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A Nightly Exhilaration

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The still of the night. The late hours of the night. That is the time when most people are lying comfortably in their beds. Eyes closed - sound asleep. Dreaming too perhaps.

 

On the other hand, there are some people who sleep little in the night. This category of people are commonly called "night owls." For these night-loving individuals, the night is often a time of peace, quiet, and prayerful solitude. For some, it's a time for increasing their knowledge and understanding. And for some, it happens to be an occasion for mere amusement. In any case, they all follow an unconventional schedule.

 

But some of the night owls are perhaps yet more unconventional than others, as we'll see soon.

 

As you may know already, spending the last hours of the night with acts of worship (e.g. performing the night prayer, reading the Quran, remembering and praising Allah in various ways) is something optional but surely it is abundant in reward. What we give less attention to, however, is that even the amount of sleep is singled out in a few places in the Quran. There are verses that praise the believers who sleep little in the night in order to devote themselves to the Lord.

 

"Indeed, the righteous will be in the midst of Gardens and Springs (in Paradise). Accepting what their Lord has given them. Surely, before that they were doers of good. They used to sleep but little of the night. And in the hours before dawn they would seek (Allah's) forgiveness." (Surah Dhariyat, 17-18)

 

"Their sides forsake their beds, they invoke their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend out of what We have provided them. And no soul knows what has been hidden for them of comfort for the eyes as reward for what they used to do." (Surah Sajdah, 16-17)

 

Most scholars believe that these verses implicate reducing sleep time to be able to perform the night prayer, known as Tahajjud.

 

More interestingly, look at how the verses highlight the specific emotional and psychological states that consume such believers at night. They "forsake their beds," and they feel hope, fear, an unquenchable desire for Allah's mercy, a desire for something very special and unique. These deep, innate urges are so strong in some believers that they literally lose much of their sleep. So in that regard, some scholars have deduced that the verses are not necessarily limited to the night prayer only, but may also extend to any activity which requires being in a a state of devotion to the Lord in one form or another during the night. That would be categorized as Qiyaamul-layl.

 

As a bit of technical note if I might, neither of the opinions cause the other to become invalid. There is an overlap between the two, because Tahujjud is one of the forms of Qiyaamul-Layl (see this and this for explanation). Tahajjud is exclusively praying (at night) and it is usually performed after a short period of sleep. Qiyaamul-layl is more general than Tahajjud, because it includes prayer as well as other actions (i.e. acts of worship, such as reciting the Quran) and it is not necessary that they have to be preceded by sleep.

 

Just bear these points in mind, because I started off with this original post to sort of lay out the background for what I'm going to start discussing in a moment. I'm going to focus on a different verse, but the verses included above are not wholly unrelated. And as I crank out an onslaught of intersecting ideas and information, it is imperative that I make separate posts. But I am hopeful that those of you reading this thread carefully will at least learn something, insha'Allah.

 

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To use the most perfect example, our own Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) used to sleep little in the night. Today, doctors might even file this as an odd case of sleep deprivation. And perhaps it is. But, honestly, who cares, right? The important thing is, this was part of a divine command when the Prophet was explicitly told (in Surah Muzammil) to "Stand all night, except a little. Half of it, or a little less than that. Or a little more, and recite the Quran with a measured (slow, pleasant) recitation." According to exegetes, the word "stand" (qumi) here basically means to stand up for prayer - "all night except a little," that is.

 

For further context, here are the first eight first verses of Surah Muzammil, and one of them is in bold font because that is going to be the main focus of this thread.

 

1. O you who is wrapped up!
2. Stand (to pray) all night, except a little.
3. Half of it, or a little less.
4. Or a little more, and recite the Quran with a measured (slow, pleasant) recitation.
5. Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word.
6. Indeed, the hours of the night are severe and more potent and more suitable for the Speech (of Allah).
7. Indeed, for you by day is prolonged occupation.
8. And remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with complete devotion.

 

In that highlighted verse, as you can see, there is not one but three adjectives that describe how the nighttime is optimal for the Quran. It tells us that the night is more severe (ashaddu) and more effective (watan) and more upright (aqwamu) for the speech of Allah. That is quite a lot of emphasis. Furthermore, each of the three words have varying layers of meanings in Arabic, so even the translations are inadequate (as usual). In addition, there is an "inna" ("indeed") in that verse, which itself is another powerful word used for strong emphasis.

