Dear CNN: Lailat al-Qadr is not a ‘security risk’

Published: August 5, 2013

Peace. That's what the Night of Destiny is to over a billion Muslims. PHOTO: INP

I was putting my shoes on, leaving for my evening prayers, when my phone buzzed with a text:

“Saw a CNN byline linking ‘Night of Power’ to the recent terror alert. Talk of sensationalism.”

You know how it goes. The story was largely accurate – prompted by fears of a terrorist attack, in an unprecedented move on Sunday; the US closed 21 embassies  across the Middle East and North Africa. Add a strategically implanted – and inaccurate -analysis by CNN’s Peter Bergen, who alleged that Sunday was the “Night of Destiny”, making it an auspicious occasion for al-Qaeda extremists to die.

Social media dies for such sensationalism and the story started getting Facebook likes by the minute. It reminded me of Mark Twain, who famously said,

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

If Twain is true, then time is not on my side. So let me get to the point: I won’t call it a “lie”, but such biased reports are good examples of bad journalism. And they travel fast.

At 8:32pm, August 2, 2013, the media published the US state department’s alert. By 10:15am the next day, CNN’s political analyst Peter Bergen had already repackaged his previously held belief as a fresh column titled, “What’s behind timing of terror threat,” linking the threat to the Muslim “Night of Power.” By 11:33pm, BBC was regurgitating Mr Bergen theory -which received no credence in the original alert – halfway around the world.

There are multiple reasons why Mr Bergen’s theory, despite being copy-and-pasted ad nauseam – received no credence from the US state department.

First, all three originally published translations of the Quran  – Muhammad Ali (1917), Muhammad Pickthal (1930), and Abdullah Yousaf Ali (1934) – use different expressions for the Arabic phrase, ”   Lailat al-Qadr” which appears in the 97th chapter of the Quran.

Ali translated it as the “Night of Destiny” while Yousaf Ali preferred to call it the “Night of Power.” Pickthall used both terms. One wonders if “Night of power” was just as randomly selected by the media as a young Muslim man gets randomly pulled for extra security on airports.

Second, there is no data to support this myth. Yes, Mr Bergen cites a list of terror attacks on US embassies, but he conveniently forgets: none of those attacks were launched on the “Night of Destiny” – as I would like to call it from here on. He offers a correlation, not causation.

Third, no one knows the exact date of the night of destiny, which, according to the Muslim belief, could fall on any of the odd nights during the last ten days of Ramadan. Mathematically, there is a 60% chance that it had already passed by the time state department issued the alert.

Fourth, it’s obvious that Mr Bergen has no idea what the night of destiny really is. The answer was right there, only if he had read the 97th chapter of the Holy Quran, comprising of a mere 57 words in English, (where God says, “(The night is) peace until the rising of the dawn.”)

Peace. That’s what the night of destiny is to over a billion Muslims.

Which is not to say that extremists aren’t dying to hurt oversees Americans. They are.  And they will use every potential means to recruit more disillusioned Muslim youth. Slipping in a decade old myth as part of a major news story at a time when the memory of Benghazi is still fresh, is not only disingenuous, but also dangerous. al-Qaeda must be thankful to CNN for running a free, front page recruitment ad.

A dozen years of facing such post-911 sensationalism has taught the American Muslim community to put on its shoes quickly. And we have become so adept at myth busting that every chase allows us to remove other, unrelated, inaccuracies from our public discourse.

For example, while researching for this article, I discovered that Mark Twain had never made the comment mentioned above. Turns out the witty quote, attributed to a legendary American writer, was also just a lie.

Faheem Younus

Faheem Younus

The writer is clinical associate professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine, USA. The author can be followed @Faheem!/FaheemYounus

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mj

    There was a blast today inside a train in Pakistan, and another one in Indonesia. The day is not yet over and we may see more unfortunate and unwanted peace offerings. Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    Thank you for this article brother. I am tired of the American Lies, Lies and more lies all the time. Extreme show of Islamophobia by the Media.Recommend

  • Shamy

    This article was needed ! Can we all please share this on Social Media as much as we can ?Recommend


    Its a rumour made to justify NSA’s activities…simple….although i believe fanatic muslims exist and they have no shame or boundries ….but still one smells different…
    you can also see tht CIA is still not open to Congress regarding Benghazi any case this one is sure just to scare the american public….Recommend

  • Bilal

    Well Said sirRecommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely spelt out. A classic example of something like this – to keep the pot boiling – was the colour coded terror allert on all the TV screens …………. that was deliberate strategy to influence the simple American mind and it worked.

  • Eddied

    This writer sits in the USA and enjoys the freedom and security it offers him and what does he do with it?….just complains that it is not perfect because CNN has said something that he thinks is a misinterpretation….Get a life and stop bashing the country that you don’t deserve to live in you ungrateful sellout…Recommend

  • Anum

    Faheem, appreciate that you brought up an awareness on this sensitive issue but please do admit and realize that WE Muslims are no doubt the biggest threat to anything and everything.

    schools, trains, mosques.. Everything is just being blown up by no other than our Muslim brothers. We try to blow a teenager’s brains out why because she dare write about these extremists.

    they have every right to voice their concerns. If we were in their plc we would have done the same. Lets just try admitting our failure rather than pointing fingers to others.Recommend

  • csmann

    Where is American -bashing in this? And most Americans won’t agree with your point-of-view.Author , as an American Citizen(or even if alien resident)has every right to say anything he feels ,as you do. And don’t tell me biases do not creep up at times in the media reporting.Recommend

  • An Ahmadi Abused by Fellow Ahmadis

    With the amount of hate Muslims have against America they have a right to be on their guard.
    Just like how amoomis are told to carry licensed weapons for protection.

