al masjid al aqsa
as per Quran...
17:1 Glory be to the One who took with/by His servant (at) night from al maSJD al haram ila/to al maSJD al aqsa which We have blessed around* it that We may show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Listener, the Seer.
17:2 And We gave Moses the decree/writ and We made it a guidance for the Children of Israel: "Choose no guardian/protector besides Me."
17:3 Progeny whom We carried with Noah, indeed he was a thankful servant.
17:4 And We determined to the Children of Israel in the decree/writ, surely you will cause corruption twice in the earth/land, and you will reach great arrogance.
17:5 So, when came the first promise, We sent against you servants of Ours, possessors of great might, so they breached the midst of the homes, and was a promise fulfilled.
17:6 Then We granted you victory over them, and We reinforced you with wealth and children, and We made you more numerous.
17:7 If you do good, you do good for yourselves, and if you do bad, then it is for it (i.e. yourselves). So when came the last/after promise, to sadden/distress your faces/wills and enter al maSJD just as they entered it the first time, and to destroy what they had overcome/conquered (with) destruction.
17:8 Perhaps your Lord will have mercy on you**, and if you revert then so will We. And We made Hell a gathering place for the rejecters/concealers/ungrateful.
17:9 Indeed, this reading/quran guides to that which is more upright, and it gives glad tidings to the believers who do good work, that for them is a great reward.
*note the often overlooked "blessed AROUND it", not "it" itself but AROUND it.
** the wording of this warning statement implies it is addressing those in opposition at the time of this revelation
Note that 17:7 begins with a conditional particle (Arabic: "in", English "if") and makes a prophecy using imperfect verbs (see words underlined), implying it is referring to the future, not as Traditionally understood referring to the past. Also, the following verse 17:8 adds to the indication of future, warning the present audience.
In Traditional sources there is an elaborate story behind 17:1, commonly referred to as "the night journey" (isra) and "ascension" (miraj) involving prophet Muhammad being taken from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to the Farthest Mosque in Jerusalem, but as usual there is variance within these accounts about the details. For example, some say it was a physical transportation, some say spiritual journey or vision/dream. There are many online articles discussing the details and problems surrounding this story. You may wish to research this (e.g. here, or here).
If understood traditionally as a journey to Al Masjid Al Aqsa in Jerusalem, it should be noted that it was NOT built at the time, thus has been explained away as referring to the area/site, since "masjid" can generically mean "place of SJD" not an actual building. Whilst this is theoretically possible, many still treat it as a proper noun. Interestingly, if we take it as an area, traditionalist commentators often say the whole earth is a "masjid" (based on a traditional hadith) thus why this area is allegedly singled out is unclear, as it would certainly not be the farthest masjid. It is also debatable whether Al Masjid Al Aqsa can truly be described as "blessed around it" when the region is full of conflict/oppression today. Perhaps one could argue this was a reference to the past and/or at the time of revelation only.
Similarly, it is also debatable whether the mosque Al Masjid Al Haram was built at this time, or even if it was it would have been rudimentary. Most consider it was not built at the time, thus regard it simply referring to the area/site. Again, many still treat it as a proper noun.
Notably, in the same chapter, in 17:93, the messenger clearly implies he cannot ascend in the heaven/sky and is only a human. Not only does this rule out the physical journey/ascension theory, but implies if he were to ascend physically it would make him other than human which is the very opposite of Quran's message. Also see 6:35. Further, a physical journey has not been described using such terms in AQ elsewhere as far as I am aware, so we can safely rule out the physical journey option.
Who does 17:1 refer to?
It can realistically only be Moses or Muhammad. Moses because he is mentioned in the next verse and it begins with "wa/and" implying a link to what was said previously. Muhammad because when AQ uses 3rd person singular delivery with the term "abd/servant" and does not explicitly name the abd addressed, it always or strongly points to the messenger of Quran, i.e. prophet Muhammad. Please see all occurrences here: Our abd - 2:23, 8:41, His abd - 18:1, 25:1, 39:36, 53:10, 57:9, God's abd - 72:19. Note how the start of the very next chapter, 18, and also 25 begin in a similar manner to 17. This weighs 17:1 in favour of referring to prophet Muhammad.
It is clear from 17:1 the reason given for taking His servant from A to B was to be shown some of God's signs/ayat. Hence a possible link to Moses in 17:2 with "and We gave Moses the decree/writ", however if so, this would make this the odd one out, as when AQ discusses revelation it does not use these terms nor describe anything similar. Unless a link and explanation can be found of course. Thus, if anything, 17:1 seems to imply some other kind of signs/ayat.
