Lailat - ul - Baraat
LAILAT-UL-BARAAT, the auspicious night of the 15th of Shaban (popularly known as Shab-e-Baraat in this subcontinent), is a glorious and important occasion in the life of every Muslim. Both the words Lailat (in Arabic) and Shab (in Persian) mean night, and Baraat means salvation or privilege or quittance.
Many in this subcontinent mistakenly think that this holy night is Shab-e-Barat or the "Night of Fortune." But Lailat-ul Baraat is actually the "Night of Salvation" or "Night of Privilege." It is on this propitious night that Benign Providence, in His infinite mercy, blesses each and every human being with a unique opportunity to receive the most coveted Divine mercy.
It is true that Lailat-ul-Baraat has not been directly or specifically mentioned in the Holy Quran. But that does not, in any way, empower any Muslim to ignore, or make little of, the divine excellence of the Night of Salvation because there are numerous authentic hadith and historic evidence, transmitted or recognised by renowned traditionalists and universally revered saint and seers, which eloquently testify to the fact that the holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) himself used to attach great importance to this extraordinary night and say special prayers on this sacred occasion.
Unfortunately, however, there are still some who claim that Lailat-ul-Baraat has no religious significance in the eyes of Islam. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The holy Prophet Muhammad (SA) not only said special prayers on this sacred night but also visited graveyards and prayed for the departed souls. He even instructed Ummahatul Mu'mineen (his pious wives) to honour the sanctity and divine excellence of this blessed occasion. What is more, a reliable tradition also testifies that Bibi Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) visited a graveyard on this mubarak night of salvation in search of the holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh).
An acclaimed traditionalist, Ibn Maja, reported on the authority of no less a person than Sher-e-Khuda Hazrat Ali ibn Abu Talib (RA) that the holy Prophet (pbuh) had 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 no one who asks forgiveness so that I may forgive him? Is there no one who asks provision so that I may provide him? Is there no one afflicted so that I may relieve him? Is there not such and such? Is there not such and such?' "
The holy Prophet (pbuh) 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 most merciful Allah.
On one occasion, the holy Prophet (pbuh) spent half of this auspicious night through a Nafl prayer of two rakahs and the rest through a long sijdah or prostration. Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) reported that on one such occasion the holy Prophet (pbuh) was so deeply absorbed in His meditation and remained so long in prostration that she became awfully nervous and thought that He (pbuh) had shuffled off the mortal coil.
Abu Busa al-Ashari (RA) reported Allah's Messenger (pbuh) as saying: "Allah Most High looks down in the middle night of Sha'ban and forgives all his creatures, except a polytheist or one who is hostile."
Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) said: "I missed Allah's Messenger (pbuh) one night and found him at al-Baqi (Jannatul Baqi). He (pbuh) said: 'Were you afraid that Allah and His Messenger would act wrongly towards you?' I replied: 'Messenger of Allah, I thought you had gone to one of your wives.' He said: 'On the middle night of Sha'ban Allah Most High descends to the lowest heaven and forgives more sins than the hairs of the goats of Kalb.' "
It is also reported that the holy Prophet (pbuh) said: "Allah forgives every Muslim on this night. He does not, however, forgive the mushrik, the jealous, the cruel, and the adulterer."
According to another tradition, Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) reported the holy Prophet (pbuh) as saying: "Do you know what happens on this night?" meaning the middle night of Sha'ban. She asked: "What happens on it, Messenger of Allah?" He replied: "On it a record is made of every human being who will be born and of every human being who will die this year; on it their actions are taken up to heaven and on it their provisions are sent down."
"According to popular belief," corroborates the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "on the night preceding the 15th of Sha'ban the tree of life on whose leaves are written the names of the living is shaken to decide who is going to die in the coming year." It is claimed by some that it is the Sidratul Muntaha, "the Lote-tree of the extremity," a tree in the seventh heaven having its root in the sixth, which is shaken to decide who is going to die. (Sidratul Muntaha has been mentioned twice in the Holy Quran).
It is not only the renowned traditionalists who champion the sacredness and excellence of the Night of Salvation, but even a great and universally accepted saint and scholar like Hazrat Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani (RA), popularly known as Hazrat Bara Pir Sahib, testifies in his Guniatut Talebin, that Bibi Ayesha Siddiqa herself heard the holy Prophet (pbuh) saying: "Allah opens the doors of mercy and grace for mankind on four nights -- the two nights of Eids, the night of the 15th of Sha'ban, and the night of Arafat." (The two other nights, Shab-e-Qadr and Shab-e-Mi'raj, have been specifically referred to in the Holy Quran). The doors remain open till the Fajr prayer.
Hundreds and thousands of Muslims in the subcontinent 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 pleasure 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. 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 meditators 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 halwa and roti with the sacred Night of Privilege, claiming that the holy Prophet (pbuh) lost a few teeth at the Battle of Uhud on the 15th of Sha'ban and hence people should not cook anything hard as a mark of respect to that historic incident. Some also claim that Hazrat Amir Hamza (RA) embraced martyrdom on the 15th of Sha'ban. Both these claims are totally baseless as both the incidents occurred in the month of Shawal.
There is no harm if halwa and other sweetmeats are cooked on this occasion, but let these 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 their good fortune with those who are less privileged.
And lastly, let all of us say with all the earnestness the following dua, which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself recited: "O Allah, I seek refuge in Thy good pleasure from Thine anger, and in Thy forgiveness from Thy punishment, and I seek refuge 'in Thee from Thee' from Thy wrath. I cannot reckon the praise due to Thee. Thou art as Thou hast glorified Thyself."