Laylat al-Qadr

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Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny, Night of Power)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Muslim)
Date of Observation: One of the last ten days of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar; usually the 27th
Where Celebrated: Africa, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and throughout the Muslim world
Symbols and Customs: Lanterns, Qur'an
Related Holidays: Laylat al-Miraj, Mawlid al-Nabi

ORIGINS

Laylat al-Qadr is a holiday in the tradition of Islam, one of the world's largest religions. According to some estimates, there are more than one billion Muslims worldwide, with major populations found in the Middle East, North and subSaharan Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. In Europe and the United States, Islam is the second largest religious group, with some seven million adherents in the United States. During the early years of Islam, the faith spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula into regions that are today occupied by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. Contrary to popular opinion, however, Muslims are not just Arabs. Muslims-followers of Islam-are found in many different ethnic groups all over the globe. In fact, Arabs make up less than twenty percent of Muslims.

The word Islam is an Arabic word that means "surrender to God." Its other meanings include peace, safety, and health. The central focus of Islam is a personal commitment and surrender to Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Islam, the concept of Allah is universal and eternal. Allah is the same in every religion and throughout the history of humankind. A person who follows Islam is called a Muslim, which means one who surrenders or submits to Allah's will. But Islam is not just a religion of belief; it is a religion of action. Five specific deeds are required of followers; these are called The Five Pillars of Islam. They are 1) Shahadah- confession of faith; 2) Salat-prayer/worship; 3) Zakat- charity; 4) Sawm-fasting; and 5) Hajj-pilgrimage.

The message of Islam was brought by Muhammad (570-632 C . E .), who is considered a prophet of Allah. The holy book of Islam is the Qur'an (also sometimes spelled Koran or Alcoran). According to Islamic belief, the Qur 'an was revealed to Muhammad by Allah over a period of twenty-three years. Authorship of the Qur'an is attributed to Allah, and not to Muhammad; Muhammad merely received it. Muslims believe that because it originated with Allah, the Qur'an is infallible.

There are two main sects within Islam: Sunni and Shi'ite. Sunni Muslims are the majority (estimated at about eighty percent). They recognize the authority of the first four Caliphs, including Ali, and they believe that the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad) is interpreted through the consensus of the community. Shi'ite Muslims also look to special teachers, called imams. The imams are the direct descendants of Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali. These individuals are believed to be inspired and to possess secret knowledge. Shi'ites, however, do not recognize the same line of Islamic leaders acknowledged by the Sunnis. Shi'ites hold to a doctrine that accepts only leaders who are descended from Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali. Many Shi'ite subsects believe that true imams are errorless and sinless. They receive instruction from these leaders rather than relying on the consensus of the community.

Also known as the "Night of Power" or "Night of Destiny," Laylat al-Qadr celebrates the night on which, in 610 C . E ., the Q UR ' AN , or holy book of the Islamic religion, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. While Muhammad was engaged in meditation in the cave of Hira, near the summit of the mountain Jabal Nur, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him with the first of the revelations that would continue on a sporadic basis for twenty-three years. The Prophet had no control over when Gabriel would speak, but when this occurred, Muhammad's state would visibly change. Once, for example, he was addressed by Gabriel while riding a camel. By the time the revelation was over, the camel was lying flat on the ground with its legs splayed out. Gabriel's words, according to Muhammad, physically assaulted him as if they were solid, heavy objects. In a trancelike state, Muhammad would repeat the words that Gabriel spoke, and his followers would record them on whatever was available-bones, bark, leaves, or scraps of parchment.

The first revelation is believed to have taken place during the last ten days of the holy month of RAMADAN. The widespread belief that the Qur'an was revealed on the twenty-seventh day of the month originated with Manicheism, a religion founded in the third century C . E . by Mani, who died on the twenty-seventh of Ramadan. Because no one is certain of the exact date, Muslims are asked to spend the last ten nights of Ramadan praying and reading the Qur'an. Some spend the entire night in the mosque during this period, or go out of their way to provide food and help for the poor. Laylat al-Qadr

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Lanterns

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, Laylat al-Qadr is known as the Day of Light or the Lanterns Festival. The custom of parading through the streets carrying lanterns on the twenty-sixth of Ramadan was introduced by a trader known as Daddy Maggay in the 1930s. Originally simple paper boxes, the lanterns were meant to symbolize the divine light of the Qur'an, sent down to earth by God (Allah). But as they grew into elaborate, floatlike structures, the competition among lanternbuilders grew fierce, often erupting in violence. The Young Men's Muslim Association took control of the festival in the 1950s, in the hope that they could reduce the violence through better organization of the lantern-building competition.

Qur'an

The Qur'an-an Arabic word meaning "recitation"-contains the laws for Islamic society, warnings about the end of the world, descriptions of heaven and hell, and stories about both biblical figures and events that do not appear in the Bible. Muslims regard the Qur'an as a continuation of God's revelations to the Jews and the Christians, whose Bibles record only portions of the truth. Many of the stories found in the Bible were partially corrupted in transmission, according to Muslim scholars, which explains why the Qur'an's version of certain Bible stories often differs considerably from those found in the Hebrew scripture.

The Qur'an is divided into 114 chapters known as Surahs. The longer Surahs precede the shorter ones, and the whole is divided into thirty sections of approximately equal length known as ajza' (singular juz') to make it easier to read the Qur'an on a regular basis. One juz' is supposed to be read every day of the month, and these divisions are usually indicated in the margins. Although parts of the Qur'an were written down during its revelation, large portions of it were also committed to memory, as was the custom in preliterate cultures. Until recently, the first step in a Muslim's education was to memorize the entire Qur'an. Even today, many Muslims know the book by heart.

Reciting passages from the Qur'an is the primary activity associated with Laylat al-Qadr. The written book is considered by Muslims to be the earthly or material manifestation of the Uncreated Qur'an in much the same way that Christians regard Jesus as the human incarnation of God.

FURTHER READING

Ahsan, M.M. Muslim Festivals. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises, 1987. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999. Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Smith, Huston. The Illustrated World's Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Von Grunebaum, Gustave E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York: Schuman, 1951.

WEB SITE

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/holydays/lailatalqadr.shtml

Laylat al-Qadr

One of the last 10 days of Islamic month of Ramadan
Laylat al-Qadr commemorates the night in 610 during which Allah revealed the entire Qur'an (Muslim holy book) to Muhammad. It was then that the angel Gabriel first spoke to him, and was thus the beginning of his mission. These revelations continued throughout the remainder of his life. Children begin studying the Qur'an when they are very young, and they celebrate when they've read all 114 chapters for the first time. Many adults try to memorize the entire Qur'an. The common belief that this day occurred on the 26th or 27th of Ramadan has no Islamic base. It seems to have originated in Manicheism where the death of Mani is celebrated on the 27th of the fasting month. This day is also known as the Night of Power or Night of Destiny .
See also Lanterns Festival
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 235
BkHolWrld-1986, Jun 23
ConEncyIslam-1991, p. 243
DictWrldRel-1989, p. 661
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 678
HolSymbols-2009, p. 492
UndIslam-2004, p. 339
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