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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Observing Layt al-Qadr at New York University on the night of August 14, 2012

A couple of nights ago I had the opportunity to attend Layt al-Qadr (the Night of Power) with members of the NYU community. This event happens during the last part of Ramadhan. Layt al-Qadr is considered the most appropriate time of the entire year to pray for salvation and blessings. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

It is the Holiest night in the Holiest month on the Islamic calendar. I with many others spent the entire night in prayer at NYU seeking forgiveness for our sins and help from God (SWT) to accomplish our objectives in life.

It was a most enlightening experience. Normally I tend to do things in solitude but for some reasons lately I have wanted to be with other like-minded people. I found the group of university people most invigorating. Even at 60, I was able to keep up with them in prayer throughout the night.

About this night, it is said:

BEHOLD, from on high have We bestowed this [divine writ] on Night of Destiny. And what could make thee conceive what it is, that Night of Destiny? The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months: in hosts descend in it the angels, bearing divine inspiration by their Sustainer’s leave; from all [evil] that may happen does it make secure, until the rise of dawn. [Qur’an, Chapter 97, Asad translation]

For a better description of the meaning of Layt al-Qadr than I could ever provide, I refer you to a post by Imam Khalid Latif, University Chaplain for NYU, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU and Chaplain for the NYPD. He refers to it in his August 14th, 2012 blog for the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/imam-khalid-latif/ramadan-reflection-day-26-laylatul-qadr_b_1776336.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003).

It started with us breaking fast (Iftar) at the Islamic Center at New York University, performing the Magrib prayer and subsequent Isha prayer and later moving to a residence hall where people were to pray throughout the night.

I left the first part of the event and proceeded at a slow leisurely pace to the residence hall where the second part was held. I seemed to be trying to kill time before attending the main event. I stopped at Madison Square Park and sat for a while. I observed people strolling, other people sitting and still others just trying to enjoy this balmy evening. I took to walking along the side streets. I noticed a few hobos sleeping outside a pristine building. I wondered why this condition had to exist. They seemed so content sleeping under the stars.

Finally moving on, I made it to the residence hall. I could see that it was starting to get crowded. Perhaps more people were going to be there than originally was expected.

While waiting for the proper mindset and prayers to begin, I couldn’t help overhearing a couple of brothers talking about baseball. I thought, when was the last time you heard “suspected terrorists” talking about baseball. But then again, they weren’t suspected terrorists to me. They were my brothers in faith. They were as “American as apple pie,” with many of the same basic values as anyone else and yet I am sure they are probably highly scrutinized every time they tried to board a plane.

The Imam spoke briefly about getting in the right frame of mind for prayer and the seriousness of the event. My thoughts became more focused. I began to think about what I sought forgiveness for and what I myself needed Allah (SWT)’s assistance to do.  I also thought about the hobos, and the impoverished throughout the world. I have always been an idealist.

Finally we all lined up and began to pray in unison. I will just say that everything about the ritual was very systematic and well coordinated. My left knee began to ache halfway though, a couple of hours later, but it didn’t seem to matter to me. “God does not burden beyond one’s capacity.” It was a truly defining moment. Imagine if you can, standing before the Creator and being able to ask forgiveness for your transgressions and for hope of a better tomorrow…

Toward the end of the event, I heard the sound of thunder outside and felt as if someone was trying to get my attention. I was listening…!

In the end I prayed that Allah (SWT) listened to my prayer and supplications and acknowledged them.