The Gospel and the Night of Power
“Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Power. Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Power is! The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees. (That night is) Peace until the rising of the dawn.”
(Qur’an, Sura al-Qadr: 97)
Islam teaches that the entire Qur’an, the Word of Allah, was “lowered” or “sent down” to earth from the highest level of heaven to be revealed to Muhammad piece by piece. The night that commemorates this “lowering” is called Laylat al-Qadr (Kadir Gecesi in Turkish), or “The Night of Power,” and it is observed during the last ten days of Ramadan, the month-long fast in Islam. The concept of the Night of Power offers significant theological bridges for sharing the gospel with Muslims and since many Muslims are particularly focused on their spiritual lives during this time, they may be especially receptive to hear our perspective on our relationship with God.
Ramadan and the Qur’an
The Qur’an makes an important connection between fasting during Ramadan and the revelation of the Word of Allah:
“In the month of Ramadan the Koran was revealed, a book of guidance for mankind with proofs of guidance distinguishing right from wrong. Therefore whoever of you is present in that month let him fast…” (Qur’an, Sura al-Baqara: 2.185)
According to tradition, Muhammad had been fasting and praying in a cave during the month of Ramadan (a month on the Arabic lunar calendar) when an angel appeared to him and commanded him to recite the things that Allah revealed to him. While it seems that Muhammad was already in the habit of fasting during Ramadan, it is the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an during this month which established fasting as a Muslim requirement.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated; as the very speech of Allah it has always existed in heaven exactly as we have it in the Arabic text today. Allah sent the entire text down to earth via the angel Gabriel on the night that the first verses were revealed to Muhammad, and over the next 23 years the rest of the verses were given to Muhammad as the proper circumstances presented themselves in the life of the prophet. The Qur’an itself is considered the greatest miracle of Islam and there are many miracle stories associated with the process of its revelation and preservation as well.
Fasting during Ramadan has become one of the five “Pillars” of Islam, a basic requirement of all Muslims who are able to fulfill it. From sunrise to sunset during this month-long ritual, Muslims abstain completely from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations. As the call to prayer sounds from the mosque every evening the fast is broken and families usually share a meal together. Mosques are particularly well attended during this month, especially on Friday evenings when a special sermon is delivered. Many Muslims who don’t fulfill their religious obligations during the rest of the year still find themselves fasting and participating in prayer and other rituals during this time.
The Mystery of the Night of Power
The Hadith explains that the exact night on which the revelation began, and therefore the exact date of the Night of Power is a mystery. Muhammad is reported as saying that he once knew the exact date but that Allah “caused him to forget it.” (Sahih Bukhari 32.233)
Several other Hadith accounts seem to contradict themselves with regard to the exact date. In one tradition Muhammad explains that it is on one of the last ten nights of Ramadan (Sahih Bukhari 32.237); in other tradition he says that it is to be found “in one of the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan” (Sahih Bukhari 32.234); another account narrows the date down to either the 21st, 23rd, or 25th night of Ramadan (Sahih Bukhari 32.238); yet another has Muhammad teaching it falls on either the 25th, 27th, and 29th (Sahih Bukhari 32.240); and one account offers the night of the 24th as the true date (Sahih Bukhari 32.239).
Obviously, the common denominator in these traditions is that the Night of Power falls sometime during the last ten nights of Ramadan. On the other hand, particularly in Turkey, the night of the 27th has popularly become recognized as the official night and many Muslims commemorate it on this night.
Observing the Night of Power
Apart from the confusion about the exact date, the Hadith accounts are unanimous that Muslims are to “seek” the Night of Power in order to benefit from the unique opportunity for blessing and forgiveness. As the Qur’an teaches in the sura named for the Night of Power, worship offered on this night has the value of one thousand months of worship. The Hadith further clarifies that:
"Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven...” (Sahih Bukhari 31.125)
Since it is on this night that Allah has come closest to humanity by sending down his Word, Muslims believe that they have greater access to Allah on this night and that he is more likely to bless and respond to their petitions. For this reason many Muslims spend one or more nights in prayer and reading at the mosque or in their homes.
Muhammad himself is reported to have practiced itikaf, the tradition of remaining in the mosque for the duration of the last ten days and nights of Ramadan; and some Muslims still practice this, leaving the mosque only for emergencies. In this way, Muslims can be sure that they have succeeded in observing the Night of Power since they have prayed every night on which it might fall. Other Muslims choose one or two nights to pray and recite diligently in the mosque. This happens particularly on the 27th night of Ramadan. Still others have the Qur’an recited throughout the night in their homes or perform special recitation and prayer ceremonies at home. Prayers for forgiveness are said to be particularly effective on this night, as one Hadith reports a conversation between Aisha (Muhammad’s wife) and Muhammad:
“I asked the Messenger of Allah if I knew which night was the Night of Power and what prayer I should say during that night? He said to me: Say: ‘O Allah! You are forgiving and you love forgiveness, so you too forgive me.’” (Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi)
The Night of Power as a Theological Bridge
Muslims believe that the Night of Power is an event on which all of our previous sins can be erased. While observance has to be sincere, the special status of this night is not because of any individual merit, but because of the significance of what Allah did on that day many years ago. Similarly Christians can help Muslims understand the Biblical concept of forgiveness by explaining that we obtain forgiveness for our sins not because we have earned it but because of the significance of what Allah did through Jesus. As the Bible teaches, we don’t have to wait for a special day on the calendar in order to approach Allah for forgiveness. This blessing is available to us in the same miraculous way every day of the year. Whenever we come to him with sincerity, believing in what He did for us by sending Jesus to earth, all of our previous sins are erased (1 John 1:9).
What makes the Night of Power significant in Islam is that Allah sent down his Word to guide mankind; He approached us in a unique way, worthy of our remembrance and commemoration. In the same way, Christians can explain that it is Allah’s decision to send down Jesus, The Living Word of Allah, to live and die among us, that we remember and commemorate. It is the unique way that Allah approached us in Jesus that signifies our opportunity, not only for forgiveness, but for special relationship with Allah as well (John 1:14; John 1:12). Christians worship Allah by fasting, praying, reading the Bible, repenting of our sins, and by living a life of love for Allah and for our neighbors. Our lives are lived in worship every day, whether we go to a church building or not.
Just as the Night of Power is described as a miraculous event, the Bible makes a point of describing the miraculous things that happened at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross and after his resurrection:
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27: 51-53)
This reminds us of the prayer that was recorded in the Bible 700 years before Jesus in Isaiah 64:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you! …
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.”
The people prayed that Allah would rip open the heavens and “come down” among us. This prayer was fulfilled in Jesus, the Word of Allah, who was sent down to live among us and die as a sacrifice for us. Just as he was fulfilling his purpose, the curtain in the temple, which symbolized the separation between heaven and earth, was torn from top to bottom, and the mountains did tremble and the people did see things that they could never have expected! This is the Night of Power that we remember, the night which secures blessing and forgiveness for us, the night that is worth more than a thousand lifetimes of trying to reach Allah on our own.