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19th Century statue of Buraq from the island of Madura, Indonesia.

The Buraq (Arabic: الْبُرَاق), which means "the lightning" in Arabic, is a horse-like creature in Islamic stories. It's said to have been the mount of the Islamic prophet Muhammad during his journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and through the heavens and back at night.[1] According to traditions, the Buraq also carried other prophets like Abraham over long distances in a very short time.[2][3]

The Encyclopaedia of Islam, based on Al-Damiri's writings, suggests that "al-burāq" comes from the Arabic word "barq," which means "lightning" or has other related meanings like "flash" or "shine." According to the Encyclopædia Iranica, "Boraq" comes from the Middle Persian words "*barāg or *bārag," which mean "a riding beast or mount".[4][5]

The Night Journey[change | change source]

Islamic tradition tells that the Night Journey happened ten years after Muhammad became a prophet, around the 7th century. Muhammad was in Mecca when Gabriel came to him with the Buraq, a magical creature. The Buraq carried Muhammad from Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca to Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.[Qur'an 17:1]

A Mindanaoan Muslim Buraq sculpture from the Philippines.

In Jerusalem, Muhammad prayed at the Temple site and then rode the Buraq up through seven heavens. Along the way, he met several prophets like Adam, Jesus, Joseph, Enoch, Aaron, Moses, and Abraham. He spoke with God who gave him important instructions, including the command for Muslims to pray fifty times a day. After Moses suggested reducing the prayers, Muhammad went back to God several times until the number was reduced to five.[6]

According to Ibn Ishaq, the Buraq also carried Abraham when he visited Hagar and Ishmael. It's said that Abraham lived in Canaan with Sarah, but the Buraq would take him to Mecca to see his family and back home in the evening.[7]

In Hadith[change | change source]

Painting of Al Buraq (1770–75), from South Asia; Deccan painting incorporating Persian elements.

Although the Hadith don't specifically say the Buraq has a human face, art from the Near East and Persia usually shows it that way. This idea even spread to Indo-Pak subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It might come from seeing the creature described as having a "beautiful face" and thinking it's human instead of an animal.

In Sahih al-Bukhari, there's a description of the Buraq:

Then a white animal which was smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey was brought to me ... The animal's step (was so wide that it) reached the farthest point within the reach of the animal's sight.

In another part, the Buraq is described like this:

Then he [Gabriel] brought the Buraq, handsome-faced and bridled, a tall, white beast, bigger than the donkey but smaller than the mule. He could place his hooves at the farthest boundary of his gaze. He had long ears. Whenever he faced a mountain his hind legs would extend, and whenever he went downhill his front legs would extend. He had two wings on his thighs which lent strength to his legs. He bucked when Muhammad came to mount him. The angel Gabriel put his hand on his mane and said: "Are you not ashamed, O Buraq? By Allah, no-one has ridden you in all creation more dear to Allah than he is." Hearing this he was so ashamed that he sweated until he became soaked, and he stood still so that the Prophet mounted him.

— Muhammad 'Alawi al-Maliki, The Prophet's Night Journey and Heavenly Ascent[9]

In earlier descriptions, people couldn't agree if the Buraq was male or female. Most thought it was male, but some writings have Gabriel calling it a female. Some artists even painted it with a woman's head. There's also an idea that "al-Buraq" just means a special mare, mentioned in books like The Dome of the Rock and Palestine in Picture and Word.[10][11]

References[change | change source]

  1. Vuckovic, Brooke Olson (2004). Heavenly Journeys, Earthly Concerns: The Legacy of the Mi'raj in the Formation of Islam. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-88524-3.
  2. Peters, Francis E. (1995). Jerusalem: the Holy City in the eyes of chroniclers, visitors, pilgrims, and prophets from the days of Abraham to the beginnings of modern times (2. print ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Pr. ISBN 978-0-691-07300-2.
  3. Green, Nile (2003). "The Religious and Cultural Roles of Dreams and Visions in Islam". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 13 (3): 287–313. ISSN 1356-1863.
  4. Gruber, Christane (2012-12-01), "al-Burāq", Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Brill, retrieved 2024-02-06
  5. Foundation, Encyclopaedia Iranica. "Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica". iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 2024-02-06.
  6. Sullivan, Leah. "Jerusalem: The Three Religions of the Temple Mount" (PDF). stanford.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 July 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  7. Firestone, Reuven (1990-01-01). Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-0331-0.
  8. Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:58:227[dead link]
  9. Muhammad 'Alawi al-Maliki. The Prophet's Night Journey and Heavenly Ascent., translated by Gibril Fouad Haddad, chapter 2
  10. Arnold, T.W. (1965). "Painting in Islam" (PDF). Religious Art in Islam: 118.
  11. Grabar, Oleg (2006). The Dome of the Rock. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02313-0.