The Night of Power (Laylah al-Qadr)
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
In a short, often recited Surah of the
Holy Qur'an there is a mention of a remarkable night called
"We have indeed sent down (this
Qur'an) in laylah al-qadr;
And what will explain to you what laylah al-qadr is?
Laylah al-qadr is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the spirit descend in it, by God's permission, on
every errand. Peace! This until the rise of dawn." (97)
has two related meanings: power and destiny and is often the case in
the Qur'an it is likely that both meanings are intended. Laylah
al-qadr therefore means a night (laylah) when God asserts
His power in a special way in order to move events in a direction
that he has destined for them. The revelation of the Qur'an was the
prime example of such a manifestation of divine power and will.
is also mentioned in the first few verses of Surah 44, where it is
called a blessed night (laylah mubarakah):
"We sent it down on a blessed night,
for we were sure to warn; Every matter of wisdom is made
distinct in it,
By command from Us, for We were bound to send (messages);
As a mercy from your Lord, for He hears and knows (all things)."
When the Qur'an says that "We indeed
sent this (Qur'an) on the night of power" or that "We sent it down
on a blessed night" (or that "the month of Ramadan is one in which
the Qur'an was sent down (2:185)) the meaning, of course, is not
that the whole of the Qur'an was sent down on one night or in one
month. What is meant is that the revelation of the Qur'an began
in Ramadan on the night of power. The beginning of the revelation is
equated with the whole act of revelation because:
1) The essence of the message revealed
in the Qur'an was made clear to the Prophet on the first occasion of
revelation. Later communications simply provided detailed expression
of that message.
2) The beginning of a divine act is like
the whole act, since, by virtue of its being a divine act, its
completion can be taken for granted. Indeed, a divine act, even when
it has not yet begun, can be considered as having already taken
place, because nothing can prevent its happening. And, God does not
live a time zone, He is beyond time. To Him anything that 'is to
happen' is as if it has already happened.
COMES AGAIN AND AGAIN
The night of power comes again and
again. This is shown by the present tense in which the Qur'an talks
about the night of power. For example, it says:
"Angels and the spirit descend in
The Arabic word for descend is
tanazzalu which implies repetition. If we go by Hadith,
there are numerous traditions that show that the night of power
comes again and again.
EXISTED BEFORE THE
Since extraordinary manifestations of
divine power have occurred among all nations and changed human
destinies in all ages, we should expect that the night of power has
existed throughout history. This is supported by a tradition in
Nisai, in which a Companion asks the Prophet whether the night
of power existed only during the lives of the prophets or did it
also come after them and the Prophet replies that it also came after
them. In this tradition it is taken for granted that the night of
power existed during the lifetime of every prophet and the question
only is whether it also existed after the departure of the prophet,
which question is answered in the affirmative by the Prophet.
BETTER THAN A THOUSAND
The night of power can make sense to, or
benefit, those who believe in the Unseen (or ghayb), in a
world beyond this world, in the existence of a part of reality that
we cannot perceive or comprehend through our senses (with or without
the aid of scientific instruments) or through logic and reason.
Belief in the Unseen is a gift, for it enriches a person's life and
gives it meaning provided it does not entangle him in all kinds of
continually interacts with the Seen, but once in a while this
interaction is very intense.
The night of power is a time of such intense
interaction. If we liken a normal interaction of the Unseen
with the Seen as a drizzle from the sky, then the night of power is
like a heavy rainfall. According to numerous ahadith, the
Prophet actually had a vision of the night of power as a night of
torrential rain. Talking about the night of power he once told some
of his Companions: "I had a dream in which I saw myself prostrating
in mud and water". This refers to heavy rainfall which so wet the
floor of the Prophet's mosque that while praying one had to
prostrate on mud and water.
In terms of this analogy we can better
understand the Qur'anic statement that "the
night of power is better than a thousand months." just as the
amount of water that can fall in a very heavy rain can be greater
than the amount that falls in thousands of brief drizzles, so also
the blessings that descend on this world on the night of power are
greater than the blessings sent down in a thousand months.
It is often asked, especially by
non-Muslim students of Islam, how can the night of power be better
than a thousand months considering that a thousand months consist of
about 83 years and can contain several (even 83) nights of power.
This question is based on literalism which is unwarranted here.
Moreover, there is nothing to prevent us from counting the thousand
months from among those that do not contain a night of power.
