In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
1- The hadith you referred to in your question is narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim as well as other compilers of hadith.
2- This hadith has been thoroughly studied by specialized religious scholars a long time ago, but those laymen who now question it never thought to provide valid, convincing evidence for their claims.
3-The specialized scholars never claimed that the hadith in point was an Israelite narration cited to prove Moses superiority over Prophet Muhammad.
Responding to the question, Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, states:
The hadith regarding the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension is narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim and other compilers of hadith, so it is in the highest degree of authenticity.
The hadith states that when Almighty Allah initially prescribed fifty daily prayers on the Muslim nation, Prophet Moses advised Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to return to Allah and ask Him to make them less than fifty. Then Allah granted the Prophet’s appeal and made them only five daily prayers, yet they are equal to fifty prayers in reward.
It is noteworthy that though this hadith deals with an extraordinary, superhuman event, it must be believed and taken for granted, as the majority of scholars agree that a recurrently narrated hadith or a single authentic hadith indicates certainty.
It is also important to note that this narration should be believed as a whole, meaning that we should not believe in part of it and disbelieve in other parts. It should either be completely believed or disbelieved, though the latter case is impermissible.
The fact that prayer was prescribed on the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension in the way mentioned in the hadith was never rejected by any of the exegetes of hadith. None of them rejected the fact that Prophet Muhammad, in response to Moses advice, returned to Allah several times to ask Him to make prayer easier for the Muslims. They never claimed that it was an Israelite narration intended to prove Moses superiority over Prophet Muhammad. On the contrary, they steadfastly believed it and based a principal juristic rule on it, namely whether or not the abrogation of a ruling can occur before its application.
On the other hand, why should this narration be thought to be an advantage on the part of the Jews? Rather, it shows their disobedience to Moses when he enjoined them to perform the prayers prescribed on them by Allah. That was why Moses asked Prophet Muhammad to ask Allah to prescribe less prayers so as not to suffer the disobedience Moses suffered from the Jews.
Moses said to the Prophet: “I have tested people before you, and I have tried my level best with the Children of Israel (in vain).”
The exegetes of this hadith pointed out that Moses told Prophet Muhammad that though the Jews were physically strong and had longevity, they were too impatient to obey him.
Imam Al-Qurtubi stated: “The point that it was Moses in particular who advised the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) regarding the divine prescription of prayer is that Moses followers, the Jews, were enjoined to perform more prayers than other previous nations, so they could not observe them.
Therefore, Moses felt pity for the Muslim nation and feared that they might suffer the same. This is shown in Moses words to Prophet Muhammad, “I have tested people before you.” Moreover, there are many clarifications of this point in other books, none of which contained any claim that this hadith is a biased Israelite narration.
All prophets are brothers with one religion, as stated by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Thus, it is acceptable that a brother may advise his brother to do something beneficial for him and his nation.
In fact, the argument of those who reject this part of the aforementioned hadith for fear that Moses may be regarded superior to and guardian of Prophet Muhammad is baseless. This is because Muhammad himself honors and praises Moses, Jesus, Jonah and many other prophets. The Prophet says, as stated in an authentic hadith: “I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary, as there has been no prophet between me and him.”
Moreover, the Prophet says about Moses: ” Do not give me superiority over Moses, for on the Day of Resurrection all the people will fall unconscious and I will be one of them, but I will be the first to gain consciousness, and will see Moses standing and holding the side of the Throne (of Allah). I will not know whether (Moses) has also fallen unconscious and got up before me, or Allah has exempted him from that stroke.” (Al-Bukhari)
Furthermore, the Prophet says about Jonah: “No one should ever say that I am better than Jonah ibn Matta.” Almighty Allah Himself commands Prophet Muhammad to follow in the footsteps of His prophets. Almighty Allah says: “Those are they whom Allah guides, so follow their guidance” (Al-An`am 6:90). Does this mean that they are superior to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)?
There is by no means any reasonable argument to reject or disbelieve such a conversation mentioned in the hadith between Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Moses (peace and blessings be upon both of them). There must be prudence and wise understanding to dispel doubts regarding the relationship between Muhammad and Moses.
Regrettably, background and mentality sometimes affect the understanding of authentic statements so that they are rejected due to biased opinions. This often occurs even though there are many ways to understand such statements. For example, Almighty Allah states in the Qur’an: “And lo! it is a revelation of the Lord of the Worlds, which the True Spirit hath brought down, Upon thy heart, that thou mayest be (one) of the warners, In plain Arabic speech. And lo, it is in the Scriptures of the men of old. Is it not a token for them that the doctors of the Children of Israel know it?” (Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:192-197)
Unless it is taken for granted that the Qur’an is definitely authentic, some people might wonder how Allah related believing in the Qur’an and Muhammad, to the scholars of the Children of Israel. Do they have any guardianship over the Prophet and the Qur’an? In addition, Almighty Allah says: “And We sent not (as Our messengers) before thee other than men whom We inspired. So ask the followers of the Remembrance if ye know not.” (An-Nahl 16:43)
Those men whom Allah inspired were those who believed in the Messenger of Allah and in the Qur’an. At any rate, Allah is Most Sufficient as Witness to the truthfulness of Muhammad and to his miracles, and no other witnesses are required.
Furthermore, this hadith of the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension is full of miracles and wonders, yet it is an authentic hadith as stated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.
Moreover, none of the scholars of hadith questioned its authenticity, whether regarding its wording or chain of transmitters, and none of the exegetes of hadith claimed that there was any part of the hadith related to Israelite narrations. Rather, they admired the content of the hadith so much that they elaborated on its lessons and the wisdom it contained in a way that confirmed its authenticity. Furthermore, they explained and clarified the meanings of the hadith to those who had difficulty in understanding its significance.
This hadith has been studied and understood by specialized religious scholars for about fourteen centuries, whereas those laymen who now question it never thought to provide valid, convincing evidence for their claims. Almighty Allah says: AAnd they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but a guess, and lo! a guess can never take the place of the truth.” (An-Najm 53:28)
Such doubts and misconceptions regarding this hadith are expected from non-Muslims, as their main concern is to raise doubts around the Prophetic Sunnah, and the Qur’an.
It is very strange to know that this is the understanding of a Muslim concerning such a great hadith! Though the intentions of some Muslims who raise such doubts may be good, they negatively affect the opinions of laymen concerning the Sunnah and religion in general.
Almighty Allah knows best.