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Night Journey and Ascension of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

Muhammad Umar Chand

We shall divide this article on Israa and Ma'raaj into two parts. First of all, we shall discuss the background to the incident which will help us understand its objectives. In the second part, we shall narrate some of the major events of the nocturnal journey and ascension and see what they mean for the Muslim Ummah.


Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had been preaching for a number of years before this wonderful incident of nocturnal (nightly) journey [Israa] and ascension [Ma'raaj] took place. The Israk refers to the journey from Makkah to Baitul Muqqadis or Masjidil Aqsa as alluded to in Surah Isra or Bani Israel ayat number 1 and the Ma'raaj refers to the journey from Baitul Muqqadis to Sidratul Muntaha-- the Lote-Tree at the Farthest End and to the presence of Allah (SWT) as alluded to in Surah An-Najam ayat numbers 5 to 18. The purpose of this journey, as Allah (SWT) pointed out in the Isra passage was to show the Prophet (SAW) signs or miracles [aayaat] of Allah (SWT):

Glorified be He (Allah) Who transported His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque [Masjidil Haram] to the Farthest Mosque [Masjidil Aqsa] whose surroundings We have blessed in order that We might show him (the Messenger) some of Our Signs [aayaat]:

Indeed He (Allah) is the Hearer [Samee'un] and the Seer of all things) [Baseer].

This incident of twin journeys has a great significance for Muslims and their religion, Islam, in the sense that it confirms and explains some of the basic tenants of Islam. The Isra part confirms the unity of origin, the unigenesis, of all the three monotheistic religions showing relationship of this religion with the previous prophets and the revelations they received. The Ma'raaj part, confirming the existence of heaven and hell [Jannat and Jahannum] and the Final Judgement, reward and punishment, recounts the genesis of the basic worship [Salat] five times a day, and a number of other aspects of blessings from Allah (SWT) showered on Muhammad (SAW) and his community of Muslims.

During the first eleven years of the Prophet's mission a number of people had come to believe in the Prophet (SAW) and his teachings, but there were many whose rejection and enmity had only worsened as the years went by. There were three things that the non-believers [kuffars] of the Quraish of Makkah found difficult to believe: the institution of Prophethood, the claim of Muhammad (SAW) to his Prophethood, and the life after death:

First, the prophet's claim that human beings have been sent to their own people as prophets seemed incredible to them. This means that the institution of Prophethood was not acceptable to most of them.

The second problem the non-believers encountered concerned the claim of Muhammad (SAW) over his own Prophethood. Even if they could accept, what seemed incredible to them, the idea that human beings are sent down to people as prophets for guidance, the Quraish found it unacceptable that of all the people in Makkah and Taif, the orphaned nephew of Abu Talib should have been chosen as prophet. There were many among the Quraish who thought they had better claims to such assignments than Muhammad (SAW). "Could God find none but you to send as Prophet," said one of the sons of 'Amr bin Ummayah Thaqeef in Taa'if.

The third claim of this prophet was beyond the non-believers' wildest dream of plausibility. The Prophet (SAW) claimed that people will be raised after they are dead and that they will be judged and that they will be sent to either hell or heaven according to their beliefs and deeds. The Kuffaar of Makkah used to marvel at this claim. Allah (SWT) reports their reactions at a number of places in the Quran. They would say, "Is it true that after we have died and become mere dust and bones, shall we, in truth, be raised from the dead-- and perhaps our ancestors as well?" Allah (SWT) advised the prophet to respond to such rejecters: "Say, Yes, indeed, and most abject will you be then?" (As-Saafaat 37: 16-18).

Furthermore, the Kuffaar used to say, "After we will have become bones and dust, shall we in truth be raised to a new creation?" And the prophet (SAW) was asked to respond to their question, "Say, be you stones or iron or any other substance which to your hearts appears yet greater (distantly removed from life.)" (Al-Isra 17:49-51)

The Incident of Isra and Ma'araaj: a response to the three objections of the Quraish

Allah (SWT) took His Servant ['Abd] Muhammad (SAW) on the Isra (the nightly journey) and the Ma'raaj (Ascension to heavens) to counter these three objections of the Kuffaar and to instill faith in the hearts of the believers on these three counts:

1. In response to the first objection, Allah (SWT) wanted to show the Prophet (SAW) and the believers through Isra-Ma'raaj incident that He was the One Who was responsible for sending Messengers like Noah, Ibraheem, Moosa, Isa (Alaihimissalam) to mankind and that it was not a new thing.

