My experiences observing Layla-tul Qadr on August 3, 2013

prayerMy preparation to attend Layla-tul Qadr started out like any other day.  A cousin called to discuss her plans for starting an online business. I am used to people calling me for my advice on a myriad of subjects. I guess some of it comes from having reached a certain age (60s) and being able to communicate with people on just about any subject matter.

On my trip into the city that afternoon, I encountered a very tall drag queen, about 7 ft. tall in 6 in. heels weighing all of about 150 lbs. On the train, a dark-skinned woman about 7 months pregnant was asking for help. I looked into her eyes and felt compelled to give.

I was able to better grasp the significance of this most holy time on the Islamic calendar by reading part of Sura (44:3-4):

“that We revealed this Qur’an in a blessed night (Layla-tul Qadr); for We wanted to forewarn mankind.
In that night every matter is decided wisely”

This was to commemorate the night when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH), some 1,400 years ago. This “night of power” is also referred to as the “night of destiny.” It is a night when God’s power is all-present and we can choose our destiny. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

I was recently reading of attempts to correlate this holiest of periods with terrorist uprisings. It was reported on one news site that, such links between Islamic holy days and militancy allow al Qaeda to continue to define what Islam is. For them, Islam is not a religion with spirituality, but is a political movement, where the holiest of days are simply calendar markers to run campaigns…”

I repeat, this is the night when Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation.

Misguided may try to align their actions with this most holy event and misinformed may try to legitimize that notion but the moment is bigger than any can conceive…

But, I digress and this is about my experiences and my destiny. I tried to keep a fairly light schedule on this day: Attend Kendo class. Share in Iftar with some Egyptian friends and finally make my way to downtown Manhattan for Layla-tul Qadr with members of the NYU community. I attended the first Layla-tul Qadr by the ICNYU last year (http://wp.me/p2hekR-4K) and I was eager to participate in this years’ event.

I disembarked from the train a couple of stops before my destination and began a slow walk through areas of Greenwich Village I used to frequent over four decades earlier. The area really hadn’t changed much at its core, still students, deviants, shops to buy things and places to eat. One place on the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue caught my attention, offering 2 slices of pizza and a drink for $2.75!

As I edged closer to my destination and was about to cross the street, I received a text message from a friend in Indonesia, 10,000 miles away, requesting I pray for her father. This was a strange request, considering I hadn’t heard from her in weeks, and just as I was around to cross the street. She had no knowledge of my intentions or where I would be at that moment. Occurrences such as this only re-enforce my beliefs.

Finally I arrived at the church where the event was to be held. There was a crowd forming outside. I could hear some brothers debating what Islam meant to them. My response has always been, “it is where I have found comfort…” My view of the world is such that we can all exist in peace and harmony and in the comfort of our own belief systems as long as they don’t infringe upon others.

Sura 98:5 sums up my position:

“But they were enjoined nothing more than to worship God, be sincere in religion and be regular in prayer and give charity, for this is the essence of religion.”

There were at least several hundred people at this event. One has to be mindful of all the Muslim communities in New York City and around the rest of the world that were holding similar events during this time period.

We finished Taraweeh or the extra prayers before tending to the prayers for Layla-tul Qadr, which are performed throughout the night.

You could begin to feel the power of God in the room as brothers standing shoulder to shoulder and sisters standing shoulder to shoulder all began repeating a unison, over and over again, Subhan’Allah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), La ilaha ill-Allah (There is no God but God), Allah u Akbar (God is great)!

At one point I could feel the floor vibrating. I have a keen sense of such things. Maybe it was due to the resonance of trains in the nearby subway. Maybe it was just due to my vivid imagination. Perhaps God was making His presence known. I checked later, no one else seemed to feel it.

All I know is that night, I prayed for God’s forgiveness for all my transgressions, I prayed for the father in Jakarta, Indonesia, I prayed for my family and I prayed for a better life. This is the kind of person I was becoming.

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Sharing Iftar with my Sufi Brothers and Sisters at Dergah Al Farah

Islam is like clear water poured into different vessels. It takes the color and shape of each vessel.
– Shaykh Muzaffer al-Jerrahi

It was August 1st, 2013, Thursday evening. The weather was cool and quite pleasant compared to earlier weeks of 80-100 degree Fahrenheit heat. It was also raining intermittently. I was in Tribeca trying to find the Sufi mosque, Dergah Al Farah before the pace of the rain might quicken. I have been trying to dodge raindrops the past couple of days but haven’t been having much luck; fortunately I did have an umbrella with me. Dergah Al Farah is the gathering place of initiates (dervishes) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community (http://nurashkijerrahi.org/) led by Shaykha Fariha al-Jerrahi.

As the rain began to pour, I finally located the place. It is unassuming on the outside, a mere storefront. Looks can be quite deceiving. A friendly, spiritual place awaited on the other side of the door. I entered and placed my umbrella in a wastebasket so as not to spread unnecessary water all over the place. Some people were praying, others were listening to a videotape of Suras from the Quran with English subtitles. I took a seat on the floor against the wall and tried to dry out a bit before Maghrib time and subsequent Iftar. More people began coming in behind me. I could see the diversity in this place. There were whites, blacks, browns as well as people representing several different countries. Such is the beauty of Islam. There were also little children playing nearby. I could feel the peace and tranquility in this place. It was so relaxing and distressing!

Right after Maghrib time approached, everyone was served water and luscious dates to break the day’s Ramadhan fast. A few moments later, we were lining up for prayer. At Dergah Al Farah, men stand on the left and women stand beside them on the right. This is quite different from other masjids I have attended. I am more accustomed to having the women in a separate area, sometimes, even behind a barrier. My personal view is that it seems to make more sense, side by side, stripped of cultural influences.

After Maghrib prayer, the entire group retired upstairs to the 2nd floor where food was served, people began to mingle and get to know each other and children were children! Truly a wonderful sight for a grandfather like myself.

dergah-al-farah-facade-by-tribeca-citizen