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Isra and Miraj: A spiritual or a physical journey ?

I have a couple of questions. Recently I attended a gathering at our mosque where the speaker discussed the event of Miraj. He said that when the prophet traveled to the heavens he saw hell and there were people being punished for their sins and he witnessed their punishments. What I can’t understand is that all deceased humans are in Alam-e-burzakh; we will be judged on the day of judgement, so paradise and hell should be empty until that point.
Second, he talked about shar-e-sadr (I believe that is what it is called) when Jibrael cleansed the prophet’s heart with zam zam. Now, at one point we are supposed to believe that prophet’s nur was the first thing created and then the world came into being. Then how is it possible that a human who is so pure, has an impure heart that needs to be cleansed and this happened not once in his life but three times.
He also said that the purpose of Miraj was to show the prophet heavens, hell and other things and to convince him that they do exist because humans are skeptical and if he saw these things first hand he will be able to convince his followers in a more convincing way. Don’t you feel this is implying a lack of faith on the part of the prophet? Was there a purpose for Miraj or was it just to show a miracle.
I really would appreciate a response from you. I live in Dallas and have yet to find someone who is open minded enough to answer any confusion that I have while reading the quran. People here have become so extremists in religion. One is scared to ask a probing question.


There are a few things one should keep in mind regarding Mairaj: i) It was a spiritual journey and not a physical one. (See Quran; 17: 60) ii) Like in case of dreams, what we see is not literally there; we are given to get messages metaphorically. Likewise was the case in the spiritually journey of the prophet. For instance, what Yusuf, alaihissalaam, saw were eleven stars, the moon, and the sun prostrating to him; but the reality of it was that it were his brothers, his mother, and father about whom it was prophesied that they would show him respect at a later stage. Likewise, the heaven and the hell the prophet saw were not present in that journey literally but metaphorically.
As for the question of the heightened confidence arranged to be engendered in the hearts of the prophets for them to preach God’s message effectively, I believe, what you have heard is correct. The Quran clarifies, for example, that Ibrahim, alaihissalaam, asked the Almighty to let him be shown how the dead were going to be raised again, and when he was asked if he didn’t believe, he responded by saying that he wanted to be dead sure in his heart about the reality of it. And the Almighty arranged him to go through an experience that enabled him to have a higher level of faith in the hereafter (Quran; 2:260). The Quran confirms that the Almighty arranged for him to see the Kingdom of the Almighty to enable him to become amongst those who had full faith. (Quran; 6:75) There are indeed different levels of faith, and the prophets, even though they attain the highest levels of it amongst the humans, want to achieve even higher levels of it.
Both claims about the prophet (that he was made of light – nur – and that his heart was cleansed) were unauthenticated, as they were based on extremely weak ahadith.
I agree that many Muslims have become extremists.