 

In the same verse, the words "nashiata al-layli" is often translated as "the hours of the night." Ibn Kathir wrote in his tafseer that the nashi'ah of the night "refers to its hours and its times, every hour of it is called Nashi'ah, so it refers to the periods of time." Some translators prefer to use "the vigil of the night" or "the rising by night." But again, they do not contradict the core message of the verse which is that the night is the most suitable time for the Quran.

 

Let's zoom out a little, so that we can see and appreciate what the reaction was like in response to these first eight verses.

 

When Allah said "Stand all night, except a little," this was an order. And as anyone can well imagine, this was not easy. This was difficult. Still, the Prophet and even many of the Companions used to do this - every single night. They would stand for so long that their feet would become swollen. They still kept standing and reciting the Quran (in prayer). It didn't matter to them how dark or late the night was. Even though the night prayer was obligatory exclusively for the Prophet (SAW), there were others close to him who used to observe it as well, voluntarily. Or rather, as scholars have said, Allah was testing them to see how committed they were in sacrificing their sleep, time, and energy for the remembrance of Allah.

 

Then, after a period of time, Allah, in a congratulatory manner, lightened the order by saying (in the same Surah, last verse): "Indeed, your Lord knows, (O Muhammad), that you stand almost two thirds of the night or half of it or a third of it, and so do a group of those with you. And Allah determines (the extent of) the night and the day. He knows that you will not be able to continue this, so He has turned to you (in forgiveness), therefore recite what is possible for you of the Quran. [...]"

 

So, originally, the order was to "stand all night except a little" and "recite the Quran." Later on, Allah replaced this with "recite the Quran as much as you can." This way, Allah, out of His mercy and graciousness, made the new order conditional depending on one's own ability, health, stamina, circumstance, etc.

 

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That said, we can now, alas, turn to the most relevant questions, which are:

 

Why is the nighttime the best time for reading the Quran? On top of that, how can depriving yourself hours of sleep at night just to read the Quran be more effective and upright and stronger? Wouldn't sleep-deprivation (or sleeping little) make it harder for you to understand the Quran? The intuitive answer would be, 'of course.' But strangely enough, the Prophet and some of his followers used to do precisely that. So, what beneficial effect were they getting by taking this approach?

 

Before I delve into that, I want to post some comments made by shaykhs to prove that this is a real and scholarly opinion (i.e. that the Quran is best utilized during the night - and even more so with little sleep if possible). I want everyone here to be assured that this is in fact a well-supported interpretation of Surah Muzammil, verse 6 - one that has been implemented as well.

 

Shaykh Musleh Khan said: "You wanna train yourself to sleep as little as possible as well. Imagine this, that even some scholars today, even as well as the past, they would sleep as much as 3 to 5 hours every single day - especially when they were memorizing Quran." (video)

 

Shaykh Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour said these these acts (acts of worship, dhikr, etc.) are "more agreeable to the soul" and the soul "can absorb them much better than during the day." He further explained, "When you read the Quran during the night, you understand better. When you say 'La illaha illallah, Subhan'Allah' during the night, the meanings of them are absorbed better. So the speech, what you say during the night - in terms of dhikrullah, in terms of salaah, in terms of recitation of the Quran - it is of course more stronger, it leaves better effect and better consequences." (video)

 

Shaykh Alomgir Ali said (after reciting the sixth verse of Surah Muzammil): "That reciting the Quran at night, it is more conducive for a person to understand what he is saying and reflecting, and he is able to reflect more upon what he says. And that is because of the stillness of the night, of the lack of noise and clamour, and the lack of distractions. A person is able to focus more on what he recites. And the scholars have always said for centuries, that if a person really wants to memorize the Quran and come closer to the Quran, is to strive to recite what he has memorized in his night prayers. [...] So try and make it a habit, inshalla'Allah, of reciting the Quran at night in particular." (video)

 

Shaykh Ibrahim Yahya said (at around the 42:53 mark): "The Quran is for night. Wallahi. And if you don't read the Quran at night, you don't know the Quran. This is the truth." (video)

 

According to a hadith, the Quran will intercede for a person whose sleep has been deprived as a result of his unusual preference and love for the Quran:

 

"Fasting and the Quran will intercede for a person on the Day of Resurrection. Fasting will say, 'O Lord, I deprived him of food and desires during the day, so let me intercede for him.' The Quran will say, 'O Lord, I deprived him of his sleep at night, so let me intercede for him.' Then they will both intercede for him." (Narrated by Ahmad, al-Tabaraani and al-Haakim; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami', no. 3882)

 

In light of all these comments, then, I am sure that scholars in the past have uttered many similar remarks. The ones that I provided here have only barely scratched the surface.
 

