Shab-e-Barat (Laylatul Bara’at): Is it Incompatible With True Islam?
By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Every moment, second, minute, hour, day or night that is spent in the submission and obedience to Allah, the Almighty and His beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) is exceedingly meaningful and highly valuable. But there are some specific days, nights and months, which have their own weight due to extra importance attached to them. Among those nights, is Shab-e-Bar’at that is the best of all nights after Laylat ul Quadr or Shab-e-Bara’at in the estimation of Allah.
How and Why Muslims Celebrate Shab-e-Bara’at?
Therefore, devoted Muslims of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan celebrate the Shab-e-Bar’at on the 15th day of Sha’aban. Although this night is not celebrated in the Arab countries, Shab-e-Bar’at also known as Laylat ul Quadr or Laylat ul Nisf min Sha’aban is a traditional Islamic festival in the South Asia.
This year, Shab-e-Bar’at will be celebrated on the 24th of June, 2013. The celebration generally includes worshipping Allah throughout the night, asking for His forgiveness, reciting the Quran and making a great deal of supplication to Allah, the Almighty. Since the night is believed to be full of divine bounties and spiritual blessings, Muslims customarily clean and decorate their houses with chains of lights and candles. Symbolizing the especial grace of God bestowed on this night, the clusters of decorated houses look very beautiful in the shimmering lights. As lightening is a clear sign of rejoicing divine bounties, it is done as an expression of gratitude to Allah, the Almighty who bestows uncountable rewards and blessings on His worshippers especially on this night. It is also a kind of salute to Him, as it is established by scores of authentic Islamic sources that on this night God writes the destiny of all living creatures for the upcoming year. Muslims with a good festive spirit add to their delights by arranging sweets and sending them to their relatives and friends. Some people organize delicious feasts and invite others to their houses to eat together. Thus, they endeavour, on this night, to adopt the noble Islamic behavioural beauty of “Sila Rahmi” (Maintaining bonds of kinship) in their daily lives. Islam has given it paramount importance as the Prophet is reported to have said:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should maintain the bonds of kinship” (Bukhari)
Among the most prevalent customs to celebrate this night are giving in charity, distributing clothes, foods and other commodities of daily use to the poor and needy. Thus the observance of this night sets good examples of Islamic righteousness mentioned as “Birr” in the Quran, which carries huge weight in the estimation of Allah and earns His immense pleasure. This concept of ‘Birr’ is beautifully illustrated in the Holy Quran:
It is not Birr (righteousness) that you turn your faces (in prayer) towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last day, and the Angels and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your wealth – in spite of your love for it – for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God – minded (Qur’an, 2:177).
So, this is how the night of mid Sha’ban is celebrated by mainstream Muslims especially in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Keeping in view the above norms, the core essence of celebrating Shab-e-Bar’at can be summed up in three fundamentals of Islamic worship: Ibaadat (Worshipping God), Sila Rahmi (Maintaining bonds of Kinship) and Birr (acts of righteousness). All the above-mentioned ways of celebrating the night exhort us, in one way or the other, to fulfil our duties towards both our Lord and fellow human beings. While the sleepless night spent in various forms of worship is a gratitude to God, giving in charity, helping the needy, sending sweets to friends and relatives, inviting others to the feasts and things like these are, obviously, effective means to maintain bonds of kinship and attain righteousness. These are the clear objectives of celebrating Shab-e-Bar’at as intended by millions of South-Asian Muslims today.
Wahabi View on this Celebration:
But what can we do when our Wahabi zealots and Salafi puritans declare everything we do as shirk (heresy) and Bida’ah (innovation)? They reject our religious congregations and Islamic celebrations outright even if they are observed with complete regard to the Qur’an and Hadith. The same holds true to the celebration of Laylat ul Quadr (known as Shab-e-Barat in the Indian subcontinent). Despite its having been authenticated and scrutinized by scores of Sahih Hadiths approved by their own imams such as Sheikh Al-Bani, a renowned scholar of Hadith, Wahabis are hell bent on classing it as Bida’ah. Their argument is; since it is not observed in Wahabi-influenced Arab, so it should be banned in all parts of the world. But mainstream Muslims, particularly Indian Muslims are not too naive to tolerate the Wahabi Arabisation of their religion and culture!
