Fasting & Extra Worship in Rajab & Sha'ban

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Wahhabis try to prevent the people from treating the night of Isra' and Mi`raj on the 27th of Rajab and the night of mid-Sha’ban, Laylat al-Bara'ah as special.  They claim that honouring these nights are innovations that must not be allowed.  Yet practically all Muslims hold these two nights in high reverence and consider it good, not blameworthy, to celebrate or commemorate them through gathering, feeding the people, reciting Qur'an and sirah, reading ahadits and performing supererogatory prayers.

Wahhabis literature also abounds with condemnations of those who fast in Rajab.  Since the pious fast the three blessed months of Rajab, Sha’ban, and Ramadhan in a row as far back as we can remember, and like to offer extra worship and invocation on the nights of 27th Rajab and 15th Sha’ban, we need to confirm that these are recommended in the fiqh of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah, not blameworthy, and what is the evidence for either position.

It is recommended to fast the months of Rajab and Sha’ban as a nafilah or supererogatory worship, with the intention of following the sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.) which has established the merit of this fast.  As for extra devotions on certain nights of Rajab and Sha’ban, there is no grounds for prohibiting them as the Wahhabis try to do now and then, and only the those with deficient understanding or faith would object to increasing remembrance of Allah (s.w.t.) on such nights as Laylat al-Isra' or 15th Sha’ban.

The following paragraph is from Imam ‘Abd ar-Rahman al-Jaziris (r.a.) chapter, “Fasting Rajab, Sha’ban and the Rest of the Holy Months,” in his al-Fiqh ‘ala al-Madzahib al-Arba’ah, “Islamic Law according to the Four Schools.”  Fasting the months of Rajab and Sha’ban is recommended, mandub, as agreed upon by three of the a’immah, while the Hanbalis differed in that they said fasting Rajab singly is disliked, except if one breaks the fast during it then it is not disliked.  Regarding the holy months, Dzu al-Qa’idah, Dzu al-Hijjah, Muharram, and Rajab, fasting them is recommended according to three of the a’immah, while the Hanafis differed in that they said what is recommended in the holy months is to fast three days from each of them, which are Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In Swahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawud and Musnad Ahmad, ‘Utsman ibn Hakim al-Answari (r.a.) is recorded to have said, “I asked Sa`id ibn Jubayr about fasting in Rajab, and we were then passing through the month of Rajab, whereupon he said, ‘I heard ibn ‘Abbas saying, ‘The Messenger of Allah used to observe fast so continuously that we thought he would never break it, and at other times he remained without fasting so continuously that we thought he would never fast.’’”  Imam Muslim (r.a.) and Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.) related it in Kitab asw-Swawm, respectively in the chapter on fasting at times other than Ramadhan, and in the chapter of fasting during Rajab.  Imam Ahmad (r.a.) also recorded this in his Musnad.

Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) commented in Sharh Swahih Muslim on this saying, “It appears that the meaning inferred by Sa’id ibn Jubayr from ibn ‘Abbas's report is that fasting in Rajab is neither forbidden nor considered praiseworthy in itself, rather, the ruling concerning it is the same as the rest of the months.”  This is also the commentary of Imam al-Qasthalani (r.a.) in al-Mawahib al-Jaduniyyah.  Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) continued, “Neither prohibition nor praiseworthiness has been established for the month of Rajab in itself, however, the principle concerning fasting is that it is praiseworthy in itself, and in the Sunan of Abu Dawud, the Prophet (s.a.w.) has made the fasting of the sacred months praiseworthy, and Rajab is one of them. And Allah knows best.”

It is established in Muswannaf ‘Abd ar-Razzaq, on the one hand, that ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) fasted during the sacred months and on the other, that he fasted all year as shown by the following hadits.

In Swahih Muslim, Sunan ibn Majah, and partly, Musnad Ahmad, ‘Abdullah (r.a.), the freed slave of Asma’ (r.a.), the daughter of Abu Bakr (r.a.), the maternal uncle of the son of ‘Atha’, reported, “Asma’ sent me to ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar saying. ‘The news has reached me that you prohibit the use of three things: the striped robe, saddle cloth made of red silk, and fasting the whole month of Rajab.’

‘Abdullah said to me, ‘So far as what you say about fasting in the month of Rajab, how about one who observes continuous fasting?  And so far as what you say about the striped garment, I heard ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab say that he had heard from Allah's Messenger (s.a.w.). ‘He who wears a silk garment, has no share for him.’  And I am afraid that stripes were part of it.  And so far as the red saddle cloth is concerned, here is ‘Abdullah's saddle cloth and it is red.’’

I went back to Asma' and informed her, so she said, ‘Here is the jubbah of Allah's Messenger (s.a.w.),’ and she brought out to me that cloak made of Persian cloth with a hem of brocade, and its sleeves bordered with brocade, and said, ‘This was Allah's Messenger's cloak with ‘Aishah until she died, then I took possession of it.  The Apostle of Allah (s.a.w.) used to wear that, and we washed it for the sick so that they could seek cure with it.’”

Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) commented on the above, “ibn ‘Umars reply concerning fasting in Rajab is a denial on his part of what Asma' had heard with regard to his forbidding it, and it is an affirmation that he fasted Rajab in its entirety as well as fasting permanently, except the days of ‘Iyd and tashriq.  This perpetual fast is his way and the way of his father, `Umar ibn al-Khaththab, ‘Aishah, Abu Thalhah, and others of the salaf as well as ash-Shafi’i and other scholars: their position is that perpetual fasting is not makruh.”

Imam ibn Qudamah (r.a.) stated something similar, in al-Mughni', concerning perpetual fasting and adds that the same view is related from Imam Ahmad (r.a.) and Imam Malik (r.a.), and that after the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) death, Abu Thalhah (r.a.) fasted permanently for forty years, among other companions.  Imam ibn Hajr al-Haytsami (r.a.), in al-Khayrat al-Hisan fi Manaqib Abi Hanifah an-Nu’man, similarly related that Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) was never seen eating except at night.

Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) added, “In this hadits is a proof that it is recommended to seek blessings through the relics of the righteous and their clothes.  This is found in Sharh Swahih Muslim.

Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.) related in Shu’ab al-Iman and Imam Abu Nu`aym (r.a.) in at-Targhib that Shaykh Abu ‘Abdullah al-Hafizh (r.a.) and Shaykh Abu Muhammad ibn Abi Hamid al-Muqri (r.a.) said, from Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Asamm (r.a.), from Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Sulayman al-Barlisi (r.a.), from Imam ‘Abdallah ibn Yusuf (r.a.) and Shaykh ‘Amir ibn Shibli (r.a.) who said, “I heard Abu Qilabah say, ‘There is a palace in Paradise for those who fast the month of Rajab.’"

Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.) further commented, “Even if it is mawquf at such as he does not say such a saying except if it were related to him by someone who had heard it from him to whom Revelation comes, and success is from Allah.”  Mawquf means that it is not traced back to the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Shaykh Abu Qilabah (r.a.) is one of the tabi’i, passed away in 104 AH.

Those who object to fasting part or all of Rajab and Sha’ban cite the same few reasons.  They state that ‘Umar (r.a.) punished the mutarajjibun, those who fasted the month of Rajab according to a practice carried over from the Jahiliyyah, by striking their hands until they broke their fast.  However, this does not constitute a valid objection as `Umars (r.a.) act was solely due to some people's emphasis of Rajab, which used to be fasted during the Jahiliyyah, over Ramadhan as the fasting month.  This is clearly not feared for present-day Muslims.  There was also a sacrifice named rajabiyyah performed in that month, a practice carried over from the Jahiliyyah.  Several ahadits in Sunan Abu Dawud and Musnad Ahmad show that it became obligatory in Islam until the obligation was abrogated.  Certain pre-Islamic practices were fought over even in the time of ‘Umar (r.a.), as is shown by the latter's uprooting of a tree for fear of its veneration by some people.

It must be understood that ‘Umar (r.a.) never said, “Do not fast.”  Rather, he said, “Break your fast,” which meant to not complete it as though one was be obliged to if it were Ramadhan.  And no one of the swahabah fasted Rajab and Sha’ban completely in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.), this was reserved for Ramadhan.  However, if someone makes the intention to fast Rajab and Sha’ban completely, it is permitted in the shari’ah, with the understanding that it is mustahabb to break it shortly before Ramadhan begins.

Imam ibn Qudamah (r.a.) stated in al-Mughni, “It is disliked that Rajab be singled out for fasting.  Ahmad said, ‘If a man fasts during that month, let him break the fast for one day in it, or several, just so as not to fast it all.’"

The reason for this is what Imam Ahmad (r.a.) narrated with his chains the following.  Kharashah ibn al-Harr (r.a.) said, “I saw ‘Umar striking the hands of the mutarajjibin until they helped themselves to the food, and he would say, ‘Eat!  For it is only a month which the Jahiliyyah used to magnify.’”

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) said that he disliked seeing people make preparations for Rajab and would say, “Fast some of it and break fast some of it.”  ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) said something similar.

Abu Bakr (r.a.) said he saw his household preparing new baskets and clay jugs and asked, “What is this?”

They said, “For Rajab, so that we may fast it.”

He replied, “Did you change Rajab into Ramadhan?”  Then he took apart the baskets and broke the jugs.

Imam Ahmad (r.a.) said, “Whoever fasts all year round may fast all of Rajab.  Otherwise, let him not fast all of it but only some of it so that he will not liken it to Ramadhan.”