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But now, returning to the question in my previous post, why exactly is the night the optimal time for the Quran? What makes the night so superior, in this regard?

 

I will present three answers that are logically compatible. The first two are pretty easy to make sense of. The third one, however, will require you to be able to see some connections that I will explain in a moment (in the next post). Actually, it's more like a hypothesis that I came to after doing some research and connecting the dots. But I'll get to that a little later.

 

The first two answers are as follows, and they are the prevailing opinions amongst scholars:

 

1. The late hours of the night are usually the quietest. Most people aren't working, many people are sleeping, and so altogether the neighborhood turns quieter as well. Naturally, that also means less distraction. That is why the night, especially the latest portion of the night, is best for engaging with the Quran. People also tend to have more leisure time during those hours (unless they work at night, of course), so there is more opportunity for them to focus on a particular task instead of being distracted by other tasks. In fact, this is mentioned in Surah Muzammil when Allah said, "Verily, there is for you by day prolonged occupation," and therefore the night is a more convenient time for the remembrance of Allah.

 

2. As should be evident, staying awake for almost the whole night is dull and fatiguing. However, since it involves a greater amount of perseverance, that may also mean a greater reward. That is why scholars say that worship at night is more virtuous and rewarding. Even if you sleep a few a hours and then wake up (and stay awake for most of the remaining part of the night) as the Prophet used to do, that is also not easy. To me, that sounds even harder.

 

The answers above are no doubt valid and understandable. These are the main reasons that, according to scholars, makes the night the most suitable time for the Quran.

 

Still, I think there is another (maybe less familiar) effect that comes with reciting the Quran at night in particular, which takes into account the sleep factor as well. It solves a scientifically problematic question, which is the idea that if sleep-deprivation - or, if you will, prolonged wakefulness - is scientifically proven to have a negative impact in one's performance in mental tasks (or anything that requires effort, concentration, or stamina), then why would reciting the Quran at night in a sleep-deprived state be an exception?

 

Although it is clear that sleep-deprivation is bad for cognitive performance, there are certain effects in the mix which may not be detrimental, but rather could even be beneficial depending on the nature of the task being performed, specifically the emotional value of the task. I anticipate to demonstrate this in the post right below. (Don't worry, MMers, it's not rocket science).
 

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As you might well agree, the Quran is something extraordinary. Likewise, it is known to have made some very, very unique effects on people. Yet, no matter what I say, there is no way not to understate the real power and glory of this book. Think of the imagery when Allah said, "Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rending asunder by the fear of Allah. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind so that they may reflect" (Surah 59:21)

 

Let us now put that into context in relation to the sleep-related verses, which I've quoted in posts 1 and 2. This will map out the underlying geometry that I intended to show.

 

One of the most evident qualities of the Quran is it's ability to evoke and shake peoples' emotions. It makes you cry, it takes you by surprise, then you dry your eyes, then you cry again, then you feel hope, then you feel fear, then you feel excited, and on and on and on. Oftentimes, you feel all of these emotions occurring simultaneously. It is like an endless rollercoaster of emotions. Verse after verse, the Quran elicits an ingenious dance of emotions in him who starts to listen to it but in a heedful, uninterrupted manner.

 

"Allah has sent down the best statement: a consistent Book wherein is reiteration. The skins shiver therefrom of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah." (Surah 39:23)

 

"And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. They say, 'Our Lord, we have believed, so register us among the witnesses.'" (Surah 5:83)

 

That is why scholars have said for centuries that, if you read the Quran and you don't feel anything in your heart, then you don't have a heart - your heart is dead. The Quran is not merely something to be understood and reflected upon. You also have to feel it, because that is what will impact you the most and facilitate real spiritual growth. Every time you hear Allah being mentioned, you should feel something in your heart as the Quran states: "The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, they feel a tremor in their hearts, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely" (Surah 8:02).

 

In essence, that is the kind of reaction that we should feel as we listen to the Quran. Such emotional reactivity (or, as I like to call it, emotional 'sensitivity') to the verses of the Quran is a distinguishing characteristic of the believers. Their hearts, skins, eyes, and entire physiology for that matter instantly respond to the words. There is an elevated excitement in their hearts when Allah is being mentioned. Effusively enwrapped, it is as if they are being assaulted by the verses and yet you see them feeling more and more energized.

