The Isra and Mi’raj are the two parts of a Night Journey that, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad took during a single night around the year 621. The Qur’an makes reference to this event in Chapter 17 (Al-Isra) verse 1:
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.
Now whilst many people will expound on the significance of the journey and the night, events that occurred, and how the Salaah (5 daily prayers) became ordained, I believe it also offers lessons and inspiration for people with special needs and their parents and those who support them.
From the perspective of a parent of a child with Autism, no other Islamic event resonates with me more than that of the Isra and Mi’raj.
The Isra and Mi’raj in the Face of Rejection and Dejection
Ask any parent of a child with special needs as to what has been their greatest challenge and battle. Many will think it is the ‘burden’ of the child or the financial cost factor or the sacrifices of time.
On the contrary, these parents will tell you the greatest challenge and battle has been to face rejection: rejection that kids can have a disorder or disability; rejection that disorders or disabilities exists; rejection that their kids cannot behave ‘normally’; rejection with the notion that ‘parents probably did something wrong’, and hence are ‘being punished’.
And what makes this challenge even harder is put simply: the loss of support.
Accepting that you have a child with special needs is tough. Tougher than this is coming to accept that people for whom you believe would support you through thick and thin, will abandon you when you need them the most.
My greatest source of comfort has been to know that our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) went through a similar phase, in what has generally become known as ‘Aam-ul-Huzn’ or the Year of Sorrow.
The period was referenced by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the toughest time of his life, and preceded the event of the Isra and Mi’raj. It is the period where he faced a number of misfortunes:
- The public boycott where the Meccans banished the Banu Hashim to an area known Shib Abi Talib (Valley of Abu Talib), and refused to trade with them resulting in hunger and privation.
- The death of his wife Khadija (RA), the first person to accept Islam and upon whom he could always rely on.
- The subsequent death of his uncle, Abu Talib, whose protection ensured that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would never face any direct harm.
Following these misfortunes, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also faced the brutal rejection of the people of Ta’if who stoned him. Such was the extent of his injuries that even his shoes were filled with blood. The Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) came to him with the Angel of the Mountains and said that if the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wanted, he would blow the mountains over the people of Ta’if.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instead replied with the following prayer:
O Allah, To Thee I complain of my weakness, my lack of resources and my lowliness before men.
O Most Merciful! Thou art the Lord of the weak and Thou art my Lord. To whom wilt Thou relinquish my fate! To one who will misuse me? Or to an enemy to whom Thou hast given power over me? If Thou art not angry with me then I care not what happens to me. Thy favor is all that counts for me.
I take refuge in the light of Thy countenance, by which all darkness is illuminated. And the things of this world and next are rightly ordered. I wish to please Thee until Thou art pleased. There is no power and no might save in Thee.
As time has passed, I’ve realized that my role is not to force people to accept that autism exists, or to force people to accept my son. As a matter of fact, such efforts might not only have been in vain, but also a poor utilization of time and effort.
Instead my role has to be to not only support my one son who has autism in particular, but to assist all my kids to become the best they can be, to the best of their ability.
In doing so, we prove to others that autism is not a burden, but an opportunity to show others, that no matter the weaknesses of our kids, we will not give up on them. The goal is not to make them compete or be better than others, but better than what they can be, and in doing so, remove the stigma of autism.
Our weakness and lack of resources will only be outdone by our determination.
The Isra and Mi’raj as the Turning Point in Turning Perspective
At this low point in time, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was taken on this glorious journey. Some scholars are of the opinion that there were a few reasons why the Prophet Muhammad’s journey started at the house of Umm Hani, and not his own.
- Firstly, it was closer to the Kaaba.
- Secondly, some opine that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stayed there after the incident in Taif to not reveal the extent of his injuries to his immediate family.
The latter point is, in my opinion, also reflective of how many parents of kids with special needs put on a ‘brave face’. Deep down, they are filled with concern of the future, and what would happen when they are no longer around.
These are natural to have, but have to gradually fade into an action plan. Firstly, the best way to prepare for the future is to build it. Secondly, we cannot tell how long we will be around, so best make every minute of it starting now.
The less time spent fretting about other people’s opinions, thoughts and behaviour, means more time to do something constructive.
The Isra and Mi’raj and the Scent of People who Don’t Give Up
One of the incidents of the Isra and Mi’raj that is only occasionally shared is this one:
On the journey of the Isra, the Prophet smelled a very nice odor. He asked Jibreel about this pleasant scent and Jibreel informed him this good smell was coming from the grave of the woman whose duty used to be to comb Pharaoh’s daughter’s hair. This woman was a good, pious believer.
One day, as she was combing Pharaoh’s daughter’s hair, the comb fell from her hand. At this she said, “Bismillah.” The Pharaoh’s daughter asked her, “Do you have a god other than my father?” The woman said, “Yes. My Lord and the Lord of your father is Allah.”
