A grand night at Sheikh Zayed Mosque

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On Sunday night, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi was fully packed, with no place to park your car. Although my mother and I had set out early to participate in  night prayers, which start at 1:30am, we still couldn’t find a parking spot near the mosque.

Finding a place to pray was an even bigger struggle. The two halls dedicated for women were booked, so we prayed outside, alongside many other women.

It's the same case for mosques across the world at this time, in the last 10 days of Ramadan, when Muslims are meant to do more acts of worship than at any other time of the year. Night prayers are being held in every mosque and in every home, both because of the importance of these last 10 days, as well as in anticipation of the Night of Decree, known as the most holy and blessed of nights.

Verses of the Quran were sent down on the Night of Decree from where it was revealed in small parts to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) by the Angel Gabriel, known as Jibreel in Arabic. It was the first time for the Prophet to hear Jibreel’s voice, and the night that the Message of Islam was first revealed to Prophet Mohammed. Also on this night, God informs angels what he has ordained and decreed for the people for the coming year.

Our good deeds and our prayers on the Night of Decree are worth 1,000 months of good deeds and prayers, which translate to 83 years and four months – practically a lifetime.

Prophet Mohammed used to worry that his Muslim nation would have short lives and that they wouldn’t be able to worship God for as long a period as previous nations, who had much longer lifespans. To that end, Laylat Al Qadr, as it is described in the Quran, or the Night of Decree or Destiny or Value as it translates, came as a gift from Allah to all Muslims, for it is the night when all Muslims have the chance to get closer to God.

One who misses praying on that night has indeed missed the potential for a great amount of reward and extreme mercy from God, so Muslims make sure that they spend these final nights in devout supplication.

The Quran gives the worshipper this description of the Night of Decree in Surat Al Qadr:

“Indeed, We sent it down in the Night of Decree “And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? “The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. “The angels and the Spirit [Jibreel] descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. “Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.” (Quran: 97)

The knowledge of the exact date of the Night of Decree is hidden from us, but we are certain that it is one of the five odd nights in the last 10 nights of Ramadan – so the 21st, 23rd, 25th or 29th of the Holy Month. (Some think it was just this past Sunday, but we will never really know.) The fact that we do not know the exact night of decree removes us from some blame. Imagine if we had prior knowledge of when the Night of Decree would fall, then ignored it and were lazy on this night? Instead, we are meant to supplicate often during all of Ramadan and in the last 10 days, even more so.

For the past seven days, the staff at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque have been facing a difficult time disciplining the crowd coming from all over the emirate. But as soon as the clock hit 1.30am for the night prayer, and the Imam declared “Allahu Akabr” – God is the Greatest, which is the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer – everyone is united in discipline and prayer. This one phrase is sufficient to discipline all the worshippers coming from different nationalities, races and backgrounds.

Yesterday was the most emotional day for some of us. As soon as the Imam raised his hand to supplicate for forgiveness, beg for cures from all sickness and seek guidance in this life and after death, the majority of the attendees, including the non-Arabic speakers, could not help themselves; they began weeping, tears streaming down humbled faces. The lady standing next to me was shaking with sobs, and was seeking forgiveness for herself, for her family and for her dead parents, out loud.

It is great being in the crowd in this blessed month and hearing the cries coming from all over the places when the Imam cries upon supplicating. I know those cries are not seeking worldly goods or material things, but seeking the pleasure of the hereafter, which is unseen. It always fascinate me how Muslims stand in prayer next to each other, irrespective of nationalities, backgrounds, social status or language. It was amazing listening to the recitation of the Quran from the Imam; its exquisiteness and beauty made me shiver.