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Shaʿbān 15th is the birthday of the Twelfth Imam (a). According to some hadiths, after Laylat al-Qadr, the night before Sha'ban 15th is the most honorable night. Some Shiites stay vigilant at this night and perform religious practices. Some Sunni Muslims, especially Sufis, also respect the night and stay vigilant.
Celebrations of Sha'ban 15th with illuminations and decorations of streets are the biggest Shiite celebrations that are held at the occasion of Imam al-Mahdi (a)'s birthday in Shiite areas. In Iran, many people gather in the Jamkaran Mosque, and in Iraq, people go to Karbala and visit Holy Shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a). Sha'ban 15th is an official holiday in Iran and is called the "World Day of the Impoverished". The night is also known as the night of Barat, Kandili Barat (in Turkish) and Laylat al-Sikk (in Arabic).
There are hadiths from the Prophet (s) and Shiite Imams (a) emphasizing the importance of vigilance and worship the night before Sha'ban 15th. According to a hadith, the Prophet (s) was awakened by Gabriel the night before Sha'ban 15th and he recommended the Prophet (s) to say prayers, recite the Quran and supplications, and istighfar at this night. According to another hadith, one of the Prophet (s)'s wives reported that he especially worshiped and had long sajdas during the night before Sha'ban 15th. According to hadiths from Imam 'Ali (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a), there are certain worships and practices that are recommended at this night.
There are other hadiths that emphasize the importance of Sha'ban 15th because of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) birthday.
- Barat: "barat" is a promissory note, document or a check with which one can receive money or anything else from someone else. A spiritual promissory note is called "barat" and since God gives people a promissory note to protect them against the Hell at this night, the night is called "barat".
- Laylat al-Sikk: the word "sikk" (Arabic: الصک) is the Arabic variation of the word "check" in English which is equivalent to the word "barat".
- Barat Kandili: In Turkey the night before Sha'ban 15th is called "Barat Kandili".
- Night of Freedom: in Southern Asia, the night before Sha'ban 15th is called the Night of Freedom.
Imam al-Mahdi's (a) Birthday
According to several historical reports, Imam al-Mahdi (a) was born on Sha'ban 15th, 255/August 2nd, 869.
There are many hadiths concerning the importance and virtues of the night before Sha'ban 15th as well as the day of Sha'ban 15th. Here are some virtues of the night:
- The doors of happiness, livelihood and beneficence are opened at the night before Sha'ban 15th,
- Each person's share of livelihood as well as the times of their deaths are determined,
- All people are forgiven by God except polytheists, gamblers, people who have cut their family ties, people who drink wine and people who insist on committing sins,
- It is the most superior night after Laylat al-Qadr.
According to Sunni Muslims
Sha'ban 15th is not only important for Shiites; it is also important for some Sunni Muslims, especially Sufis. There are several hadiths from the Prophet (s) and Sahaba vis-à-vis the importance of worshiping God at the night before Sha'ban 15th as well as people's livelihood and fates being determined at this night. Some Sunni scholars doubted the reliability of such hadiths and rejected the virtues of the night before Sha'ban 15th. However, Ibn Taymiyya, the Salafi theorist, could not deny the virtues of this night, though he held that it is heretical to congregate in mosques to stay vigilant at this night and say 100 rak'as of prayers recommended to be performed at this night. Likewise, other Salafi scholars, such as Tahanuwi, Yusuf Qardawi and Muhammad Salih al-Mujid take it heretical to stay vigilant at this night and hold the ceremony of the Barat night.
Those of Sunni Muslims who believe in the virtues of Sha'ban 15th stay vigilant at night and perform worships such as reciting the Quran, saying recommended prayers, reciting supplications and fasting on the day of Sha'ban 15th. They call it the night of Barat. A worship that is performed by both Shiites and Sunnis is 100 rak'as of prayers, known as "Salat al-Khayr" (prayer of goodness), in which Sura al-Tawhid is recited 1000 times. In some Islamic regions, such as the Indian subcontinent, the ceremony also involves visiting the greaves, feeding the poor people, and paying charities or sadaqa.
Celebrations of Sha'ban 15th
On the occasion of Sha'ban 15th, the birthday of Imam al-Mahdi (a), Shiites hold celebrations by illuminating streets, singing songs for the birthday of the Imam (a), slaughtering animals and feeding the poor people. Such celebrations are more common in Iran where a great deal of celebrations are held by people themselves in religious places, districts and bazars. One of the most crowded places where such celebrations are held is the Jamkaran Mosque. Sha'ban 15th is an official holiday in Iran and is called the "World Day of the Impoverished".
- The material for this article is mainly taken from نیمه شعبان in Farsi Wikishia.