Fasting in Sha’ban, The Neglected Month
The month of Sha’ban is upon us, leaving us only one month until the start of the blessed month of Ramadan. For many, that means time to make preparations such as having dates and other goodies stored away for iftar when Ramadan rolls around. Or perhaps you need to start putting in orders for lots of halal meat to feed your families or the brothers and sisters at your local masjid. Whatever the case may be, we all make appropriate preparations.
But how many people are spiritually prepared for the approach of Ramadan? Sadly, very few people avail themselves of practicing one of the Sunnahs of Sha’ban established by our Noble Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم): fasting. Yes, fasting in Sha’ban is a tremendous Sunnah, but it is also a neglected one. Our mother, ‘A’ishah, relates, saying:
«كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يصوم حتى نقول لا يفطر، ويفطر حتى نقول لا يصوم، فما رأيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم استكمل صيام شهر إلا رمضان، وما رأيته أكثر صياماً منه في شعبان»
“Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to fast (daily) until we would say he does not break his fast (by missing a day), and he used to break his fast (by not fasting) until we would say he does not fast. And I did not seek Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) fast any month completely except for Ramadan, and I never him saw him fasting as much as hid in Sha’ban.”
It is reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim; a narration of al-Bukhari mentions:
«كان يصوم شعبان كله»
“For he would fast all of Sha’ban.”
Meaning: almost all of Sha’ban, as clarified by the following narration of Muslim:
«كان يصوم شعبان إلا قليلاً»
“He would fast Sha’ban, except a little.”
Perhaps, dear brother, you might be asking, “What is the wisdom in this fasting of almost all of Sha’ban?” If we look to the hadiths related from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), then the most authentic of them concerning the wisdom of this fast is the following hadith of Usamah ibn Zayd who states:
«لم يكن يصوم من الشهر ما يصوم من شعبان»
“He (the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم) did not used to fast any month as much as he would fast Sha’ban…”
So Usamah asked him:
لم أرك تصوم من الشهر ما تصوم من شعبان
“I have not seen you fasting any month as you fast Sha’ban.”
«ذاك شهر يغفل الناس عنه بين رجب ورمضان، وهو شهر ترفع فيه الأعمال إلى رب العالمين عز وجل فأحب أن يرفع عملي وأنا صائم»
“This is a month that people neglect, between Rajab and Ramadan, and it is a month in which the deeds are raised up to the Lord of the Worlds, so I love that my deeds should be raised up while I am fasting.”
The authenticity of this hadith is disputable, hence it cannot be a definitive evidence as to the wisdom behind fasting in this month. However, if we ponder on the matter for a bit, I believe some other wisdoms aside from the one mentioned in this hadith can be found.
Fasting has great physiological and spiritual benefits. All of us have experienced how eating a heavy meal dulls the mind and the senses. Fasting is a means for avoiding the excessive indulgence in eating which leads to this evil result. Consequently, we are better able to worship Allah with presence of mind. We are able to read the Qur’an with greater focus and contemplation.
Just as heavy eating dulls the mind, it also makes the body sluggish. The ones who eat too much stand for prayer in laziness, and this is one of the qualities of the hypocrites, may Allah save us from that!
It is only when one engages in excessive eating and has satisfied his stomach that he begins to think about satisfying his other lusts and desires. Consequently, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) instructed young men unable to get married to fast, as it would suppress their sexual desire.
The hunger felt while fasting softens the heart and suppresses the ego. Conversely, overeating hardens the heart and increases arrogance. When you are feeling the pangs of hunger, you are forced to humble yourself before Allah (تعالى).
These many benefits of fasting will aid the one who fasts in Sha’ban in approaching Ramadan with a humbled heart, an attentive mind, and an energetic body ready to stand and worship Allah and ready to read the Qur’an pondering its meanings and delving into its depths of beauty and meanings. Consequently, you will be prepared to take full advantage of the blessed season of Ramadan.
One might ask, but what about the hadith of Abu Hurayrah, “When half of Sha’ban remains, then refrain from fasting.”
Ibn Rajab states in Lata’if al-Ma’arif,
“The scholars have disagreed concerning the authenticity of this hadith as well whether or not to act upon it. A number of them authenticated such as at-Tirmidhi, ibn Hibban, and ibn ‘Abdil-Barr. However, those who are greater and more knowledgeable than them criticized it and said it is a munkar (rejected) hadith, amongst them: ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn Mahdi, Ahmad, Abu Zur’ah ar-Razi, and al-Athram. And Imam Ahmad rejected it with the hadith “Do not precede Ramadan by fasting a day or two before it” because it implies that it is permissible to precede Ramadan by more than two days.”
Furthermore, most of the scholars who deem this hadith authentic interpret it to mean that it is only prohibited to fast after the midpoint of Sha’ban if one has not started doing so before then.
(I will discuss the opinions concerning the authenticity of this hadith in further detail in a future post, in sha Allah)
So I encourage all of you to make a resolve to fast this Sha’ban as much as you can. Set your goal at 25 days… if that is too much then 20… or 15… or even 10. Fast as much as you are able without exhausting yourself to an extent that fasting the month of Ramadan becomes difficult for you. And Allah (تعالى) knows best, and He is the source of success.