While the entire period of Ramzan is a time of fasting and praying, there is one night that is special for Muslims. For, it is believed that there is one night when Allah first revealed the first verses of the Quran to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muhammad was then 40 years old and unlettered.
This most blessed of all nights falls on a night that no one can pinpoint with any certainty. Yet the faithful who have prayed through the night say that the heart always knows when communion has been reached. Shab-e-Qadr or Lailat ul-Qadr, understood variously to mean the Night of Honour and Dignity, the Night of Destiny and Power, can fall on any of the odd nights in the last ten days of the month of Ramzan. This year it will correspond with the 12th, 14th, 15th, and 17th of September. Since no one knows which of these four is the night, one prays on all of these alternate nights.
Unlike other anniversaries, this is a solemn occasion — a time to reflect and pray, to celebrate the arrival of the message from Allah not through a feast for the senses but through abstinence and worship. Some go into retreat (i’tikaf), spending all their time in a mosque for the last ten days of Ramzan; others take as much time out as possible on these special nights for prayer and the study of the Quran.
As children we were told to tell the beads of the rosary, chanting whichever prayer we could remember; the very young could say something simple like ‘Allah ho Akbar’ (Allah is great!). As we got older and had memorised whole verses, such as the kalmia and the qul, we were told to recite that several times before going to bed.
Dinner is usually early all through Ramzan and during Shab-e-Qadr especially so as the elders want to be well prepared for a long night. The idea, then, is to have a light meal and stay up as late as one can. Some don’t sleep at all, preferring to offer late-night prayers, reciting verses from the Pansura, reading from the Quran and Hadith till it is time to eat sehri, offer the pre-dawn fajir prayers.
It is said that on this night one should ask for Allah’s bounties to one’s heart’s content, but above all one should ask for forgiveness. The Prophet’s wife, Aisha, is said to have asked him: “O Messenger of Allah! If I knew which night is Lailat ul-Qadr, what should I say during it?” The Prophet instructed her to say, Allahumma innaka Tuhibbul Afwa Fa’fu A’nne. (“O Allah! You are forgiving, and you love forgiveness. So forgive me.”)
Rakhshanda Jalil writes on issues of faith, culture and literature.