The Pharaoh’s daughter told her father what had happened and he demanded this woman blaspheme and leave Islam, but she refused. At that, the Pharaoh threatened to kill her children.
He brought a great pot of water and built a great fire under it. When the water boiled, the Pharaoh brought her children and started to drop them into that pot one after the other.
Throughout all this, the woman remained steadfast to Islam, even when the Pharaoh reached her youngest child — a little boy still breast-feeding — but she felt pity for him.
At that, Allah enabled this child to speak. He said to his mother, “O Mother, be patient. The torture of the Hereafter is far more severe than the torture of this life, and do not be reluctant, because you are right.”
At this the woman requested Pharaoh collect her bones and the bones of her children and bury them in the same grave. The Pharaoh promised her that — then dropped her into that boiling water. She died as a martyr. The good odor the Prophet smelled coming from her grave is an indication of her high status.
Adapted from: http://www.islamawareness.net/Isra/miracle.html
Kids with special needs are also kids of Jannah (paradise), and some would argue this is a fanciful thought. But when you meet a child that is unable to talk or unable to verbalize his/her thoughts, perhaps it is that their tongue is protected from committing sin, a child who unlike others cannot display disrespect verbally or demonstrate foul language that he/she has learnt.
These are indeed the kids of paradise. The question is: will we use them as a means to enable us to also enter paradise.
The Isra and Mi’raj and the Journey You’d Never Imagine You’d Undertake
The story most often told is that of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his meeting with different prophets on different levels of Jannah.
Since the inception of Raa’id being diagnosed with autism, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, finding a school for him, getting him to therapies, etc.
The one question I occasionally ponder is: How would our life have been, had he not have been diagnosed with autism? A few answers:
- We probably would never have met other wonderful parents who also have kids with special needs.
- We probably would never have given up evenings to attend support groups and learn from the experiences of others.
- We probably would never have been invited by the University of Cape Town to use Raa’id in a pilot programme that they wanted to roll-out, a programme that would benefit hundreds of other children.
- We probably would never have been as passionate about any disorder as we now are.
The ‘early days’ were daunting. It remains a marvel when we meet parents whose kids have recently been diagnosed with autism. We see our old selves in them; they are starting to undertake a journey that we undertook a few years ago, a journey we’d never imagine we would undertake.
The Isra and Mi’raj and the Special Verses that could be only be Shared in a Special Way
During the Mi’raj or heavenly journey, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received a portion of verses of the Holy Quran of which I cannot help but remind myself of on a daily basis. Beyond my personal attachment to them, these verses of the Holy Quran have certain special characteristics that no other verses of the Holy Quran have:
- Firstly, these are the only verses of the Holy Quran that were not revealed on Earth.
- Secondly, these are the only verses of the Holy Quran that were not revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel). Instead they were given directly to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the night of the Mi’raj.
Now if one would ask, if these verses are so special, what would they relate to: does it refer to the Majesty of Almighty Allah, does it perhaps refer to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), or perhaps this glorious journey of Mi’raj.
The special verses of the Holy Quran that were shared in a special way on this special night refers to the wonderful capacity that mankind has. The verses that were revealed form part of the last verses of Surah Baqara (the second chapter), and the last one reads:
Allah will not place a burden on any soul greater than it can bear.
It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.
(Pray:) “Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord!
Lay not on us a burden Like that which Thou didst lay on those before us;
Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear.
Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us.
Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith
Raising a child with special needs is an enormous responsibility, eased only with the knowledge that this is the Almighty’s will, and that He only grants this to people with a special capacity, one they might not realize they have.
Now in 2014, it is barely a few weeks after the Autism Awareness month of April, that Muslims will celebrate the auspicious night of the Isra and Mi’raj. In a few years to come, these will overlap each other, as the Islamic calendar year is shorter than the Gregorian one.
Tonight as people fill up the Masaajid, you may see a young child behaving in a way you may consider ill-befitting the sanctity of a Masjid. That child may or may not have a disorder. That child will not be Raa’id though.
Raa’id, because of his autism, cannot stand crowds and restrictive space. He is only six now, so it concerns us whether one day in the future he will be able to perform Jumu’ah.
The truth of the matter is that more and more parents will be pondering this concern.
- In 1970, the numbers for autism was 1 in 10,000.
- In 1975, it was 1 in 5,000.
- In 1985, it was 1 in 2,500.
- In 1995, it was 1 in 500.
- In 2001, it was 1 in 250.
- In 2004, it was 1 in 166.
- In 2009, it was 1 in 110.
- In 2012, it was 1 in 88.
- Last year, in 2013, it was 1 in 50.