There are many hadiths that speak about laylat ul-Qadr, so we shall analyse some of the reliable hadiths to understand which of the night(s) of the Month of Ramadhan it is.
1st Night of the Month of Ramadhan
The idea that it is the 1st night is generally rejected. There are a few hadiths that suggest the Qur’an decended on the first night of Ramadhan which would coincide with Laylat ul-Qadr – since the Qur’an descended on this night. Aside from all the hadiths being weak in chain, it goes against the Ayahs of the Qur’an and the plethora of hadiths (both reliable and weak) that suggest it was a later date in the Month of Ramadhan.
17th Night of the Month of Ramadhan
There was claims that Laylat ul-Qadr is on the 17th night, however we do not have any strong reports of this. In fact, we find that our Imam (as) refuted this in a hadith found in Tafseer al-Ayyashi:
عن عمرو بن سعيد قال: خاصمني رجل من أهل المدينة في ليلة الفرقان حين التقى الجمعان فقال المديني: هي ليلة سبع عشرة من رمضان، قال: فدخلت على أبي عبد الله عليه السلام فقلت له وأخبرته فقال لي: جحد المديني أنت تريد مصاب أمير المؤمنين إنه أصيب ليلة تسع عشرة من رمضان، وهي الليلة التي رفع فيها عيسى بن مريم عليه السلام
‘Amru ibn Sa’eed said “A man from Medina disagreed with me regarding the night or determination when the two hosts meet, saying that it was the night of the 17th of the month of Ramadhan, so I went to see Abu Abdullah (as) and told him about our disagreement, whereupon he (as) said, ‘The man from Medina did not say the truth; I know that you mean it is the 19th when the Commander of the Faithful (Imam Ali, as) was wounded, and it is the same night when Jesus son of Mary (as) was raised to heavens.”
Reference: Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 94, Page 2, Hadith #2
Last Ten Nights of the Month of Ramadhan
We have reliable hadiths that states it is within the last 10 nights of the Month of Ramadhan, which discounts the previous two theories (1st or 17th night). One of those reliable hadith is found in al-Kafi:
“I once asked abu Ja‘far (as) about the following words of Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Glorious: ‘We have revealed it during the blessed night.’ (44:3) He (the Imam) said, ‘Yes, it is the night of destiny. Every year this night is during the last ten days in the month of Ramadan. It was the night of destiny and no other night when the Holy Quran was revealed…”
Reference: al-Kafi, Volume 4, Page 157, Hadith #6
Grading: al-Majlisi said it was Hasan/Good [Mir’aat al-Uqool, Volume 16, Page 385] (See Image below)
19th Night of the Month of Ramadhan
The previous hadith indicates that it may be the 19th night of the month of Ramadhan. There are some reports that indicate it is the 19th. Most hadiths are weak in chain, or append other dates along with it – as will seen later in the “reconciliation” section.
21st Night of the Month of Ramadhan
Another possiblity is the night of the 21st. We have an authentic hadith which suggest this, in that the passing away of Imam Ali (as) (21st Night of the Month Ramadhan) is the same night the Qur’an was brought down (Laylat ul-Qadr). The hadith can be seen here. Other authentic hadiths suggesting it is the night of the 21st pair it with it also being the 23rd, as seen below.
21st OR 23rd of the Month of Ramadhan
Out of all the reports we have, the most popular, straight forward, and strongest in chain are the hadiths that mention that it is either on the 21st or the 23rd of the month of Ramdhan. For example, the following hadith from al-Kafi:
I once asked abu ‘Abd Allah (as) about Laylat ul-Qadr. He replied, ‘You should try to find it in the twenty-first or twenty-third nights (of the month of Ramadan).
Reference: al-Kafi, Volume 4, Page 156, Hadith #1
Grading: al-Majlisi says it is Sahih/Authentic [Mir’aat al-Uqool, Volume 16, Page 380]
23rd Night of the Month of Ramadhan
The popular opinion is that Laylat ul-Qadr falls upon the 23rd night of the Month of Ramadhan. Sheikh al-Sadooq states:
اتفق مشائخنا على أنها ليلة ثلاث وعشرين
The Mashayakh (plural of Sheikhs – i.e. the scholars and teachers) have consensus that it falls upon the night of the 23rd. (Wasa’il al-Shia, Volume 10, Page 354)
This is backed up by many hadiths, weak and authentic.
