Khaled Hanafi, member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars

Original article in Arabic (translated with minor adaptations by Maha Ezzeddine)

Muslims across the globe are busy this week seeking out the Night of Glory (Laylat al-Qadr), hoping to win its boundless rewards. Worship coinciding with the golden opportunity of Laylat al-Qadr will multiply the deeds of a lifetime. Allah, The Exalted, said in the Surah named after this auspicious night, “The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months.” (97:3) 

Imam Ar-Razi, a great scholar of Quranic explanation (tafsir), wrote, “Understand that worshipping on that night is like worshipping Allah for more than eighty years. So when someone worships every year on that night, it is like being blessed with multiple lifespans.” Many scholars of tafsir point out that the status of the Night of al-Qadr actually exceeds one thousand months, for the verse does not say “equal to” rather, “better than one thousand months.” 

It is hard to conceive of any action or occasion of more value and importance than Laylat al-Qadr. But there are two sahih hadith that identify something even better in status and reward. 

Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that while he was on guard duty at the coast, an alert was raised, and the people rushed to the coastline. When it turned out to be a false alarm, everyone left but Abu Hurairah, who remained standing on the shore. Someone asked him, “Why are you still standing here, Abu Hurairah?” He replied, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (s) say, ‘To stand watch for one hour in the way of God is better than standing in prayer near the Black Stone on Laylat al-Qadr.” 

(Ibn Hiban, Al-Baihaqi, graded sahih by Al-Arna’ut)

Keep in mind the scale of this reward. A prayer at the Kabah is worth 100,000 prayers, which means that those who pray at the Black Stone on Laylat al-Qadr may be receiving reward of an immense order of magnitude – immeasurable lifetimes of reward.

Ibn Umar related that the Prophet (s) said, “Shall I tell you about a night that is even better than Laylat al-Qadr? A guard keeping watch in a dangerous place, knowing not whether he will return to his family.” 

(Al-Baihaqi, Al-Hakim, An-Nasa’i, graded sahih by Al-Albani)

These two hadith come together to correct a misunderstanding prevalent among Muslims. The hadiths reject the idea of the absolution of the individual and his or her detachment from the concerns of the global community of Muslims (the ummah) and those of humanity as a whole. Standing in prayer on Laylat al-Qadr, as tremendous as its status may be, is less in reward than ribat, standing vigil for the sake of Allah. This is because the impact of the former is limited to the individual, while the latter extends beyond the individual to benefit the entire community. 

A New Understanding

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, we must use these hadiths to mobilize the proactive, movement-oriented spirit of Muslims, guiding them to leverage the spiritual provision of worship and night prayers in order to shoulder the burdens of their ummah. In order to serve effectively in the way of Allah and mobilize collectively for His sake, we must first lay a resilient spiritual foundation. This strong connection with Allah, this purity of soul and self, is what drives the individual to serve in the cause of Allah. This is emphasized in a hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (s) say, “Two eyes will not be touched by fire: the eye that cries in humility before Allah, and the eye that spends the night on guard for the sake of Allah.”

Now the question arises: Does ribat (standing guard) for the sake of Allah, and the reward of praying near the Black Stone on Laylat al-Qadr, refer only to the literal meaning of standing guard, essentially the job of a soldier?

Ribat has traditionally meant to stand guard at a vulnerable frontier, where people fear attack. However it is clear, and Allah knows best, that ribat is a much broader concept – one of vigilant service in the way of Allah. Shoring up the vulnerabilities of the ummah in knowledge, education, and resources is no less vital than guarding a physical frontier, for the more an action protects and benefits others, the greater the reward it yields. Many acts of sacrifice and service fall under the broad category of ribat and standing for an hour in the way of God. An hour here refers to a period of time rather than a literal sixty minutes. It is possible that a decision-maker enacts a measure in the span of a few moments that would relieve hardship and injustice upon thousands of people.