Recently, we caught up with an article titled as: Shab-e-Bar’at: Haqiqat Kya hai? (Shab-e-Bar’at: What is the reality?) By Muhammad Asif Iqbal, New Delhi, published and circulated in several Urdu newspapers of India including Jadeed Khabar and Sahafat, published from New Delhi. The crux of the argument in this article is that the celebration of Shab-e-Bara’at has no basis or authority in Islam and it is nothing more than an innovation which was started after the demise of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The writer says in the second Para of this article:
“The reality is that Muslim Ummah today has given this night the status of a celebration associating with it a number of specific customs and rites that they observe with strong faith and gaiety. Just as Muharram (the first Islamic month) has been made a number one celebration, similarly the night of mid Shaban is observed as a number two celebration. But in fact, it is a false and man-made celebration. Neither it is mentioned in the Quran nor does Hadith approve of it. Similarly, we don’t find any mention of it in the history of Sahaba (Prophet’s Companions) or any approval by our clergy of earliest Islamic period. Obviously, Islam is not a religion of celebrations.” (Page no.3, Daily Jadeed Khabar, New Delhi, Friday 21, June, 2013)
He goes on to the extent of declaring it a custom of Iranian fire worshippers (known as Baramikah). In a bid to prove his point, he concocts a baseless story that goes like this: “the celebration of Shab-e-Bar’at was first invented by the Iranian fire worshippers who entered Islam in the 132th year of al-Hijrah, when Banu Abbas made alliance with Iranians and other Ajamis (non-Arabs) hatching a conspiracy to take over the Umayyad caliphate that was backed by Arab militants. Though the Iranians had embraced Islam, but their inbuilt love for the fire could not evade. Therefore, they sought to keep worshipping fire by innovating a custom of lightening the mosques. When Banu Abbas took over the Umayyad caliphate, they allied with the newly converted non-Arab Muslims. As a result, many Iranians reached the big posts of the government. Baramikah were given such high positions in the Islamic state that Khalid Barmaki was made a minister. When he died in 163 AH, the Caliph Haroon al-Rashid appointed his son Yahya as the minister of Baramikah. Since Baramikah were fire worshippers in their early days, their minister Yahya invented a weird custom of lightening sacred fire in the era of Caliph Haroon al-Rashid. Associating some good deeds with the mid night of Shaban, he innovated the custom of lightening on this night. The objective behind his lightening was to evoke love and respect for the fire in the hearts of people. It was he who innovated the Bida’ah of lightening in mosques so that his people could worship the fire. Thus, the custom of firing and lightening in Islam was started 150 years after its advent. With the passage of time, it continued with various forms and changes. Today, the new shape of this custom is before our eyes.” (Page no.3, Daily Jadeed Khabar, New Delhi, Friday 21, June, 2013)
The Holy Qur’an States: “Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night. Indeed, We were to warn [mankind].” (44:3)
Although the majority of the Qur’an exegetes consider the “blessed night” in the above verses to refer to the Night of Decree which is considered to be in the month of Ramadan, some commentaries also mention that this “blessed night” may be that of mid-Sha`ban. This view is based on the scores of Ahadith about the great merits of the latter. Consequently, a great number of the Quranic exegetes and scholars of Hadith have unanimously agreed upon the observance of this night. The famous scholar of Islam, juristic expert and the approved exegete of the Quran Imam Suyuti writes: “As for the night of mid-Sha`ban, it has great merit and it is desirable (Mustahab) to spend part of it in supererogatory worship.” [Haqiqat al-sunna wa al-bida’t aw al-Amr bi al-Ittiba` wa al-Nahi `an al-Ibtida Page No. 58]
Authentic Ahadith about the merits of Shab-e-Bara’at
Usually the Wahhabis/Salafis/Ahle Hadith are seen claiming that all Hadiths about the merits of Shab-e-Bar’at are “Daeef” (Weak). First of all, the Hadith of Ibn Habban is termed as “SAHIH” by classical scholars of this technical Islamic science. Even if any follower of such groups does not believe in the classical scholars of Hadith, here is a compelling evidence from the Salafi/Wahhabi so-called Mujaddid of the last century and a reputed scholar of Hadith, Nasir ud Din Albani. He declared Hadiths of 15th Shabaan as “Sahih” (authentic). See: (Silsilat ul-Ahadith-as Sahiha, Nasir ud din Albani, Volume No. 3, Page No. 135)
Among the Hadiths stressing the importance of 15th Sha`ban (Laylat al-Quadr) is the following:
(1) Narrated by Aisha (r.a), I missed Allah’s Messenger during the night and found him in al-Baqui’. He said: Were you afraid that Allah and His Messenger would deal unjustly with you? I said: Allah’s Messenger, I thought that you had gone to some of your other wives. He (the Prophet) said: Verily Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, comes down to the heaven of the world in “the middle night of Sha’ban” and forgives sins even more abundant than the hair of the goats of Kalb. [Sunan Tirmidhi Volume 001, Hadith Number 670, Ibn Maja Volume 002, Hadith Number1379]
(2) Narrated by Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Allah’s Messenger said, Allah, the Exalted and Glorious looks down on “the middle night of Sha’ban” and forgives all His creation, except a polytheist or one who is mushahin(one bent on hatred). [Sunan Ibn Maja Volume 002, Hadith Number 1380]