NO FIXED DATE
The night of power does not fall on any
fixed date of the calendar. It is not the anniversary of the night
when the Qur'anic revelation began. This is indicated by the
uncertainty found in the Traditions about the date of the night of
For example, according to one tradition
some Companions had a dream that the night of power was in the last
seven nights of Ramadan. The Prophet confirmed the dream and said:
"Whoever wants to search for (this night) should search in the last
seven nights (of Ramadan)." Yet in another tradition the Prophet is
reported to have said: "Look for the night of power when nine, seven
or five nights remain in Ramadan (i.e. from 20th to 25th of Ramadan,
inclusive)." But on the other hand, "search for it on the 29th, 27th
and 25th" of Ramadan. All these traditions are from Bukhari. If to
these we add traditions from other Hadith collections, the
uncertainty increases. Traditions in these other collections fix
the date of the night of power as the 1st, 17th, 21st, 23rd, 24th,
25th, 27th or the last date of Ramadan.
This uncertainty about the date of the
night of power would be inexplicable if the night of power had a
fixed date as the anniversary of the beginning of the Qur'anic
revelation. The revelation of the Qur'an was a tremendous event
which profoundly impressed the Prophet's mind. It is almost
impossible that he forgot when and where this most important event
in his life, and indeed in the whole history of mankind, started.
Some of his early companions such as Khadijah, Abu Bakr and Ali must
also have known about its date.
The truth of the matter seems to be that
the night of power has no fixed date. In principle it may not even
fall in the month of Ramadan, as is suggested by a saying attributed
to Abdullah ibn Mas'ud: "Everyone who gets up for prayer
every night of the year will hit
upon the night of power."(1) It is also possible that in
some years there is no night of power. It is like a heavy rain in
the desert, which does not fall according to a fixed calendar. This
whole world is a spiritual desert. God now and then showers it with
abundance of spiritual blessings but not on fixed dates. Very
important things do not have fixed dates. But Allah knows best.
What about the traditions that advise
searching for the night of power in this or that part of the month
of Ramadan? These traditions, if they are authentic, must be
understood as talking about the probability
of encountering the night of power on the suggested dates in the
particular years in which those dates were suggested. They are
not meant to fix the date or week or month of the night of power for
all future years. We must also understand in the same way those
traditions (if authentic) which say that the Prophet was about to
inform the Companions of the date of the night of power but its
knowledge was withdrawn because he saw two Muslims fighting or
because someone disturbed him in his dream while he was being shown
the date of the blessed night.
PRAYERS WORTH KEEPING
Muslims of many different persuasions
spend nights in Ramadan (e.g. the 27th) in prayer in the hope of
encountering the night of power. This
tradition is worth keeping even though the night of power has no
fixed date. For one thing, a night of prayer in hope of God's
mercy and showers of His blessings cannot but be good. For another,
the chances of encountering the blessed night are perhaps higher on
one of these traditional dates than on other nights (since things
can sometimes happen if sufficiently many people start believing
that they are likely to happen). Moreover, the tradition of spending
some night(s) in prayer keeps alive in the Ummah the search for the
night of power and what it stands for.
WHAT THE NIGHT OF POWER
The night of power stands first of all
for belief in the Unseen, its power and its continued relevance. The
Qur'an says that the angels descend on the night of power. Since
angels are the symbols of the powers of the Unseen , their descent
on recurring nights of power means that the Unseen does still
continue to interact with the human world.
The night of power also stands for
knowledge and enlightenment. For the Qur'an also says that the
ruh or the spirit is sent down on this night. In the Qur'an the
ruh or the spirit (equated sometimes with the angel
Gabriel) is a source of knowledge and life. Its descent on the night
of power means that the coming of this night results in an unusual
increase in knowledge and enlightenment in the world and in a
corresponding enhancement of human life.
Finally, the night of power stands for
salam and barakah, as the Qur'an says:
"Salam! This 'till the rise of dawn"
and "We revealed it in a night of barakah."
(peace) and barakah (blessings) include all that is good and
make life wonderful.
The fact that the night of power comes
again and again means that some doors of divine mercy will always
remain open even though the prophetic revelation has come to a
conclusion. Believers can, and do, still receive power, knowledge
and enlightenment from the Unseen. The angels still come and help
the believers. The spirit still descends to guide the believers and
to inspire them to rise and declare the truth. This is a point on
which those members of some religious groups should ponder who lead
their religious lives as if the Seen has been cut off from the
Unseen and the angels and the spirit have retired.
saying of Abdullah bin Mas'ud is mentioned in Muslim, where,
however, it is interpreted so as to deny its obvious implication.
The Hadith in Muslim also fixes in a categorical way the date of the
night of power as 27th of Ramadan. In fact in this Hadith Abi bin
Ka'b swears by Allah that the night of power falls on the 27th of
Ramadan. Yet, as we have seen, other companions were equally certain
of other dates for the night of power.
And Allah knows best.