Patheos answers the question:

What is the Islamic Holiday Laylat al-Qadr, and How is it Celebrated?

Laylat al-Qadr (which means the “Night of Power”) is an annual holiday which commemorates the night on which the first five verses of the Holy Qur’an (Surah 96:1-5) were revealed from heaven to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him)—through the angel Gabriel (or Jibril, in Arabic). The holiday is also sometimes referred to as the “Night of Destiny” and the “Night of Decree.”

Some Muslims believe that the Holy Qur’an was actually revealed in two phases: first, in its entirety on the “Night of Power” (610 CE), from Allah to the angel Gabriel; and then (starting on that same night) the first five verses were revealed to Muhammed (PBUH), followed up by the remainder of the Qur’an, piece by piece, revelation by revelation, surah by surah, over the next twenty-three years. Thus, for some Muslims, Laylat al-Qadr commemorates more than just the revelation of the “first few verses” but, instead, the revelation of the entirety of that sacred text.

Though the exact date of the “Night of Power” is not known, it is traditionally believed to have happened during the last ten days of the nineth month of the Islamic calendar (the month of Ramadan). It is also understood to have happened on one of the odd-numbered days during that short window. While Sunni’s lean toward the 27th night of the month, Shia Muslims have typically concluded that the event most likely happened on the 23rd day of the month. Regardless, the final ten nights of Ramadan are the most important, sacred, or commemorated of the entire month. Repeatedly, in the Holy Qur’an, Allah speaks of being “oft-forgiving, most merciful” (e.g., 2:173; 3:31; 4:23, etc.). As Surah 33 notes, “God turns in mercy to the believers, men and women: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful” (Surah 33:73). Thus, Muslims hold that during the “Night of Power”—or Laylat al-Qadr/ Laylatul Qadr—Allah’s mercy is poured out in abundance, hearing our prayers, forgiving our sins, and granting His grace freely. Consequently, Islam encourages practitioners to actively seek God’s forgiveness on this holiday. According to Surah 97:2-4, on this holiday, acts of worship provoke more forgiveness and heavenly reward than the combined acts of worship performed in “a thousand months.” Even the angels and the Spirit (or Gabriel) are more accessible on Laylat al-Qadr. Thus, worshiping God on this day brings an incomprehensibly high degree of blessings, forgiveness of sins, and rewards in the afterlife.

As a means of commemorating the sacred events of this day, many Muslims seek to remain awake for the entire night, reading from the Holy Qur’an and praying to Allah. It is common (during the night) to engage in a supererogatory (or non-obligatory) supplication known as Tahajjud prayer, which facilitates the aforementioned rewards and forgiveness. According to Muhammed, an ideal duʿāʾ (or “act of supplication”) on this holiday would be something like this: “Oh Allah, You are forgiving and You love to forgive, so forgive me.” It is also customary on this holiday to gather at the Mosque and to avoid what might be called the affairs of the world, instead focusing on ibadah—service or servitude. Some Muslims hold family reunions and feasts after sundown on Laylat al-Qadr, or during the last ten days of Ramadan. Most see the “Night of Power” as a culmination of the month already focused on fasting, prayer, and reading from the Holy Qur’an.

3/14/2023 4:13:41 PM
Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology/comparative religion, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.