 

To that end, there is, as will be transmitted below, empirical evidence that sleep-deprivation results in an increase of emotional reactivity:

 

 

"This detrimental affective consequence of a lack of sleep is, however, paradoxically aligned with the beneficial antidepressant effect of sleep deprivation in patients with major depression, a substantial proportion of whom show a fast-acting alleviation of depressed mood in response to total or selective sleep deprivation. [...] Interestingly, this beneficial mood-elevating effect is paralleled by reports of emotional lability in healthy adults under conditions of sleep loss, commonly describing episodes of inappropriate euphoria and giddiness, and oscillating periods of lopsided positive emotional reactivity."

 

"Here we demonstrate that sleep deprivation amplifies reactivity throughout select midbrain, striatal, limbic, and visual perceptual processing regions in response to positive emotional stimuli. [...] The striatum (including the caudate, nucleus accumbens, and putamen) has consistently been implicated in motivation and emotion regulation."

 

The researchers conclude that the sleep-deprived state seems to represent "a pendulum-like emotional circumstance associated with amplified reactivity across the full range of affective valence (both positive and negative)."

 

In other words, when you are in a sleep-deprived state and you are made to perceive some kind of an emotional stimuli (i.e. the stimuli could be a word, picture, a sentence, an item, or anything that is emotionally salient), then the brain is more reactive to such stimuli. The brain is more responsive to emotional stimuli during a state of sleep-deprivation than under a normal condition. Such amplified reactivity has been reported to occur in response to both positive reward-related emotional stimuli as well as negative threat-related ones, as the researchers wrote.

 

So, in connection to the findings above, it may well be supposed that reciting the Quran in a somewhat sleep-deprived state will have a stronger impact. Why? Because during such a state our emotions are more sensitive. As such, you will experience heightened emotional reactivity to the verses which mention Allah's name and His punishments and His mercy. The intensity of fear and hope that you feel as you read the Quran will be stronger and more effective. You will feel more emotionally entranced by the verses.
 

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There is another well-supported evidence which corroborates the findings of the research that I quoted above (which shows a link between sleep-deprivation and emotional reactivity). Here's a quick explanation:

 

It is known that sleep-deprivation increases the power of the brain's slow-wave activty (SWA). The two slowest waves are called the theta and the delta waves. The other three are alpha, beta. and gamma. But as a person starts to get sleepier, there is going to be more of the slower waves (theta and delta waves) than the faster ones.

 

"Classically, theta (5-9 Hz) activity has been described as the wake EEG marker of sleep need, which is associated with the homeostatic component of the two-process model of sleep regulation. Thus, theta activity increases with time spent awake and it is followed by a proportional increase in low frequencies in subsequent sleep. Our results showing a global increase in theta activity during prolonged wake, combined with an increase in EEG low frequencies during subsequent recovery sleep, support this view." (Source)

 

"The present study demonstrated that one night of sleep deprivation caused specific electrophysiological changes, such as relative delta and theta power increase, and absolute alpha and beta power reduction. [...] Based on the present knowledge about sleep loss and sleep deprivation, physiological arousal and performance, both EEG and behavioral findings observed in the present study are coherent with the literature. In sleep-deprivation paradigms, it has been well established that prolonged wakefulness is accompanied by systematic power increases in theta activity." (Source)

 

Interestingly, in scientific literature, it turns out that the theta and the delta waves are closely associated with emotional processing, which is congruent with the research that shows that emotional reacitivity (in response to emotional stimuli) tends to be amplified in subjects who are sleep-deprived.

 

"It has been hypothesized that low frequency oscillations of delta and theta ranges are associated with motivational and emotional processes (Knyazev, 2007). Considerable evidence confirms a link between theta activity and emotional states both in animals and in humans (Basar, 1998; Klimesch, 1999, 2012; Klimesch et al., 2007; Knyazev et al., 2009)." (Source)

 

"It is suggested that delta and theta oscillations manifest activity of brain systems that regulate behavior on the basis of motivational drives and emotional appraisal. They are involved in salience detection and emotional learning." (Source)

 

In short, sleep deprivation results in greater theta and delta activity. And it is these low-frequency waves which are more strongly linked to emotional processing (as mentioned in the last two quotes). And this, in turn, goes hand-in-hand with the finding that people are more sensitive to emotional stimuli when they are in a sleep-deprived state, a state which, again, is dominated by the low-frequency waves - theta and delta.
 

