Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author e-mail alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
Alhamdulillah, I have the good fortune of taking a group of people from our Islamic Center at New York University and different parts of the United States to Mecca every year in March for a pilgrimage called Umrah. It is made up mostly of rituals taken from the life of the Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, and his family and takes less time in comparison to the Hajj.
This past March when we went, it seemed to be a lot more crowded than usual. I stood in the middle of the Grand Mosque and looked upwards and found myself surrounded my millions of people. I felt really tiny at that moment. Here I was, in the midst of this huge gathering of people from all over the world, each coming with the purpose of connecting to the Divine. How then could I expect my voice to be heard? The question answered itself immediately as the next thought told me something that took away the anxiety and reignited my motivation for being there. My prayers would be heard. Despite all of these people, and many throughout the world, calling upon God, my voice would not be drowned out, and neither would anyone else's. What an empowering thing to know, that God hears me when I call upon Him. Subhanallah.
"And your Lord says, 'Call upon Me; I will respond to you.'" -- The Holy Qur'an, (40:60)
In these last few nights of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world will be forgoing sleep to stand into the late hours of the night asking of their Creator. The Qur'an tells us of Lalyatul Qadr, the Night of Destiny, in which one night of worship is equivalent to 1000 months. This night is said to be the night that the Qur'an was initially revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Indeed, We sent it down during Laylatul Qadr
And what can make you know what is Laylatul Qadr?
Laylatul Qadr is better than a thousand months
The angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter
Peace until the emergence of dawn
The Holy Qur'an, (97:1-5)
Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th night of Ramadan being Laylatul Qadr, but the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur'an doesn't mention a specific date for Laylatul Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad's recommendation to, "Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights," indicates the importance of searching for it. I would recommend for those observing to take advantage of every night remaining and if we are amongst those who find ourselves in Ramadan next year, to stand in every night that we possibly can.
What one does while seeking out Laylatul Qadr will vary from person to person. Praying the Isha prayer, the night prayer, and the Fajr prayer, the prayer at dawn, in congregation is important as is every minute in between. Some will then stand for hours in ritual prayer. Others will read or listen to the Quran being recited. Some will sit with their hands raised to the skies with tears falling from their eyes as their hearts tremble out of devotion. My recommendation would be to approach the night with an understanding that it is yours to gain from so what you put into it will yield you what you get out of it. There are so many different ways to benefit from this night, but making sure you are fully present is the first step in attaining that benefit.
Take a moment to break your mind free of any distraction that causes your heart to be shackled in anxiety or pain. Remove from yourself any feeling of emptiness or remorse that comes from having to put on a face that is not your own to gain acceptance from a society that won't take you as you are. Let your thoughts move away from those who can't look beyond the color of your skin, the texture of your hair, the accent that you speak with, or anything else that makes you beautiful. Don't chase after words that are unfamiliar to you but seek and speak with words that are sincerely your own. Be with those who give you hope and courage, who help you to be bold in your prayer. Forget the judgments and harshness of any who have lead you to believe that you cannot ask of your Creator for whatever your heart wishes. Don't inhibit yourself in anyway. God is Most Generous and Most Merciful, and we all are entitled to benefit from that generosity and mercy. You are going to stand in front of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, One who looks for a reason to accept from you, not push you away. Laylatul Qadr is for you to seek and benefit from -- don't let anyone, including yourself, take that away from you.
If you can, please do keep me in your prayers. All of you who have been reading, as well as those who have not, will be in mine. May God All-mighty accept from all of us. Ameen.
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