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Muslims will celebrate Lailat al Miraj on August 11. Want to know more about Islam or this celebration? Keep reading.

The major players: The Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In 610, while meditating in a cave, the angel Gabriel came to him and told him to recite the words of God. Those words were eventually written down in the Qur’an. Due to persecution and to the Meccan government’s refusal to accept him as a religious leader (they may have accepted him as political leader had he agreed to it), Muhammad and his early followers were forced to flee Mecca for nearby Medina. This journey was known as the hijra. After several wars and conflicts, Muhammad and his followers returned to Mecca in the year 630. They cleaned out the kabaa (then a center of idol worship). He returned to Mecca, made one more trip to Mecca (the hajj) in 632, and died the same year in Medina.
The sacred texts: The Qur’an (acceptable only in Arabic), the Hadith (traditions and words of Muhammad), and the Sira (biographies of Muhammad).
The main tenants:The five pillars of Islam:
1. The shahadah: There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.
2. Salat: Prayer
3. Zakat: Obligatory alms-giving (charity to the poor)
4. Sawm: Fasting (particularly during Ramadan, a celebration of the revelation of the Qur’an)
5. Hajj: Muslims are required to take a pilgrimage to Mecca at some point in their lifetimes, assuming they have the means to do so.
6. Jihad (sometimes called the sixth pillar): Jihad means a struggle. This can be a struggle within oneself or a holy war in the defense of Islam.
The goal: To be sent to Heaven at the Day of Judgment. This is achieved by doing good works during one’s lifetime.
Social connection: Islam has been connected in recent history to acts of violence and terrorism. A majority of these acts were committed by Muslim extremists and political entities. Muslims consider themselves a peaceful people – Islam and the Qur’an do not condone unjustified violence. Other current debates include the place of women in society and the practice of women wearing th hijab (head covering; a sign of modesty).

Lailat al Miraj is a celebration of the night Muhammad ascended to heaven (temporarily). As the story goes, Muhammad was visited by two angels in Mecca. He then travelled to Jerusalem atop a winged steed named Buraq. From the Temple Mount (the past site of the Jewish temple, the place where Jesus overturned tables, and the current site of the Dome of the Rock), Muhammad was taken to heaven to meet God.

While in heaven, Muhammad was given a tour, met prophets, and was told Muslims needed to pray five times a day (i.e., he was given the duty of salat).

Ironically (or perhaps I’m just finding irony where there is none), Lailat al Miraj occurs just five days after the transfiguration of Jesus in Orthodox Christianity. The story of the transfiguration in the Bible says Jesus stood atop a mountain where he spoke with God (who called him Son).

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