2. In response to the second objection of the Kuffaar, Allah (SWT) wanted to show the Prophet (SAW) and the believers that He was the One Who chose whomsoever He wished and raised the Darajaat of Muhammad (SAW) as He (ALLAH SWT) wished.

3. In response to the third objection, Allah SWT wanted to show His Messenger Muhammad (SAW) the reality of life after death and the reality of jannaht and Jahannum.

Longing for signs proving life after death

Ibn Sa'd in Tabaqatul Kubra reports a Hadith that says the Messenger of Allah (SAW) used to pray to Allah to show him the paradise and the hell. Such a desire on the part of Muhammad (SAW) was not unusual or out of the ordinary in the tradition of Prophethood. Prophets before him had asked for manifest proofs. Such requests were made not because they had any doubts about the truth of life after death; they desired to be shown such miracles for the satisfaction of their hearts.

Thus, for example, Ibraheem (Alaihisalat wasalam) said to Allah (SWT), "Show me how you will raise the dead." Allah (SWT) asked him, "Don't you believe?" Ibraheem (AS) said, "Yes, but for the satisfaction of my heart." Thus the desire of Ibraheem (AS) to be shown how Allah (SWT) would raise the dead to life was not because of lack of faith or belief but for the satisfaction of the patriarch's heart. Thereupon Allah (SWT) showed him how He would do it. This incident is reported in Surah al-Baqarah ayat 260. Allah (SWT) also showed Abraham (AS) HIS Malakoot [dominion or kingdom, divine court where He keeps court with Angels and the Near Ones, al-muqarrabeen] of Heavens as well as earth so that he could grow in faith and certitude, as He (SWT) says in Surah Al-An’aam verse 74 (6.74).

Allah (SWT) showed Ibrahim (AS) the Dominion [Malakoot] of the heavens and the earth as claimed in Surah al-An'aam ayat number 75. Similarly, Prophet Ezra or Uzair (AS) was shown how Allah (SWT) would raise the dead to be judged as described in Surah al-Baqarah ayat 259. Thus the wish of Muhammad (SAW) to be shown heavens and hell was in the best traditions of the earlier prophets; there was nothing unusual about it.

Comparing and contrasting the Ascension of Muhammad (SAW) with the Ascensions of earlier Prophets:

The phenomenon of ascension was also not unusual. Ascensions had also been experienced by many prophets before Muhammad (SAW). Only this time around the experience was different in nature with a difference in meaning and spirit. Prophet Idris or Enoch (AS) had experienced the phenomenon of ascension before; so did Elijah or Ilyas (AS) who had been raised in his chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11 and 6:17). 'Isa (AS) was also raised as described in the New Testament and Surah An-Nisa ayat 158 of the Quran. Although patriarch Jacob [Yaqoob] (AS) was not called upon to ascend in any capacity, he had witnessed angels ascending and descending between the earth and the heavens on a ladder as described in the Book of Genesis chapter 22. The purpose of this 'Urooj, Ma'raaj or ascension was that Allah (SWT) wanted to show the 'Abd the Servant Allah's signs as Allah (SWT) makes it clear in Surah Israa Ayat number one. In the midst of the ever growing opposition of the non-believers in Makkah the 'Abd needed these signs to keep him steadfast in his mission.

The ascension of Idris, Ilyas, and Isa (Alaihimissalam) differed from the ascension of Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) in three ways:

1. The earlier Prophets had been raised at the completion of their this-worldly mission; Muhammad (SAW) was taken on the two journeys in the midst of his mission, to be shown the aayaat of Allah (SWT) for testification and then to be returned to the earth.

2. The earlier prophets were raised up to be returned to this world at the end of the times and not to be returned immediately to this earth. Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) was returned to this world immediately, the same night.