Below are some of the examples and contexts in which these two aforementioned hadiths can be applied, in which one may reap a reward greater than standing in prayer near the Black Stone on Laylat al-Qadr:

1. Ribat in fulfilling the needs of people and relieving their afflictions

The Coronavirus epidemic has left millions of people without jobs and income. Spending your time and effort in serving the needs of people, supporting relief projects and institutions, can be considered precious hours spent guarding and protecting for the sake of God. This is further emphasized by the hadith narrated by Umar ibn al-Khattab, in which the Prophet (s) was asked which action was the best. He (s) said, ‘Bringing happiness to another believer – relieving his hunger, clothing his nakedness, or taking care of a need.” This hadith is good news for whoever stands vigil in serving the needs of brothers and sisters, filling their hungry bellies. It is good news for a business owner who insists on paying employees their salaries, loyal to them in times of hardship as they were loyal in times of ease. 

2. Ribat of scholars and intellectuals in the worship halls of knowledge and tarbiyah

Working to address the intellectual gaps of the ummah and educating the younger generation is a responsibility of utmost importance, especially in a time when Islam is under vicious attack. We must have scholars and thinkers dedicated to compiling and advancing the identity, legacy, and history of the ummah. This is the task carried by a select few, but the benefit of their scholarship and knowledge is multifold and far-reaching. The Quran instructs that there always be a group of scholars who devote themselves to learning and teaching the religion, warning their people and guiding their understanding, even during times of military mobilization:

“It is not necessary for the believers to march forth all at once. Only a party from each group should march forth, leaving the rest to gain religious knowledge then enlighten their people when they return to them, so that they can guard themselves against evil.” (9:122)

Although Surah at-Tawbah chastised those who lagged behind for selfish reasons in the Tabuk Expedition at the time of the Prophet (s), it emphasizes in the end that there must be a group of scholars who stay behind and remain committed to pursuing knowledge. The use of military force would be illegitimate without the validation of true scholarship and understanding.

3. Ribat of prisoners of conscience, standing against injustice, dictatorship and corruption

Thousands of youth, activists, scholars, and memorizers of the Quran – the best people of our ummah – remain in jail cells for no reason other than speaking truth in the face of injustice. There is no doubt that their suffering in prison is an enduring, historic vigil in the way of God, better for them than standing the night in prayer near the Black Stone on Laylat al-Qadr. Their years of imprisonment will be a source of tremendous anguish and torture for their captors, in this life and the hereafter.

4. Ribat of those who serve the truth and the best interest of human beings

The role of security personnel in society has been tarnished by armies that serve the interests of those in power and police forces that fail to protect their own people. In reality, guarding the security of one’s country and community is one of the most obvious examples of standing guard for the sake of Allah, and it is the example directly referred to in the hadiths. Unfortunately, many of the security forces and militaries of our time have failed to embody any semblance of these meanings, abusing their authority over people while failing to uphold the principles of justice and freedom. 

5. Ribat of medical personnel

If the soldier is in ribat while guarding the safety of his people, then doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel must also be in ribat, standing vigil to guard human life through research, prevention, care, and treatment. Exposing their own bodies to the risk of infection and enduring tortuous working conditions, it is no surprise that these soldiers have been dubbed the “white army.”

6. Ribat of principled journalists and artists

Media is one of the most powerful weapons and can be wielded for good or evil. It can expose injustice, highlight social problems and shape policy and public understanding. The Muslim community has fallen miserably short in this field, to the point that we are reduced to mere consumers preyed upon by others. The Muslims who are striving to fill this gap in the field of media are protecting a weak flank of our ummah, correcting misunderstandings, addressing our need for healthy art forms and entertainment alternatives, while raising the morale of Muslim youth and bolstering their sense of identity. No doubt this is also a form of ribat.

7. Ribat of the workers who sustain Islamic organizations and institutions

Despite limited resources, the organizations and institutions of the Muslim community in the West are shouldering a heavy responsibility in the face of many challenges. Many men and women volunteers, may Allah accept from them, worked tirelessly day and night to establish these organizations that play a crucial role in preserving the Muslim identity. These organizations and institutions attempt to fulfill the ummah’s responsibility of conveying clearly the message of Islam in non-Muslim countries. We pray for those people who work together in these organizations, standing vigil together, for many hours in the way of Allah: that they have a reward greater than standing in prayer near the Black Stone on Laylat al-Qadr. 

Allah, help us attain Laylat al-Qadr, fortify us with taqwa, and allow it to be our springboard into a perpetual ribat, standing guard in the way of Allah, until we finally meet Him.