Muslims believe that Allah sent the entire Quran down from the seventh heaven to the first heaven during Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power). Then the angel Gabriel progressively revealed it to Muhammad over 23 years, from 610-632 AD.
No one is completely sure which night this was. Most believe that the Quran was sent down during one of the last ten or so nights of Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting. Many believe it was on the 27th night of Ramadan. Most Shia Muslims believe it was the 23rd night.
The authority for this belief is Surah 97 of the Quran, which is named “Power” (al-Qadr):
1We sent it down in the Night of Power. 2But how can you know what is the Night of Power? 3The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. 4In it, the angels and the Spirit are sent swarming down, by their Lord’s leave, attending to every command. 5Peace is it that Night, till the break of dawn.
The entire month of Ramadan is a time of special spiritual blessing, but the last ten days are considered the holiest nights of the year because Muslims believe the Quran was sent down then.
Laylat al-Qadr is believed to be the night in which heaven is opened and God responds to prayer in a way unlike any other night of the year. Many believe, from Surah 97, that this one night is more spiritually blessed than a thousand months – 83 years – an entire lifetime!
Some Muslims believe that Allah sets in motion his good decrees for each year during Laylat al-Qadr, which can also be translated “The Night of Destiny.” An often-cited Hadith, a traditional saying of Muhammad, says: “Whoever establishes the prayers on Laylat al-Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven” (Bukhari 1.2.34).
Muslims believe that because an entire chapter of the Quran is devoted to this night, they must approach the night with great faith, zeal in prayer, and earnestness. Laylat al-Qadr is a celebration of the giving of the Quran.
In many traditions, Muslim men spend additional time in prayer at the mosque during the last ten nights of Ramadan. Women, too, seek to spend more time in prayer and meditation during this 10-day period. During Laylat al-Qadr, Muslims stay in the mosque all night, reading the Quran and praying. They also eat their pre-dawn breakfast the following morning in the mosque.
The first 20 days of Ramadan are seen as preparation for the final 10 days of fasting. Muslims should be the most zealous and most sincere during the final days of fasting, with Laylat al-Qadr being the pinnacle of blessing.
Iranian Shias also use Laylat al-Qadr to commemorate the death of Imam Ali, the fourth successor to Muhammad. They place a copy of the Quran on their heads while praying, as their way of honoring the Quran on this important night.
In many cultures, though, Laylat al-Qadr is mostly a big all-night party, in which people spend the night eating special foods, enjoying popular music, and spending time celebrating with thousands of others out on the streets.