Waiting for the Angels to Come

image credit: Barun Patro

Written & Contributed by Soha Al-Jurf

We have indeed revealed this message in the Night of Power:

And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is?

The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.

Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission,

On every errand:

Peace…this until the rise of dawn.

–The Quran, 97:1-5

When I was young, my mother told me there is a very special night of the year when the heavens open up and all of the angels come down to the earth. It’s called Laylt il Qadr, which means “The Night of Power” or “The Night of Destiny” in Arabic. It was the night during the Holy Month of Ramadan when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad.

My mother told me that on Laylt il Qadr, Muslims are encouraged to stay awake all night praying, and that people who pray in faith and sincerity will be absolved of all of their sins. She said that many people read the Quran, but, since I couldn’t read the Quran because my Arabic wasn’t very strong, she told me I could just say what was in my heart, and God would hear my prayers and answer me.

I found the idea of angels descending upon the earth enchanting. For years, I set an intention to stay awake all night and pray on Laylt il Qadr, not necessarily with any hope of achieving absolute redemption, but from a desire for peace in my heart. But, it never happened. I fell asleep, or I blew it off, or I simply forgot about it altogether. Afterwards, I felt deep regret that I might have missed an opportunity to experience a deep connection with the Divine, and I promised myself I’d do it the following year.

Last year, I decided to ask a friend of mine if we could spend the night in prayer together. Like me, his knowledge of the Quran was somewhat limited. But, he knew more verses from the Quran than I did, and he had spoken to me of specific verses that he loved. I wanted him to share those verses with me.

My friend lived in a different city, so he agreed to read Quran to me over the telephone while I listened. I had thought he would select certain passages that he liked; passages about love and compassion and unity. Apparently, I hadn’t communicated this to him clearly enough, and he came onto the call without having chosen any specific passages. Instead, we decided that he would just open the Quran to an arbitrary page, and start to read.

This soon proved to be somewhat disastrous, as the first passage he read was about eternal hellfire and damnation. This was not what I’d had in mind when I asked for his participation, and, in fact, it was the very thing that typically turned me away from religion. He quickly moved on from that passage to another passage, but, for some reason, every passage he chose seemed to revert back to some variation on the theme of hellfire and damnation. This did not bode well for my already shaky relationship with Islam.

Further complicating the issue was the fact that the Quran is extremely difficult to understand, and people generally rely on scholarly interpretation to form a complete picture of the message that is being conveyed. We were clearly missing something by taking these passages out of context.

After about an hour of searching for those beautiful, mystical parts of our Holy Book that we knew to be plentiful in the Quran, but finding none, our little prayer ritual came to a disheartening end. My desire for spiritual connection went unfulfilled, and my fantasy about this holy night was pretty well shattered. But not entirely destroyed.

Following my disappointing experience with last year’s Night of Destiny, this year, I was even more determined to experience the promised holiness of this powerful night. I was particularly motivated because my heart had been carrying a burden for some time that I desperately wanted to be rid of. Laylt il Qadr seemed to be a perfect time to ask for guidance.

I’m not very keen on ritualized prayer; I generally prefer sitting in stillness and watching my breath go in and out, while listening for guidance or just listening. So, on the 27th night of Ramadan, instead of doing formal prayers, I set up my meditation pillow on the rug in my bedroom. I sat cross-legged on the floor, covered my legs with a red, chenille blanket, and waited for the angels to come.

Nothing happened. Minutes went by, but there were no angels, or, at least, none that I could discern. It was a bit awkward, actually; I wasn’t really sure what I should do. I had been certain that it would only be a matter of minutes before something really profound occurred. I thought it would be obvious. But it wasn’t obvious. It struck me that I might not know how to recognize the angels if they did come.

I listened uneasily to the silence. I opened my eyes, looked around the dark room a bit, then closed my eyes again. I uncrossed and re-crossed my legs. I shifted a bit on my cushion, trying to find exactly the right position in which to hold my body still. I told myself to settle down; to just sit. I waited there in darkness, propped up on a cushion on the floor, not quite knowing what else to do.

