According to many narrations, the eve of the 15th of Sha’baan, known as Laylatul-Baraa’a, is one of the most powerful nights in the Islamic calendar.
The month of Sha’baan is part of a three-month long trajectory of spirituality, a banquet of opportunity to benefit in the blessings of personal development and self-realisation. This period gifted by Allah starts with the month of Rajab culminating in the crescendo of Laylatul-Qadr, or the Night of Power in the holy month of Ramadhaan, where the following years’ divine decrees for the universe are ordained.
In these three months, great emphasis is laid on fasting during the days, standing in the nights for prayer, increased recitation of Qu’ran, supplication and devotional acts toward Allah. For example, in the supplication known as the Salawaat of Sha’baaniyyah, the holy Prophet Muhammad’s (s) great grandson, Ali ibn al-Hussain Zain al-‘Abideen (d. 95 AH) (a) would recite daily, “This is the month of Your Prophet and the Master of your Messengers. It is Sha’baan which you have encompassed with Your Mercy and Pleasure, and on which the Messenger of Allah used to observe fasting and used to spend it in acts of worship on all of its days and nights on account of Your honouring and dignifying this month, up until his death.”
Elsewhere, the Caliph ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib is recorded to have recited the Munajaat or intimate prayer of Sha’baniyyah each night including phenomenal verses such as, “Oh my Lord, I now imagine how I will stand before You, shaded by my good opinion of You on account of my trust in You. If my time of death is approaching while my deeds are too little to present to You, then consider this confession of being guilty as my means of proximity toward You.”
The merits of the 15th night of Sha’baan have been recorded in the major books of tradition and is generally agreed upon by all schools of thought. For example, in the Sunni school of tradition, the holy Prophet Muhammad (s) is narrated to have said, “Indeed Allah observes His creation on the night of the middle of Sha’baan and He forgives His creation except the polytheist and rancorous, envying person.”
In the Shi’i tradition, the night bears additional greatness for being the birthdate of the ‘Awaited Saviour of Humanity’, the Mahdi (a). One of its leading scholars, Sayyid ibn Tawus stated, “It is best to sanctify this night because of the birth of the ‘Awaited Leader’ in it. Let every person from mankind rise up on this night to gratify Allah for what He has bestowed on us through this noble man.”
As a Muslim, whether we believe the Mahdi has been or will be born is secondary. What is primary is our unifying belief in him, his mission and our desire to commit to his noble movement to spread justice and fulfilment throughout the world. That being the case, on such a holy night, so much linked to the ‘Awaited Saviour of Mankind’, there are many things we can do to benefit our preparation for the Mahdi, so as to maximise the spirituality of this night and strengthen our relationship with the Mahdiyyan movement.
1. Gaining a deeper insight and knowledge
The first and most important is to gain Ma’rifat, a deeper insight and cognisance as to who the Mahdi is, his role and methodology – not how we wish to arbitrarily define him. The Holy Qur’an emphasises the need, not of shallow appreciation of the prophetic models, but a genuine understanding of their personalities and movement.
In the story of the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) migration to Medina, Allah discusses the Jewish community waiting for the Prophet’s (s) arrival. According to narrations, they knew the Prophet’s name, his features, his role and even used to seek victory over their pagan antagonisers by invoking Allah through the Prophet’s name! Yet despite this, when he came to Medina, they rejected him. The Qur’an states, “And when there came to them a Book from Allah verifying that which they have, and since long before they used to pray for victory against those who disbelieve. But when there came to them (the Prophet) they did not recognise him, they disbelieved in him.” [2:89]
How is it that a community who longed for the Prophet Muhammad, knew his name and even prayed through him rejected the very same person they had sought for so long? This was because of a lack of genuine comprehension as to who he was. When the Prophet did not meet their definition of him, they belied and rejected him. The verse is not just historical, but rather is a lesson for us to not make the same mistake in awaiting the Mahdi, but upon his arrival, reject him due to a lack of awareness as to who he really is.
So, how do we gain that important insight? Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) (d. 148 AH) fantastically surmises the answer in nine words: He states, “Al-Mahdi acts, just as the Messenger of Allah acted.”
If you want to understand and prepare for the Mahdiyyan movement, understand and engage with the Prophetic movement. The best way to do that is to return to the holy Qur’an and reflect deeply upon aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s movement and relate the same questions to the Mahdi if he were to appear today, such as:
What were the circumstances of Arabia and the various demographics? How did the Prophet appeal to Arabia as a whole and relative to each demographic and how did that affect them? What sins and social practices did the Prophet have to change at the beginning? What characteristics did the Prophet use to bring about change? In which ways did people oppose the Prophet and how did that affect the societies response? What was the difference between the methods in Mecca and Medina? What were the qualities of the companions who helped the Prophet? How might I, with my skill set, aid the Prophet?
2. Benefitting from fasting
The second is benefitting from a bewildering narration between Ja’far as-Sadiq and his disciple ‘Abd al-Kareem. The companion addresses as-Sadiq and says, “I have taken it (an oath) upon myself to fast (every day) until the rising of al-Mahdi.”
