Quranic Reflection No. 495. Āyat 73: 1 & 2 – The Night Vigil and Inner Strength

يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
Yā ayyuhal-muzammil, qumil-layla illā qalīla
O you wrapped up in your mantle! Stand vigil through the night, except for a little of it.
(Sūrat al-Muzzammil, No 73, Āyāt 1-2)

Sūrat al-Muzzammil was revealed in Madīna and Mufassirūn believe that the first few verses were revealed in the early days of the Prophet’s mission. The word Muzzammil refers to a person who has wrapped himself completely in a garment, perhaps seeking warmth or protection. ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī says it could refer to the fact that the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam was saddened by the response of the people to the announcement of his mission. Most people rejected it at that time and opposed him vehemently. His disappointment and sorrow stemmed from his love for Allah ‘azza wajall and his desire the people to Him.

The Prophet (s) sought comfort and refuge at home by wrapping himself in a warm garment. He sought to rest and refresh himself to gain strength to continue his mission. Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā tells him to seek comfort and strength through the vigil at night. That would prepare him for the difficult road ahead. Strength is derived from patience and prayer, as Allah says: O you who have faith! Seek help through patience and prayer; indeed, Allah is with the patient (Q 2:153).

The words ‘qumil-layla’ means stand up at night, in contrast to sleeping at night. It does not only refer to the physical act of standing, rather it refers to not sleeping. More like to be up at night, in prayer and supplication. The exception of a little of the night implies that the Prophet should stand up for a part of it, not the entire night.  Either half of it, or less, or more than that, as specified in the verses which follow: a half, or reduce a little from that, or add to it (Q 73:3-4).

Another possibility that ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī mentions is that the exception is not in the length of the night, but in the number of nights. That would mean stay up at night, except for some nights. The exception would be applied when there is an excuse such as sickness, or when sleep overcomes, and the vigil cannot be done. ‘Allāmah says that is a possible interpretation but the first one is more likely.

These verses at the beginning of Sūrat al-Muzzammil are a call to steadfastness in the way of Allah (swt). It was a time for the Prophet (s) to be prepared for a difficult time ahead. He needed strength, determination, endurance, etc. all the qualities necessary for success in his mission. To prepare himself for that time Allah tells him to practice the vigil at night. The Late-Night Prayer, or the Salāt al-Layl/Namāz-i Shab, has a tremendous influence on the spirit. Because it is a time when other distractions are stilled, the night is the best time to strengthen the self and build character and purity.

Salat al-Layl is an effective way of acquiring inner strength. The Prophet (s) has said: Verily when a servant withdraws to be alone with his Master in the middle of the dark night and intimately converses with Him, Allah places divine light into his heart…then He, Exalted be His Splendor, says to His angels, ‘O My angels, look at My servant how he seeks solitude to be with Me in the middle of the dark night while the worthless ones remain heedless and the negligent ones sleep. Witness that verily I have forgiven him (Āmālī of al-Sadūq, p. 230, h.9). Numerous Hadith emphasize the importance of Salat al-Layl. From among its effects is the ability to deal with enemies. Through it, the believer can face hardship and enmity of others.

As we remember the Prophet (s) in the month of Rabī‘ul-Awwal and as we continue to be in the pandemic during winter when nights are long, let us reflect on this verse and implement its principle in our lives. We too need to rise and face those who oppose us, both individually as well as socially. The night vigil will give us the strength to do that. With the coming of winter and the time change in the West, it becomes the best time to begin, or enhance, a practice that will help us in our mission to be firm believers.

Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūnehhttps://en.wikishia.net/view/Night_Prayerwww.academyofislam.com/tahajjudhttps://hadith.academyofislam.com/