read

Surah al-Qadr (No. 97, 'The Ordainment')

Verses 1-5

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful

إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ

Indeed, We sent it down on the Night of Ordainment! (97:1).

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ

And what will show you what is the Night of Ordainment? (97:2).

لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ

The Night of Ordainment is better than a thousand months. (97:3).

تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ مِنْ كُلِّ أَمْرٍ

In it angels and spirit descend, by the leave of their lord, with every command. (97:4).

سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّىٰ مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ

It is peaceful until the rising of the dawn. (97:5).

1. The Magnificence Of The Qur’an

This surah affirms the Qur'an's magnificence in several forms:

a. The Qur'an is referred to [in the first verse] using the pronoun "it" rather than by its name, as if what is being referred to is so, self-evident that it need not be named.

b. The time in which Allah chose to send it down is one of the noblest times, embodied by the Night of Ordainment.

c. In the same manner, Allah chose the heart of His noblest creation as the receptacle into which He revealed it all at once - based on His saying:

“Indeed, We sent it down...” (al-Qadr, 97:1).

So, just as the Qur'anic revelation is honoured by its chosen recipient - namely, the Final Prophet (S) - so, is its chosen recipient honoured by receiving the Qur'an.

d. Allah refers to Himself using the plural, "We", which signifies grandeur:

"Indeed, it is We who have sent down the Qur’an to thee by stages....." (al-Insan, 76:23).

"Indeed, We have given you abundance ..." (al-Kawthar, 108:1).

2. The Significance Of The Night Of Ordainment

There is a striking reality to be witnessed in this surah in that it begins by mentioning the revelation of the Qur'an, and one would assume that the natural course would be to continue discussing it. Instead, the discussion turns abruptly to the Night of Ordainment. It is as if someone said: 'I lodged an important guest in such-and-such a place.' But then, instead of mentioning the significance of the guest, the speaker begins describing the place in which he lodged the guest! If such words were uttered by a competent speaker, we would understand that his primary intent was to inform us of the importance of the place, as demonstrated by the fact he chose to place such an important guest in it. This is what has happened in this surah. The surah wants to say: 'One of the reasons why the Night of Ordainment is so, important is because it was the time in which the Qur'an was revealed.'

3. Night-Time

It is no secret that the night has a special position above all other times. This is why the night was chosen for such a blessed occasion rather than the day. For it is by night that Allah turns towards His saints (awliya), to envelop them in the lights of His majesty. The Qur'an swears an oath by daybreak (fajr) and another by late afternoon ('asr) just once, but it swears oaths by the night in seven places, including:

“By the night as it approaches.” (at-Takwir, 81:17).

“By the night when it recedes!” (al-Mudatthir, 74:33).

“By the night when it departs!” (al-Fajr, 89:4).

And the attributes of the believers are mentioned in connection with the night, for example:

“...And at dawns they would plead for forgiveness.” (adh-Dhariat, 51:18).

“And keep vigil for a part of the night” (al-Isra’, 17:79).

They

“recite Allah's signs in the watches of the night” (Ale 'lmran, 3:113).

and

“.... and glorify Him the night long” (al-Insan, 76:26).

and

“Stand vigil through the night, except a little.” (al-Muzzammil, 73:2).

And Allah set a tryst for Moses of ‘Forty Nights’1 just as He took His beloved, Muhammad (S), to the heavens by night. All of these facts demonstrate that the night is a time uniquely suited to convey spiritual blessings therein.

4. World Of The Unseen

The Qur'an usually uses the phrase ‘And what will show you ...’ for metaphysical realities that are beyond the reach of man's physical senses, such as some phenomena on the Day of Resurrection, including the Saqar,2 the Day of Judgment (yawm al-fasl),3 the Day of Recompense (yawm al-din),4 the Crusher (hutama),5 and the scorching fire (nar hamiyah).6

Therefore, mentioning the Night of Ordainment in this manner shows that it too is connected to the world of the unseen, even though it actually occurs in the tangible realm. This is because mankind can no more comprehend the reality of this night than they can comprehend the realities of the Isthmus (barzakh) and the Resurrection, which are hidden from their physical senses.

5. The Magnificence Of The Night Of Ordainment

This surah demonstrates the Night of Ordainment's magnificence in a number of ways:

a. It says that this night was the occasion on which the Qur’an was sent down, and the night itself occurs in the best of months, namely the month of Ramadan.

b. Laylat al-Qadr is referred to by name three times in this single surah, rather than simply using a pronoun to refer to it.

c. Allah directly addresses the Final Prophet (S) with the words:

“And what will show you ...?” (al-Qadr, 97:2).

meaning, if you (the Messenger) cannot fully grasp the importance of this night and its exalted stature, then how can the intellects of the ordinary people possibly hope to do so?

