Islam and Judaism [7]: Laylah tul-Qadr And Lailah Shavuot

Ramadan is the month when the Sacred Scriptures of Christians, Jews, and Muslims were first revealed, as Imam Sadiq said: “The Torah was revealed on the sixth day of the month of Ramadan, the [Christian] Bible, on the twelfth night of the month, the Psalms on the eighteenth night of the month and the Quran on the Night of Qadr.” (Al-Kafi, vol.4, pg. 157)

So Ramadan is a good time for all those who worship the One and Only God, to seek a greater understanding of how our four Sacred Scriptures relate to one another.

There are several similarities in custom, language, and philosophy between the Jewish Holy Day of Shavuot which this year falls on May 29, and the Muslim Holy Day of Laylah tul-Qadr, which falls on May 19 this year. Both Holy Days commemorate the beginning of the revelation that formed the foundation of the Jewish and the Islamic religious communities.

For example, Muslims and Jews share the custom of late night prayer and study. Many Muslims stay up late praying on the night of Ramadan the 27th, hopeful of experiencing some aspect of the Night of Power. Jews also have a tradition of joining other Jews on Shavuot to stay up past midnight studying various Torah texts.

Qadr has two related meanings: power and destiny. As is often the case in the Qur’an, it is likely that both meanings are intended. Laylah tul-Qadr therefore means a night (laylah in Arabic, lailah in Hebrew) when God asserts Divine power in a special way to move events in a direction that God has destined for them. The revelation of the Qur’an and the Torah are prime examples of such a manifestation of divine power and will, which changed the direction of human history.

The Qur’an states: “We sent it (the Qur’an) down on a blessed night (Arabic laylah mubarakah, Hebrew lailah mevurakh) for We were sure to warn (every people in their own language). Every matter of wisdom is made distinct in it, by command from Us, for We were bound to send (prophets) as a mercy from your Lord, for He hears and knows (all).” (44:3-6)

So too, in the Torah Moses reveals to the Jewish People: “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity; and death and adversity. What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are about to possess. However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

“Today I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you that I have set before you: life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life so that you and your descendants may live! I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and be loyal to him, for he gives you life and enables you to live continually in the land the Lord promised to give to your ancestors; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Torah-Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Moses is a warner (to Pharaoh and his people) and a mercy (bringing Torah guidance) for the Jewish people (and later for the Christians who included the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible into their own holy scriptures); just as Muhammad(peace be upon him) is a mercy for all the worlds. The Qur’an explains that God’s commitment to reveal Divine guidance to humanity, is not limited to the descendants of prophets Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it also extends to all the other nations.

When the Qur’an says “the month of Ramadan is one in which the Qur’an was sent down” (2:185) the meaning, of course, is not that the whole of the Qur’an was sent down on one night or in one month or even in one decade. What is meant is that the revelation of the Qur’an began in the month of Ramadan on the night of power.

The beginning of the revelation is equated with the whole act of revelation because the reality of revelation became clear to Prophet Muhammad on the first occasion of revelation. Later communications simply provided detailed expressions of that message.

Both Islam and Judaism have a fully developed legal system which developed to elucidate the revelation our ancestors received. Both religions share the outlook that although God’s revelation exists beyond space and time; it does in fact actually occur at a specific time and place.

The night of power is more than just the anniversary of the specific night when the Qur’an’s revelation began, as is indicated by the variety of traditions about the date of the night of power.

For example, according to one tradition Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever wants to search for (this night) should search in the last seven nights (of Ramadan).” Yet in another tradition he is reported to have said: “Look for the night of power when nine, seven or five nights remain in Ramadan (i.e. from 20th to 25th of Ramadan, inclusive).” But it is also said, “search for it on the 29th, 27th, and 25th” of Ramadan.

All these Hadiths are from Bukhari. Add traditions from other Hadith collections, and the variety increases to seven different dates for the night of power: 17th, 21st, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 27th or the last date of Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad certainly knew the exact date of the first Divine revelation he received. Yet neither the Qur’an nor the Prophet revealed that date.