One weak hadith is often quoted, which is the story of al-Juhany:
I heard Abu Ja`far (as) saying: al-Juhany came to the Prophet (sawa) and said: O Rasool-Allah, I have camels and sheep and slave-boys and workers, so I would love for you to command me to a night in which I would enter and attend prayer in the month of Ramadan. So Rasool-Allah (sawa) called him to come near and spoke secretly to him in his ear. So when it was the twenty third night, al-Juhany would enter with his camels and his sheep and his family to his place (i.e. he would do worship on this night).
Reference: Tahtheeb al-Ahkaam, Volume 4, Page 330, Hadith #1032 (See Image below)
This hadith is also confirmed by the reliable hadith in al-Faqih:
عبد الله بن بكير، عن زرارة، عن أحدهما (ع) قال: سألته عن الليالي التي يستحب فيها الغسل في شهر رمضان فقال: ليلة تسع عشرة واحدى وعشرين وثلاث وعشرين، وقال: ليلة ثلاث وعشرين هي ليلة الجهني
Zurarah asked one of the Imams [al-Baqir or al-Sadiq] (as) about the night that it is recommended to do ghusl (shower) in the month of Ramadhan. He (as) said: “The night of the 19th, the 21st and the 23rd. He (as) then said: “The night of the 23rd is the night of al-Juhany”
Reference: Man Laa Yahduruhu al-Faqih, Volume 2, Page 161 (See Image below)
Grading: al-Mohsini says it is Mu`tabar/Reliable [Mashra`at Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 2, Page 458]
Should we focus on it so much?
With all this in mind, we find that the Imams (as) would insist on their followers to attend to worship on the 19th, 21st and 23rd of the Month of Ramadhan specifically, and not to focus on unveiling which night it is prior so that one can have licence to focus their worship only on one night. The following beautiful hadith is an extremely powerful one, which also highlights the often-repeated complaint about different moon-sighting methods resulting in “different” Laylat ul-Qadrs for the people in the community. It also addresses those people who find it difficult to stay up all the night(s).
Once I was in the presence of abu ‘Abd Allah (as) when abu Basir asked, ‘I pray to Allah to keep my soul in service for your cause, when is the night during which one may hope that his wishes will come true?’ He (the Imam) replied, ‘It is in the twenty-first or twenty-third nights.’ He (abu Basir) then asked, ‘What happens if I cannot (stay awake) on both nights?’ He (the Imam) said, ‘(Remaining awake for) just two nights is not difficult with a view to realizing your wishes.’ I (the narrator) then said, ‘We may see the new moon on a certain time and then receive information that people have seen the new moon on a different day at another place.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘Remaining awake for four nights is not difficult with a view to realizing your wishes.’ I then said, ‘I pray to Allah to keep my soul in service for your cause, the twenty-third night is the night of al-Juhany.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘That is what it is called.’ I then said, ‘I pray to Allah to keep my soul in service for your cause, Sulayman ibn Khalid narrates that during the twenty-ninth night, the list of people (honored to) perform Hajj is prepared.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘O abu Muhammad, the list of people for Hajj is prepared during Laylat ul-Qadr; so also are deaths, trials, sustenance and things that have to happen until the next Laylat ul-Qadr. You should try to pray for the realization of your wishes during the twenty-first or twenty-third nights. You should perform one hundred Rak‘at salat (prayer) during each of these nights and remain awake if you can, up to daylight, and take a shower during both nights.’ I (the narrator) then asked, ‘What should I do if I cannot do this in a standing position?’ He (the Imam) replied, ‘You can say it in a sitting position.’ I then asked, ‘What should I do if I cannot do this also?’ He said, ‘You can say it while in your bed. It does not matter if you just slept very lightly at the beginning of the night. The doors of the sky remain open during the Month of Ramadhan, Satans are nailed down, and the deeds of believing people are accepted. The Month of Ramadhan is a very good month. During the time of the Messenger of Allah (sawa) it was called “provider of sustenance”.
