Muslims believe there is a specific night that comes only once a year—a night that is exceptionally divine, tremendously sacred, and extremely rewarding. This night comes during the most sacred Muslim month, Ramadan.
Islam is built on five pillars or doctrinal principles, the fifth among which is the observance of fasting during the month of Ramadan. Muslims fast during Ramadan from sunrise to sunset, as they commemorate the revelation of their sacred scripture, the Quran. Muslims believe this revelation took place in an encounter between Muhammad and the archangel Gabriel, who “used to meet him every night of Ramadan to teach him the Quran.” Muhammad supposedly reported that those who diligently and faithfully observe fasting during Ramadan will be rewarded by Allah and all of their “past sins will be forgiven.” In another report, such forgiveness is conditioned by coupling fasting with sincere prayers during the nights of Ramadan.
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.
All quotes are from Sahih Bukhari which is considered by many Muslims to be the most authentic collection of Muhammad’s sayings and deeds according to the sunni tradition.