The Lowest Heaven

Muslim celebrated Shab-e-Qadr or the night of Destiny or the night of Power on the last Wednesday. Shab-e-Qadr is believed to be the night when the Quran was first revealed. Muslims believe that revelation of the Quran occurred in two phases, first revelation of the entire Quran came from Allah to the angel Gabriel in the lowest heaven , then the verses were transmitted through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, a camel driver on Earth. Muhammad received revelations while he was sitting at the cave of Hira on Mount Nur in Mecca, in 610 CE. Millions of Muslims pray as much as they can on the night of Shab-e-Qadr. It is believed to be the night when God descends to the lowest heaven and decides the destiny of everyone.

I have been very curious to learn what the lowest heaven is, and where it is located.
The Quran says, ‘Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?(Quran 021.030), And we have made the sky a roof withheld (from them). Yet they turn away from its portents. (Quran 021.032),,And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure.(Quran 055.007), Allah it is Who raised up the heavens without visible supports. (Quran 013.002), He raised the height thereof and ordered it. (Quran 079.028)’

There are seven heavens. Allah descends to the lowest heaven every night. The Sahih hadith says: ‘the prophet said : The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says: ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?’(al-Bukhaari, Kitaab al-Tawheed, 6940; Muslim, Salaat al-Musaafireen, 1262)

Not only during Shab-e-Qadr, during Shab-e-Barat, or Mid-Sha’ban, Allah descends to the lowest heaven to see what is happening on Earth, whether everyone praying to him. Allah writes the destinies of all for the coming year by taking into account the deeds committed by them in the past. It is believed that the lowest heaven is the most nearest heaven to earth. Allah can see what is going on Earth much better from the lowest heaven. From his arsh or throne, the place where he stays in most of his times, Allah doesn’t see things well. Shab-e-Barat or the night of records, or the night of assignment or the night of deliverance, or the night of observance involves a festive nightlong prayers. Muslims believe that on that particular night the doors of mercy and forgiveness are opened wide, and those who sincerely grieve over and repent for their past sins and seek forgiveness from Allah are pardoned and forgiven. The night of Shab-e-barat is the greatest night for sinners and criminals because all their crimes are forgiven by the almighty merciful Allah. They do not care much about judicial system on Earth. Life on Earth is temporary anyway. A night-long prayer and Allah’s assurance of forgiveness give them the strength to go on committing further crimes until the next Shab-e-Qadr or Shab-e-Barat, the great nights of prayers and forgiveness arrive.

Yesterday I asked some educated and clever Muslims, where is the lowest heaven?
They said, nearest.
I asked again, nearest to what? earth?
They said, yes.
-Somewhere between moon and earth?
(silence)
-On the Asteroids passing close to Earth?
(silence)
I said, okay, leave it.
They were happy.
But I was not happy. I asked, why does Allah need to descend to the lowest heaven to see who are praying and who are not? Can’t he see them clearly from the place he lives?
One of them said, probably..
I asked, probably what?
He smiled nervously.
I said, man, use your brains!
After a few minutes he looked more confident. He said, Allah descends to the lowest heaven because it is night, it’s too dark outside to see things. In this kind of situation it is better to come closer to the objects you want to see.
I smiled and said, you are right.

Islamic fairy tale

Muhammad visited heaven and hell. He met Allah, the creator of the universe. It was 7th century. There was no space-shuttle or airplane or helicopter. He did not have wings to fly. Angle Gabriel brought a buraq, a white animal, smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey. Some people imagined buraq as kamdhenu, a beautiful winged animal with a face of a human and with a body of a horse. Muhammad rode buraq from Mecca to the Farthest Mosque in Jerusalem. After his prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque he was raised to heaven in the sky. Where the hell is heaven? We do not know, our astronauts also do not know anything about it. The Quarn says, ‘Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.’ (Qur’an 17:1), ‘Behold! We told thee that thy Lord doth encompass mankind round about: We granted the vision which We showed thee, but as a trial for men,- as also the Cursed Tree (mentioned) in the Qur’an: We put terror (and warning) into them, but it only increases their inordinate transgression!’ (Qur’an 17:60), ‘For indeed he saw him at a second descent, Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass:Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!’(Qur’an 53:13-18).

Muhammad saw heaven.

He met Abraham, Moses, and Jesus in heaven.

Muhammad visited hell.

Muhammad met Allah. The bargaining part is the best part. After much persuasion, Allah reduced the number of prayers from 50 times to 5 times a day.

