MUHAMMAD’S NIGHT JOURNEY & LOT’S SODOM AND GOMORRAH: BARGAINING WITH GOD?

Muhammad's Night Journey

In a few more days Muslims around the world will be celebrating Muhammad’s Night Journey (or Isra and Miraj in Arabic). What is Isra and Miraj? According to Islamic tradition it is a night where Prophet Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Jerusalem then ascended to heaven, where he met other prophets and received the commandment of 5 daily prayers. All of these happened in one single night at ca. 621 CE. This single event is the main reason why Muslims claim Jerusalem as one of their holy places apart from Mecca and Medinah. To learn why Jews (and Christians) claim Jerusalem as their holiest place based on their religious teachings read: MythoReligio Series Book 1: History of the World & Jerusalem.

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ISRA AND MIRAJ IN THE QURAN

Muhammad’s night journey is mentioned in the Quran as follows:

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 Hearer, the Seer.
(Quran translation 17:1)

As the stars fell away.
Your friend (Muhammad) was not astray, nor was he deceived.
Nor was he speaking out of a personal desire.
It was divine inspiration.
Dictated by the Most Powerful.
Possessor of all authority. From His highest height.
At the highest horizon.
He drew nearer by moving down.
Until he became as close as possible.
He then revealed to His servant what was to be revealed.
The mind never made up what it saw.
Are you doubting what he saw?
He saw him in another descent.
At the ultimate point.
Where the eternal Paradise is located.
The whole place was overwhelmed.
The eyes did not waver, nor go blind.
He saw great signs of his Lord.
(Quran translation 53: 1-18)

There is no argument that “His servant” in verse (17:1) refers to Muhammad, the “al-Masjid al-Haram” refers to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca. Now, most Muslims typically refer the “al-Masjid al-Aqsa” to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

There is also no argument that the verses in chapter 53 refer to the journey of Muhammad to the heaven. Therefore, all over the Muslim world children are taught that during that night Muhammad made a journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then ascended to heaven.

The problem with this explanation is that the construction of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem only took place in 685 CE (long after the death of Muhammad), or more than 60 years after the event took place. Al Masjid al Aqsa itself in English may be translated as “the farthest mosque” or “the farthest place of prostration”. So does the Quran mean that place as a mosque that was only built after the verse was revealed or something else? What do you think?

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ISRA AND MIRAJ IN THE HADITH

Now, the story of Isra Miraj was only described briefly in the Quran, however the Islamic traditions (i.e. the Hadith) added other details as follow: that the journey was done upon an mythical animal called a Buraq, in heaven Muhammad met other prophets (and Moses wept), saw the rivers in Paradise and finally Muhammad received (and bargained) the instructions for Muslims to pray. Here is one of the Hadith:

One night, Muhammad was taken by a Buraq, a white animal with a size between a mule and a donkey, to heaven. He was accompanied by the angel Gabriel. On the lowest heaven, Muhammad was met and welcomed by Adam; on the 2nd heaven by Jesus and John; on the 3rd heaven by Joseph; on the 4th by Idris; on the 5th by Aaron; and on the 6th by Moses.
Moses wept after welcoming Muhammad, because Muhammad’s followers would be more than his own. On the 7th heaven, Muhammad was met and greeted by Abraham. After that, Muhammad saw the House of Allah, where 70,000 angels performed daily prayers.
Then he saw the Tree (Sidrat-ul-Muntaha) where 4 rivers originated on its root: the Nile, Euphrates and 2 other hidden rivers which are in Paradise.
Then 50 daily prayers were enjoined upon Muhammad and his followers. However, Moses told him that his followers would not be able to perform such an obligation. Thus Muhammad returned and bargained with Allah for a reduction. He asked for 30, then 20, 10 and finally 5, which was granted by Allah.
(Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 4:429)

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SODOM AND GOMORRAH

Curiously, there is another story in the Bible (Old Testament, Book of Genesis 18: 18-23) where Abraham pleading and bargaining with God to safe Sodom and Gomorrah. The numbers that were used are almost identical with the story of Muhammad’s night journey.

