Sha’bān is the name of the (eighth) month, and it is so called because in this month the Arabs used to disperse (tasha’aba) in search of water, or it was said that they dispersed to carry out raids and forays. Or it was said that it is so called because it sha’aba (branches out or emerges) i.e., it appears between the months of Rajab and Ramaḍān. The plural forms of the word Sha’bān are Sha’bānāt and Sha’ābīn.
Fasting in Sha’bān
ʿĀ’ishah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) said:
“The Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) used to fast until we thought he would never break his fast, and not fast until we thought he would never fast. I never saw the Messenger of Allāh fasting for an entire month except in Ramaḍān, and I never saw him fast more than he did in Sha’bān.”
According to a report narrated by Muslim, “He used to fast all of Sha’bān, he used to fast all but a little of Sha’bān.” A group of scholars, including Ibn al-Mubārak and others, thought that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not fast all of Sha’bān, but he fasted most of it. This is supported by a report in Saḥīḥ Muslim, narrated from ʿĀ’ishah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), who said: “I never knew of him – meaning the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) – fasting for any entire month apart from Ramaḍān.” According to another report also narrated by Muslim, ʿĀ’ishah said: “I never saw him fast for any entire month from the time he came to Madīnah, apart from Ramaḍān.”
It was reported in al-Sahīhayn that Ibn ‘Abbās said: “The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not fast any entire month apart from Ramaḍān.” Ibn ‘Abbās regarded it as makrūh to fast any entire month apart from Ramaḍān. Ibn Hajar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said: “He observed more voluntary fasts in Sha’bān than in any other month, and he used to fast most of Sha’bān.”
Usāmah b. Zayd (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “I said, ‘O Messenger of Allāh, I do not see you fasting in any other month like you fast in Sha’bān.’ He said, ‘That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadān, and it is a month in which deeds are lifted up to the Lord of the Worlds. I like for my deeds to be lifted up when I am fasting.’” According to a report narrated by Abū Dāwūd,: “The most beloved of months for the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to fast in was Sha’bān, and his fasting in Sha’bān was continuous with his fasting in Ramaḍān.”
Ibn Rajab (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said: “Fasting in Sha’bān is better than fasting in the Sacred Months, and the best of voluntary fasts are those that are (observed in the months) closest to Ramaḍān, before or after. The status of these fasts is like that of al-Sunan al-Rawātib which are done before and after fard (prayers) and which make up for any shortfall in the number of obliagatory prayers. The same applies to fasts observed before and after Ramaḍān. Just as al-Sunan al-Rawātib are better than other kinds of voluntary prayers, so fasts observed (in the months) before and after Ramaḍān are better than fasts at other times.
The phrase “Sha’bān is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramaḍān” indicates that because it comes between two important months, the Sacred Month of Rajab and the month of fasting, people are preoccupied with those two months and they do not pay attention to Sha’bān. Many people think that fasting in Rajab is better than fasting in Sha’bān, because Rajab is one of the Sacred Months, but this is not the case.
In the ḥadīth quoted above there is an indication that even though certain times, places and people may be commonly thought to possess a particular virtue, there may be others that are better than them.
It also indicates that it is mustahabb to make good use of the times when people tend to be negligent, by doing acts of worship. A group of the Salaf used to fill the time between Maghrib and ʿIshā’ with prayer, saying that it was a time when many people were negligent. Another example is the remembrance of Allāh (dhikr) in the marketplace, because this means one is remembering Him in a place where people tend to be negligent and among people who are negligent. There are a number of benefits that come from making good use of times when people are often negligent, and using these times for worship, including the following:
It is more concealing of one’s good works, and hiding and concealing nāfil actions is better, especially fasting, because it is a secret between a slave and his Lord. Hence it was said that there is no element of showing off in fasting. One of the Salaf used to fast for years without anybody knowing about it; he would go from his home to the marketplace carrying two loaves of bread, which he would give away in charity, and he would fast. His family thought that he ate the bread, whilst the people in the marketplace thought that he had eaten at home. The Salaf thought it was mustahabb for a person who was fasting to do things that would conceal the fact that he was fasting. It was reported that Ibn Mas’ūd said: “When you get up in the morning and you are fasting, then apply perfume.” Qutādah said: “It is mustahabb for the [man] who is fasting to apply perfume so that there will be no sign that he is fasting.”
By the same token, doing righteous deeds at times when people are distracted and negligent is more difficult. One of the indications of how virtuous a deed is is how difficult it is: if everyone is doing a certain action, it is easy, but if most people are negligent, this makes it more difficult for those who do remember Allāh. Muslim, narrated from the hadīth of Ma’qil ibn Yassār: “[The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:] ‘Worship at times of tribulation (fitnah) is like Hijrah to me.’” The phrase “worship at times of tribulation” refers to times of upheavals and trials, when people follow their own desires, and those who adhere to Islām are doing something difficult.
The scholars differed as to the reasons why the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) fasted so much in Sha’bān. Their various opinions were as follows:
That he had been unable to fast three days out of every month because he was travelling or for some other reason, so he made them all up together in Sha’bān. When the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) began to do some nāfil action, he would persist in it, and if he missed it, he would make it up later.
It was said that his wives used to make up the days that they missed of Ramaḍān in Sha’bān, so he used to fast because of that. This is the opposite of what was reported from ʿĀ’ishah, that she used to delay making up days that she had missed in Ramadān until Sha’bān because she was too busy with the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to fast.
It was said that it was because this is a month which people do not pay attention to. This is the most correct view, because of the ḥadīth of Usāmah quoted above, in which it says: “That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramaḍān.”