I recited the few verses from the Quran that I had memorized as a child, but I only knew a few, so that ended quickly. Repeating them over and over again felt contrived, so I stopped.

I was about to give up and go to sleep, when I remembered what my mother had told me about just saying what was in my heart. But I didn’t know what was in my heart; I felt as if there was a heavy boulder sitting on my chest, blocking me from knowing what was underneath it.  That was what I needed God to help me with; I needed Him to help me remove that boulder. But I wasn’t aware of any prayer for removing boulders, though I suspected there was one.

After a few more moments of sitting there, it occurred to me to begin where I was, and simply ask Him. I decided to speak to God using the words that were authentic for me in that moment.

“God,” I said, “I feel drawn to pray, but I need your guidance. What prayer should I pray?”

I settled into my body and waited for peacefulness come over me. Soon, a voice from somewhere that felt as if it were both inside of me and outside of me said, “Here is your prayer: ‘God, please make me humble.’

If you pray this prayer in earnest, it will rid your heart of suffering. For, if you succeed in achieving humility, all other afflictions will simply fall away.

When you are humble, you treat everyone you encounter as if he or she is the bearer of great wisdom that you are eager to receive because you know you are ignorant about many things. 

When you are humble, there is no room for jealousy because you are not looking at what others have and wondering why they have been blessed with something that you think you deserve instead.

When you are humble, you are relieved of the anxiety that comes from the threat of losing things, because you recognize how fortunate you are to have what you now possess. You know that anything, anyone, can be taken away from you in an instant.

When you are humble, you accept things as they are, without the delusions of how you would prefer they be instead.

When you are humble, there is no place for hatred, because light fills all the spaces of your being.

When you are humble, you are not afraid to give, and you don’t desire praise when you do.

When you are humble, you are content to live with little. You are not ashamed to collect garbage or wash another’s garments or sweep the hallways and clean other people’s toilets.

It is humility that causes you to prostrate and surrender to a higher power, because you lack the arrogance to think that you are in control of your destiny.

There is a naivety to humility that allows your mind to be clear. With a clear mind, there is no suffering. There is no struggle. There is no thought to guide you this way or that, to confuse the reality of your profound and inescapable vulnerability. 

When there is humility, there is respect—there is no room for judgment or contempt.

When you are humble, you no longer take offense when somebody threatens your fragile ego. You do not perceive another’s disparaging comments as an insult; instead, you hear in their words the opportunity to look inward and see if there is some part of you that needs improvement.

When you are humble, you find the strength to speak from an open heart because you lack the fear of humiliation.

When you are humble, you accept what is given to you with gratitude, whether that offering seems to be a blessing or a curse, as you know there is merit to both the light and the dark when you are on a spiritual path.

When you are humble you keep your home immaculately clean, making it an inviting place for yourself, your family, and unexpected guests, whether it is a palace or a tiny hut. You know that your home is an outer reflection of your inner world, and you want it to reflect your openness and inner purity.

When you are humble you assume that others’ intentions are good, so you do not feel threatened or defensive.

When you are humble, you are unable to hold onto resentment, because there is no tension in your body to carry its great burden. Forgiveness is deemed unnecessary, because there is nothing held to let go of.

When you are humble, you see no need for anger, because it does not concern you whether you are right or wrong, winning or losing, ahead or behind. You seek only union.

When you are humble you do not mind losing sleep to tend to a loved-one, or even a stranger who is in need. You are content to remain awake all night, sitting faithfully in the darkness in heartfelt prayer, waiting for the angels to come.”

By the end of this meditation, focusing on the essence of humility, my heart felt expansive and clear. Instead of carrying a boulder in my chest, I now carried a simple but powerful prayer: God, please make me humble. Reciting it over and over again, I could feel how deeply it affected me, and I knew that it would serve me profoundly as a way to ground myself in my daily practice.

Just before the sun began to rise, I finally went to sleep, in utter peacefulness and contentment. It truly was a holy night.

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