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Laylat al-Qadr

By:
Imtiyaz Yusuf
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Laylat al-Qadr

This observance, also known as the “Night of Power or Destiny,” occurs in the last days of the month of Ramaḍān, during the period of iʿtikāf—a period of spiritual retreat for Muslim males in the mosque. It is the night of the beginning of the revelation of the Qurʿān to the prophet Muḥammad in the year 610 C.E. (Qurʿān 2:185) and is celebrated as the anniversary of this revelation.

The night is specifically mentioned in chapter 97 of the Qurʿān. The Qurʿān describes it thus: “The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees. [That night is] peace until the rising of the dawn” (Qurʿān 97:3–5). Thus any religious or spiritual action performed during this night is better than any that might be performed during one thousand months without the Night of Power.

Muslims are commanded by the Prophet to look for the night of Laylat al-Qadr in the last seven days of Ramaḍān. Sunnīs believe that it falls on one of the odd nights at the end of Ramaḍān—the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, or 29th—but customarily it is observed on the 27th. The Shīʿah regard it as the 19th, 21st or 23rd night, with the 23rd being the most important. They further believe that it is the night on which their fate for the following year is decided, and so pray to God for mercy and compassion.

Muslims perform extra prayers, recite the Qurʿān, devote time to spiritual reflection, and perform dhikr—religious invocation—during Laylat al-Qadr. It is a night to seek forgiveness from God. A ḥadīth reports that the prophet Muḥammad remarked, “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allāh ’ s rewards, all his past sins will be forgiven” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī). The Prophet Muḥammad engaged in intensive worship during Laylat al-Qadr. He also recommended the following supplication: “O God, You are forgiving and You love forgiveness, so forgive me” (Ḥadīth al-Tirmidhī). Intensive worship on Laylat al-Qadr is a practice in spiritual self-discipline.

All Muslims—men, women, and children—engage in this intensive worship during the night of Laylat al-Qadr. Villages, towns, and cities in the Muslim world take on a new life as the communities celebrate the night in earnest. The faithful reinforce each other through such religious and social support as providing food and supplies to those engaged in extra worship. Those who cannot engage in intensive prayers, such as the sick, the elderly, and menstruating women, recite the Qurʿān (without touching it in the case of menstruating women), perform dhikr, and read extra supplications.

Muslims see Laylat al-Qadr as a night incomparable to any other, a night of peace and security that lasts until dawn. In some cases, the practice of recitation of the whole Qurʿān in the tarāwīḥ prayers during the month of Ramaḍān is completed on this night.

See also DHIKR; MUḥAMMAD, subentry onLIFE OF THE PROPHET; and QURʿāN.

Bibliography

  • Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl R. al-. The Cultural Atlas of Islam. New York, 1986.
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