I have recently returned to attending mosque now that my classes are over. Ramadan has just begun, and consequently the khutbah, or sermon, was about preparation for the month of Ramadan and correspondingly the Night of Power. Laylat al-Qadr, the night of power, is a very important day in Islam. Christianity has special holy days as well, such as Christmas and Easter. At first glance, it may seem we have found a similarity between the two religions. Both have holy days. But what is revealed when we examine the Islamic doctrines behind the night of power and compare its teaching to that of Christianity?
The night of power is described in the Qur’an in a few places. One prominent reference is as follows from chapter 97,
We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: And what will explain to you what the night of power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand: Peace!…This until the rise of morn!
Muslim tradition holds that the Night of Power occurs on the anniversary of the first verse of the Qur’an being revealed. Nobody is sure exactly which day this is, but it is believed to occur during the final ten days of Ramadan, specifically on one of the last five odd nights. So what makes this night so important?
Common Islamic interpretation of the Qur’an teaches that prayers and worship offered on the night of power are counted as more meritorious than those on other nights. The renowned Qur’an commentary by Al-Jalalayn states that “a righteous deed on that Night is better than one [performed] for a thousand months without it.” [i] This formulaic view of the meritorious multiplication factor of this special night is exemplified by this Muslim author’s exposition,
“For the sake of illustration, let us just try to put this down mathematically. If you worship Allah on this night every year for 55 years after attaining your puberty, then you would have 55,000 months to your credit. It is likened to as if you had lived for over 4,500 years, and achieved the rewards of a person who had lived that long and much more.” [ii]
This idea of “keeping score” runs antithetical to the Christian view of grace verses works, but that’s a topic for another article. For now, what does the Bible teach about special nights for prayer, worship, fasting, or other such religious activities? There are some holidays that Christians do celebrate such as Christmas and Easter. However, the Bible itself never discusses these days with respect to prayers being more likely to be answered or worship more appreciated.
Of course in the Old Testament there were holidays prescribed for the Jewish nation, (Deuteronomy 16:1) but they are given as days of remembrance, not days for increased efficacy of prayer (Deuteronomy 16:2-3). Rather, these special days serve as pointers which are to lead us back to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17) The New Living Translation especially brings out this idea in Galatians chapter 4:9-11.
9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. 12 Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.
Special days are great for celebrating. It’s wonderful to participate in Easter sunrise service. I still remember the first Christmas Eve my wife and I celebrated together in a little church in Copper Mountain, Colorado. But these days offer no special arrangements from God to draw us closer or give us special merit. Every day is a day to search out God, and prayers are answered regardless of what day it is. Yet perhaps I should say there is a special day to talk to God, and that day is “today”. Again from the NLT
(2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT)
For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
In Christianity, all days give an equal opportunity to access God. In Islam, one day is given special preference. Again, when we examine these religions in more detail, we find the doctrines are complete reversals of each other.