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Given the multiple posts that I've made here, I should end with a quick overview of the main points that I attempted to convey, for sake of clarity. So here goes.

 

1. In the Quran itself, sleeping little of the night is described as something highly praiseworthy, but only so if it is accompanied by God-consciousness and intense emotional states such as fear, hope, motivation, or a yearning for Allah's mercy, which may all be made manifest through the night prayer or some other action as well. I expounded on this in the original post.

 

2. For centuries, scholars have said that the hours of the night, especially the last portions of the night, are the most suitable time for strengthening one's relationship with the Quran. This, of course, keeps with the wisdom In Surah Muzammil where Allah said, "Indeed, the hours of the night are severe and more potent and more suitable for the Speech (of Allah)." Furthemore, similar to the divinely commanded practice of the Prophet and the Sahaba, some scholars trained themselves to sleep as little as possible - as little as 3 to 5 hours a night - in order to recite the Quran, usually in prayer. This is also in conformity with the verse "They used to sleep but little of the night."

 

3. I've given two explanations as to why reciting the Quran at night is more effective than doing it during the day. One is that at nighttime there tends to be less distraction, less outside interference. When most people have fallen asleep, there is more time for us to attend to a particular task that we most want to devote ourselves to. The second is that staying up (or waking up) during the latest hours of the night (for the sole purpose of worship) requires an extra amount of perseverance which, in turn, will result in greater rewards awaiting in Paradise.

 

4. Taking into consideration the sleep factor, a third beneficial effect that I have proposed here, one which the Sahaba as well as scholars were likely familiar with, is that sleep-deprivation (to some degree) causes a heightened emotional sensitivity. This kind of sensitivity is good for reciting the Quran because one of the most important effects of the Quran is that it should penetrate our hearts and minds at a very deep, emotional level. And, surely, the chords of the heart are most profoundly touched when emotions are tumultuous and elevated.

 

Finally, in case there are still some particles of misunderstanding left sitting on your head, let me add the following.

 

I do not think that the verses quoted in the original post imply that we should deprive ourselves of sleep to the point where it becomes stressful or unhealthy for us. There is no order or pressure being administered when Allah said "They used to sleep but little of the night" or "Their sides forsake their beds." Allah is pointing to certain believers who were already doing that, because they were intrinsically motivated to stay awake (because of hope, fear, and a desire for Allah's forgiveness). But, of course, people are created differently. Some people are less resistant to sleep, physically. It is not a sin to sleep eight, nine, or ten hours a day as long as the timing isn't in conflict with the five daily obligatory prayers. Thus, even when it comes to sleep, we must not disregard the importance of moderation and sound health.
 

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Lol I misread slow for sleep. My point is that I don't think you understand your sources and sometimes it seems you stretch at straws to link religion to science. Ok ok it's one thing to say I read this cool paper that might suggest x, but why quote papers with terms you don't understand. And if you do know these terms then you should explain them, as the audience on mm aren't neuroscientists.

Finally googling something doesn't mean you can understand it. True scientific comprehension starts with months of study through a text book and then solving problems.I only bring this up because you always post something here about Quran and science and quote one article that seems like it agrees, but that you may not understand.

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Wow just clicked the link. You fobbed off Zimbabwe the same way about trump too. Dude how can anyone take you seriously when you act defensive.

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Lol I misread slow for sleep. My point is that I don't think you understand your sources and sometimes it seems you stretch at straws to link religion to science. Ok ok it's one thing to say I read this cool paper that might suggest x, but why quote papers with terms you don't understand. And if you do know these terms then you should explain them, as the audience on mm aren't neuroscientists.

 

Finally googling something doesn't mean you can understand it. True scientific comprehension starts with months of study through a text book and then solving problems.I only bring this up because you always post something here about Quran and science and quote one article that seems like it agrees, but that you may not understand.

 

1. What makes you think that I don't understand my sources? Please be specific if you're going to answer this.

 

2. What terms do you think I should have explained?

 

Wow just clicked the link. You fobbed off Zimbabwe the same way about trump too. Dude how can anyone take you seriously when you act defensive.

 

Frankly, I didn't think you were being serious either. I mean, did you really not know what brainwaves are, or were you just testing me to see whether I understand what that is?

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My point is that I don't think you understand your sources and sometimes it seems you stretch at straws to link religion to science.

 

Then why didn't you say this at the start, instead of asking me what brainwaves are and what not?

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