Christians are directly concerned with and interested in the prophetic biography of Jesus Christ. Muslims are directly interested in the prophetic biography of the Prophet Muhammad and following his example. Muslims believe that both of these Prophets, Muhammad and Jesus, actually met each other.
Different narrations exist of the Night Journey and Ascension of Muhammad. One condensed version of a narration provided by Imam Dr. Usama al-Atar draws on classical sources as follows. It maintains that one night, when the Prophet Muhammad (s) was resting in the house of his cousin in Makkah, the angel Gabriel came to him with a heavenly animal called the Buraq. The Prophet (s) rode on the Buraq's back and it flew him to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem where he said, "I saw Abraham, Moses, Jesus among many other prophets who lined up for prayers. I performed the call for starting the prayers (Iqamah) and then the angel Gabriel asked me to lead the prayers so I did." From there the Prophet rode the Buraq, ascended to the Worldly heavens where he saw a tall man, and Gabriel told him that he was Adam. I said to him, "Assalam Alaikum (Peace be upon you)," and he replied the greeting to me. I then prayed for his forgiveness and he prayed for my forgiveness and then said, "Welcome O virtuous son, virtuous prophet, who is sent in the virtuous time."
(A full description of Islamic doctrines on all the Prophets is too much to include in this short article. However, Imam Dr. Usama Al-Atar provides the following commentary: One of the fundamental beliefs of Muslims is the infallibility of all prophets, which includes them not committing any sin, mistake or any wrong doing of any sort. When prophets pray for forgiveness, it is not because of any sins they committed, but rather for feeling the shortcoming of not doing enough to worship God the way He is worthy of being worshiped).
The Prophet (s) then ascended to the second heaven, where he saw two men who looked alike. He inquired about them and was told that they were the cousins, Jesus (Isa) (Alayhi As-Salaam) and John the Baptist (Yahya) (as). He greeted them with, "Assalam Alaikum," and they replied to his greeting. He then prayed for their forgiveness and they prayed for him as well and then said, "Welcome O virtuous brother, and
Further and in a similar way, Muhammad, PBUH, also met other major Prophets. The Prophet (s) was then taken to the highest ranks of Heavens, a place called Sidrat Al-Muntaha where he "encountered" God. (This encounter with God in the Sidrat Al-Muntaha would be enough for at least another article.) Imam Dr. Al-Atar's rendering of the narrative and embedded commentary should be familiar to Muslims who know very well this story of the Night Journey and Ascension. They will usually commemorate it every year in the mosque. However, I would like to suggest that it is a good time to take another look at the Prophetic example and allow its wisdom to further benefit us. These Prophets, Peace be upon Them all, demonstrated the best example of encounter and relations amongst the most highly developed human beings. This is an example that we ought to remember and reflect upon as Muslims in the wider Muslim community are divided into different groups. It presents the best example for when we meet each other. Sunnis and Shiites, for example, might draw on this example in the story of the Night Journey and Ascension to treat each other in the best way. The implications for better relations extend to all of Islamic pluralism: Sunnis, Shiites and everyone else.
Additional implications of the account of the Prophet's Night Journey and Ascension could be extended in a benevolent way to relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim followers of the other Prophets. We could consider this an example of the best encounter and relations between the best of all human beings, the example extended to contemporary Christian-Muslim relations. This example may inform ordinary citizens who would like to think and act more in a way similar to the Prophets. Anyone wondering where Christian-Muslim dialogue and relations is headed might consider the content of this prophetic example for inspiration. The splendid prophetic example is there for all to consider for benevolent intentions and improved relations between communities and between individuals.
Author's note: For this article I would like to acknowledge permission from Imam Dr. Usama al-Atar of Edmonton, Alberta, to use selections from and paraphrasing of his contemporary rendering of
the Night Journey and Ascension narrative of the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, and his embedded commentary. Special thanks should go to David Goa, a Canadian expert on interfaith relations and the Director of the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta.