Shab-e-Barat has always been a significant day in our family calendar, an auspicious day in the household where everyone took part, from the youngest members to the eldest ones.
The womenfolk would spend a busy time in the kitchen all day preparing sweet dishes, the 'halwas' and the 'kheer'; or savouries like 'samosas' and various forms of handmade bread -- 'chapatis' -- to go along with the watery, beef curry. In the afternoon, we the children would accompany the house helps distributing the fresh preparations to our neighbours and the extended family.
In those days underprivileged people would move from house to house, asking for a share of the nutritious foods that were prepared.
After the food tasting was over, in the evening our elder brothers and cousins would arrange for fireworks, the 'moricha', the 'chocolate bombs' and the 'tarabatis'. As children we were only allowed to light up the 'tarabatis', as these were deemed safe. How the night sky lit up with all members of the neighbourhood making themselves busy with the fireworks and the accompanying cacophony of recreational bombs exploding every 30 seconds or more made the experience a fulfilling one.
As the night grew older, my mother would make me put on a white panjabi and along with my uncle I would go visit my father's grave at Azimpur. I was too young to understand the significance but the whole exercise somehow brought me closer to a father whom I had lost very early in my early childhood. It was my sole connection with a man whose face I could never recall.
Upon returning from the graveyard our grandmother would bathe all her grandchildren, the first step of preparing for the night vigil. With 'agarbatis' lit up, she would spiritually lead the prayers that lasted till the break of dawn. As the thick fragrance of incense sticks permeated the atmosphere, the stage was set for a night spent in worship of the Creator, the Sustainer of the worlds.
I was always overwhelmed by the spirituality of these nights significant in the Islamic calendar. The innocence that led to our actions; no matter how insignificant in the numbers of prayers offered or the time spent at the mosque, is something that I do not see any more.
Fast forwarding to the 2010s, the tradition of Shab-e-Barat has waned. Popular 'evangelic' shows on television advocating logic, the pros and the cons of celebration of the night has the people divided, with a significant number no longer considering it a special occasion.
Amidst this great divide, the spirit of Shab-e-Barat is getting lost and we, the people who comprise society, are the losers. While we must respect the popular view, we must also respond with an extended arm the view contrary to it.
The night of 'Barat' taught us the value of sharing. Only what was good for us is good for our neighbours. People sent food to their less affluent relatives and sometimes to the poor even, creating a chain of distribution of nutritious foods. The whole experience was something that ought to be extended throughout the year and not be limited to the celebration of any single night.
As Muslims we are taught to share with our neighbours the same food we consume, share the same clothes we wear with our brothers in faith. In some special way, Shab-e-Barat inspired that spirit of giving in our society.
Another significant aspect that was exercised on this blessed night was the familial bonding, which now seems like an alien concept in our nuclear existence, boxed up in the concrete slum of Dhaka. We celebrate things that are not worthy of our attention but shy away from things that were once a very close part of our spiritual existence.
Shab-e-Barat leaves us with a teaching that creates a bond between our fellow beings, no matter how close or how distant they are from our existence. This is the teaching of the great religion we practise, even if we do not practice Shab-e-Barat at all.