Before I continue the narration, let us reflect on two issues: The first is that Ibn ‘Amr believed that the Mahdi’s appearance was not imminent, rather that there was to be a few generations to come and then an occultation. This suggests that the companion himself did not expect to witness the appearance of the Mahdi, but whether he was to live another ten, or twenty or fifty years or never witness the Mahdi, he was willing to prepare himself through this act of devotion and commitment, in his own way. Even if he imagined the Mahdi to be coming soon, Ibn ‘Amr must still account for the potential of it being decades away.
The second is that one may respond and say, ‘Surely this is extreme, to fast every day in preparation for Mahdi is excessive!’ Jafar as-Sadiq, being the foremost theologian and jurist of the time would thus never permit something excessive in the way of Islam, especially as the holy Qur’an adjures, “Do not go to extremes in your religion” (4:171 and 5:77).
How did Jafar as-Sadiq respond? He stated, “Fast! But do not fast when travelling, on the Two Eids, the days of the 11th, 12th and 13th of Dhul Hijjah or Days of Doubt.” Given that Jafar as-Sadiq guided his action demonstrated that he was pleased with and encouraged this commitment to the Mahdi and such personal forms of discipline!
What do we learn from this Hadith?
I am not suggesting we all take an oath to fast each day of our life, rather that it is inspirational to observe how committed companions of the earlier generations were to the Mahdi and their preparation for him. The question I ask myself as the night of the 15th of Sha’baan approaches is, ‘What commitment will I make to the Mahdi?’ Ibn ‘Amr did not know if he would get to witness al-Mahdi but that wasn’t his primary concern. Rather his commitment to and preparation for al-Mahdi a was priority and so we find ourselves asking, ‘What thing will I commit to in preparation of the Mahdi?’
3. Connecting with the Mahdi
The last piece of advise refers to the practise of writing to the Mahdi known as Areezah. Many Muslims, wishing to increase their link with the Mahdi, write on a piece of paper addressing their hopes in Allah to increase our faith, sustenance, health, family, education and success in the hereafter. This practise invokes the verse of the Qur’an “Oh you who believe! Have God-consciousness, and seek a means of nearness to Him (swt) and strive hard in His cause so that you may succeed,” [5:35] and goes back centuries when companions would write to the ‘Awaited Saviour’ in the hope for connection and intercession.
For those Muslims that practise or would like to practise this tradition, I suggest performing it in two ways. With your first letter, imagine yourself in the position of the Mahdi, the ‘Awaited Saviour of Humanity’ and ‘The flag of guidance in our era’. Ask this question to yourself: If I were the Mahdi writing to me, what would he say to me on that letter? What would he address with me? His guidance, his concerns, his recommendations, his advise, his priorities, his awareness for me… for your family… for your community… for your country… for your world…
And then begin to write, to yourself, as if the ‘Leader of Mankind’, God’s representative on earth, were writing to you…
Your experience of the Areezah tradition will drastically evolve, I promise you. You will view the letter from the perspective of the Mahdi and his expectations of you, as oppose to your expectations in him. Your appreciation of the devotional act will have taken a 180 degree turn.
Having finished that first letter and seen the content of ‘his’ address to you, now begin to write your Areezah to him. Observe the content. Does the Mahdi’s concerns match yours? Does his guidance match what you had supplicated to Allah about on the grand night of 15th Sha’baan? What did he wish to convey to you that is similar or different to your letter to him?
In these days of war, famine, occupation, poverty, disease, corruption forced migration and disaster, the Muslim community and the world is in desperate need of Allah’s ‘Promised Saviour’. Sadly, the Muslim community is quickly forgetting preparation for his movement. Many instead, are oblivious to al-Mahdi or vesting its hope in politicians, false Caliphs, charities or corporations to bring about justice. Certainly there needs to be an urgent refocus on the Mahdi and our relationship with his coming.
The night of the 15th of Sha’baan reminds us that all Abrahamic faiths believe in an Awaited Saviour. Islam however, has an active theology, encouraging our engagement with al-Mahdi, by praying for his hastening and preparing ourselves to partake in his movement. Through our own preparations will we be able to help prepare others to assist in that final movement for justice and equity on earth
May this be our last year of waiting for al-Mahdi and may tonight bring us much benefit, however, we choose to engage in its blessings.
 إن الله ليطلع ليلة النصف من شعبان، فيغفر لجميع خلقه، إلا لمشرك أو مشاحن (Ibn Majah, at-Tabarani and authenticated by Albani)
 ينبغي ان يكون تعظيم هذه الليلة لأجل ولادته عند المسلمين و المعترفين بحقوق إقامته ، أقول وليقم كل انسان لله جل جلاله في هذه الليلة بقدر شكر ما من الله عز وجل عليه بهذا السلطان (As-Sahifa al-Mahdawiyyah, Supplication for the Night of the Middle of Sha’baan)
 المهدي ع يصنع كما صنع رسول الله ص
 ‘Eid al-Fitr and ‘Eid al-Adh’ha
 Ayyaam at-Tashreeq, communal days of celebration
 Such as doubt whether it is the last day of Sha’baan or Shahr Ramadan, which require a specific intention
 أني جعلت على نفسي ان أصوم حتى يقوم القائم ، صُم و لا تصم في السفر و لا العيدين و لا ايام التشريق و لا اليوم الذي يشك فيه (Wasaa’il as-Shi’a, Book of Fasting, Chapter 6, Hadith no. 3