it and climb another... And when you arrive at God's place. You do what you have to do there. Then you return to where everyone is... and finally you enter the body again.
He has passed through a form a personal extinction and penetrated regions where others cannot go, bringing news from the realm of mythological imagery, from the seat of power.
- Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Karen Armstrong
And he revealed to His Servant what he revealed.
The heart did not lie [about] what it saw.
When there covered the Lote Tree that which covered [it].
The vision did not swerve, nor did it transgress [its limit].
He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.
~ The Quran 53
# Further Exploring on the Theme of FANA (Spiritual Annihilation)
* Fana and Baqa Infinities of Islam
* Fana and Baqa (Baka) | spiritual death and resurrection
* What is Fana? What is Baqa? | Sufi Wisdom
* Quranic Meditation on Fana and Baqa Signs
* Samadhi and Fana | Ramakrishna's experience with Islamic Sadhana
* Journey Leading to the Unveiling of Divine Realities | From Spiritual Experience of Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi as-Sirhindi
* Meditative Quranic verse | the Greater Death, MahaSamadhi