17. None Has Risen to Heaven but He Who Comes from Heaven

The sura “The Nocturnal Voyage” (or “The Sons of Israel”) starts thus: “Glory to the One who has transported His servant, at night, from the Sacred Mosque to the Mosque far away around which We have placed Our benediction, so as to make him see some of Our signs. He is the Hearer and the Clear Seer” (s. 17,1). The servant would be Muḥammad (~), and the nocturnal voyage (isra’) in question is the voyage from Mecca to Jerusalem. This voyage would have been done on a supernatural mount, a winged mare named Bouraq. A year has also been given to this ultra-rapid voyage: the year 620 of the Christian era.

The problems are multiple. If the faraway Mosque or “Al-Aqsa” designates the one constructed at the end of the esplanade (long after the Dome of the Rock), then the Koran mentions something that wasn’t constructed but a whole century later according to the Koranic text (a vicious circle!). Moreover, the identification of the Rock around which is constructed the Dome as the point of departure for the ascension-rise-miraj toward Heaven doesn’t appear before the 10th century in the sources [1]. And this verse 17, 1 is absent from the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock [2].

Couldn’t we simply say that the isra’ and the miraj following it (which transports Muḥammad from the rock of the esplanade toward Heaven) relates to a tradition to which the Koran itself alludes: “a ladder in Heaven to bring a sign” (Sura “The Flocks,” 6,35)? Humanity cannot live without a certain communication with “the Heavens,” the Creator.

This idea of a ladder or a communication with the Heavens is already present when it is said: “Moses [Mussa] was devoted and was apostle and prophet. We spoke to him on the right side of the Mount (Sinai) and made him approach as a confidant” (Sura “Maryam” 19, 51-52). The Old Testament tells us that God showed to Moses (Mussa) the celestial model of the dwelling the Temple (Exodus 25). Similarly, Hebrew law was received by the ministry of angels (Galatians 3, 19). Jesus refers himself to the law given by Moses [Mussa]: there is no question of changing the law that comes from God. Jesus still refers to the Law in “You know the commandments: Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother” (Mark 10, 19).

Jesus is like a living ladder: the angels of God rise and descend above him (John 1, 51). He gives to man his own relation to God, a relation which is a founding of life, of creativity. It is still clearer in what Jesus teaches Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither is goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3, 8).

The breath of the Spirit is not only an interiorization of the law of Moses, it is a breath that comes from the Heavens, that is, from God. Jesus also says to Nicodemus: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man” (John 3, 13). No one has ascended into Heaven, but Jesus descends from it!


[1] Cf. J. and D. SOURDEL, « Coupole du Rocher », Dictionnaire historique de l’islam, Paris : PUF, 2004, p. 224.

[2] Oleg GRABAR, La Formation de l’art islamique, Paris : Flammarion, 2000, p. 73-74.