6. A Thousand Months

Allah wished - in His abundant kindness - to compensate the final ummah for the shortness of their lives, and singled out some of its members for a magnificent kind of compensation; He gave them a single night that was worth more than a thousand months. It is narrated that when Allah showed His Messenger (S) the length of the people's lives, the Messenger saw that the lives of his ummah were shorter [than those of people who had come before them], and he feared that they would not be able to accomplish the same good deeds as their predecessors. As a result, Allah gave him the Night of Ordainment, which is better than a thousand months of those other nations!

Note that the verse does not only say that this night is equal to a thousand months, but rather that it surpasses them. Allah says that this night is 'better' (khayr) without telling us how much better it is! Instead, He mentions only the least amount of its value, which is a thousand months. This is similar to what the Prophet (S) said about the striking of 'Ali (‘a) when the latter dueled with 'Amr b. 'Abdu Wadd: "Ali's duel with 'Amr b. 'Abdu Wadd at the Battle of the Trench will have a reward better than all the deeds of my ummah until the Day of Resurrection!'

7. Qadr

Here, we must understand the word qadr (in the phrase Laylat al-Qadr) to mean:

a. Regard for someone, as in:

“They do not regard Allah with the regard due to Him” (az-Zumar, 39:67).

b. The ordainment of affairs, as in:

“Then you turned up as ordained, O Moses!” (Ta ha, 20:40).

c. Narrowness, in that the Earth becomes crowded by the angels from the heavens, in the sense of:

“...and let he whose provision has been tightened ...” (at-Talaq, 65:7).

So, in a general sense, all of the above meanings signify the greatness of this night, whether this is because of its own essence, because of the angels who descend to Earth therein or because of the ordainments set in motion during the night. Of course, from all of this we can also, understand the greatness and the nobleness of the Creator Himself, who blesses us with such a gift in only a few hours of a single night of the year.

8. “A Blessed Night”

When Allah calls the Night of Ordainment a 'blessed night,'7 this suggests that He sends down blessings for the spiritual lives of His servants on this night in the same manner as He grants physical life to dead lands when He says:

“And We send down from the sky blessed water.” (Qaf, 50:9).

Someone who is not exposed to these abundant blessings and does not make use of them is truly a deprived person. Perhaps it is these divine blessings, which grant all of Allah's servants the energy to stay awake on that night, despite their lack of energy on others, even those in the holy month itself. Of course, blessings have different degrees for different people, so, it is inconceivable that the blessing that the Imam of our Age (‘a) receives would be given to anyone else. This means we should never be satisfied with the level of divine favour we have obtained in this blessed night and always be striving for more.

9. Receiving Qur’an

One of the reasons that the Night of Ordainment has acquired this nobleness is that Allah, who decided to send down the Qur'an gradually over the course of the Prophetic mission, sent down the entirety of the Qur'an's lofty spiritual truths to the heart of His own chosen Prophet (S) in a single night. What an amazing heart the Prophet must have had to endure receiving the Qur'an in its totality all at once, when the revelation of just a single verse to him on other occasions was so, taxing that its strain could sometimes be seen on his blessed face!

10. Spreading Of A Blessing

The nature of a genuine blessing is that it spreads to everything around it. Allah says about his prophet, Jesus (‘a):

“He has made me blessed, wherever I may be...” (Maryam, 19:31).

And about Moses (‘a):

“Blessed is He who is in the fire and who is around it.” (an-Naml, 27:8).

And the blessed month of Ramadan, in addition to those blessings it holds as a month that ‘belongs’ to Allah, has been blessed further still by the Night of Ordainment. And because this night has become a part of it, this night's blessings extend throughout the entire holy month. Based on this, we can say that the Night of Ordainment's blessings also, extend to the faithful themselves, meaning that anyone who is worthy will partake of this magnificent overflowing of the Divine.

11. The Superiority Of The Night Of Ordainment

The superiority of the Night of Ordainment compared to a thousand months could either be with regards to the deeds performed therein (as people usually say) or it could be with regards to the souls of the worshippers. The latter is actually more significant because it is the person performing these deeds who receives their blessings, not the deeds themselves! In other words, a person might get closer spiritually to truth and perfection on this night than he would have done in a thousand other months, even if he did his utmost. This is the perfect motivation for those worthy persons who are striving to perfect their souls and not just their deeds.

12. Ordained Affairs

The fact that all affairs are ordained in a single night as we understand from another verse, namely:

“Every definitive matter is resolved in it” (ad-Dukhkhan, 44:4).

can be a source of confusion for one of God's servants who wants to secure his wellbeing in religious and worldly matters. But this confusion, in turn, serves to whet one's appetite to strive for the best ordainments for oneself before the ink of destiny dries at the time of fajr, especially in those last moments before the end of the greatest Night of Ordainment. Hence, with regards to divine ordainments, we say that even if they emanate from the Unseen, the servant still has a role to play in shaping and changing them to safeguard his moral and material success. This rule applies to any area in which the Qur'an uses the words 'whomsoever He wills', as He could mean that the one who determines this is the servant, as when He says:

Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes ....” (an-Nur, 24:35).