3. The immediate objective of the earlier ascensions was to protect those prophets from their earthly enemies. Muhammad (SAW) did not have to be raised up to heavens for protection as he had been promised protection from Allah (SWT) against any worldly enemies. where Allah says, "We are enough for you against the mockers," (Surah Al-Hijr 15:95) or in Surah Az-Zumur 39:36 where Allah (SWT) says, "Is Allah not enough for His servant (to defend him)", or in Surah Al-Maidah 5:65 where Allah (SWT) says:

"Oh Messenger, make known that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, for if you do not do it, you will not have conveyed His message. Allah will protect you from mankind. Indeed Allah does not guide the disbelieving people."

Comparing Ma'raaj of Muhammad (SAW) with Jacob (AS)'s Vision of the Ladder

The difference between Yaqoob (AS's) ladder and Muhammad's Ma'araaj was that the patriarch saw the angels going up and down. Neither did he express his desire to ascend it, nor was he invited to undertake the journey. The Messenger of Allah Muhammad (SAW) himself was taken up on the journey to meet the [Dzil Ma'aaraj], the Lord of the Ascension.

Contrasting Ma'raaj of Muhammad (SAW) with Adam (AS)'s Descent:

Rasheedudeen Al-Maibudawi in his Kashaful Israr contrasts this Ma'raaj or Ascension of the Prophet (SAW) with the descent of Adam (AS). He said Adam (AS) was told to go down, descend, [ihbit] whereas Muhammad (SAW) was asked to ascend [iS'ad]. The purpose of Adam's descent, going down or fall was to allow the magnificence of the Lord's creation from dust to flourish on the earth and the purpose of the ascension of Muhammad (SAW) was to show him the secrets of His dominion [malakut], particularly with reference to the heights of greatness and the depths of iniquity and immorality that man is capable of achieving as Allah SWT says in Surah At-Teen, "Indeed We created man in the best of moulds but then We returned him to the lowest of the low". (At-Teen 95:4-5)


One night, some say it was a Saturday night, others say it was a Monday night, during these days, the Prophet was staying at Um-Hany's house. The prophet had been brought up in the family of Abu Talib and after the Prophet's marriage to lady Khadijah (RA) Ali (RA) used to live with him. Abu Talib's wife Fatimah and her daughter Um Hani were among the first Muslims. Um Hani was the daughter of Abu Talib and sister of Ali and Jaafar. Um Hani's husband Hubayrah was not a Muslim, but he respected the family relationship and the fact that they had accepted Islam. He made the Prophet (SAW) feel welcome at his house and did not oppose his family members using his house as a place of retreat for the Prophet (SAW).

On this particular night, the Muslims in the family prayed together the Isha' (late night) prayer and went to bed. After a brief sleep, the Prophet (SAW) rose and went to the Mosque for he loved to visit the Ka'abah during the night hours. There he was sleeping at Al-Hijr which is also called Hateem. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) is reported to have said that he was awakened by the angel Jibra'eel (AS). His heart was cleansed, and Buraq (which in Arabic means the Lightening), a heavenly beast, was brought for him to ride. Jibraeel (AS) said, "Ride, so we can go."

"Where to?" asked the Prophet.

"To your Lord," said the archangel.

On the Way to the Masjidil Aqsa:

  • Refusing to Heed Temptations

As the Messenger of Allah was travelling in the company of the archangel, some voices tried to draw his attention, first on the right hand side and then on the left hand side. The prophet (SAW) paid no heed to such luring voices. Jibraeel (AS) later explained that the Prophet did well by paying no heed to these voices as they were Yahud and Nasarni who would try to create confusion in his religion. Had the prophet stopped to listen to them, his people would have become susceptible to the influences of these religions. Then an old woman tried to beckon him to her. The Messenger of Allah again did not heed her. The archangel later said he did well in avoiding the old woman as well because she was this world. If he had heeded her, his community would have loved this world over and above the hereafter.

  • Praying at Other Holy Places

As the journey continued, first they halted at Yathrib and prayed two rakats of prayer. The Prophet was told that he would be migrating to this place. Then they stopped at Madyan and the Mount of Sinai and the Bush of Moosa (AS), and Baithelhem the birthplace of 'Isa (AS) and said two raka'ats of prayer at each place.

