Laylat al-Qadr or Shab-e-Qadr (the Night of Decree or Night of Measures) is the night that Muslims believed the first verses of the Koran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
Shi’a Muslims believe that this may have occurred on one of three nights during the month of Ramadan: the 19th, the 21st and the 23rd. The 19th and the 21st are also the dates of the assassination and death of the first Shi’a saint, Imam Ali.
The faithful stay up until dawn on each of these nights in prayer, usually in large gatherings at people’s homes (called the ahya) or at a mosque and the ceremony ends by placing the Koran on your head and saying a prayer in unison.
I have attended a few ahyas, as my grandfather’s family has, for generations held an ahya on the 21st of Ramadan in our hometown in Khuzestan. Even during the war, when the entire family was scattered around the country as refuges, there would be a small ahya in the house in the outskirts of the city where my grandparents were staying, and people would drop by to get my grandmother’s nazri.
From weeks before, my grandfather’s home and the neighborhood mosque is bustling with activity, with chefs and prayer readers and organizers. The men go to the mosque, but the women are personally invited by my grandmother to the house. People start arriving around 11 p.m. and stay until the wee hours of the morning when they eat their sahari (the morning meal they eat before fasting).
Whenever I was there, they’d let me “help” in making soups and salads and sholeh zard, but my favorite activity of all was getting to pick and juice naranj, possibly my favorite fruit of all, a sweet/sour orange with a glorious scent. You have not lived until you have tried the Khuzestan naranj because it is quite sour in other regions.
The most prominent state sponsored event on these three nights is held at Imam Khomeini’s mausoleum which is headed and organized by his family, most especially his grandson, Hassan Khomeini. Key to these three ceremonies is the speaker, and Khatami, Rafsanjani and Nateq Nouri have long been key note speakers at this event. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Karoubi have always attended, and will do so again this year.
The tradition started it when, in 1997, Khatami and Nateq Nouri were running against each other in the presidential election. According to the will of Ayatollah Khomeini, the beyt (his family) should not be involved in politics. So Hassan Khomeini tipped them to be speakers on two of the three nights – as not to show favor for one side. And they have remained ever since. Rafsanjani also occasionally speaks.
Now Tabnak writes that Hassan Khomeini is under severe pressure to erase their names from the list of speakers. Tabnak writes that “many news sites have quoted security officials as saying that if Khatami and Rafsanjani are allowed to speak over four million people may attend these ceremonies.”
Hassan Khomeini refused to attend Ahmadinejad’s inauguration, though he has attended previous ones, and just a few nights ago when the government delegation was at the mausoleum, he refused to meet them, which is customary as well. This has given the pro-government factions a reason to scream that the “beyt” it becoming political, despite the Ayatollah’s wish.
Personally, I think this is no longer a political issue, like Khatami vs. Nateq was 12 years ago. It’s a matter of life and death and I hope the beyt has the courage to stand up for it.
I should mention that every year these speeches were broadcast LIVE on IRIB – I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that they “may” not be this time around. Here’s a photo of Khatami in a previous ceremony:
Nateq Nouri always spoke on the 19th, and Khatami on the 21st.