Abraham Bargaining with God

Here is the story:

When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.
Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The LORD said, “If I find 50 righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is 45? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of 5 people?”
“If I find 45,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
Once again he spoke to him, “What if only 40 are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of 40, I will not do it.”
Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only 30 can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find 30 there.”
Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only 20 can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of 20, I will not destroy it.”
Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only 10 can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of 10, I will not destroy it.”
When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
(OT: Genesis 18)

The story continues in the next chapter as follows:

Sodom and Gomorrah

Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities - and also the vegetation in the land.
But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.
So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
(OT: Genesis 19)

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THE RIVERS IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Then there is another story that describes four rivers in Eden (Paradise) in the Bible:

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)
The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
(OT: Genesis 2: 10-14)

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I am sure you can easily see the similarities in the Hadith story and the Bible. In both stories both prophets/leaders (Muhammad and Abraham) were pleading, and bargaining with God (and even reminding/correcting!). Now, here are my questions:

If in the Hadith the main reason for Muhammad’s journey was to receive the commandment for Muslims to pray, why is it not mentioned in the Quran?
Don’t you think it’s weird that the Quran never mentions the names of the rivers in Paradise and yet the Hadith mentions the exact number of the rivers as in the Bible and a river with the same name?
And why is the name of the river the same as a river on Earth?
Why did Moses weep because Muhammad’s followers would be more than his?
Was he jealous?
Weren’t they both sent by the same God with the same message then?
Were they in competition?
Why was God so uncertain?

I found it hard to believe that prophets or religious leaders like Muhammad and Abraham would bargain with God that way (using almost identical numbers, no less) and I find it even harder to believe that God, the Creator of the Universe would reacted the way it’s told in both stories.

Why did God have to remember Abraham before He brought Lot out of the city?
Did God really need to be reminded by Muhammad (and Moses indirectly) to command an obligation that is impossible to fulfill? Doesn’t God know that already?
Why did God have to “go down” and see Sodom and Gomorrah Himself to find out how bad was the outcry of those cities?
Did God really need to be reminded by Abraham that sweeping away righteous people is “unjust” and “far be it from Him”?
When God says one thing and then says another thing: doesn’t that mean He changes his mind? Doesn’t that mean He changes His words?
Doesn't that mean some of His words disappear?

That doesn't seem God-like to me. What do you think?

GOD DOESN'T CHANGE HIS WORDS

Meanwhile there are verses in both the Quran and the Bible (Old and New Testaments) that say God, doesn’t change His mind and His speech.

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
(OT: Numbers 23:19)

I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
(OT: Malachi 3:6)

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
(OT: Isaiah 40:8)

Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
(NT: Matthew 24:35)

The word of your Lord does find its fulfillment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who hears and knows all.
(Quran translation 6:115)

And recite that which has been revealed unto you of the Scripture of your Lord. There is none who can change His words, and you will find no refuge beside Him.
(Quran translation 18:27)

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Once we go deeper in our religious comparison study, we will see more and more similarities in almost all religions. Not only between Abrahamic religions but also parallels to Hinduism and Buddhism and even with pagan religions and world myths. And also there are many religious traditions/beliefs that are clearly embellished by human’s hand. For a complete comparison study read this series.

I am not a theologian but I think as TruthSeekers we are all allowed to think for ourselves to figure out which ones are the truth, are we not?
I believe in God and I believe that He does give us wisdom and guidance to navigate through life. I also believe God would never contradict Himself. So if there is contradiction in religious teachings, I think we should wonder who/what caused that contradiction? God would not have made such mistakes/contradictions!

Why do they not study the Quran carefully? If it were from other than God, they would have found in it numerous contradictions.
(Quran translation 4:82)

He (God) is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
(OT: Deuteronomy 32:4)

What do you think? How do you think something strange, illogical and hard to believe like these could be written in religious scriptures?

I thank you for reading this post and I have no intention of offending anyone from a particular religion and I truly hope this information may be food for thought.

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IMAGES:
harekrsna.de
rsc.byu.edu
patheos.com

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