  • Choosing the Natural Religion

Then the prophet felt thirsty and three cups were brought to him: one had honey in it, the other milk, and the third wine. The Prophet (SAW) chose milk and he was congratulated by the angel for the choice of the natural in his religion. He was told he and his people would remain firm on the natural ways.

In the Baitul Muqaddis (The Sacred House In Yerusalem):

  • The Prophet Is Greeted By the Angels

Then they reached Baitul Muqaddis where he was greeted by angels who were saying,

"Asalam 'alaika Ya Awal, Ya Aakhir, Ya Haashir."

The angel explained to the prophet (SAW) that he was being greeted as Awal the First [Aakhir] the last and [Haashir] the gatherer because he would be the first to rise on the day of resurrection and the first intercessor [shaafi'] and the first [Mushfi']; and he was the last of the Prophets and he would be the gatherer [Haashir] of communities on the day of Judgement.

  • The Prophet is greeted by the Earlier Prophets

Then they entered the Mosque where he was received by the souls of the Prophets before him-- from Idris and Nuh to 'Isa [Alaihimissalam]. They also greeted him with the same greeting as did angels, "Assalam Alaik Ya Awwal, Ya Aakhir, Ya Haashir."

  • The Prophet Confirms the Mission of The Earlier Prophets

Whereon the Ayat 45 of Surah Az-Zukhruf was revealed to the Prophet which said, "Ask the Prophets whom We sent forth before you..." So the Messenger of Allah asked them what their mission had been on this earth. They responded by saying that they had been commissioned with the Tawheed, the Unity of God.

  • The Prophet Is Asked To Lead The Prayers

The Prophets stood in rows and Muhammad (SAW) was asked to lead them in prayer. The gathering of the prophets and Muhammad (SAW)'s leading the prayer was to indicate that Muhammad (SAW) had brought no religion other than the one practiced and approved by the prophets before him and that he was to perfect their religion and be its final Messenger.

  • What The Prophets Prayed For

Then Ibraheem, Moosa, Dawood, Sulaiman, and Isa (Alaihimissalam) thanked Allah (SWT) for His blessings, each one recounting the major blessings on him as they are enumerated in the Tawraht Zaboor Injeel and Quran. Then Muhammad (SAW) praised Allah (SWT) and thanked Him for sending him as Mercy for the Worlds [Rahmatil lil 'aalameen], for the entire mankind [kaafata lin-naas], as heralder of good news [basheer], and warner [nadheer], and he thanked Allah (SWT) for sending down to him Quran, in which is the description of all things, and he thanked Allah (SWT) for making his Ummah the best of Ummahs rising out of mankind and for making his Ummah the Middle Ummah and for expanding his heart and for taking away from him his burdens and for raising for him his remembrance or good name [dhikr], and for making him the Opener [Faatih] and the Last [Khaatim]. Then Ibraheem (AS) said, "All of these blessings excel in you, Oh Muhammad." The Prophet later on said to his companions, "I have never seen a man more like myself than Ibrahim (AS)."

Ascending To Heavens [Ma'araaj]

Then the Prophet (SAW) and Jibraeel (AS) came out of the Mosque and in the company of Mikaeel (AS) and other angels they headed for the seven heavens. They were allowed to enter each heaven after the archangel had responded to the enquiries regarding his companion and whether he had been sent for. In the first and the seventh heaven, the Prophet was greeted by Adam and Ibraheem (Alaihimassalam) who greeted him addressing him as Pious or Right-Acting Prophet and Pious Right-Acting son and said, "How blessed is your arrival here!" They said, "Marhaban bi-Ibnis-Saleh wa bi-nabias-Salih-- fa ni'am al Mujee'a jae.]

From the second to the sixth heaven, the Messenger of Allah (SAW) met 'Isa and Yahya, Yusuf, Idris, Haroon, and Moosa Alaihimissalam who greeted him addressing him as Pious Right-Acting Brother and Pious Right-Acting Prophet and they said, "How blessed or blissful is your arrival here!" They said,

[Marhaban bi-Akhu-us-Saleh wa bi-nabias-Salih-- fa ni'am al Mujee'a jae.]