AMAH is NEVER mentioned along with Moses elsewhere in AQ, and in fact is exclusively mentioned along with the messenger of Quran. Taking these points into account, this weighs 17:1 significantly in favour of referring to prophet Muhammad.
The use of "bi" and "ila" in 17:1 suggest God took with/by His servant from A to B. Since we have ruled out a physical journey, this only leaves a spiritual journey and/or vision/dream or some other understanding. The use of "night" may indicate during sleep, i.e. a dream/vision.
Interestingly, the context for 17:7 is established by the dual mention of "masjid" in 17:1, and it just so happens to mention "enter al maSJD just as they entered it the first time", implying a minimum of two "masjid" are of relevance - coincidence? If so, what is it referring to? As stated in part 2 of this series on SuJuD, the most prominently known "AL maSJD" in AQ is AMAH, thus in terms of probability, would likely refer to that.
The only times the words "enter/dKhl" and "maSJD" occur side-by-side are in 17:7 "enter al maSJD" and 48:27 "enter AMAH" - and it just so happens that in 48:27 it states "...God has confirmed the vision (al ru'ya) of His messenger with truth/reality, surely you will enter AMAH..." giving us a link to a vision/dream - coincidence? Perhaps, but later in chapter 17, in 17:60 it says:
17:59 ...and We sent to Thamud the camel as a visible sign, but they wronged her. And We do not send the signs/ayat except as a warning.
17:60 And when We said to thee: "Your Lord has encompassed the people." And We did not make the vision (al ru'ya) that We showed* thee except as a trial for the people, and the accursed tree** in the quran/reading. And We warn them, but it only increases their transgression.
*note how "show" (imperfect tense) in 17:1, and "showed" (perfect tense) in 17:60, i.e. an action done/completed by 17:60. The same word (arayna) is used in both cases, which is the same root as ru'ya/vision.
** see 37:62-66
Note that even though the vision was shown to thee (singular, i.e. the messenger) it is a fit'na/trial for the people, meaning that it MUST have been relayed to them. This is compounded by the theme recurrent of sending the signs/ayat as a warning and the use of "We warn them / make them fearful...". According to the traditional explanations of 17:60 (which they link to 17:1), their source material is primarily the traditional hadith. For those following a Quran based islam, the strong preference is to have a self-contained explanation within AQ itself. If so, where is this vision explained?
Furthermore, in AQ ru'ya/vision/dream is used in only three other instances, that is for Joseph (12:5, 12:100), the King (12:43) and Abraham (37:102), and it means dream/vision in ALL cases, specifically a vision foretelling a future occurrence/event, and in ALL instances the ru'ya/vision is explained. IF 17:60 and 48:27 are unexplained, then they would be the odd ones out in AQ, which would be highly unusual.
17:60 also tells us the reason for the vision and that is it was a fit'na/trial for the people. This would serve to explain the whole content of chapter 17, which is a series of stories about messengership, and warnings, reasons for rejection, destruction of rejecting/deviant communities, paradigm shifts and God's will coming to pass. Hence likely why 17:2 uses "Choose no guardian/protector besides Me". Is this another coincidence? As a side note, in 17:60 it says it increases their transgression, possibly implying it may get worse before it gets better for believers.
Thus, any understanding of AMAH should take these issues into account and be able to explain them. If we link these "coincidences" together, we have shown that 17:1 most likely refers to the messenger of Quran, there is an association between 17:1, 17:7, 17:60 and 48:27, and it is likely regarding a vision foretelling a future occurrence which will be blessed around, involving overcoming the opposition, which would serve as a warning/trial for such people, and is fulfilled upon entering AMAH securing, relieving your chiefs, restraining not fearing with a victory near (see 48:27 analysis). If so, is there an explanation of AMAH that can provide a fit?
IF we take 'al masjid al haram' as "the inviolable time of SJD/acknowledgement" (i.e. the term referring to the time-period/event of the 'inviolable months') and 'al masjid al aqsa' as "the farthest/remotest time of SJD/acknowledgement" (implying a time of SJD/acknowledgement in the future), this would slot in perfectly with all that has been discussed previously. Around this future time is blessed, e.g. the believers have grown in numbers/power/authority, have overcome etc and a foretelling of this would serve as a warning/trial for the opposing people, and is completed upon entering AMAH, with a victory near. Much of AQ may have to be read to appreciate this progression in success for the believers. By "inviolable months" I am referring to "al ashhur al hurum" which are mentioned in 2:194, 2:217, 5:2, 5:97, 9:5 and refer to a time-period in which al hajj (the symposium/feast) is held, various regulations are in place etc. Please read these occurrences to familiarise yourself with this subject.
