The blessed month of Ramadan is coming to an end. The first one-third of the month was for seeking mercy, the middle one-third for forgiveness and the last one-third for salvation from the Fire of Hell. In the last part of this month lies hidden the Night of Power or Decree (Laylatul Qadr) about which Allah says in the Qur'an:
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. (97:3)
As to the reason behind revelation of this powerful verse of the Qur'an, Imam as-Suyuti (rahmatullahi alayh) mentions in his book "Lubaabun Nuqool" that once Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, meaning - may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) [herein after abbreviated as (S)], mentioned about the story of a person from among the Children of Israel who had strived (jihad fi-sabilillah) in the path of Allah for 1000 months. Upon hearing this, the Sahabah (companions) were astonished and at the same time they became very despondent on the basis that how will they ever be able to accomplish such a feat (after all, very few live that long to be able to engage oneself in jihad for 83 years and 4 months). So Allah revealed this noble verse as a solace to the believers. The followers of Muhammad (S) don't have to match what that pious Israelite had done; only a fully engaged worship of one night in the Night of Power (Laylatul Qadr) - would be equivalent in merit.
A similar story is mentioned in another Hadith: there was a pious man from the Children of Israel who used to be engaged in the worship of Allah from the evening till the following morning, and then be engaged in the jihad fi-sabilillah from the morning till the evening. He did this continuously for a thousand months. So Allah revealed this verse stating that the worship in this night alone is better than the thousand months which the person had spent in worship and jihad.
So, the question arises when is this Night of Power? The answer is provided by Prophet Muhammad (S) who said: "Seek it in the last ten; and if one of you is too weak or unable then let him not allow that to make him miss the final seven." [Bukhari and Muslim]
Although to encourage worship amongst believers, this Night has not been pinpointed, a more common understanding amongst Muslims is that it falls on an odd night (23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th), and possibly the 27th of Ramadan.
Because of its merit, the Prophet (S) used to exert himself greatly during Laylatul-Qadr. He would spend the nights in worship. The Prophet (S) said: "Whoever stands (in prayer) in Laylatul Qadr out of Iman (faith) and seeking reward then his previous sins are forgiven." [Bukhari and Muslim]
Given the fact that the people of the Book (e.g., Children of Israel and Christians) don't have anything remotely close to this blessing, Muslims feel highly blessed by God because of unfathomable merits of this blessed night which comes every year during the month of Ramadan - the Muslim month of fasting. It is, thus, not surprising to witness that many pious Muslims spend the entire night of the last 7 to 10 days of Ramadan awake -- praying, reciting the Qur'an and giving away charity (specially in disbursing their zakat and sadqah) hoping to earn the merit of good deeds of 1000 months.
On a comparable matter, it is worth noting that the Jewish Jubilee (Hebrew Yov-el) year - preeminently a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon - is the year at the end of seven cycles of Sabbatical years (Hebrew Shmita). And according to the Bible it came once every fifty years: "You shall sanctify the 50th year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee year for you, you shall return each person to his ancestral heritage and you shall return each to his family. It shall be a Jubilee Year for you - the 50th year - you shall not sow, you shall not harvest its after-growth and you shall not pick what was set aside of it for yourself. For it is a Jubilee Year, it shall be holy to you; from the field you eat its crop." (Leviticus 25:10-13)
Basically, these verses indicate that the Jubilee required all debts between ALL people (Jews and gentiles alike) to be annulled (although the practice was limited amongst the Jews only). Also, any Jew that sold his or herself into slavery is to be released, whether they worked the amount of time they promised, or not.
Rashi, an eleventh century (CE) Jewish scholar, pointed out that the world Jubilee was related to the Hebrew word for "ram," alluding to the fact that the Jubilee year was proclaimed by the blast of a ram's horn. Nachmanides, another great Jewish scholar, added that the word Jubilee was also related to the Hebrew word which means "to move around." Thus, all Jews who had sold themselves into slavery, or were shackled (so to speak) by debt, were to be released from their bonds on the Jubilee year and were to be given the freedom to move around freely.
