Muslims believe that in around 620 A.D., the prophet Muhammad journeyed to Heaven, where he was purified and given the command to pray five times a day. This is known as the Miraj –a/k/a the Night Journey or the Ascension to Heaven – and it wouldn’t have been possible without a white, winged steed known as al-Buraq.
The image of an immortal, winged steed that could journey to Heaven didn’t originate with Islam. Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek myth, dates from at least as far back as the 4th century BCE.
In the Muslim account, however, the Archangel Gabriel awakens Muhammad from a sound sleep outside the Ka’aba (sacred mosque) in Makkah and leads him to al-Buraq, who lets Muhammad mount him. Al-Buraq and Gabriel take Muhammad to the “Farthest Mosque,” believed by Muslims to be the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
There Muhammad dismounts and prays with prior prophets – including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus — after which he is presented with a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. When he chooses the milk, Gabriel says to him, “you have chosen the true religion.” From Jerusalem Muhammad ascends to Heaven on al-Burqa, returning to Ka’ba that very night.