When Sha’bān began, if the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) still had some voluntary fasts outstanding that he had not fasted, he would make them up during Sha’bān so that his nāfil fasts would be complete before Ramaḍān came. Similarly, if he had missed some Sunnah prayers or he had missed Qiyām al-Layl, he would make it up. ʿĀ’ishah used to make the most of this opportunity to make up any obligatory Ramaḍān fasts that she had missed because of menstruation; during other months she was too busy with the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to fast. We should also note here that anyone who has any missed fasts to make up has to make them up before the next Ramaḍān comes. It is not permissible to delay it until after the following Ramaḍān except in cases of necessity (such as a valid excuse that continues between the two Ramaḍāns). Whoever is able to make them up before the (second) Ramaḍān and does not do so, has to make them up after the (second) Ramaḍān and in addition to that, he has to repent and to feed one poor person for each day that he missed. This is the view of Mālik, al-Shāfa’i and Ahmad.
Another benefit of fasting in Sha’bān is that it is a kind of training for the Ramaḍān fast, in case a person finds it difficult to fast when Ramaḍān starts; if he fasts in Sha’bān he will have gotten used to fasting and he will feel strong and energetic when Ramaḍān comes. Sha’bān is like an introduction to Ramaḍān and it has some things in common with Ramaḍān, such as fasting, reciting Qur’ān and giving in charity. Salamah b. Suhayl used to say: “The month of Sha’bān is the month of reciters (of the Qur’ān).” Habīb b. Abī Thābit used to say when Sha’bān came, “This is the month of reciters (of the Qur’ān).” When Sha’bān came, ‘Amr ibn Qays al-Malā’i used to close his store and devote his time to reading the Qur’ān.
Fasting at the End of Sha’bān
It was reported in al-Sahīhayn from ‘Imrān b. Husayn (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said to a man, “Have you fasted anything of the sirār of this month?” He said, “No.” He said: “If you have not fasted, then fast two days.” According to a report narrated by al-Bukhāri: I think he meant Ramaḍān. According to a report narrated by Muslim, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “Have you fasted anything of the sirār of Sha’bān?”
There was some dispute as to the meaning of the word sirār. The most well-known view is that it refers to the end of the month. The end of the month is called sirār because the moon is hidden (istisrār) at that time. Someone may raise the point that it was reported in al-Sahīhayn from Abū Hurayrah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “Do not pre-empt Ramaḍān by one or two days, except for those who have the habit of fasting regularly, in which case they may fast.” How can we reconcile the hadīth which encourages fasting at this time with the hadīth which says not to fast at this time? The answer is: many of the scholars and most of those who commented on this hadīth said: this man to whom the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) addressed this question was known to have the habit of fasting regularly, or else he had made a vow, so the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) commanded him to make up his fast. There are also other points of view on this issue. In brief we may say that there are three scenarios for fasting at the end of Sha’bān.
The first scenario is when a person fasts at the end of Sha’bān with the intention of being on the safe side and not missing the first day of Ramaḍān. This is forbidden. The second scenario is when a person fasts with the intention of fulfilling a vow or of making up a day of Ramaḍān that he missed or as an act of expiation (kafārah), etc. This is permissible according to the majority.
The third scenario is when this is purely a voluntary fast. This is regarded as makrūh by those who said that we should differentiate between Sha’bān and Ramaḍān by not fasting for a while. Among those who said this was al-Hasan. If it happens to coincide with a day when a person habitually fasts, Mālik and those who agreed with him permitted this, but al-Shāfa’i, al-‘Ūzā’i, Ahmad and others made a distinction between cases where it is a fast which a person habitually observes or otherwise.
In conclusion, the hadīth of Abū Hurayrah quoted above is what we should follow according to the majority of scholars. It is makrūh to observe a voluntary fast one or two days before Ramaḍān for those who do not habitually fast on those days and who have not previously fasted until the end of Sha’bān. It may be asked: why is it makrūh to fast just before Ramaḍān (for those who do not have a prior habit of fasting)? There are a number of reasons why this is so, such as:
Firstly: lest extra days be added to the fast of Ramaḍān that are not part of it. Fasting on the day of Eid is prohibited for the same reason, lest we fall into the same trap as the People of the Book with regard to fasting, as they added to their fasts because of their own whims and desires.
For the same reason, it is also forbidden to fast on the “day of doubt”. ‘Ammār said: whoever fasts on this day has disobeyed Abū’l-Qāsim (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu).
The “day of doubt” is a day when people are not sure whether it is Ramaḍān or not, when news of the sighting of the crescent moon comes from one whose word cannot be accepted. As for a cloudy day, some of the ʿulamā’ said that this was also a ‘day of doubt’ and said that fasting was not allowed on this day. This is the view of the majority.
Secondly: to make a distinction between fard (obligatory) fasts and nāfil (supererogatory) fasts, because making a clear distinction between fard actions and nāfil actions is prescribed in Islām. Hence it is harām to fast on the day of Eid, and the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) forbade following an obligatory prayer immediately with another prayer unless they are separated by saying salām or speaking, especially in the case of the Sunnah prayer performed just before Fajr. It is prescribed to make a clear separation between this prayer and the obligatory prayer. Hence it is prescribed to pray it at home and to lie down afterwards.
When the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) saw a man praying at the time when the iqāmah had been given for Fajr, he said to him: “Al-Subh is four rak’ahs.”
Some ignorant people may think that the reason why we do not fast just before Ramaḍān is so that we can make the most of eating and have our fill of our desires before we have to deny ourselves by fasting. This is an ignorant mistake on the part of those who think this. And Allāh knows best.
Originally posted on 27th June 2012.