|A series on the holidays, brought to you by The Deep Ecumenism Initiative
by Maggid Amitai Gross
As Imams stare into the sky, watching the clouds pass over the moon, interpreting the cycle and declaring, with pious certainty, that the Ummah [community] has entered the last ten days of the holiest month, they know that one of these nights will be Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power.
But it could be any night.
We sent the Quran down on the Night of Power. And how will you know this night? It is a night greater than a thousand months. On that night, the angels and the spirit descend, with the permission of their master, for every matter. It is only peace, until dawn. [Quran 97:1-5]
Many of the faithful may join together each night for the last ten days, more only on the odd nights, and even more on just one. On this holiest night of the year, the night that a Qurayshi orphan became Rasul Allah [the messenger of God], peace be upon him, the blessings of God are multiplied and sins are forgiven. This, the night that Hazrat Jibril [the angel, Gabriel] carried down the message that would begin a journey from Mecca to Medina and beyond, creating a community that would someday make up a quarter of the world’s population.
But it could be any night.
Could you imagine not actually knowing what night Christmas Eve is? Kol Nidre? Every year, thinking you have a sense of what week it might be, but that’s about as close as you can get?
Some Imams will fight and claim that they know the exact night. This is what we call “missing the point.” The Night of Power could be any night, and that is precisely what makes it powerful.
The uncertainty is the submission. The acceptance of not knowing, of living in our ignorance of everything, is faith in totality. To adhere to “beliefs” is to reject faith, outright.
And then, as we accept and submit to the uncertainty, there is nothing more we can do but to gather in community. Eid al-Fitr comes to tell us that in the midst of our not-knowing, we have no choice but to join with friends, to eat, to enjoy their company, and to spread our good fortune through charity.
I don’t know a lot of things. In fact, I wasn’t even sure where this meditation on the Night of Power would take me until I sat down to write it. I thought that I would (predictably) connect it to the equally sacred holiday (to me at least) of International Workers’ Day. After all, how easy would it be to connect the Night of Power to seizing all power for all of the people?
Be it revolution or revelation, the dogma of absolute certainty can only be death to the work at hand. Embrace not knowing. Admit to ignorance. Accept that the present may be just as surprising and mysterious as the future. This is the power we can receive from Laylat al-Qadr.
Then get out of your head and join the party… in whichever sense you choose to read that.