The Familiar and the Fantastic in Narratives of Mu[hdot]ammad’s Ascension to the Heavenly Spheres
The story of Mu[hdot]ammad’s Night Journey and Ascension to the Heavenly Spheres is perhaps the most fantastic episode in the Prophet’s biography, and its fantastic aspects became widely accepted as historical facts notwithstanding the misgivings of early Muslim scholars. This paper investigates the narrative function of the fantastic in Ibn Kathīr’s extensive accounts of the story within a comparative framework. By examining his version of Mu[hdot]ammad’s Journey against narratives of utopia in western literature, it is possible to see the striking similarity in their narratives’ patterns, always beginning with the ‘familiar’ departure, then moving into the ‘remarkable’ journey, and ending in the ‘fantastic’ arrival, where the traveller comes into contact with the source of special knowledge. This paper proposes that Muslim al-Isrā’ wa-l-Mi‘rāj and western narratives of utopia follow a fairly universal structure, what I would call ‘utopian travel rubric’, which blends the ‘familiar’, ‘remarkable’ and ‘fantastic’ to engender a sense of plausibility for both the Heavenly and Utopian journeys.
The Space Between Here and There: The Prophet’s Night Journey as an Allegory of Islamic Ritual Prayer
This paper commences with an analysis of Qur’an 17:1, the Prophet’s alleged night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, which it interprets as an allegory of Islamic ritual prayer. By way of this interpretation, the paper subsequently reviews Islam as a particularly spatially oriented religion and proposes a spatial reading of the word ‘Islam’ itself.