13. Increased Reward

When we consider that the reward for good deeds is increased on the Night of Ordainment, it leads us to ponder: How can we reconcile this verse with the fact that the reward (ajr) of a good deed depends on the difficulty (mashaqqa) involved in performing it? How can the worship of a single night compare to the worship of a thousand months? The answer to this question is the same answer we give when explaining the great blessings that come from any little thing that becomes attached to Allah; Moses' ark (tabut), Joseph's shirt, the stone of the Ka'bah and the blessed month of Ramadan, to name just a few! When an object or an action becomes attached to Allah, its very essence changes; and when we realize that Allah - the One who endows things with their qualities - bestowed this wondrous quality on a single night of the year out of His grace, then it is hardly surprising that it carries such rewards, for He does as He wills.

14. Crucial For All Existent Beings

The Night of Ordainment is not only crucial for mankind but for all existent beings, as it is said that Allah ordains everything that will happen in the coming year on that night, including rains, sustenance, life and death. Therefore, the ordainment that takes place on this night affects events in creation, as the Divine Ordainment (qadr ilahi) encompasses everything that Allah has created. This is demonstrated by His saying:

“Indeed, We have created everything in an ordained measure.” (al-Qamar, 54:49).

Therefore, one can say that whoever supplicates earnestly in this night, his supplication might have an effect on worldly events such as earthquakes and other natural disasters, not to mention the lives of other creatures, such as his believing brethren and even the non­Muslims.

Perhaps part of the wisdom behind keeping the exact date of this night hidden is to motivate people to stay up and perform worship for a number of nights, with their hearts caught between the fear of missing this night and the hope of attaining it! This way, the one who attains it will not suffer smugness or pride any more than the one who misses it will suffer dejection and despair.

15. Hidden Things

Allah could have, had He willed it, been kind to us, told us which night was the Night of Ordainment and spared us this confusion every year! Instead, he chose to hide it by virtue of His perfect wisdom, as a motivation for His servants to strive hard for many nights with their hearts caught between the fear of missing it and the hope of attaining it. Moreover, by keeping it hidden, He adds to its nobleness. After all, something truly precious is rarely left in plain sight so, that anyone could come and take it! Therefore, we should always remember that there is wisdom behind Allah's decisions to conceal this and other things:

a. He conceals His pleasure with our acts of obedience so, that we continue to seek it in all our righteous deeds.

b. He conceals His anger at our sins, so, that we will avoid all lapses.

c. He conceals His representative (waliy) amongst the people so, that we will show respect to all of His servants.

d. He conceals His response to our prayers, so, that we strive harder in all our supplications.

e. He hides His Greatest Name (al-ism al-a'zam) so, that we will venerate all of His Names.

f. He conceals the identity of the middle prayer (al- salat al­ wusta) so, that we will focus on all of our prayers.

g. He conceals His acceptance of our repentance so, that we will seek His forgiveness through all acts of repentance.

h. He hides our time of death so, that we will always be wary of a sudden, unexpected death.

“In it the angels and the Spirit descend, by the leave of their Lord, with every command.” (al-Qadr, 97:4).

“It is peace until the rising of the dawn.” (al-Qadr, 97:5).

16. Angels Descending

The apparent meaning of His words

“The angels... descend……” (al-Qadr, 97:4).

is that all of the angels in existence descend, as this is the implication of using a plural with the definite article (al-mala'ika’). As a result, some commentators on the Qur'an have wondered how this great host of angels can possibly gather together on Earth in a single night. There are those that say that they do not descend to Earth but remain in the heaven of this world. Others say that they come down to the Earth in successive waves, so, it can still be said that they all come down in a single night. What is clear, however, is that being aware of this massing of angels will amaze God's servant and motivate him to try his utmost to be the best worshipper on this night, so, that he can win peace from this vast host by virtue of their supplications for him.

17. The Spirit

Mentioning the Spirit (ruh) alongside the angels suggests that there is a hierarchy that permeates the entirety of Creation; just as Allah has favoured some messengers over others, he has made some inhabitants of the Throne superior to others. Hence, he has made the Spirit an entity separate from the rest of the angels, and there are disagreements amongst commentators.

a. Some say that it is a great angel without any other like it.

b. Others say that it is a special group of angels who only descend on the Night of Ordainment.

c. Some say that it is Gabriel about whom Allah says:

“the Holy Spirit has brought it down duly from your Lord” (an-Nahl, 16:102).

d. Others say that it refers to Jesus (‘a) about whom Allah says:

“The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only an Messenger of Allah, and His Word that He cast toward Mary and a spirit from Him.” (an-Nisa', 4:171).