(3) Narrated by Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn al-‘As Allah’s Messenger said, Allah, the Exalted and Glorious looks down on “the middle night of Sha’ban” and forgives all His creation except two people, the Mushahin (one bent on hatred) and the murderer. [Musnad Ahmad Volume 003, Hadith Number 6353]
(4) It is reported by Abu Thalaba that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: On the 15th night of Shabaan, Allah looks over at his creation and forgives all the believers except for the one who begrudges and hates. He leaves them in their enmity. [Bayhqi, Tafsir ad-Dar al-Manthur under the Verse 44:3]
(5) It is reported by Muaz bin Jabbal that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Allah looks at His creation in “the night of mid-Sha`ban” and He forgives all His creation except for a Mushrik (idolater) or a Mushahin (one bent on hatred). [Ibn Hibban, Sahih, ed. Shu`ayb Arna’ut Volume 012: Hadith Number 5665]
(6) Narrated by A’isha: She said: The Prophet (peace be upon him) stood up in prayer during part of the night and made his prostration so lengthy that I thought his soul had been taken back. When I saw this I got up and went to move his big toe, whereupon he moved, so I drew back. When he raised his head from prostration and finished praying, he (pbuh) said: “O A’isha, O fair little one (Humayra’)! Did you think that the Prophet had broken his agreement with you?” She replied: “No, by Allah, O Messenger of Allah, but I thought that your soul had been taken back because you stayed in prostration for so long.” He said: “Do you know what night this is?” She said: “Allah and His Prophet know best.” He said: “This is the night of mid-Sha`ban! Verily Allah the Glorious and Majestic look at His servants on “the night of mid-Sha`ban, and He forgives those who ask forgiveness, and He bestows mercy on those who ask mercy, and He gives a delay to the people of envy and spite in their state.”
[Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman Volume 003: Hadith Number 3835]
(7 IImran bin Husain (ra) reported, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) having said to him or to someone else: Did you fast in the “Middle of Sha’ban?” He said: No. Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: If you did not observe fast, then you should observe fast for two days. [Muslim Book 006, Number 2607]
The virtue of the night of mid Shaban has been established right from the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself and has come from multiple channels of transmission from Abdullah bin Amr, Muadh, Abu Hurairah, Abu Thulabah, Awf bin Malik, Abu Bakr, Abu Musa, Aishah (May Allah be pleased with all of them) each of the narrations strengthening each other.
Imam Shafi’i writes:
“Verily, Dua is accepted on five nights: the night of Juma’, the night of Eid Al-Adha, the night of Eid Al-Fitr, the first night of Rajab, and the 15th night of Shabaan”. [Al-Umm, Volume 001, Page No. 231]
Imam Shurunbulali Hanafi writes:
“It is desirable to revive the last ten nights of Ramadan, two nights of Eidain (Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha), ten nights of Zil Hijjah, and the 15th night of Sha`ban.” [Noorul Eidhah Page No. 63]
Shaikh Abu-Ishaq Ibrahim Al-Hanbali writes:
“It is desirable to revive the time (with Salat and Ibadah) between the two E’sha’s (Maghrib and E’sha) because of the Ahadith. Many scholars say: Similarly with the night of Ashura, the first night of Rajab, and the 15th night of Sha`ban”. [Al-Mubdi Volume 002, Page No. 27]
Sheikh Mansoor Bahoti Hanbali writes:
“As for the 15th night of Sha`ban, it is a night of virtue. Some of the Salaf prayed the whole night, although establishing congregational prayers (on this night) is good innovation. And the reward of Ibadah on “the 15th night of Sha`ban” is the same as the reward of Ibadah on the night of E’id. [Kash-shaful Qina, Volume 001: Page No. 444]
Sheikh Mubarakpuri (Salafi scholar) writes:
“You should know that a sufficient number of Ahadith have been narrated confirming “the virtues of the 15th night of Sha`ban”. All these Ahadith prove that it has a basis.
After relating many Ahadith about the importance of this night, he says:
“The sum of all these Ahadith is strong evidence against the one “who thinks there is no proof” of the virtue of the 15th night of Sha`ban” and Allah knows best. [Tuhfat ul Ahwadhi Volume 003: Page. 365-367]
Ibn-Taimiyyah when asked about the 15th night of Sha’ban replied:
‘‘As for the 15th night of Shabaan, there are many narrations and Athar (quotes from the Sahabah) regarding its virtue. It has been reported of the Salaf that they prayed in this night. Therefore, praying alone on this night, having precedence in the Salaf, is sufficient evidence and something of this kind surely cannot be denied”.
At another occasion, Ibn-Taimiyyah was asked the same question and he replied:
“If one prays on this night alone or in a select company of people as many groups amongst the Salaf did, “then it is good”. [Fatawa Ibn Taimiyyah Volume 23, Page 131-132]
To sum up, the virtues of the blessed night of mid Sha’aban are established by a Qur’anic verse, scores of authentic Ahadith and a group of the Salaf (سلف “predecessor” is an early Muslim of the first three generations of proponents of the religion). So, it is highly recommended to celebrate this night and stay up on it, and the Wahabi view declaring it Bid’ah (innovation) is a “Reprehensible” (Munkar) opinion.