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2 / Dreams and Visions

The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq from the Bustan of Sacdi
The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq from the Bustan of Sacdi
Artist / Origin Unknown painter; Sultan Muhammad Nur (calligrapher) (Uzbekistani, active first half of 16th century)
Date 1514
Material Colors, ink, and gold on paper
Dimensions H: 7 ½ in. (19 cm.), W: 5 in. (12.7 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis V. Bell Fund and the Vincent Astor Foundation Gift

expert perspective

Nasser RabbatAga Khan Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Additional Resources

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Green, Nile. “The Religious and Cultural Roles of Dreams and Visions in Islam The Religious and Cultural Roles of Dreams and Visions in Islam.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd Series, 13.3 (November 2003): 287–313.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.

Irwin, Robert. Islamic Art in Context. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Sims, Eleanor. Peerless Images: Persian Painting and Its Sources. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

”Sultan Muhammad Nur: The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq (1974.294.2).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/08/nc/ho_1974.294.2.htm (October 2006).

The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq from the Bustan of Sacdi

» Unknown painter; Sultan Muhammad Nur (calligrapher) (Uzbekistani, active first half of 16th century)

The Prophet Muhammad rides on the back of a fantastical creature.

Surrounded by a golden nebula, the two rise through the air into the starry heavens, where hosts of other angels peek out from a ribbon-like stream of gold, that at turns resembles clouds and fire. Below this celestial gathering, three men sleep on the floor of a closed interior.

The illustration comes from the Bustan (literally “Garden”), a collection of entertaining anecdotes, in which the Persian poet Sacdi shares life lessons as well as spiritual wisdom. The image likely was placed toward the front of the manuscript, near the prologue where Sacdi offers praise to God and the Prophet and intones, “Think not…that one can walk in the road of purity except in the footsteps of Muhammad.”

The scene itself brings together two different Islamic traditions. The first is the Isra, or the night journey of the Prophet. According to accounts, the winged creature Buraq, brought by the angel Gabriel, carried Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem. The other is the Micraj, the Prophet’s ascent through the seven heavens, where he encountered earlier prophets and patriarchs and eventually entered into the presence of God. There is only one vague reference to a night journey in the Qur’an (Sura 17) and no passages that can be unequivocally linked to the ascent into heaven. However, both stories, often merged into one as they are here, are told in various versions in hadith (collections of Muhammad’s sayings) and sira (accounts of Muhammad’s life). The term micraj is sometimes used to refer to the combined events.

The nature of the Muhammad’s night journey and his ascent into heaven are a subject of debate among Muslims. Some hold a literal view—that Muhammad was physically transported to Jerusalem and from there to the throne of God. Others believe that the events occurred as dreams or revelatory visions, or that the experience was purely a spiritual one, involving only Muhammad’s soul. It is difficult to say which view the illustrator or patron of this particular image endorsed. The fact that Muhammad’s face is uncovered—a rare occurrence in Islamic art—certainly suggests an emphasis on the Prophet’s humanity. But it is unclear that this was intended to stress his bodily presence or to encourage the audience to “walk…in the footsteps of Muhammad,” who was human.

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