By Jenna Kleinwort
By Jenna Kleinwort
Casablanca – The Laylat al Qadr, or the Night of Destiny, is one of the holiest nights in Ramadan. During the Night of Destiny, the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. It falls on one of the odd nights during the last ten days of Ramadan, but it is widely believed to fall on the 27th day of the fast.
As this night is said to be the one where prayers are received the best – the Quran calls it “better than a thousand months”- many Muslims pray and recite throughout the whole night in to have their previous sins forgiven.
This year’s Laylat al Qadr was on Wednesday, June 21. I decided to go see the prayer at the biggest mosque in Morocco and the 13th biggest one in the world, the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. Experiencing the prayer, however, turned out more difficult than expected. Due to a visit of King Mohammed VI, who commemorated Laylat al Qadr at the Hassan II mosque, the whole square was closed off when I arrived at 10.30 pm. I wondered if only selected people were allowed to attend the commemoration.
So, instead of people praying outside the mosque, I saw only a lot of security and cars. When the commemoration service ended at 11 pm, there were only a couple of hundred people in the square. People who had prayed in the commemoration service seemed to be leaving the mosque.
I talked to three young men from Casablanca who had come to the mosque. They were all prepared, wearing their djellaba- the Moroccan traditional gown- carrying their prayer carpets under their arms. They told me they were surprised by King Mohammad’s visit and were now planning on going home to eat dinner. In Moroccan households Couscous is traditionally served on Laylat al Qadr. They were planning on coming back to the Mosque at 3 am and told me that there would be a lot of people praying there until 3.30 am.
Sure enough, preparations for the big prayer seemed to have begun. Large carpets were being laid out in front of the mosque and speakers were already set up.
Some people were sitting in the square. It seemed, however, that not much would be happening until a few hours later. I decided to try to get some more information on what was going to happen and talked to a café owner. He confirmed the time of the big prayer to be 3 am, but he was convinced that it would not be possible for non- Muslims to see it. He offered to show me how to get to the Souk after closing his coffee shop at 1 am.
During Laylat al Qadr the Souk is crowded all night. There are the regular fruit, vegetable and meat mongers and stalls that offer clothes, kitchen equipment and whatever else you might need.
In Laylat al Qadr, though, something is different. There are big plateaus with metallic golden or silver couches, decorated with flowers of all colours. Professional photographers take photos of children that are dressed up like miniature bride and grooms. Girls have their hair and make-up done and the boys wear shiny child-size caftans. It’s a custom here in Morocco. In general, the last ten days of Ramadan are supposed to be celebrated.
In a juice shop at the end of the Souk, I meet Raschid, a gentleman aged around 70 years. He wears a beige festive embroidered Jabador and a matching little knitted hat. He explains to me the importance of Laylat al Qadr. “Tonight is a special night. It is the night where our sins are forgiven,” he says. In contrast to the owner of the coffee shop, he is convinced that it is possible to see the big prayer and to even take photos of it. Yet another opinion. Raschid finishes his juice, then waves at me, his silver rings on his fingers sparkling and says his “Masaalama” as he walks off, headed toward the mosque. It’s time to make my way to the mosque, too. When the call to prayer sounds, people are drawn to the mosque and seem to be coming toward it from all directions.
As I get there, hundreds of believers have gathered behind barriers in the square in front of the mosque, engaged in their prayers. Some people who are not praying linger outside the cordoned-off area, engaged in conversation as children play in the grass fields. I notice that the sections where men and women pray are divided. In the front section, close to the main entrance to the mosque and the minaret, is the men’s section. In the back, closer to the waterfront are the women.
My eyes take in a powerful image. The voice of the Imam reading out sections of the Quran sounds out of the speakers. The first section of the prayer is prayed while standing up. The caftans and jellabas the men are wearing blow against the breeze. This is followed by a section in the prayer where everybody kneels, head toward the ground. Ocean waves become visible in the background.
After the last sounds of the prayer at 3.30 am, people gather their prayer carpets, small Qurans and other belongings and go to find their family members, husbands, wives or friends in the masses. Some eat dates they have brought or savour a sip of water. Photos of the mosque are taken, before everyone begins to make their way home, where many of them will continue praying and reading the Quran.
This Night of Destiny has left impressive and powerful memories. The beautifully lit mosque, ocean waves, the sound of the Quran verses being read and so many people praying in unity. And, of course, how could I forget Raschid in his beige caftan and matching little knitted hat.