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What is Ramadan and its Night of Power?

Millions of Muslims start their observance this weekend

Volunteers clean the compound in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Ramadan. Associated Press/Photo by Mahmoud Illean

What is Ramadan and its Night of Power?
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Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims. Fasting every day during the month, from sunrise to sunset, is a mandatory religious duty for every capable Muslim. This year, the Ramadan observance begins tomorrow. Christians should be aware of this as we relate to and pray for our Muslim neighbors.

This fasting (sawm in Arabic) is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the mandatory religious duties prescribed by Allah to every Muslim. These Islamic pillars are, in addition to fasting, the profession of faith, the five daily ritual prayers, almsgiving, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Depending on the calendar, it can last for 29 or 30 days. Unlike our Christian Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar following the earth’s orbit around the sun, the Muslim community follows a lunar calendar, where each month begins with the appearance of the crescent moon.

The Islamic calendar is called the Hijri calendar. The Arabic word “Hijri” refers to the reported hijra, i.e., “emigration” of Muhammad from his hometown of Mecca to another city called Medina. This event marks the start of the Islamic calendar.

Muslims believe that fasting through Ramadan brings them closer to Allah. Those who do not fast deliberately and without a valid health reason are considered to have committed a major sin that requires repentance.

Islam is a work-based religion, where Allah’s prescribed religious duties are the only way to obtain his favor. Indeed, there is no divine guarantee for eternal salvation in Islam, but a Muslim’s good deeds, including fasting, are believed to be the way to obtain Allah’s approval.

This is why many Muslims seek to do good works openly, and they particularly increase these deeds during Ramadan through giving to charities, helping the poor, and visiting the sick. Many Muslims attempt to read the entire Quran as a good work and act of devotion during Ramadan.

Some progressive Muslims do not take fasting as a prescribed duty. They claim that the Quran is unclear about prescribing fasting during Ramadan (Quran 2:183) and the Islamic traditions surrounding the sanctity of the month are later forgeries.

Still, religious Muslims view it as the holiest month.

On this night, Muslims believe that Allah answers all prayers and requests. All sins can be forgiven, and all sicknesses can be healed.

Moreover, these Muslims believe that there is a unique, unmatched, and significant night during Ramadan called the Night of Power.

On this night, Muslims believe that Allah answers all prayers and requests. All sins can be forgiven, and all sicknesses can be healed. It is a night when the heavens are open, and all human supplications can be fulfilled.

Muslims know the night as “al-Qadr,” which is a mysterious word that no one knows precisely its meaning, although it could be referring to Allah’s mightiness or the unguaranteed destiny of oneself.

But there is a problem. While all Muslims know of this important night and wait eagerly for it, no one knows when precisely this night is. Even Muhammad reportedly forgot its precise date.

In an authentic Muslim tradition, Allah told Muhammad the exact time of al-Qadr night, but Muhammad forgot it when he ran into “a quarrel between two Muslim men.” Muhammad lamented, “I have been shown the Night of ‘Qadr’, but have forgotten its date.”

Consequently, Muslims now know there is a very important night when Allah listens to prayers and forgives sins, but they do not know which night it is. Because of its uniqueness and importance, many Muslims attempted to guess the precise time of the night of al-Qadr. As a result, they created “sacred” traditions to identify its date.

Some said the Night of Power is within the last seven nights of Ramadan, while others claimed it is within the final nine or 10 nights. Still, some insist that the night is “in the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan.” Others went so far as to identify it specifically on the 27th night of Ramadan. But no Muslim knows when the special night comes.

Many Muslims fast during Ramadan in earnest hopes of seeking Allah’s favor, although they have no religious guarantee. Hoping for the mysterious Night of Power, they intensify their prayers and Quran recitation in Ramadan’s last days to seek forgiveness of sins, healing from sickness, or answer to prayer.

This Muslim understanding of fasting as a duty and a one-and-only night of divine favor deviates significantly from Biblical beliefs. Christians do not earn salvation through fasting or good deeds, nor do they identify only a special night where forgiveness can be obtained and prayers answered.

For Christians, it all comes down to Jesus. He is Christ, God-incarnate, our Savior. Through faith in Him, we are saved and our sins are forgiven. In Jesus, our sins are forgiven—forever—and not just one night each year.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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