SACRED TIME – THE NIGHT OF MAJESTY
Laylat al-Qadr is a special night mentioned in the Qur’an, with a whole chapter devoted to it. The name means, “The Night of: Power, Destiny, Decree, Predestination, Fate, Majesty, Honour, Glory, Value.” It is the greatest night of the Islamic year. The short Qur’anic chapter (no. 97) reads as follows:
Truly, We have sent it down in the Night of Majesty.
And what will tell you what is the Night of Majesty?
The Night of Majesty is better than a thousand months!
The angels and the Spirit descend in it, by the permission of their Lord, along with every command.
Peace! … It is, until the rise of Dawn.
The Night of Majesty is thus a night of intense spirituality and peace: The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught, “Whoever stands in prayer during The Night of Majesty, motivated by faith and seeking reward from God, their past and future sins will be forgiven.” [Bukhari & Muslim have “past sins”; other authentic hadiths add “and future sins”]
“It” in the first verse is masculine, and refers to the Qur’an but generates a sense of awe for it by not naming it. The previous surah is precisely “Recite!” (Iqra’, no. 96), so the openings of these two surahs correspond. “It” in the last verse is feminine, and refers to the night.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, once spent the entire month of Ramadan in I’tikaf (retreat or seclusion in the mosque) in order to find this night. Traditionally, this night is said to fall on one of the odd nights during the last ten of Ramadan, i.e. the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th nights. Ibn Hazm argued that the last 10 ten nights depend on whether Ramadan has 29 or 30 days, something not usually known in advance: if Ramadan has 29 days, then the odd nights of the last 10 are the 20th, 22nd, 24th, 26th and 28th, so one should seek for it throughout the last ten nights, not just the odd ones. The commentators further disagree as to whether this special night is on a fixed date every year, or whether it changes from year to year. The most popular traditional date for the night is the 27th – it is said that the Qur’an indicates this because the 27th word in the above surah is hiya (“It”), referring to the night itself. Other views are that it occurs on the first or last night of Ramadan, or the 17th or 19th. Some authorities (eg Ibn Mas’ud) insisted that it may fall on any night of the year. [cf. Tafsir Ibn Kathir for all these views]
But what does it mean to say that it is “better than a thousand months!”? Traditional commentators often point that, taken literally, this equates to 83 years 4 months, a longer-than-average human lifetime. Thus, this night’s worship is better than a lifetime of devotion.
Other commentators, say that the phrase “a thousand months” is metaphorical; it is a bit like saying in English, “It is better than a million years!” Eg Imam Qurtubi says that it means “better than all of time” (khayrun min al-dahri kullihi). In other words, it is “better than forever” or “better than eternity” – the Night of Majesty is a search for eternity, for timelessness, for the connection with God that transcends all space and time. No wonder, then, that this precious night is associated with the angels, with the Cosmic Spirit that permeates all of creation and with the outer and inner peace that we all crave and seek.
Ayesha, the Prophet’s honoured wife, asked him what prayer to say on this night. He taught her the following words, that have been repeated billions of times by Muslims since, all of whom who learnt it via the Prophet’s wife from him:
Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibbu l-‘afwa fa’fu ‘anni
“Dear God, truly: You are Forgiving; You love Forgiveness: so please Forgive me!”
Poetry – William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower.
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Poetry – Auguries of Innocence Ramadanified
To break your fast with a wholesome date
And recite noble verses of Light.
Seek Infinity in your unfolding Fate
And Eternity in one Night!
– Usama Hasan, with apologies to William Blake