Laylat Al-Qadr is a night of special prayer, reflection, and remembrance of God and faith in the Shia Ismaili Muslim community. Celebrated on the 23rd night of the holy month of Ramadan, this night commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family).
The Holy Qur’an describes Laylat al-Qadr in Surah 97:
“We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power. And what will explain to thee what the night of power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand. Peace! This until the rise of morn!”
Many of the Quran’s interpreters suggest that this reference to a thousand months is God’s way of defining eternal time, as this powerful night cannot be expressed in terms of worldly time. Others, including myself, suggest that this verse indicates that a single moment of true enlightenment is worth more than a thousand months of prayer and that such a moment transforms the life of the believer into one filled with spiritual grace and peace.
“…all human beings carry a spark of the Divine Light. Everyone should strive his best to see that this spark be not extinguished, but rather developed into a bright flame” –Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah
In Shia Imami Islam, the Imam of the time plays a vital role in guiding the path of a spiritual search towards light and illumination. In the above excerpt, the Imam explains that the night of power not only serves as a reminder of ones earthly limitations, but also about the spiritual potential of each human being, which may be achieved through practice of faith, reflection, and personal spiritual search of the soul’s journey through time.
Below I would like to share a few extracts from one of the Imam’s speeches that may provide a deeper understanding of the true meaning of this night:
“You know that when rain pours on to the earth, it gathers, drop by drop, to form a river which finally merges into the sea. (As) all rain water eventually reaches the sea again, the same is true of the soul. The soul too, has it’s abode, and its abode is infinite. A man who is not given to deep thinking, and does not have the ambition to rise high, is like a raindrop which has evaporated from the surface of the earth. A man who has this aspiration to the higher realm…cultivates Love in his heart. But it is wrong to (have this ambition) with the aim of escaping the prison of the world and gaining paradise, for paradise, too, is a prison.”
The speech continues on to urge it’s followers to question who they are and where they come from, further back than immediate family, or ancestors, or Adam and Eve. It states that the true believer and follower of spirit will search until the essence of the soul has been recognized, for he who knows himself, knows God.
“When you look around, you only see the external form- the face, the eyes, the body. You fail to see the spirit behind it. You must constantly strive to see the spirit, not merely to attain a feeling of pleasure through meditation. You must see the spirit…but you require great spiritual courage for this. Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, and few others have been able to rise to these heights…they all had the same dominant impulse; they were all passionately in love with the spirit. (The goal is) to lose oneself in God’s essence.”
He then references the poem of Rumi titled, I Died As A Mineral, in which Rumi states he was once a mineral, and died to come back as higher and higher forms of life until he became a human being, similar to the concept of reincarnation. However, he adds:
“Freedom does not come from physical death or suicide. Death is always followed by new forms of bondage, one after the other…”
The speech ends with the Imam once again emphasizing the importance of the search for spiritual discovery and enlightenment:
“How can the ignorant one ever be happy?…The wise man will always choose his course after giving it a lot of thought. (He) shall say to himself, ‘I am longing to be free; I shall continue to search for freedom…I shall find it in the end’…like a child separated from the mother, one must yearn for reunion with (the Spirit).
The night of power serves as a reminder for one to reflect on the inner self and as a catalyst towards the journey of the spirit towards freedom. I will be sharing my own personal reflections from this night in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned for part 2! I hope that these excerpts provided a deeper glimpse into the meaning of this night for the Shia Ismaili community as well as inspiration for you to begin your own spiritual journey.