Laylat al-Bara'ah

Laylat al-Bara'ah (Shab-i-Barat, Fifteenth of Shaban, Night of Forgiveness, Night of Deliverance, Night of Record, Night of Destiny, Night of Fate, Birthday of the Twelfth Imam)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Muslim) Date of Observation : Fifteenth Day of Shaban, the eighth month of the Muslim calendar
Where Celebrated: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa
Symbols and Customs: Charity, Fasting, Fireworks, Prayer Vigils, Qur'an Reading, Sweets, Tree of Life Related Holidays : Ramadan Laylat al-Bara'ah


Laylat al-Bara'ah is a holiday in the religious 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) Sha- hadah-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. The origins of Laylat al-Bara'ah can be traced back to the founding of Islam. Contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad report that he taught his followers that the fifteenth of Shaban was a holy day. Muhammad told them, "When the middle night of Shaban comes, spend the night in prayer and fast during the day, for in it God most high comes down at sunset to the lowest heaven and says, 'Is there no one who asks forgiveness so that I may forgive him? Is there no one afflicted so that I may relieve him." The belief that God is especially inclined to be merciful on this night led to the name "Laylat al-Bara'ah," which means "Night of Forgiveness" in Arabic.

Other beliefs surrounding Laylat al-Bara'ah include the notion that God determines one's fate for the year to come on this day. It is said that God completes the list of those who will be born, die, complete the Hajj pilgrimage, and experience other important milestones in the coming year on Laylat al-Bara'ah. In south Asia, the holiday is called "Shab-i-Barat," which means "Night of Destiny" or "Night of Fate." This name reflects the belief that God shapes one's destiny on this day.

Shia Muslims celebrate the Birthday of the Twelfth Imam on the fifteenth of Shaban. In Sunni Islam an imam is a prayer leader. Shia Muslims also use the word to refer to one of the early Muslim religious leaders, men who were also direct descendants of the Prophet. The Twelfth and last Imam, named Muhammad, was born in 869. He disappeared at the age of four, and no one knows what became of him. It is said among the Shias that he will reappear on earth at the end of time, when he will become known as the Mahdi, or the "Guided One."



Islam strongly encourages Muslims to give to those less fortunate than themselves. The Qur'an assures Muslims many times over that this merciful act is sure to find favor with God. Some Muslims honor Laylat al-Bara'ah by giving to charity. They hope that God will reward them with blessings in the year to come for such an honorable deed.


Muslims practice fasting in order to remind themselves of the plight of the poor and to develop spiritual strength. Muhammad himself recommended fasting during the month of Shaban. He believed that the practice honored God and felt that it boded well to fast during the month in which God took account of one's deeds on earth. As RAMADAN, the month of fasting, comes just two weeks after Laylat al-Bara'ah, Muhammad never fasted past the fifteenth of Shaban. Today very devout Muslims still fast during the daylight hours of Laylat al-Bara'ah. Laylat al-Bara'ah


Laylat al-Bara'ah is an especially important holiday for Muslims in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Many towns in this region honor the holiday with fireworks displays. Children often create their own dazzling displays by setting off firecrackers.

Prayer Vigils

The most important customs associated with this holiday take place at night. Many Muslims attend religious gatherings in mosques on this evening. Some mosques also hold lectures and other educational events. It is customary to stay up late into the night, listening to recitations from the Qur'an and praying. The especially devout stay up all night, praying for the forgiveness of their sins and asking for blessings in the year ahead.

Qur'an Reading

The holy book of Islam is called the Qur'an. Islamic tradition links Chapter 36 of the Qur'an with Laylat al-Bara'ah. Titled "Ya Sin," this chapter addresses the themes of death and judgment. In it, God warns humans that they will be held accountable for their actions and attitudes. Many Muslims honor Laylat al-Bara'ah by reading this chapter. In verses eleven and twelve, God warns humanity that a record is kept of everyone's deeds, but that the heavens are merciful to those who follow the way of life taught by God (the Compassionate One) and passed down to humanity through the Prophet Muhammad:

You can only warn those Who follow the Reminder And fear the Compassionate One is secret: Give them news of forgiveness And a generous, noble reward. For We give life to the dead, And We record what they sent before And what they left after them: And We have taken account of all things in a clear book of examples (Qur'an 36:11-12, Cleary trans.)

Both the record keeping and the mercy and blessings bestowed on the devout are especially associated with Laylat al-Bara'ah.


Many Muslims enjoy special sweets on the evening of the fifteenth of Shaban, made all the tastier by the knowledge that the month of fasting lies just around the corner. In India and Pakistan, carrot halvah is a favorite dish associated with the holiday. This confection is made by simmering together shredded carrots, milk, and cream. After the liquid boils down, sugar, cardamom, ground almonds, and butter are added. The mixture is cooked a bit more, then cooled and served.

Tree of Life

According to Sunni Muslim folklore, God shakes the Tree of Life on the fifteenth of Shaban. This mythological tree is said to exist in heaven. It has numerous counterparts in other religions and mythologies, in which it is sometimes called the World Tree. According to Muslim folk belief, each leaf on this tree represents a living human being. When God shakes the tree, the leaves that fall from it indicate those who are destined to die in the coming year. Tradition holds that Israfil, the angel of death, collects the fallen leaves and escorts these souls to the afterlife in the year ahead.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. Translated by James Hulbert. New York: Meridian Books, 1994. Cleary, Thomas, trans.. The Essential Koran: The Heart of Islam. San Francisco: Harper, 1994. Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Renard, John. Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious Life of Muslims. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Sakr, Ahmad. Feasts, Festivities, and Holidays. Lombard, IL: Foundation for Islamic Knowledge, 1999. Laylat al-Bara'ah
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Laylat al-Bara'ah (Shab-Barat)

Eve of the 15th day of the Islamic month of Shaban
This holy day is known as Laylat al-Bara'ah ("Night of Forgiveness") in Arabic and Shab-Barat in Persian. Followers observe the date by holding a vigil throughout the night. They congregate at the local mosque to pray, read the Qur'an, and set off fireworks. Like other Islamic traditions, the festival reflects the common elements as well as the differences between the religion's Shi'ite and Sunni sects.
Sunnis regard the holiday exclusively as a night in which one's fate for the upcoming year is determined. According to Sunni lore, every individual's destiny is recorded on a corresponding leaf on the Tree of Life. When Allah shakes this tree on the 15th of Shaban, he fixes the next year's course of events.
Simultaneous to observing these destiny traditions of Laylat al-Bara'ah, Shi'ites also celebrate the Birthday of the Twelfth Imam, a figure of paramount importance in the Shi'ite faith who is expected to redeem the world upon his second coming.
AnnivHol-2000, p. 234
RelHolCal-2004, p. 147
UndIslam-2004, p. 291
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.