Vol. 5 Num 128 Thu. September 30, 2004  

Celebrating Lailat-ul-Baraat

Almost everybody in Bangladesh celebrates Lailat-ul-Baraat as an auspicious night. But there are unfortunately some who inadvertently claim that Lailat-ul-Baraat has no religious significance in the eyes of Islam. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is true that Lailat-ul-Baraat has not been specifically mentioned in the Holy Quran (although mention is there of Lailat-ul-Mubarakatun), but there are numerous authentic Ahadith and historical evidence which testify so eloquently to the fact that the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself used to attach great importance to this auspicious night. He not only said special prayers in this sacred night but also visited graveyards and prayed for the departed souls on this holy occasion. He even instructed his wives to honour the sanctity, divine excellence and majesty of this blessed occasion. What is more, a reliable tradition also testifies that Bibi-Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) visited a graveyard in this Mubarak Night of Privilege in search of the holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh).

Of the nights in a year there are six which may safely be marked out for their grandeur and majesty, serenity and sacredness. These are Lailat-ul-Qadr, Lailat-ul-Miraj, the two nights of Eids, the Night of Arafat and Lailat-ul-Baraat. On these auspicious occasions are a person's prayers, his or her outpourings of the heart's sentiments, the reverential expression of the soul's sincerest desires before its Maker, never fail to evoke the most coveted response from Benign Providence.

Lailatul-Baraat, the glorious night on the 15th of Shaban, is popularly known as Shab-e-Baraat in this subcontinent. Both the words Shab in Persian (and Urdu as well) and Lailat in Arabic means "Night", and 'Baraat stands for Salvation or Privilege. (Some, however, inadvertently think that the word is Barat, which means "Fortune", and the auspicious night is the Night of Fortune). It is on this Night of Privilege that Rabbul Alameen, in His infinite Mercy, blesses each and every person with a unique opportunity to receive the most coveted Divine Mercy. Acclaimed traditionalist Ibn Maja (his Sunan is universally accepted as one of the Sihah Sitta, the six authentic traditional works) reported on the authority of no less a person than Sher-e-Khuda Hazrat Ali Ibn Abu Talib (RA) that the holy Prophet (pbuh) said, "On this Night, from the moment the sun sets, Allah descends on the firmament of this earth and goes on asking till sunrise:

"Is there any seeker of salvation, so that I may give it to him; is there any one in need of food, so that I may feed him; is there any one suffering, so that I may cure him?"

The encyclopaedia of Islam, published in Leiden, Netherlands corroborates this claim when it says, "In Hadith it is said that in this Night Allah descends to the lowest heaven, from there He calls mortals in order to grant them forgiveness of sins. "(Tirmidhi, Sunan, B.39). (Tirmidhi's Sunan is also considered to be one of the six authentic traditional works). No wonder, the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the best of all creations, never failed to avail this unique and glorious opportunity and himself used to pray all through this Night of Privilege every year with a view to receiving Mercy from the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful Allah.

Although Lailat ul-Baraat has not been mentioned directly or specifically in the Holy Quran, it does not empower any Muslim to ignore or make little of the Divine excellence of the Night of the 15th of Shaban simply because there are numerous other authentic Ahadith in addition to the two mentioned above which testify so eloquently to the fact that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) himself used to say special prayers on this holy night: Records are there that on one occasion he (peace be upon him) spent half of this auspicious Night of Privilege through a Nafl prayer of two rakat and the rest of the Night through a long "Sejda" or prostration. What is more, the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to offer this prayer with inimitable dedication and unfathomable concentration.

It is also reported that the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Allah forgives every Muslim in this Night. He does not, however, forgive the Mushrek, the jealous, the cruel, and the adulterer" (Baihaqi). There are also many Ahadith which very clearly indicate that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) not only said special prayers in this sacred Night but also visited the graveyards and prayed for the departed souls. He also instructed his wives to honour the sanctity and Divine Majesty of this blessed Night.

It is not only the renowned traditionalists who champion the sacredness and excellence of the Night of Privilege but even a great and universally respected saint and scholar like Hazrat Syed Abdul Quader Jilani (RA), popularly known as Hazrat Bara Pir Sahib, testifies in his Guniatul Talebin that Bibi Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) herself heard the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) saying, "Allah opens the Doors of Mercy and Grace for the mankind on four Nights -- the two Nights of Eids, the Night of the 15th of Shaban, and the Night of Arafat." (The two other Nights, Shab-e-Qadr and Shab-e-Miraj, have been specifically referred to in the Holy Quran)." The doors remain open throughout the Nights till the Fajr prayers."

Glorious incidents like these testify so brilliantly to the holy Prophet's (peace be upon him) belief in the importance, sanctity, serenity and divine excellence of the auspicious Night of Privilege.

Lailat-ul-Baraat (or Lailat al-Bara'a), the Night of Quittancy in the words of the encyclopaedia of Islam, is indeed a solemn and sacred occasion of Divine Excellence which has to be celebrated in a befitting way, not through candles and crackers, not through mere Halwas and Rotis, not through extravagance and merry-making, but through prayers and penance as was done by the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is true that hundreds and thousands of Muslims in Bangladesh celebrate this Night through zealous and active participation in private and congregational prayers held in mosques. Unfortunately, however, there are many among us who, through sheer ignorance or utter carelessness, turn this auspicious night into a mere occasion of merry-making and gaiety, fun and frolic, forgetting the very essence of this glorious Night.

There are some who think that crackers and candles are part and parcel of Shab-e-Baraat. Nothing can be farther from the truth. This awful custom, introduced by the Barmecides in Baghdad, simply because they were fire worshippers and loved fire even after they accepted Islam, not only disturbs the Namazis and mediators on this auspicious Night but also leads to unnecessary wastage and prodigality which are forbidden in Islam. There are also some who try to equate Halwas and Rotis with the sacred Night of Privilege. There is no harm if delicious Halwas and other sweetmeats are cooked on this occasion, but let these be prepared only to be shared with the poor and the have-nots. The very spirit of such a noble and auspicious occasion will be lost if those who are affluent fail to share the good fortunes with those who are less privileged. Islam is a social religion. A Muslim should seek Allah's Rahmat through the welfare of his fellow-beings and not through self-centred Ibadat. No wonder, the holy Prophet (pbuh) very emphatically declares: "he is the best who does most for the welfare of mankind."

Syed Ashraf Ali is former Director General of Islamic Foundation Bangladesh.