Everyone knows that today is a holiday but in the Islamic studies class at a school in Abu Dhabi the girls proudly display their knowledge of why, writes Bushra Alkaff Al Hashemi.
Isra and Miraj: a special journey, a special day
"It was a journey; one that had a special place in the Prophet Mohammed's heart." Sheikha Al Saggaf is talking to a group of girls in purple uniforms in her Islamic studies class at Al Danah school in Abu Dhabi.
She continues with the lesson. "For every happening or event, there is usually a reason or a cause. So what was the reason for the Isra and Miraj?"
One girl raises her hand, and after being given permission to answer, explains: "After his grief, Peace Be Upon Him, this was God's reward to him, to bring him even more closer. It was the same year where he lost both his beloved wife, Sayedda Khadija and uncle, Abu Talib. And the year where he came back broken hearted and wounded from Al Ta'if."
Al Danah is a government all-girls school, operating under Abu Dhabi Education Council, in a block behind Al Falah and Baniyas Streets. It was opened in the 1980s as Mo'atah School and renamed Al Danah - the pearl - in 2004. At present the school has 589 pupils, both Emirati and expatriates, with a teaching staff of 53.
Today's Islamic studies class, for girls in the eighth and ninth grades, is taking place just a couple of days before the pupils' final exams and in the week before the Isra and Miraj holiday.
Earlier, just before the morning assembly, the school's principal, Huda Al Zaa'abi, explains the school's ethos. "We highlight everything," she says. "Islamic, national and Emirati celebrations are all given their focus."
Sitting in her office, where the photographs of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Khalifa hang alongside a verse from the Quran and paintings by some of the girls, Mrs Al Zaa'abi talks proudly of her pupils' achievements.
"We just finished a forum and exhibition about the Prophet Mohammed," she says. "I wish it was still on, so I could show you. The girls all made brochures and spoke to local organisations. When they headed out it was like a convoy."
Last week the school used the Islamic studies classes to look at the significance of Isra and Miraj, which Muslims mark today. Shamsa Ibrahim Al Ameery, head of Islamic studies at the school, starts her class by asking two girls to each read a different verse from the Quran that refers to the story. The first is from Surat Al Isra: "Glory to Him who made His servant travel by night from the sacred place of worship [Mecca] to the furthest place of worship [Jerusalem], whose surroundings we have blessed, to show him some of our signs: He alone is the All Hearing, the All Seeing."
Only after the verses are read does the class really begin.
Mrs Al Saggaf explains that the Arabic verb of the word "Isra" refers to the Prophet's journey in a single night from Mecca to Jerusalem, to what is now the site of Al Aqsa Mosque, and where he led the other Prophets in prayer.
The Miraj, she continues, means the ascension, the second part of the journey for which his companion was the Angel Gabriel, or Jibreel, and his method of transport was Buraq, a creature that could travel at 300 kilometres a second "at a time before transport, or even a phone", she continues. From Jerusalem, the Prophet ascended to the seventh heaven "as if riding on a ladder, something similar to what happens to the soul when we die".
The discussion and the details of the story completely engage the girls. One group has prepared a presentation, in which each pupil talks about what the Prophet saw during each stage of his journey. A vigorous discussion follows, with as many questions as answers.
Although the class is in Arabic, one pupil, Rahaf Abdullah, comes forward carrying a basket of sweets and brochures, and asks to speak in English. Confident and obviously proud of her efforts, she says: "Every year, we celebrate this day in our homes and among our families. We take a holiday and we make this day come alive."
After the class, the girls talk about what the story means to them and their plans for today's holiday. Asia Al Mansouri says: "I will remind my cousins and friends that it is one of the most glorious miracles of the Prophet and clear evidence of two things, Allah's love of the Prophet Mohammed, and the Prophet's love for us, when he asked Allah to lower the times of prayer from 50 to five."
Others talk about passing on the message to others, especially to younger children. Shamma Al Zaa'bi said she would "tell it as a story, because children love them, as we still do. I will gather together in a party."
Her friend Fatima Mohammed, plans a different approach: "I think I would rather say it was advice, showing from the story what will happen in Heaven and Hell. It mainly tells you that everything you do in life has consequence, not only in this life but in the afterlife as well."
Afaf Al Haddad, an Islamic support specialist for Adec, says: "We celebrate Isra and Miraj every year in morning assemblies, in classes and in the curriculum. You will not find a student, boy or girl, who does not really know the story."
It is not just important to know the story, but also to believe in it, she says. "It is a pillar of believe in Islam, to believe in all the prophets. We believe of all the details of this story, and him who does not, their faith will not be complete.
"The Prophet Mohammed's Sira - way of life - runs through all lessons - not just this one class but in all subjects."
Buthayna Abdulazeez Al Rashed, another support specialist, says that the miraculous events of Isra and Miraj are a test of all mankind's belief in a greater power. "It was the wisdom of God to give the Prophet Mohammed this trip and then recount it to the world," she says.
"The Prophet came with evidence of his journey, to silence non-believers and deepen in the hearts of believers that Allah is Al Qadir; capable of all things."
* The National