The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.
As we approach the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims wait in high anticipation of what can be translated as The Night of Glory (laylatul qadr). It is a brilliant night that is described in the Qur’an in the following way:
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
We sent [the Qur’an] down on the Night of Glory.
What will explain to you what that Night of Glory is?
The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months.
On that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every affair.
Peace it is until the rising of the dawn.
(Chapter 97, Abdul Haleem’s translation)
The Night of Glory is the night in which the Prophet Muhammad began receiving revelation from God through the archangel Gabriel while he was meditating in the Cave of Hira on top of the Mountain of Light near the outskirts of Mecca, according to Muslim belief. It is that night in history when Muhammad went from being a simple man among his people to becoming the messenger of God. Not only did that night transform Muhammad the man into Muhammad the Prophet, but it also marked the beginning of the transformation of many parts of the world – beginning with the Arabian Peninsula and stretching as far as China within less than a century – as the new civilization of faith spread from coast to coast and continent to continent.
The first words that the Prophet received from God on that night, now some 1,448 years ago, are words that continue to inspire and guide more than 1.6 billion people worldwide. Chapter 96 of the Qur’an contains these verses: “Read! In the name of your Lord who created: He created the human being from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by the pen, who taught the human being what he did not know” (96:1—5).
Receiving these divine words shook the Prophet to his core as he experienced the unexpected power of the glorious night and the command of an outer force. Afraid and befuddled, the Prophet ran home to the warm embrace of his beloved wife, Khadijah, who covered his trembling body with a blanket and reassured his anxious soul. Khadija suggested visiting her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, who was a Christian sage and scholar, to interpret the experience. Waraqa listened carefully to the Prophet’s experience and declared: “This was the same one [archangel Gabriel] who keeps the secrets, whom God had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live [to see the day] when your people will drive you out." The Prophet, startled and surprised, asked, "Will they [really] drive me out?" Waraqa nodded affirmatively and said, "Anyone who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be driven out then I will support you.”
So, the Night of Glory commemorates the advent of the Prophet, the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, and the centrality of God and knowledge in Islam. But, as Chapter 97 of the Qur’an indicates, the Night of Glory continues to visit every year with great spiritual gifts. In this night, it is believed, the doors of forgiveness are opened to all who ask, the decree of God is reconsidered and determined for every human soul, and salvation is brought closer for anyone who seeks it. As such, it is a night full of praying, seeking and acting goodly.
One of the great mysteries is that no one knows for certain which night in the blessed nights of Ramadan the Night of Glory falls on. It is anticipated during the last 10 nights. And, some say that it falls on one of the odd nights of the last 10 nights. God knows best – our task is to seek it; God’s grace is to grant it!