Laylat Al Qadr, a Ramadan night when prayers are answered

The night when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet is revered as the holiest in the Muslim calendar

The month of Ramadan is associated with spirituality, from the dawn-to-dusk fast and giving alms to showing compassion to the less fortunate and returning to the basics.

That spirituality scales new heights on Laylat Al Qadr, or the night of destiny or value that falls during the month's final 10 days.

Deeply revered and eagerly awaited by the faithful, Laylat Al Qadr commemorates the night more than 14 centuries ago when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed in Makkah.

It is also a time when the faithful pray the most and expect their prayers to be answered.

“It is like a spiritual sanctuary when everyone prays and vents,” said Samia Youssef, 72, a retiree who lives in downtown Cairo

“It is more so to the poor and oppressed who do this in the hope of divine deliverance. I ask for neither wealth nor glory. I pray for the protection and well-being of my children and grandchildren.

The significance of Laylat Al Qadr to Muslims cannot be overstated as a special time when, according to tradition, the heavens are open for prayers and the angels descend on Earth to be close to the faithful.

An oft-quoted Quranic verse says: “Laylat Al Qadr is better than a thousand months.”

In Egypt, a majority Muslim nation of 103 million, Ramadan's religious traditions are possibly more conspicuous than anywhere else in the Islamic world except for Makkah and Madinah, home to Islam's most holy sites.

The faithful are thronging to mosques across the country to pray after Cairo lifted most of the Coved-related precautions in place since the pandemic struck in 2020.

The last of these measures was lifted this week, allowing worshippers to be at mosques late at night between Wednesday and the end of Ramadan on Sunday.

The decision followed an outcry over the perceived heavy handedness of government officials visiting mosques to ensure their swift closure after the taraweeh prayers performed after isha, the last of the daily prayers.

But there are many who prefer to offer the prayers marking Laylat Al Qadr at home, fearing infection from the coronavirus or seeking the comfort of their own homes.

“I have a bad knee and I don't like to pray at the mosque while seated on a chair,” said Ahmed Samir, 57, a private sector employee from the Cairo suburb of Sheikh Sayed.

“It's a struggle sometimes to stay awake. If I am home, I can take a brief nap and return to prayers after.”

In the pursuit of cleansing their souls and improving the chance of their prayers being answered, many Muslims, mostly men, chose to spend the last 10 days of Ramadan at mosques or in seclusion, away from life’s distractions and temptations.

There is a great deal of controversy over the signs of Laylat Al Qadr nearly 1,500 years after the revelation of the Quran.

One sign that’s beyond question is that it invariably falls on an odd numbered day in the last 10 days of the month of Ramadan.

That means it only falls on the nights of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th day of the month.

Other signs include the gentle and mild coolness of the night air regardless of the time of year, and the peace and tranquillity that engulf the atmosphere on Laylat Al Qadr.

It is also a night, according to tradition, when meteors cease to fall on Earth.

Another sign is that the Sun on the daybreak that follows Laylat Al Qadr lacks the glare that normally prevents anyone from looking directly it.

A traditional explanation for that is that the sun’s rays are blocked by the angels making their way back to heaven after spending the day on Earth.

Another sign, say clerics, is when the faithful are inspired to utter a prayer they had not repeated before, which touches the essential thing they need to change their lives.

In many ways, it is also the night when the faithful surrender to God's will and supremacy, knowing that He alone can deliver them.

It is the dream of Muslims to spend the final 10 days of Ramadan at the Grand Mosque of Makkah, Islam’s holiest shrine, the Mosque of the Prophet in the city of Madinah, also in Saudi Arabia, or Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

It is, however, a privilege that is available only to those who can afford travel.

Wherever they are on Laylat Al Qadr, the faithful's prayers and their recognition of the spirituality of the night represent a landmark of the Muslim faith.

God, according to tradition, answers the prayers of those whose faith is unshakable, who are genuinely repentant and those who wish nothing but good for themselves and others.

But, warn clerics, it cannot be a substitute for man’s endeavours to cleanse their souls or realise their ambitions.

In Egypt, like elsewhere in the Muslim world, the age of smartphones and social media allows the faithful to exchange special prayers to mark Laylat Al Qadr and share their perception of whether it is the much-heralded night.

Sayed El Sayed, 68, a businessman from Cairo, intends to offer the late night Ramadan prayers known as “Tahagoud” at a mosque next door to his apartment building in Cairo's Abdeen district.

“They are still banning seclusion at mosques during the final 10 days of Ramadan because of the fear of Covid spreading,” Mr El Sayed said as he left a small mosque in central Cairo, where he offered the taraweeh prayers.

“But it's a blessing that they will open large mosques for up to 90 minutes after midnight between now and the end of the month.

“The timing is perfect. It’s the night of the 27th of Ramadan. Maybe it's Laylat Al Qadr, who knows?”

Updated: April 28, 2022, 3:20 AM