Folk Islam’s Search for Power
Dr. Larson explains the role of power within Folk Islam
Dr. Larson explains the role of power within Folk Islam
A special and unique night during Ramadan is called the Night of Power or al-Qadr. The meaning of the Arabic word “al-Qadr” is very mysterious to Muslims. They apply a variety of meanings: a name for the powerful Allah himself, a reference to the unknown destiny of oneself, an indication to the pre-destined or decreed fate of a believer. This uncertainty of meaning, in the mind of a Muslim, adds to the mystery and sacredness of the night. During this extraordinary and exceptional night, Muslims believe the gates of paradise are open and all one’s sins can be forgiven. Thus this night provides a golden chance for every Muslim to receive Allah’s favor and forgiveness of sins. But some Muslims stay awake during many nights of Ramadan in hopes of obtaining this forgiveness of al-Qadr. Why do they do so? The reason is that they do not know exactly when this night comes.
Allah told Muhammad the exact time and date of al-Qadr, but Muhammad forgot it and was not able to inform his followers about it. According to an authentic prophetic saying, after Allah informed Muhammad about the date of al-Qadr, Muhammad went out to inform the believers, “but there happened a quarrel between two Muslim men,” which caused Muhammad to forget it. He is reported to have said: “I have been shown the Night of ‘Qadr’, but have forgotten its date.” In another report he said: “I was caused to forget it.” While this is the general narrative provided by Islamic tradition regarding the date of this night, still there are conflicting reports regarding the actual date. Some say al-Qadr is within the last seven nights of Ramadan, others place it within the last ten nights. Some say it is during the odd, not the even, nights of the last ten nights, and others zealously claim that al-Qadr is specifically on the twenty-seventh night of Ramadan.
Among Muslims, there are various traditions concerning the observance of this most sacred night, but generally it is a night for reciting the Quran and spending lengthier time in prayer. Some highly devoted Muslims retreat into a mosque and intensely seek Allah to answer to their prayers. Nightly prayers take place throughout Ramadan, but intensify during the last ten days of Ramadan, in expectation of receiving the plenary forgiveness and blessings of al-Qadr. In Morocco, for instance, there is a very interesting tradition concerning the Night of Power. This tradition is not supported by the Quran, yet is commonly believed by cultural Muslims. It tells of a specific divine person named Sidi Qadr (my master Qadr) who appears during Ramadan on al-Qadr to resolve curses, forgive sins, and heal the sick. Moroccans wait earnestly for this divine person to come and answer their prayers.
They know not the divine Man, who came to bring relief to the oppressed, at whose name even the demons shudder. They know not the One who holds the power to forgive their sins any day or night of the year. They know not He who walked this earth healing the sick with the touch of his hand and or a word from his mouth—the One who still heals today. As Muslims seek God’s favor this month of Ramadan, and especially during the Night of Power, let us too, seek God’s favor on their behalf. Let us plead with earnestness that they would truly encounter God and through His Son Jesus, find forgiveness of sins.
The idea that Christianity is the white man’s religion exported to Africa recently is a vast misconception that is deeply detrimental to missionary efforts across the continent. Very early Arab sources indicate a Christian presence in Somalia beginning in the 10th century. It is speculated that Christianity remained in Somalia as late as 1500 until Islam overtook and became the religion of the nation.
Miracles and the supernatural are part of the cosmologies of both Christianity and Islam. The greatest miracle in Islam is the Qur’an. In Christianity the greatest miracle is the resurrection of the incarnate, living word, the Lord Jesus Christ. At some points the religions which claim to be revealed degenerate into folk religion. The serpent of brass, made by Moses at God’s command in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9), later became an object of worship which had to be destroyed during King Hezekiah’s reformation (2 Kings 18:4). Jeremiah was ordered to condemn the mechanical reliance of the people on the presence of the Temple of God in Jerusalem. They regarded the Temple as a kind of automatic insurance policy guaranteeing their protection and that of the city (Jeremiah 7:4). In Judaism, Christianity and Islam practices sometimes show deviations from the ideal as set out in their respective scriptures. There are magical uses of the names of God. Bibliolatry or the worship of the book and bibliomancy or the magical use of the book replaces the proper reading of the inspired books. Charms and excessive veneration of saints replace reliance on God.
Many pray openly five times a day, fast publicly from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan, give alms to the poor, and publicly repeat the shahada (confession of faith): “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the apostle of God.” What is not public is that most Muslims (perhaps three-quarters) are into folk stuff, mixing so-called orthodox Islam (five pillars and strict monotheistic beliefs) with popular practices. Here, life revolves around charms, amulets, curses, blessings and a whole lot of fear.