Beyond the Furthest Lote-Tree [Sidratul Muntaha]

The Meeting With Allah (SWT)

The archangel Jibraeel (AS) stopped at the Sidratul Muntaha and the Messenger of Allah was brought into the Presence of Allah (SWT). During this Meeting with His Lord, Muhammad (SAW) was greeted with the greetings of peace: [Attahayyatu lillahi Assalat wat-tayyebaat Assalamu 'Alaika Yaa Ayuhan-nabi]. There the Prophet (SAW) saw what he saw. His heart did not lie about what he saw. The eyes did not waver. And Allah revealed to the Messenger what He revealed. Then he drew nearer until Allah SWT says, "He drew nearer" and "He was at two-bows' length or even nearer."

"When there enshrouded the Lote-tree that which enshrouds,

the eye wavered not nor did it transgress.

Indeed he saw, of all the signs of his Lord, the greatest." (Surah An-Najm 53: 16-18.

The best known opinion is that he saw his Lord with his eye. Ibn Abbas said Allah (SWT) singled out Musa (AS) for direct speech, Ibrahim (AS) for close friendship, and Muhammad (SAW) for the vision. The Proof of it lies in the words of Allah (SWT) Who says, "The Heart did not lie about what it saw. What, will you dispute with him about what he saw? He saw Him another time."

Qadhi Iyad reports Mawardi who said, "It is said that Allah (SWT) divided His vision and His speech between Musa (AS) and Muhammad (SAW). Muhammad (SAW) saw Him twice and Allah (SWT) spoke directly to Musa (AS) twice." On his return, Prophet Moosa (AS) made Muhammad (SAW) go back to his Lord five times with regard to reducing the number of the prayers until it came down to five from fifty.

Then the Prophet (SAW) was asked to speak. The Messenger of Allah glorified Allah (SWT) and recounted the blessings Allah (SWT) had bestowed upon His prophets before him. Then Allah (SWT) addressed His Messenger and said,

"I have taken you as a close friend and as a beloved.

I have had it written in the Toraht that "Muhammad is the beloved of the Merciful."

I have sent you to all mankind.

and I have made your community such that none shall be permitted to speak until they have testified that you are My servant and My Messenger.

I made you first of the Prophets to be created and the last of them to be sent.

I gave you the seven Mathani and The Quranal Adheem (that is Surah Al-Fatiha).

I gave you the seals (the last three verses) of the Surat al-Baqarah from a treasure under My Throne, and I did not give them to any prophet before you.

I made you an opener and a seal."

Thus what was awarded to the Messenger of Allah on this day included presents the likes of which no prophet was given before him: the power of intercession for the pardon for the major wrong actions of everyone of his community who did not associate anything with Allah and five prayers a day.

Witnessing the People In the Hell and the Heavens

Then Muhammad (SAW) was shown both the hell and the heaven. In the hell were the eaters of the properties of orphans and the eaters of usury, adulterous men and women, killers of children, back-biters, slanderers, and many others. Muhammad (SAW) was also shown the Jannah. He saw the Jannat of Zaid bin Haritha, Umar Ibn Khittab, and heard the sound of Bilal's footsteps in one of the Jannats. The details are narrated in a number of traditions.

The Return Journey

It is reported that after the visit of the seven heavens, Jibraeel 'Alaihissalam brought Muhammad (SAW) back to Masjidil Aqsa from where they returned to Makkah. During their return journey, the Prophet (SAW) saw two caravans heading for Makkah at certain distance from one another.

Before departing from Allah's Messenger, Jibraeel (AS) asked the Prophet to inform the people about this incident. The Prophet expressed his fear that people would not believe him. The Prophet (SAW) said, "O Jibraeel, my people will not confirm it." Jibraeel (AS) said, "Abu Bakr (RA) will testify it and he is As-Siddiq."

