The auspicious Night on the 15th of Shaban, known as Lailat-ul-Barat, and popularly known as Shab-e-Barat in this sub-continent, is indeed a glorious and important occasion in the life of every God-fearing Muslim. Both the words `Lailat’ in Arabic and `Shab’ in Persian mean `Night’, and `Baraat’ stands for `Salvation’ or `Privilege’. It is on this auspicious Night of Privilege or Night of Salvation that Benign Providence, in His infinite Mercy, blesses each and every human being 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 (R.A.) that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "On this Night," from the moment the sun sets, Allah descends into the firmament of this earth and goes on asking till sunrise: "Is there any seeker of salvation, so that I may give it to him; is there any one in need of food, so that I may feed him; is there any one suffering, so that I may cure him?"
The Encyclopaedia of Islam, published in Leiden, The Netherlands corroborates this claim when it says, "In Hadith it is said that in this Night Allah descends to the lowest heaven, from there He calls mortals in order to grant them forgiveness of sins." (Tirmidhi Sunan, B.39) (Tirmidhi’s Sunan is also considered to be one of the six authentic traditional works). No wonder, the holy Prophet (peace be upon him), the best of all creations, the Ashraf amongst the Ashraful Makhluqats, never failed to avail this unique and glorious opportunity and himself used to pray all through this auspicious Night every year with a view to receiving Mercy from the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful Allah.
Lailat-ul-Baraat has not been mentioned directly or specifically in the Holy Quran, but that does in no way empower any Muslim to ignore or make little of the Divine Excellence of the Night of Salvation simply because there are numerous authentic Hadith and evidence which testify so eloquently to the fact that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) himself used to say special prayers on this holy night. Records are there that on one occasion he (peace be upon him) spent half of this auspicious Night of Privilege through a Nafl prayer of two rakat and the rest of the Night through a long `Sejda’ or Prostration. What is more, the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to offer this prayer with inimitable dedication and unfathomable concentration. Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (R.A.) reported that on one such occasion the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was so deeply absorbed in his meditation that she became awfully nervous and thought that he (peace be upon him) had shuffled off the mortal coil. On another occasion, according to Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (R.A.), our holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said his prayers on this sacred night with such unparalleled devotion and dedication that his feet got swollen.
It is also reported that the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Allah forgives every Muslim in this Night. He does not, however, forgive the Mushrek, the jealous, the cruel and the adulterer". (Baihaqi) There are also many Hadith which very clearly indicate that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) not only said special prayers in this sacred Night but also visited the graveyards and prayed for the departed souls. He also instructed his wives to honour the sanctity and Divine Majesty of this blessed Night. There is also an authentic Hadith which states that Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) went to Jannatul Baqi on this Mubarak Night in search of the holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
It is not only the renowned traditionalists who champion the sacredness and excellence of the Night of privilege but even a great and universally respected saint and scholar like Hazrat Syed Abdul Quader Jilani (RA), popularly known as Hazrat Bara Pir Sahib, testifies in his Guniatut Talebin that Bibi Ayesha Siddiqa (RA) herself heard the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) saying, "Allah Opens the Doors of Mercy and Grace for the mankind on four Nights - the two Nights of Eids, the Night of the 15th of Sha’ban, and the Night of Arafat." (The two other Nights, Shab-e-Qadr and Shab-e-Miraj, have been specifically referred to in the Holy Quran). "The Doors remain open throughout the Nights till the Fajr prayers."
Glorious incidents like these testify so brilliantly to the holy Prophet’s (peace be upon him) belief in the importance, sanctity, serenity and divine excellence of the auspicious Night of Privilege.
It is claimed that on the holy Night of Privilege the heavenly tree Sidratul-Muntaha, specifically mentioned in the holy Quran (LIII:4), is shaken to decide who shall die in the following year. "According to popular belief", says the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "in the night preceding the 15th of Sha’ban the tree of life on whose leaves are written the names of the living is shaken. The names written on the leaves which fall down indicate those who are 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 in the coming year. (Sidratul-Muntaha has been mentioned twice in the Holy Quran). No wonder the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) himself advised all not to forget or foolishly ignore the sacred importance and sanctity of the Night of Privilege.
Lailat-ul-Barat (or Lailat al-Bara’a), the Night of Quittancy in the words of the 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 (peace be upon him). It is true that hundreds and thousands of Muslims in Bangladesh 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 merry-making 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 farther from the truth. 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. There are also some who try to equate Halwas and Rotis with the sacred Night of Privilege, claiming that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) lost a few teeth in the Battle of Ohud on the 15th of Shaban and hence people should not cook anything hard as a mark of respect to the historic incident. Some also claim that Hazrat Amir Hamza (RA) embraced martyrdom on the 15th of Shaban. Both these claims are totally baseless as both the incidents occurred in the month of Shawal and had simply nothing to do with the 15th or any other day of the month of Shaban. There is no harm if delicious Halwas and other sweetmeats are cooked on this occasion, but let these be prepared only to be shared with the poor and the have-nots. The very spirit of such a noble and auspicious occasion will be lost if those who are affluent fail to share the good fortunes with those who are less privileged. Our duty on this Night of Privilege or Night of Salvation is not only to seek Divine Mercy but also to seek the path of goodness, kindness, upright conduct and charity - to be always on toes to respond to the cry of the needies, to stand by the word that is pledged, to bear true witness, to remove all artificial differences between man and man and all causes of misunderstanding in our dealings with fellow brethren in every sphere of activity, in every domain of thought.