    An Ahmadi.
    Halka Model Colony, KarachiRecommend

  • Nasir

    @Eddied: You have echoed what this article really says. Lie travels faster than truth!

    However, most people, especially us who resides in the West are prone to 5sec RAM (random access memory) whatever feeds in first 5 seconds sticks to us for the rest of our ignorant life.

    Your comment is one prime example thank you for sharing with us!Recommend

  • Kashif Ajmal Malik

    Its like I may show light to Sun, you already know about it but still! The interesting question would be how only a few people or institutions drive millions and billions of people crazy and get potential benefits? The answer is very simple, by using the ignorance and absence of common sense. The social elements manipulate the society at every level. Do you really think the world is owned by billions of people? It’s really not! And do you know why? The reason is, because the technology, research & development are in the hands of a handful people only. Just as an example, the whole technology we are using these days is coming from only 25 people. Same is the fact about historians. From how many historians do you know we have come to know about the history? Out of those few hundred do you know how many have historians have provided us with the accurate and authentic information? If not all of them were authentic, then here is the problem. Our history is also unauthentic and perhaps manipulated as well for the personal benefits of a few people and institutions which not only includes the publication houses but also political and religious leaders because only strong people in the society sponsor the publicizing of a particular information to get certain benefit. Unfortunately we cannot verify or come up with an authentic figure since we are already used to with authentic or unauthentic historic writings, philosophies, theories and preaching. Still it is not impossible to understand whats right and whats wrong, only after some personal research.

    You can find only a few in west who research neutrally… they are our people… the people of truth.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Yes, dear writer and what about your half truth, which actually is worse than lies? Your blog seems to indicate that CNN practices Islamophobia based on the reporting of one fairly extraordinary event I.e. shutting down embassies in dozens of countries.
    and then generalizing it to the notion that Islamophobia is widely prevalent in US society. Shame on you because if you live in US you are quite aware that while there maybe a few bigots here and there by and large this characterization of the American people is simply not true.

    If you had been fair you would have also pointed out the overall position that CNN takes on Islam which is outlined here.

    You would have also referred to the fact that there are laws that prevent any equal opportunity employer from discriminating against a candidate on the basis of race, religion, national Orion among other things and these laws do not just exist on the statute but are enforced. Same thing with giving loans, there are actually government agencies that check for such thing.

    You demand balance from a 24 hour news channel which operates 7 days a week by all anchors at all times and yet fail to show balance in one log that you write. What hypocrisy.Recommend

  • Asa


    I agree with most of what you say. Title of blog is sensational.Progressive practitioners of Islam have been able to sell books and articles in the USA, Canada in the aftermath of 9/11. And, on the other hand, experts on Islamophobia of West are selling their blogs and op-ed pieces to Pakistani public. They have a similar aim: perpetuate biases of their respective readers and firmly ensconce them in their comfort zones.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    It comes off as unintelligent and disingenuous. Its an unfortunate over-defensive reactionary entry that is taking offense of an issue when there is none and fanning false resentment, blowing things out of proportion and out of context based on bunker mentality along the lines “Why did he mention Lailat al-Qadr and Al Qaeda in the same sentence?”.

    Peter Bergen knows and talks about the threats in an objective and non-inflammatory way. He made the separation between how its holy to Muslims around the world, and how Al Qaeda views it. I can agree how such a CNN byline (though I can’t see it) may raise alarms, but, the article itself is NOT biased linking, nor trying to defame Islam or box Muslims. Religious terrorists have already done that and we can’t vehemently deny correct contextual media mentions of their motivations based on religiosity, regardless of how wrong we know and believe it is.

    Its one of the possibilities (besides embassies being easy targets and the recent jailbreaks), as there’s a precedent on the timing of attacks and major happenings at the end of Ramadhan on Lailat ul Qadr by radicals (its fact militants ramp up attacks in Ramadhan. Should we be upset when an article mentions that?). The issue should be with the extremist militants from Al Qaeda who try to exploit it and damage Islam’s name, hi-jacking everything we hold sacred, not the factual observation and citing of the increased motivation that an intelligent security analyst is right in suggesting as a possibility based on historical trends (which he listed, including the failures, which you can’t simply dismiss out of bias) especially in light of the embassy shutdowns.

    Debunking a theory because of a US alert is silly. The US department does not make it a habit to attempt theories in theological and ideological motivations in their alerts. It is not an analysis, its an alert.

    I’ll give you that the article from the Daily Beast has got its facts wrong and comes off prejudicial and Islamophobic in the very first paragraph (erroneously and offensively claiming that the ‘Night of Power’ is a extremist Muslim thing). However, that is from December 2001, and Bergen is only quoted, and is not saying anything outrageous either, as upsetting to us as it maybe.

    So this was truly a bad attempt in busting a myth or shooting down post-9/11 sensationalism. Recommend

  • Aziz Bhatti

    Well said Dr Faheem. I highly appreciate your piece that was much needed. The way today’s media is spreading Al-Qaeda’s agenda – looks like – Musalmanon ko bohat maar pernay wali hai – Lakin nuksaan dono atraf ka hota hai – jab aag lagti hai. Recommend

  • mind control

    The Islamophobes at CNN must be responsible for the 2nd Amendment. Muslims, of course, are incapable of such phobia.Recommend

  • Gingo

    Complaining about the very country which guarantees your safely and life and the right to call yourself a Muslim Recommend

  • http://POK darbullah

    ‘Democracy’ in Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea as North Korea likes to call itself?Recommend