The Prophet Performs Morning Prayers With the Family of Um Hani

Sometime by Dawn, the Prophet woke up the members of Um-Hanni's household and they said their morning prayer together. Then Muhammad (SAW) said, " O Um Hanni, I offered 'Isha prayers with you as you witnessed, then I reached Baitul Muqaddis and offered prayers there, and then I offered morning prayers before you." After this he got up to go out. Um Hanni reports that she asked him not to relate this to people because they would belie the prophet and harm him. The Prophet (SAW) said, "By Allah, I shall relate to them and inform them."

Prophet Narrates the Incident to Abu Jahl & Other Kuffaar of Makkah

According to a Hadith reported by Ibn As and quoted by Al-Maibudawi the Prophet was sitting by Hijr in the Mosque when Abu Jahl passed by and asked mockingly what new thing he had brought to say that day. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) told him about the nightly journey to Baitul Muqqadis. Abu Jahal was delighted to find such a wonderful occasion to mock the Prophet, so he asked him if he would narrate that story in front of others. When the Prophet said he would, Abu Jahal went and brought a huge crowd of the Quraish to the mosque to hear the Prophet's story.

The Prophet Describes Baitul Muqqadis to the Quraish

Ibn Isahaq said, when the Prophet (SAW) told them the story most of them said, "By Allah this is a plain absurdity. A caravan takes a month to go to Syria and a month to come back. How can Muhammad (SAW) do the return journey in one night?" This was like it would have been difficult a hundred years ago to believe that a man can take that same journey in an aeroplane in an hour's time; but today we know such a journey is possible in an hour. So the Quraish of Makkah asked the Prophet (SAW) to describe the Masjid al-Aqsa to them. Jabir Bin Abdallah reports how Allah's Messenger (SAW) used to describe this event. Allah's Messenger (SAW) used to say, "When the people of Quraish did not believe me, I stood up in Al-Hijr and Allah (SWT) put (displayed) Baitul Muqaddis in front of me, and I began describing it to them while I was looking at it."

There were, among the audience, quite a few persons, including Abu Bakr (Radi-Allah 'Anhu) who had seen the mosque. As the others heard the description of the Masjid with their mouths open in amazement, Abu Bakr kept testifying that what the Prophet was saying was correct. Finally, among the people sitting there, Abu Bakr said, "That is true and I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and His Servant." Thereupon Jibraeel (AS) brought the revelation, "

And he who has come with the Truth and the one who confirms him true

They, they are the God-fearing [muttaqeen]. (Az-Zumur: 39:33)

Abu Bakr (RA) was given on that day the title As-Siddiq-- the True, the Confirmer of the Truth. The Prophet (SAW) also told the Quraish about the two caravans which were soon to arrive. Then when the caravans did arrive, they found all the details to be just as the Messenger of Allah had informed them.

Conclusion: The Objective of the Journey Achieved

We will conclude the story of Isra and Ma'araaj with Ibn Isahaq's introductory remark to this narration. Ibn Isahaq says, "The matter of the place and time of the journey and what is said about it is a searching test and a matter of Allah's power and authority in which is a lesson for the intelligent, and guidance and mercy and strengthening for those who believe."

Further Readings:

1. Ibn Sa'd: Kitab Al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, English Translation by S. Moinul Haq, published by Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi 110002, (no date), pp. 243-249

2. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, translated into English by A. Guillaume as Life of Muhammad, 1955, 1990, Oxford University Press, Karachi, pp. 181-187.

3. Abul Fadhl Rasheedu-deen Al-Maibudawi, Kashaful Israr wa Uddatul Abraar, Tafsir well known as Tafsir Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, compiled in 520 AH, Published Moosasah Intesharat Amir Kabir, Tehran 1361 Hijri Shamsiyya (solar), in 10 volumes, commentary on the relevant verses in surah Bani Israel and An-Najm.

4. Martin Lings, Muhammad his life based on the earliest sources, Islamic Texts Society, George Allen & Unwin, 1983, 1985, chapter XXXII "The Light of Thy Countenance"

5. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Kabir

6. Qadi 'Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, Ash-shifa bi-Ta'rif Huquq Mustafa (Healing by the Recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One, English tr. by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley as `Muhammad, Messenger of Allah', Madinah Press, Granada, Spain, 1991, Chapter three, pp. 84-132.

7. Imam Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, English version entitled The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari, by Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan, vol V, published by Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi pp. 143-149.




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