The Prophet's night journey and ascension (Muslim festival)
To learn why Muslims pray five times a day and to focus on prayer and reflection.
by Caroline Donne
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar.
- To learn why Muslims pray five times a day
- To focus on prayer and reflection
- There are only two Muslim festivals that are celebrated as an act of religious duty (i.e. they are part of the five pillars of Islam). They are the breaking of the fast of Ramadan (Eid-ul-Fitr) and the festival of sacrifice (Eid-ul-Adha) at the end of Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah). The Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension is celebrated because it was during this time that the command to pray five times a day (another of the five pillars of Islam) was given. It is celebrated by the reading of the Qur’an and extra prayers are said.
- Be aware that there are different interpretations of the story; some regard it as fact, others regard the events as being a vision.
Preparation and materials
(Not all are necessary.)
- an OHP, flip-chart or whiteboard on which to write key words
- a prayer mat
- a picture of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
- some music to help children to be thoughtful or to pray
- a candle
Ask the children to think about why people pray. Ask for volunteers to share their ideas. Some suggestions might be: to talk to God; to listen to God; to ask for help; to say sorry; to thank God. Write and display the key words.
Explain that, for Muslims, prayer is very important: five times a day they stop what they are doing and pray to God. They pray at the beginning of the day, in the middle of the day, in the late afternoon, in the evening and last thing at night. These five daily prayers are known as Salat. Before prayer, Muslims wash carefully as a way of being ready to pray and to show respect to God. Each time they pray, wherever they are in the world, they face towards Makkah, one of the most special and holiest places for Muslims.
You could show the prayer mat at this point and explain that it is placed on the ground so that the top end points towards Makkah.
Go on to tell the story of why prayer is so important.
Muslims believe that God sent many messengers, or prophets, to earth to tell people about God and how he wanted them to live. The last messenger was the Prophet Muhammad. He was the most important messenger, and because of this Muslims give him great honour. They say a blessing after his name: ‘peace be upon him’. It was the Prophet who told them of God's command to pray five times a day. At this time of year Muslims think about the story of where that command came from. It’s the story of the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension.
A long time ago, nearly 1400 years, the Prophet Muhammad was living in Makkah, which is in the country we now call Saudi Arabia. It was a difficult and sad time for him. People would not listen to what he said about God; they were angry with him and hostile towards him. But one night, something wonderful happened. The Prophet was woken by an angel, who took him on an amazing journey. It seemed that he travelled on a mysterious animal rather like a horse with wings. When the journey was finished, the Prophet had arrived in Jerusalem. Muslims call this journey ‘al-Isra’, the night journey. It is why Jerusalem is a very special place for Muslims.
This wasn’t the end of the journey, because then the angel took the Prophet from Jerusalem on a journey to heaven. This part of the journey is called ‘al-Mi’raj’, the ascension. On this second part of the journey the Prophet passed through seven heavens, where he met other prophets. Finally he met with God. It was a wonderful meeting that seemed to happen in an instant. Now the Prophet knew that God would help and guide him in the difficult time ahead. Then God commanded him to tell people about the importance of prayer. It was a way in which they could communicate with God, and they should pray to God five times a day.
The Prophet returned home, having learned many things, feeling hopeful and more able to deal with the hostility he met from those who were against him.
Explain that Jerusalem is a holy city for two other religions. Ask if anyone knows which they are – Judaism and Christianity.
Add that the place in Jerusalem from which it is believed that the Prophet began the second part of the journey, to heaven, can still be seen today. It is called the Dome of the Rock.
Focus on the themes
Ask the students to think about prayer.
In the story, what did God tell the Prophet that prayer was?
When Muslims perform Salat (the five daily prayers), they use different positions, like standing, bowing, kneeling, or kneeling with their head touching the ground. These are different ways of showing how they feel about God and these help them to concentrate and be ready to communicate with God. Ask the students to reflect on how position and posture might affect prayer and meditation.
Time for reflection
Perhaps students would like to pray about the things that they need help with today, or to say thank you for a good thing that has happened. Perhaps they might like to use this time to think about something that is important to them.
Try to create an appropriate atmosphere for reflection by lighting a candle and playing some quiet music. Explain what you are going to do beforehand. Invite the students to change their position if it would help them. They might like to think of the positions mentioned above in which people express their feelings about God. Explain that it might help them to concentrate if they closed their eyes.
Allow for a time of quiet and stillness. You could use the words of a prayer or poem that is well known to the students. Indicate beforehand how this time of reflection will end, either by fading the music, saying ‘Amen’, or using some other form of closing words. You might like to ask the students to leave in silence or with the music still gently playing, so that they can retain a sense of peacefulness.