This is the very same situation that we find in the Torah. Shavuot, a Jewish holy day that commemorates the revelation of the Ten Commandments at mount Sinai, is the only annual Jewish holy day where the Torah does not specify an exact date. Passover, which commemorates the exodus from Egypt, occurs on the fifteenth day of the first month. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish religious new year is on the first day of the seventh month. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement fast, is on the tenth day of the seventh month. Haj Sukkot, the week-long fall harvest pilgrimage festival begins on the 15th day of the seventh month.

But for Shavuot, Jews are simply told that starting with the Shabbat of week-long Festival of Passover, we should count each day for seven weeks (shavuot), and then the fiftieth day is Shavuot.

In one text the Torah simply states: “You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavuot for the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 16:9-10) This text starts the counting from an agricultural harvest event that will vary slightly from area to area; so no fixed date is possible.

There is another Torah text that connects the counting of seven weeks to Passover but still lacks a explicit date: “You shall count for yourselves; from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving; seven complete Shabbats, until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days…” (Leviticus 23:15-16)

But there are at least two ways to start this counting, so different Jewish groups came up with different times for Shavuot. So why is it only Shavuot (and Shabbat) where the calendar date is not fixed by the Torah?

Because Shavuot, like Laylah tul-Qadr, is both a trans-historical, timeless event of revelation; and also a historical event marking for Jews the date of the covenant made between God and Banu Israel in the third month after God rescued the Jewish People from Egypt; and for Muslims marking the beginning of Prophet Muhammad’s role in world history.

I know the exact day when I and my wife were married. I do not know the day, the week or even the month, when I fell in love with her. A wedding is a specific event that can be observed. Forming a loving commitment is a natural ongoing process that must be experienced. This is why the only two Jewish holy days that do not have a proscribed specific date are the weekly Sabbath and the once a year Shavuot; a day commemorating the beginning of the partnership covenant commitment between God and Israel.

Being chosen is an event; choosing is a process. One day, propelled by my growing love for my beloved, I proposed marriage. Two weeks later, she finally said ‘Yes’. Four months later, on December 25, 1966 we were married. I may not know the exact day I fell in love enough to propose marriage, but I know it did happen, and that is really all that is important.

During fifty three subsequent anniversary celebrations our love has continued to grow. Experiencing each additional anniversary is more significant than our original wedding day. The consequences of the choice seem more important than the original choice itself; provided the choice was the right one. Yet without the choice to make the commitment, the natural desire to love and be loved, would be unexpressed and unrequited: a terrible loss for both partners.

Experiencing even a small aspect of God’s revelation is, like love, an ongoing process for each generation. Thus, both Shavuot and Laylah tul-Qadr have more than one fixed date. Very important things can have many fixed dates because they are ongoing events. Because Shavuot and Laylah tul-Qadr occur annually, means that some doors of divine mercy will always remain open; even though prophetic revelation has come to a conclusion.

It is not on what day God’s revelation occurred that is important, but whether you live your daily life now as directed by God’s revelation or not that is important

Believers still can, and do, receive power, knowledge, and enlightenment from the Holy One. After all, the night of power stands for salam and barakah, as the Qur’an says: “Salam! This ’till the rise of dawn” and “We revealed it in a night of barakah.” Salam (peace) and barakah (blessings) are best realized by those who become close to God’s revelations; for Jews this is Tikun Lail Shavuot, for Christians this is Pentecost, and for Muslims this is Laylah tul-Qadr.

That is why Christians, Jews, and Muslims can all agree that: “We believe in God and in what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, Isma’il: Isaac, Jacob and The Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another, among them, and to God do we bow our will (in Islam).” (Qur’an 3:84)

This article appeared yesterday (May 19, 2020) on the Islamic web site Islamicity.com.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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