Shab-e-Barat 2021: Date, history and celebrations of Laylat al-Baraat in India
Translating to the ‘The Night of Fortune and Forgiveness’, Shab-e-Barat means night of forgiveness or atonement and is observed between the 14th and 15th night of the month of Sha’aban, the eighth month of the Islamic Calendar. ‘Shab’ is a Persian word for night while ‘Barat’ in Arabic stands for salvation and forgiveness and Muslims believe that on this night, Allah decides people’s fortune for the year ahead, their sustenance and whether they will have the opportunity to perform Hajj (pilgrimage).
So they pray to Allah to forgive all their sins and those of their deceased ancestors and to free their destiny from hell. The day is also known as Shab-e-Raat, Bara’a Night, Mid-Sha’ban, Barat Night, Cheragh e Brat (light), Berat Kandili or Nisfu Syaaban (in Southeastern Asian Muslims) or Laylat al-Baraat.
It is to be noted that this night of remembrance is observed among Sufis all over the Indian subcontinent, in Central Asia as well as Turkey but not by Salafis, Wahhabis and more orthodox Arabs and Islamic followers.
This year, Mid-Sha'ban 2021 will begin in the evening of Sunday, 28 March and end in the evening of Monday, 29 March.
Sahb-e-Barat commemorates the day Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) entered the city of Makkah. Another belief has it that Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Hazrat Aisha Siddiqa, went out in search of him when she found him missing on this night. Later, she found him in Medina’s cemetery, lamenting and praying for the forgiveness of the deceased for a long time and this lent ultimate sanctity to this day.
According to the Quran, on this night Allah said, “Who wants forgiveness, I will forgive you. Who wants food, I will provide food.” It is believed that Allah said this throughout the night until it was Fajr, the time when Muslims pray at dawn. It is believed that on this day the destinies of all people are written by Allah taking into account their past deeds and when he also forgives sinners.
According to some Sunni traditions, on this night the names of the souls who will be born and those who will leave the world are also determined and sustenance sent down. It is believed that the Doors of Mercy and Forgiveness are wide open on this night as Allah can be approached for his infinite mercy.
However, some qualities are unacceptable and will not be shown any mercy, for example a person who creates conflicts between two Muslims or a person who wrongfully takes away the right and property of another Muslim and has not yet rectified himself.
According to a hadith, “Doubtlessly, Allah surrounds everything on the fifteenth night of Sha’aban with his mercy. He forgives all of His creatures except mushriks (polytheists) and those whose hearts are full of hatred or enmity of others...” (Al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib, 2:118).
In a hadith, Aisha is reported to have said that Muhammad said, "This is the middle night of Sha’ban. Allah frees in it a large number of the people from Hellfire, more than the number of hairs growing on the sheep of the tribe, Kalb. But He does not even look at a person who associates partners with Allah, or at a person who nourishes malice in his heart (against another Muslim), or at a person who cuts off the ties of womb-relations, or at a man who leaves his clothes extending beyond his ankles (as a sign of pride), or at a person who disobeys his parents, or at a person who has a habit of drinking wine."
Another hadith classed Hassan by Albani in his silsilah Al-Sahihah says, “Allah looks at His creation during the night of the 15th of Sha’aban and He forgives His servants except two- one intent on hatred (mushanin) and a murderer (qatilu nafs).”
Also reported by Tabrani and Al Bayhaqi, “The Prophet said: ‘On the middle night of Shaban, Allah most high descends to the lowest heaven and remits more sins than the hair of the goats of Banu Kalb.’”
This occasion is celebrated with great fervour all over South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Turkey and Central Asia including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Those Muslims who observe this night do so with special prayers, fasting and rituals like staying up for most of the night, usually taking short breaks and praying to Allah and reciting the Quran until dawn.
Sometimes nighttime vigils along with prayers are also organised but generally people mostly pray at home with their own families. Charity is done with money and food being distributed among the poor.
Muslims also have a tradition of visiting mosques and graveyards on this day. Additionally on this day, Shia Muslims commemorate the birthday of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the last of their ‘Twelve Imams’ who were divinely ordained to succeed the Prophet and who is believed to appear again to destroy the false Messiah and save the world.
Owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India issued an order that stated, “In view of upcoming festivals such as Holi, Shab-e-Barat, Easter, Bihu and Eid-ul-Fitr etc, it is strongly advised that States may consider imposing local restrictions in public observation of these festivals and limit/do away with mass gatherings, in the exercise of powers conferred under Section 22 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”