Reference: al-Kafi, Volume 4, Chapter 113, Hadith #2 (See Image below)
There are some authentic hadiths that seem to reconcile the various narrations and explain how all three nights (19th, 21st & 23rd) play a role in determining ones destiny (qadr). For example:
Abu ‘Abd Allah [al-Sadiq] (as) has said, ‘Measurement and determination is on the night of the nineteenth, verification is on the twenty-first night and final approval is on the twenty-third night.’
Reference: al-Kafi, Volume 4, Page 159, Hadith #9
Grading: al-Majlisi says it is Reliable, like Sahih (Muwathaq kal-Sahih) [Mir’aat al-Uqool, Volume 16, Page 388] (See Image below)
Addendum – Other possible nights
The other schools of thoughts in Islam consider the 25th, 27th, or 29th to be the possibilities of it being laylat ul-Qadr. Most likely, according to them, it is the 27th night. There is a hadith, which has been authenticated by al-Albani (Salafi) which states it is the 27th night, in the book Abu Dawood (see here). The school of Ahlul Bayt (as) does not support this theory, even if we seldom find hadiths that mention it. For example, in the daily duas of the Month of Ramadhan found in Mifateeh al-Jinaan of Sheikh al-Abbas al-Qummi, it has the following dua on the 27th day.
“O Allah, on this day, bestow on me the blessings of Laylatul Qadr, change my affairs from (being) difficult to (being) easy, accept my apologies, and decrease for me [my] sins and burdens, O the Compassionate with His righteous servants.”
At the conclusion of the section of daily duas, Al-Qummi states:
Books of supplicatory prayers have disagreed about the order of some supplicatory prayers and acts of worship. To me, I do not render such narrations considerable; therefore, I have not referred them. For instance, al-Kaf`ami has mentioned the twenty-seventh day supplicatory to be said on the twenty-ninth of Ramadhan. It is not improbable to say the supplicatory prayer on the twenty-third of Ramadhan, according to the doctrine of Shi`ism.
Aside from this, all narrations that suggest it is the 27th are extremely weak.
How to identify it
Finally, we see a beautiful hadith where one is able to witness the night, rather than depend on the various traditions and reports on which night it is.
Once I asked one of the two Imams [al-Baqir or al-Sadiq] (as) about signs of Laylat ul-Qadr. He replied, ‘One of the signs of this night is sweet fragrance; during the cold season it is warm, and during the hot season it is cool and pleasant.’ Someone asked him about the Laylat ul-Qadr. He (the Imam) replied, ‘The angels and scribes come down to the sky above the world and then they write down all that has to happen during the year and what people will experience therein. Its affairs are withheld with Him. In it He has a wish and thus He brings forward whatever He wishes or delays whatever He wishes. He confirms whatever He wishes and deletes whatever He wishes; the mother book is with Him.
Reference: al-Kafi, Volume 4, Page 157, Hadith #3
Grading: al-Majlisi says it is Sahih/Authentic [Mir’aat al-Uqool, Volume 16, Page 383] (See Image below)
The likely days that Laylat ul-Qadr falls on is upon the night of the 21st and the night of the 23rd. The popular opinion, supported by the story of al-Juhany, is that it is on the night of the 23rd. In saying that, the Prophet (sawa) and Imams (as) would encourage and insist on performing the recommended worship on all three nights – and in particular the nights of the 21st and 23rd. They (as) themselves would specifically busy themselves on those two nights as an example. Allah (swt) wants us to yearn and be motivated to seek His forgiveness and blessings – rather than busy ourselves in seeking the window of doing what is minimal. According to the reconciliatory hadith mentioned earlier – each night (19, 21, 23) has a role to play in our final Qadr (destiny) for the coming year.
Let us take advantage of this night as much as possible.
Finally, if one feels upset or regret on missing out on doing worship the whole night – an authentic and merciful hadith has reached us through the Imams (as):
Abu ‘Abd Allah [al-Sadiq] (as) has said: “Laylat ul-Qadr is in every year, and its day is just like its night”
Reference: Tahdheeb al-Ahkaam, Volume 4, Page 331, Hadith #101 / 1033
Grading: al-Majlisi says it is Sahih/Authentic [Malaadh al-Akyaar, Volume 7, Page 171] (See Image below)