He comes down to oversee the deeds of the ummah of the final messenger (S) and see the great worship being performed by his followers, and at the head of this great worship is the acts of worship by the Final Successor (‘a).

18. Wilayah

There is a strong connection between this surah and the principle of wilayah; that is the Night of Ordainment occurs, without fail, in all eras, and the angels descend in it with divine ordainments as a result. Now, we know for every angel that descends there must be a person to whom it descends. But who could this be besides the one without whom the Earth would have been swallowed up with its inhabitants? The Night of Ordainment corresponds symbolically to the existence of an Infallible Imam in every age, and hence we can say that this surah is one of the surahs of wilayah. At its core, it subtly turns the attention of the ummah to the other weighty thing (thaqal) that the Prophet left behind alongside the Qur’an.

19. Divine Permission

Even though the descent of the angels to Earth is something very normal, it still requires Divine permission. This is the nature of the angels who do not even venture to speak ahead of Him;

“They do not venture to speak ahead of Him, and they act by His command.” (al-Anbiya’, 21:27).

And this verse contains some indication that the angels act as though they ardently desire to visit the righteous members of this ummah, at whose head is the Imam of the Age (‘a), just as they desire to visit them in Paradise, saying:

“Peace be to you, for your patience.’ How excellent is the reward of the [ultimate] abode!” (ar-Ra'd, 13:24).

It is only natural that one who goes to visit someone experiences some desire to meet the object of his visitation (ziyarah), even if that is by virtue of a divine command that he cannot disobey.

20. The Honour Of The Night Of Ordainment

All of the fundamental elements of the Night of Ordainment are connected to Allah in some way, shape or form: It falls in the month of Allah, and the one who sent down the Book in it is Allah, and it was sent to Allah's Messenger in the hands of one of Allah's angels to guide Allah's servants. So, the elements of this night are all dyed in the colours of the Divine, and this is why it has been singled out and honoured above all other nights.

21. The Word “Min” (With)

It is part of the Qur'an's greatness that its words - or even its letters - can carry multiple distinct meanings. For example, the scholars have differed in their interpretations of the word 'with' (min) in His saying: 'with every command.' It is said:

a. That it implies concomitance (mulabisa) as it explains what it is that descends in that night with the angels.

b. That it implies causation (sababiyyah), meaning that this descent is the cause for every divine command in this world, as indicated by His saying:

“All His command, when He wills something, is to say to it 'Be,' and it is.” (Ya Sin, 36:82).

c. That it implies motivation (ta’lil), meaning that it happened in order to arrange every future affair in Creation.

22. Peace

There are two directions from which one of God's servants loses peace and wellbeing in his life; the first is the commanding self (al-nafs al-ammarah), and the other is Satan, the accursed outcast, and it is known that their role is circumscribed in the Night of Ordainment:

a. All the devils are chained-up in the holy month, especially on the Night of Ordainment; so, there is no room for Satan to exercise his authority while the authority of the angels permeates the heavens completely on that night.

b. As for the Self, it has been tamed by fasting for the duration of the month and especially for the Night of Ordainment. This special night is surrounded by a halo of divine sanctity, of which all creatures are aware in their own selves. This is why this night is peace until the rising of the dawn.

23. Peace

The peace (salam) on the Night of Ordainment could be with regards to:

a. The night itself. It is described as peace insofar as it provides safety from those harmful things that obstruct the acceptance of good deeds. And [when we say 'It is peace' rather than 'it is peaceful'] we must bear in mind that this is a kind of emphasis, as when we say: 'So-and-so, is justice (‘adl)' by which we emphasize that he is just ('adil).

b. The greetings of peace given by the angels to one another or to the believers, or that they come and invoke peace upon the Prophet (S) and his infallible successor. It is narrated from 'Ali (‘a): 'They descend to give greetings of peace to us and to intercede on our behalf, for whoever receives (such] a greeting of peace shall have all his sins forgiven.'

  • 1. Surah al-Baqarah:
    “And when We appointed a time of forty nights with Musa, then you took the calf (for a god) after him and you were unjust.” (2:51).
  • 2. Surah al-Muddaththir:
    “And what will make you realize what Hell-Fire is?” (74:27)
  • 3. Surah al-Mursalat:
    “And what will make you comprehend what the Day of Decision is?” (77:14).
  • 4. Surah al-Infitar:
    “And what will make you realize what the Day of Judgement is?” (82:17).
  • 5. Surah al-Humazah:
    “And what will make you realize what the Crushing Disaster is?” (104:5).
  • 6. Surah al-Qari'ah:
    “(It is) a Fire Blazing fiercely!” (101:11).
  • 7. Surah al-Dukhkhan:
    “Surely We revealed it on a Blessed Night: for We (ever) wish to warn (against Evil).” (44:3).