According to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad used to retreat to Jabal an-Nur, a mountain outside of Mecca, for a month or so every year. There, he would meditate in isolation in the cave of Hira. During one such retreat the Prophet had a profound spiritual experience when the Angel Gabriel inspired him to:
“Recite in the Name of thy Lord Who created, created man of a blood clot. Recite! Thy Lord is most noble, Who taught by the Pen, taught man that which he knew not.” (Surah al Alaq, ayat 1-5)
Laylat al-Qadr commemorates the night during which these first verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed.
The Prophet continued to receive revelations over a twenty-three year period. These provided guidance to the Prophet and the believers, and often responded to the challenges faced by the emerging Muslim community. The Qur’an is thus closely linked to the historical circumstances of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and the experiences of the Muslim ummah of that period.
In interpreting the Qur’an according to the time and age, the Imam-of-the-Time guides his followers on the path to spiritual enlightenment and moral upliftment. At the Word of God, Art of Man International Colloquium in London in 2003, Mawlana Hazar Imam stated that the Qur’an “is concerned with the salvation of the soul, but commensurately also with the ethical imperatives which sustain an equitable social order.”
Throughout history, the revelation of the Qur’an has offered inspiration to Muslims in every time and place. As scholar Reza Shah-Kazemi has observed, “Exoterically, the particular verses of the Qur’an are deemed to have descended ‘upon’ the heart of the Prophet; but esoterically the essence of the Qur’an is deemed to have descended into the heart of the Prophet.”
Every year, Muslims observe this event as a reminder for our own spiritual search. In Surah al Qadr, ayats 3 to 5, Allah says:
“The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the leave of their Lord, with every command; peace it is until the break of dawn.”
The descent of the angels and the Spirit mentioned in this verse has been understood by many Muslims to indicate Allah’s Grace and Mercy during this special night. Thus, on Laylat al-Qadr, we should aim to seek that Grace and Mercy, while rededicating ourselves to piety and the regular practice of faith, including the performance of prayers, offering supplications, and engaging in remembrance, or dhikr.
In a hadith, the Prophet urges us to spend Laylat al-Qadr in devotion and to seek Allah’s forgiveness. He is reported to have said:
“Whosoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr, out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”
In the Shia Ismaili tradition, Allah’s Grace and the Mercy of His guidance have continued through the institution of Imamat to ensure that the Ta‘lim and Ta’wil of Allah’s final message would be available to humankind according to time and circumstances. From the time of Hazrat Ali to the present, the living Imam’s Nur guides us to achieve spiritual and worldly happiness.
Hazrat Ali is reported to have said that ‘He who knows himself, knows his Lord.’ Those who ascribe effort in pursuit of this goal, are passionately in love with Allah and they are, in the words of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, the friends of the Spirit. Mawlana Hazar Imam has also time and again emphasised that the happiness we attain through spiritual experiences is different from any material happiness.
Shia Ismaili Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr on the 23rd night of Ramadan, marking a night of special prayer and remembrance of Allah. According to Qadi al-Nu'man, a prominent Fatimid scholar, Hazrat Ali said, “The Messenger of God... used to wake his family on the night of the 23rd and sprinkle water on the faces of those that slept. [The Lady] Fatima would never allow any one of her family to sleep during that night.”
The occasion provides us with an opportunity to reflect and re-commit ourselves to ongoing spiritual search.