Syed Ashraf Ali :
Of the nights in a year there are six which may safely be marked out for their grandeur and majesty, serenity and sacredness. These are Lailat-ul- Qadr, Lailat-ul-Mi'raj, the nights of two Eids, the Night of Arafat and Lailat-ul-Baraat. On these auspicious occasions are a person's prayers, his or her outpourings of the heart's sentiments, the reverential expression of the soul's sincerest desires before its Maker, never fail to evoke the most coveted response from Benign Providence. No wonder, Lailat-ul-Baraat is celebrated as an auspicious night in every nook and corner of the subcontinent and in various other Muslim countries.
Unfortunately, however, there are some who inadvertently claim that Lailat-ul-Baraat has no religious significance in the eyes of Islam. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is true that Lailat-ul-Baraat has not been specifically mentioned in the Holy Quran (although mention is there of Lailat-ul-Mubarakatun), but there are numerous authentic Ahadith and historical evidence which testify so eloquently to the fact that the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself used to attach great importance to this extraordinary night. He not only said special prayers in this sacred night, but also visited graveyards and prayed for the departed souls on this holy occasion. He even instructed Ummahatul Mu'mineen (his pious wives) to honour the sanctity and Divine excellence of this blessed occasion.
Lailat-ul-Baraat, is popularly known as Shab-e-Barat in this subcontinent. Both the words Shab in Persian (and Urdu as well) and Lailat in Arabic mean 'night', and Bara'at stands for Salvation or Privilege. (Some, however, inadvertently think that the word is Barat, which means 'Fortune', and the auspicious night is the Night of Fortune). Lailat-ul-Baraat is the Night of Salvation or the Night of Privilege. It is on this Night of Privilege that Rabbul Alameen, in His infinite Rahmat, blesses each and every person with a unique opportunity to receive the most coveted Divine Mercy. Acclaimed Traditionalist Ibn Maja (his Sunan is universally accepted as one of the Sihah Sitta, the six authentic traditional works) reported on the authority of no less a person than Sher-e-Khuda Hazrat Ali ibn Abu Talib (Ra) that the holy Prophet (pbuh) said, "On this Night from the moment the sun sets, Allah descends on the firmament of this earth and goes on asking till sunrise : 'Is there no one who asks forgiveness so that I may forgive him? Is there no one who asks provision so that I may provide him? Is there no one afflicted so that I may relieve him? Is there not such and such? Is there not such and such?' till the dawn comes."
Records are there that on one occasion the holy Prophet (pbuh) spent half of this auspicious Night of Salvation through a Nafl prayer of two rakahs and the rest of the Night through a long Sijdah or prostration. What is more, he (pbuh) used to offer this prayer with inimitable dedication and unfathomable concentration. Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (Ra) reported that on one such occasion the holy Prophet (pbuh) was so deeply absorbed in his meditation and remained so long in prostration that she became awfully nervous and thought that he (pbuh) had shuffled off the mortal coil. On another occasion, according to Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (Ra), the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) said his prayers in this Night with such unparalleled devotion and dedication that his feet got swollen.
Abu Musa al-Ashari (Ra) reported Allah's Messenger (pbuh) as saying, "Allah Most High looks down on the middle night of Sha'ban and forgives all his creatures, except a polytheist or one who is hostile." Ibn Majah transmitted it and Ahmad transmitted it from Abdullah bin 'Amr bin al-'As (Ra). His version has, "except two, one who is hostile and a murderer."
Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (Ra) also said, "I missed Allah's Messenger (pbuh) one night and found him at al-Baqi (Jannatul Baqi). He (pbuh) said, 'Were you afraid that Allah and His Messenger would act wrongly towards you?' I replied, "Messenger of Allah, I thought you had gone to one of your wives." He said, "On the middle night of Sha'ban Allah Most High descends to the lowest heaven and forgives more sins than the hairs of the goats of Kalb." (According to an estimation, the tribe of Kalb during that period had more than 20,000 goats). Tirmizi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.
According to another Tradition, Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (Ra) reported the holy Prophet (pbuh) as saying, "Do you know what happens this night?" meaning the middle night of Sha'ban. She asked, "What happens in it, Messenger of Allah?"He replied, "In it record is made of every human being who will be born and of every human being who will die this year; in it their actions are taken up to heaven and in it their provisions are sent down." Baihaqi transmitted it.
"According to popular belief", corroborates the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "ín the night preceding the 15th of Sha'ban the tree of life on whose leaves are written the names of the living is shaken to decide who is going to die in the coming year." It is claimed by some that it is the Sidratul Muntaha, "the Lote-tree of the extremity", a tree in the seventh heaven having its root in the sixth, which is shaken to decide who is going to die. (Sidratul Muntaha has been mentioned twice in the Holy Quran).
Lailat-ul-Barat (or Lailatul Bara'a), the Night of Quittancy in the words of Encyclopaedia of Islam, is indeed a solemn and sacred occasion of Divine Excellence which has to be celebrated in a befitting way, not through candles and crackers, not through mere halwas and rotis, not through extravagance and merry-making, but through prayers and penance as was done by the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is true that hundreds and thousands of Muslims in the subcontinent celebrate this Night through zealous and active participation in private and congregational prayers held in mosques. Unfortunately, however, there are many among us who, through sheer ignorance or utter carelessness, turn this auspicious Night into a mere occasion of pleasure and gaiety, fun and frolic, forgetting the very essence of this glorious night.
There are some who think that crackers and candles are part and parcel of Shab-e-Barat. Nothing can be more misleading. This awful custom, introduced by the Barmecides in Baghdad, simply because they were fire-worshippers and loved fire even after they accepted Islam, not only disturbs the namazis and meditators on this auspicious night but also leads to unnecessary wastage and prodigality which are forbidden in Islam.
And lastly, let all of us pray with all the earnestness the following Dua which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself said : "O Allah, I seek refuge in Thy Good Pleasure from Thine Anger, and in Thy Forgiveness from Thy Punishment, and I seek refuge 'in Thee from Thee' from Thy wrath. I cannot reckon the praise due to Thee. Thou art as Thou hast glorified Thyself."