Courses and books on Muslim Women are often seen as peripheral materials. This is odd when you consider that women make up at least half the Muslim world, amounting to one billion people. Because the Muslim world is largely gendered, the world Muslim women inhabit is largely invisible to many of the men running courses and writing books around the world. I don’t mean that women are not visible and active in public places, along with men—they are in most Muslim countries today. But the rules that guide their interaction, behavior, the topics they discuss, and the themes that shape both their religious and personal experience are different from those of Muslim men. They are two different communities occupying the same space.
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.
As Christians we need to pray and trust Almighty God, particularly as we think about what is happening to Afghans and Uighurs. God can use traumatic events to draw Muslims to Himself and we know this is happening in Iran. A recent article in Newsweek highlights how the rise of Islamic extremism following the 1979 Revolution in Iran pushed numerous Muslims to Christ. In reference to Muslim women, there are 800 million of them and that amounts to about one in every nine people in our world. God loves them and desires that all should have the right to choose their own religion.
Photographs of armed, male police officers forcing a Muslim woman to remove her over-garment on a public, French beach are currently trending on social media. The woman was told to remove her long sleeve top (revealing a tank top underneath) and to tie her headscarf into a bandana. She was also fined for not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” One eyewitness was quoted in The Guardian, saying, “The saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, [and] some were applauding the police,” she said. “Her daughter was crying.”
This incident results from the recent ban by several French towns on a particular style of swimsuit, known as a burkini, which is often worn by Muslim women. Ironically, the woman in the picture was not even wearing a burkini; she was simply wearing a traditional headscarf. It is important to note that the burkini is nothing like the burqa. The best way to describe the burkini would be to compare the garment to a loose-fitting wetsuit with a hoodie over the top portion of the suit, leaving the wearer’s face fully visible. I can’t imagine that Catholic nuns will be prohibited from wearing their religious attire on the same beaches. One can easily sense that the principle of religious equality in secularism does not apply to Muslims. In order to understand the rationale behind the ban on burkinis, it is necessary to discuss the principle of secularism in France and its deep-seated theocratic phobia…