Note how ru'ya/vision is a foretelling of a future occurrence/event, and how the above fits with our chosen meaning of maSJD and AMAH. In other words, maSJD, AMAH and 'al masjid al aqsa' must be a reference to a time-period/event. So we can say the prophet Muhammad experienced the vision and relayed revelation of chapter 17 during AMAH. Note that AMAH (i.e. the term referring to the time-period/event of the inviolable months) would have been a regular, or semi-regular, occurrence, e.g. every year perhaps. This is also suggested by AQ, e.g. 9:28, 28:27.
It is interesting to note how traditional commentators explain away some points, e.g. the vision referred to in 17:60 (which they link to 17:1) is described as a "trial/ordeal/fit'na for the people" so they say this is because: Al Jalalayn (altafsir.com) "since they denied it and some of them [even] apostatised when he [the Prophet] informed them of it", Ibn Kathir (qtafsir.com) implies that since the prophet saw it with his physical eyes, rather than a dream, that is why, but unfortunately for him this contradicts 17:93. In my view, their explanations are unsatisfactory and certainly not based on AQ. They also do not seem to explain why it is placed in the context of a warning. The traditional story of isra and miraj does not come across as a warning, hence perhaps the silence on this point. To make things clearer, a translation of the verses is now shown below:
17:1 Glory be to the One who took with/by His servant (at) night from the inviolable time of SJD/acknowledgement to the farthest/remotest time of SJD/acknowledgement which We have blessed around it that We may show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Listener, the Seer.
17:7 If you do good, you do good for yourselves, and if you do bad, then it is for it (i.e. yourselves). So when came the last/after promise, to sadden/distress your faces/wills and enter THE time of SJD/acknowledgement just as they* entered it** the first time, and to destroy what they had overcome/conquered (with) destruction.
*i.e. Our servants, but this time they would be the present believers and perhaps their allies.
** THE maSJD, i.e. al masjid al haram / the inviolable time of SJD/acknowledgement, which would occur regularly, e.g. yearly.
Some may claim that this understanding contradicts several passages in AQ in which the prophet Muhammad clearly states he does not know the future. However there is no contradiction, as none knows the future, including Muhammad (5:109, 6:50, 7:188, 10:20, 11:31, 18:110, 27:65, 46:9, 81:24). Only God knows the future and this knowledge can be attained only through divine revelations/signs (3:44, 3:179, 11:49, 12:102, 30:2, 72:26-28). The messenger only follows what is inspired/revealed to him, and this particular vision is relayed in the revelation itself. This is also suggested when the vision is fulfilled in 48:27 "...He knew what you did not know...". Or some may claim the switch in addressee in 17:7 is problematic, however this is fairly common in AQ, i.e. switching from past to present audience etc, e.g. see 2:142. This is commonly known as "iltifaat" (see here).
An interesting observation is that the traditional explanations of 48:27 follow a basic outline to what was found above, see Asad's note 38 on 48:27 (my insertion in bold): "Shortly before the expedition which ended at Hudaybiyyah, the Prophet had a dream in which he saw himself and his followers entering Mecca (i.e. during 'al masjid al haram') as pilgrims. This dream-vision was destined to be fulfilled a year later, in 7 H., when the Muslims were able to perform their first peaceful pilgrimage to the Holy City".
Bear in mind al hajj would take place in the inviolable time of acknowledgement. Interestingly, traditional Islamic history states that after the prophet's "farewell hajj" he passed away and at this time the believers had triumphed and were at their peak, which could explain the use of "aqsa/farthest/remotest time of acknowledgement" for the prophet as it would have been his last.
Surprisingly, most mainstream traditional commentators do not link the vision of 48:27 to chapter 17. To them, the vision of 48:27 is not explained in AQ. If my findings are correct, then this would imply somewhere along the way the chapter 17 vision was disassociated from the 48:27 vision, and the former distorted for their own ends. For example, in this case, a fixing of the 5-daily salat. For those who do not know, according to tradition, it was only after the alleged isra and miraj did a fix of 5-daily salat come into observance, as prior to this it was 2-daily for the mumineen/believers (click: further reading).
It is strongly recommend to re-read the analysis above and ponder over the findings presented here. Also try to insert 'act/institution/etc of SJD' to see if it works. I personally could not make much sense of these possible understandings in this instance.