Narrated Abbas bin Malik: Malik bin Sasaa said that Allah’s Apostle described to them his Night Journey saying, “While I was lying in Al-Hatim or Al-Hijr, suddenly someone came to me and cut my body open from here to here.” I asked Al-Jarud who was by my side, “What does he mean?” He said, “It means from his throat to his pubic area,” or said, “From the top of the chest.” The Prophet further said, “He then took out my heart. Then a gold tray of Belief was brought to me and my heart was washed and was filled (with Belief) and then returned to its original place. Then a white animal which was smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey was brought to me.” (On this Al-Jarud asked, “Was it the Buraq, O Abu Hamza?” I (i.e. Anas) replied in the affirmative). The Prophet said, “The animal’s step (was so wide that it) reached the farthest point within the reach of the animal’s sight. I was carried on it, and Gabriel set out with me till we reached the nearest heaven. When he asked for the gate to be opened, it was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel answered, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has Muhammad been called?’ Gabriel replied in the affirmative. Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed. What an excellent visit his is!’ The gate was opened, and when I went over the first heaven, I saw Adam there. Gabriel said (to me). ‘This is your father, Adam; pay him your greetings.’ So I greeted him and he returned the greeting to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious son and pious Prophet.’ Then Gabriel ascended with me till we reached the second heaven. Gabriel asked for the gate to be opened. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel answered, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel answered in the affirmative. Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed. What an excellent visit his is!’ The gate was opened. When I went over the second heaven, there I saw Yahya (i.e. John) and ‘Isa (i.e. Jesus) who were cousins of each other. Gabriel said (to me), ‘These are John and Jesus; pay them your greetings.’ So I greeted them and both of them returned my greetings to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.’ Then Gabriel ascended with me to the third heaven and asked for its gate to be opened. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel replied in the affirmative. Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed, what an excellent visit his is!’ The gate was opened, and when I went over the third heaven there I saw Joseph. Gabriel said (to me), ‘This is Joseph; pay him your greetings.’ So I greeted him and he returned the greeting to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.’ Then Gabriel ascended with me to the fourth heaven and asked for its gate to be opened. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Gabriel’ It was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel replied in the affirmative. Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed, what an excel lent visit his is!’ The gate was opened, and when I went over the fourth heaven, there I saw Idris. Gabriel said (to me), ‘This is Idris; pay him your greetings.’ So I greeted him and he returned the greeting to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.’ Then Gabriel ascended with me to the fifth heaven and asked for its gate to be opened. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked. ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel replied in the affirmative. Then it was said He is welcomed, what an excellent visit his is! So when I went over the fifth heaven, there I saw Harun (i.e. Aaron), Gabriel said, (to me). This is Aaron; pay him your greetings.’ I greeted him and he returned the greeting to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.’ Then Gabriel ascended with me to the sixth heaven and asked for its gate to be opened. It was asked. ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel replied in the affirmative. It was said, ‘He is welcomed. What an excellent visit his is!’ When I went (over the sixth heaven), there I saw Moses. Gabriel said (to me),’ This is Moses; pay him your greeting. So I greeted him and he returned the greetings to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.’ When I left him (i.e. Moses) he wept. Someone asked him, ‘What makes you weep?’ Moses said, ‘I weep because after me there has been sent (as Prophet) a young man whose followers will enter Paradise in greater numbers than my followers.’ Then Gabriel ascended with me to the seventh heaven and asked for its gate to be opened. It was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Gabriel.’ It was asked,’ Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’ It was asked, ‘Has he been called?’ Gabriel replied in the affirmative. Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed. What an excellent visit his is!’ So when I went (over the seventh heaven), there I saw Abraham. Gabriel said (to me), ‘This is your father; pay your greetings to him.’ So I greeted him and he returned the greetings to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious son and pious Prophet.’ Then I was made to ascend to Sidrat-ul-Muntaha (i.e. the Lote Tree of the utmost boundary) Behold! Its fruits were like the jars of Hajr (i.e. a place near Medina) and its leaves were as big as the ears of elephants. Gabriel said, ‘This is the Lote Tree of the utmost boundary) . Behold ! There ran four rivers, two were hidden and two were visible, I asked, ‘What are these two kinds of rivers, O Gabriel?’ He replied,’ As for the hidden rivers, they are two rivers in Paradise and the visible rivers are the Nile and the Euphrates.’ Then Al-Bait-ul-Ma’mur (i.e. the Sacred House) was shown to me and a container full of wine and another full of milk and a third full of honey were brought to me. I took the milk. Gabriel remarked, ‘This is the Islamic religion which you and your followers are following.’ Then the prayers were enjoined on me: They were fifty prayers a day. When I returned, I passed by Moses who asked (me), ‘What have you been ordered to do?’ I replied, ‘I have been ordered to offer fifty prayers a day.’ Moses said, ‘Your followers cannot bear fifty prayers a day, and by Allah, I have tested people before you, and I have tried my level best with Bani Israel (in vain). Go back to your Lord and ask for reduction to lessen your followers’ burden.’ So I went back, and Allah reduced ten prayers for me. Then again I came to Moses, but he repeated the same as he had said before. Then again I went back to Allah and He reduced ten more prayers. When I came back to Moses he said the same, I went back to Allah and He ordered me to observe ten prayers a day. When I came back to Moses, he repeated the same advice, so I went back to Allah and was ordered to observe five prayers a day. When I came back to Moses, he said, ‘What have you been ordered?’ I replied, ‘I have been ordered to observe five prayers a day.’ He said, ‘Your followers cannot bear five prayers a day, and no doubt, I have got an experience of the people before you, and I have tried my level best with Bani Israel, so go back to your Lord and ask for reduction to lessen your follower’s burden.’ I said, ‘I have requested so much of my Lord that I feel ashamed, but I am satisfied now and surrender to Allah’s Order.’ When I left, I heard a voice saying, ‘I have passed My Order and have lessened the burden of My Worshipers.” (Book: 8, Bukhari Hadith: 227)

After meeting with Allah Muhammad returned to Mecca. The end of the fairy tale. But the Quran and the Hadith claim Muhammad’s visit to heaven is a fact, not a myth. Islam says that he who does not believe in the Quran and the Sahih Hadith is not a Muslim. ‘Do Muslims really believe this fairy tale is a true story?’ I asked a friend. He said, ‘Of course they believe in Miraj, Muhammad’s night journey to heaven.’ I said, ‘How can they believe in such an weird thingy?’ He laughed, said, ‘Muslims believe in weird thingy exactly the way Christians believe that Jesus walked on water or Jews believe in heaven and hell or Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation!’
I smiled and said, ‘It makes sense.’