The above makes it clear that singling out the month of Rajab for fasting is not forbidden, but at worst disliked; it is not even disliked as long as fast is broken to the extent that the similitude with the month of Ramadhan is eliminated; and even the unbroken fast is not disliked if the person fasts all year round.

Others cited Shaykh Sayyid Sabiq’s (r.a.) statement in Fiqh as-Sunnah that fasting during Rajab contains no more virtue than during any other month.  There is no sound report from the sunnah that states that it has a special reward.  All that has been related concerning it is not strong enough to be used as a proof.  Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) said, “There is no authentic hadits related to its virtues, nor fasting during it or on certain days of it, nor concerning exclusively making night prayers during that month.”

The opinion of Shaykh Sayyid Sabiq (r.a.) whereby, “Fasting during Rajab contains no more virtue than during any other month,” is certainly incorrect in view of the fact that Rajab is a sacred month, and the Prophet (s.a.w.) emphasised the merit of fasting in the sacred months and in Sha’ban.  This is established by Imam an-Nawawi's (r.a.) commentary of the hadits of Sa`id ibn Jubayr (r.a.) in Swahih Muslim cited above, as well as the following hadits.

In Sunan Abu Dawud and Sunan al-Bayhaqi, Mujibah al-Bahiliyyah (r.a.) reported that her father or uncle was told by the Prophet (s.a.w.) three times, “Fast some and leave some in the sacred months.”

In Musnad Ahmad, Usamah ibn Zayd (r.a.) said, “O Messenger of Allah, I never saw you fast any month as much as you fast during the month of Sha’ban?” meaning besides Ramadhan.

He replied, “The people become inattentive during that month between Rajab and Ramadhan, and it is a month in which actions are Raised to the Lord of the Worlds, therefore I like that my actions be raised while I am fasting.”

In Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim, `Aishah (r.a.) said, “The Prophet used to fast the whole of Sha’ban but for a little.”

In Swahih Muslim, Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) said, “The best month to fast after Ramadhan is Muharram.”

Imam ibn Hajr’s (r.a.) opinion was that it only applies to the pure singling out of the month of Rajab at the exclusion of Ramadhan, or Sha’ban, or the sacred months, or the rest of the entire year, which does have a basis.  But his opinion does not provide a basis for the claim of the objectors that fasting during Rajab is forbidden or that it is an innovation: for neither the a’immah of the four schools, nor Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.), nor Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.), nor Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.), nor even Shaykh Sayyid Sabiq (r.a.) have claimed this.  Furthermore, there is also no sound hadits from the Prophet (s.a.w.) forbidding the fast of Rajab or disavowing its merit.

Those who object by quoting the hadits in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim whereby the Prophet (s.a.w.) emphasised that the one who fasts all his life has not fasted, their understanding of this hadits is diametrically opposed to that of the companions and the salaf, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.), Imam Malik (r.a.), Imam Shafi`i (r.a.) and Imam Ahmad (r.a.), who did not dislike perpetual fasting as long as it did not include the days of ‘Iyd and tashriq.

As for the narration from ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) whereby the Prophet (s.a.w.) forbade the fast of Rajab, only Imam ibn Majah (r.a.) reported it, with a chain containing Dawud ibn ‘Atha' al-Muzani.  Concerning Dawud ibn ‘Atha’, Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), Imam ibn Abi Hatim (r.a.) and Imam Abu Zur’ah (r.a.) rejected his ahadits, labeling his as munkar al-hadits.  Imam an-Nisa'i (r.a.) declared him dha`if, and Imam Ahmad (r.a.) said, “He is nothing.”

The chain also contains Abu Ayyub Sulayman ibn ‘Ali al-Hashimi about whom Imam Yahya ibn Sa’id al-Qaththan (r.a.) said, “His case is not known,” although Imam ibn Hibban (r.a.) declared him trustworthy, but his leniency in this matter is known.

As for the hadits in Sunan at-Tirmidzi, Musnad Ahmad, Sunan Abu Dawud and Sunan ad-Darimi concerning the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) injunction to refrain from fasting in the second half of Sha’ban, Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) explained that it applies to those who would deliberately intend to fast only then; it should not be done in view of the proximity of the month of Ramadhan.  As for those who were fasting before, then they may fast in the second half of Sha’ban.

In conclusion, it is at the very least allowed to fast Rajab and Sha’ban in part or in whole, and we say it is recommended, as the clarity of the intention to follow the sunnah and the knowledge that only the fast of Ramadhan is obligatory, preclude the reprehensibility of those who used to honour Rajab in rivalry with Ramadhan.  Sufficient proof of the month of Rajab's status as a great month lies in the fact that it is the month of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) Rapture and Ascension to his Lord, al-Isra’ wa al-Mi’raj, and they are blessed who commemorate this month and that night for the sake of Allah's Favour to His Prophet (s.a.w.) and the community of His Prophet (s.a.w.).  And Allah (s.w.t.) Knows best.


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