According to the rabbinical sources, the origination of the counting of the Jubilee Year did not quite start with the time when the Children of Israel had entered the Holy Land (under Joshua), but rather after they finished conquering the Holy Land and after apportioning it to each family, which was 1288 BCE (Ref: Maimonides - Laws of Shmita and Jubilee 10:2). The first Jubilee was forty-nine years later.
Although the Sanhedrin was in charge of counting the years and ensuring its accuracy, and ensuring that the Jewish nation was notified of the Jubilee year's arrival by the blast of the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 25:8 and Numbers 35:4), there is absolutely no credible historical evidence suggesting that it was observed religiously every fifty years in the centuries shortly before the advent of Jesus. The latter evidences even suggest that it might have been observed every hundred years during the time of Jesus, son of Mary.
For example, the apocryphal book - Gospel of Barnabas - puts these words in the mouth of Jesus, saying: "I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation; but after me shall come the Messiah, sent of God to all the world; for whom God hath made the world. And then through all the world will God be worshipped, and mercy received, insomuch that the year of jubilee, which now cometh every hundred years, shall by the Messiah be reduced to every year in every place." (Chapter 82)
As to the identity of this Messiah, the Jesus of the Gospel of Barnabas, is quite explicit, when asked by a priest, answering: "The name of the Messiah is admirable [Ar. Muhammad], for God himself gave him the name when he had created his soul, and placed it in a celestial splendour. God said: "Wait Muhammad; for your sake I will to create paradise, the world, and a great multitude of creatures, whereof I make you a present, insomuch that whoever shall bless you shall be blessed, and whoever shall curse you shall be accursed. When I shall send you into the world I shall send you as my Messenger of salvation, and your word shall be true, insomuch that heaven and earth shall fail, but your faith shall never fail." Muhammad is his blessed name." Then the crowd lifted up their voices, saying: "O God send us your Messenger: O Muhammad, come quickly for the salvation of the world!" (Chapter 97)
In chapter 84, the Jesus of Gospel of Barnabas after completing one of the midnight prayers reportedly said, "Let us give thanks to God because he has given to us this night great mercy; for that he has made to come back the time that needs must pass in the night, in that we have made prayer in union with the Messenger of God. And I have heard his voice." The disciples rejoiced greatly at hearing this..."
Is it possible that the aforementioned night is the Laylatul Qadr - the Night of Power, mentioned in the Qur'an? And God knows the best!
Whatever may be the controversy surrounding the authenticity of each of the gospels - canonical and apocryphal - now attributed to the disciples - real or self-styled - of Jesus, son of Mary, the Qur'an - the Last Testament of God to mankind - is rather unambiguous about the merit of Laylatul Qadr. This night, thus, remains the most sought-after night amongst the faithful Muslims.
As the end of the blessed month of Ramadan approaches, let us remind ourselves with the wise advice of Abul Abbas al-Sabti (may Allah have mercy on him): "The secret of Fasting is that you are hungry. When you are hungry you remember the one who is always hungry and know the strength of the fire of hunger that afflicts him, so that you become charitable towards him. Thus, if you deny yourself food but have no compassion for the hungry and your Fasting does not cause this idea to occur to you, you have not [truly] Fasted and have not understood the intended meaning of the Fast." [Al-Tashawwuf ila rijal al-tasawwuf wa akhbar Abil Abbas al-Sabti: Yusuf ibn al-Zayyat al-Tadili]
According to 'Ubadah ibn al-Samit (may Allah be pleased with him), a Companion, the Prophet Muhammad (S) used to say upon entering this month of Ramadan: "O Allah, greet and save me for Ramadan; greet and save Ramadan; greet and save Ramadan on my behalf, and grant me its acceptance (Allahumma sallimnee li ramadana wa sallim ramadana wa sallimhu minnee mutaqabbilan)."
May Allah accept our fasting and save us for this and the next Ramadan. Amin.
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored 10 books. His latest book - Devotional Stories - is available from A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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