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Sha’ban: The Month of Preparation

Sha’ban: The Month of Preparation
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Rajab, Sha’ban and Ramadan, the months of increased blessing and forgiveness are here, yet again, Alhamdulillah!
Rasul Allah PBUH  would look forward to these months and pray with anticipation:

اللهم بارك لنا في رجب و شعبان و بلغنا إلى رمضان.

Abu Bakr al-Balkhi r.a. said: “The month of Rajab is the month for planting, the month of Sha’ban is the month of irrigating the crops, and the month of Ramadan is the month of harvesting the crops.”

He also said: “The likeness of the month of Rajab is that of the wind, the likeness of Sha’ban is that of the clouds and the likeness of Ramadan is that of the rain; whoever does not plant and sow in Rajab, and does not irrigate in Sha’ban, how can he reap in Ramadan?”

Alhamdulillah, Sha’banul muazzam has begun and we are fast moving towards the blessed month of Ramadan. With the arrival of the Sha’ban moon numerous blessings are showered upon us just like the rain which soaks the earth, cleanses the air and provides all living beings the bounties of nature.

Sha’ban is the name of the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and it is so called because in this month the Arabs used to disperse  in search of water (tasha’aba), or it was said that it is so called because it  branches out or emerges (sha’aba), i.e., it appears between the months of Rajab and Ramadan. It also means consecutively escalating or undisturbed increase just as with the beginning of Shaban blessings are initiated which progressively escalate so that by mid-Shaban the blessings have reached a considerable amount and finally such blessings reach their peak by the end of Ramadan. Ulema liken Sha’ban to dawn, where the early morning light starts to trickle down till the sun rises in its full glory, which is the 1st of Ramadan, the peak of noor; Subhan Allah!
Our Holy Prophet PBUH has said, “Shaban is my month and Ramadan the month of Allah Ta’ala.” (Daylami)

Sha’ban is the last month before Ramadan, so Alhamdulillah we are in the neighbourhood of Ramadan and the winds of noor and barakah have already started blowing our way. To take full advantage of this noble and supreme favour of Allah ta’ala, we should spend this month in various acts of ibadah to gear our body and mind to be fully prepared to receive Ramadan Mubarak in a befitting manner.

Deeds Recommended by Pious Elders:

  1. Complete qada fasts of any outstanding obligatory fasts from the previous Ramadan before this Ramadan arrives.
  2. Seek Knowledge to understand and follow the rulings on fasting.
  3. Fast in Sha’ban to prepare for Ramadan. The Messenger of Allah PBUH  was reported to have fasted the most in Sha’ban. (Bukhari, Muslim)

Usamah ibn Zayd r.a. said: “I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I do not see you fasting in any other month like you fast in Sha’ban.’ He PBUH said, ‘That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan, 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.'” (Narrated by al-Nasa’i).

But the fasts of Sha’ban are for those persons only who are capable of keeping them without causing deficiency in the obligatory fasts of Ramadan. If one fears that after fasting in Sha’ban, he will lose strength for the fasts of Ramadan he should not fast in Sha’ban, because the fasts of Ramadan, being obligatory, are more important than the optional fasts of Sha’ban. That is why Prophet Muhammad PBUH  himself has forbidden the Muslims from fasting one or two days immediately before the commencement of Ramadan. The blessed Companion Abu Hurairah r.a. reports Prophet Muhammad PBUH  to have said, “Do not fast after the first half of the month of Sha’ban is gone.”

There are three scenarios for fasting at the end of Sha’ban:

The first scenario is when a person fasts at the end of Sha’ban with the intention of being on the safe side and not missing the first day of Ramadan. 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 Ramadan that he missed or as an act of expiation (kaffarah), etc. This is permissible according to the majority.

The third scenario is when this is purely a voluntary fast. This is regarded as makrooh (disliked) by those who said that we should differentiate between Sha’ban and Ramadan by not fasting for a while. There are a number of reasons why this is so, such as lest extra days be added to the fast of Ramadan that are not part of it. Secondly,  to make a distinction between fard (obligatory) fasts and nafl fasts, because making a clear distinction between fard actions and nafl actions is prescribed in Islam.

4. Read Quran. When Sha’ban began, ‘Amr ibn Qays r.a.  would close his shop and free his time for reading Qur’an.

Important Events That Occurred in the Month of Sha’ban:

1. “Qibla”, the direction to be adopted within salaah, was reverted back to the “Ka’aba” in Makkah, after being converted to Baitul Muqaddas in Jerusalem for a short period of time.  This took place two years after Hijraah on the 15th of Shaban.
2. Fasting in the blessed month of Ramadan was made compulsory in the year 2 A.H. on the 25th of Shaban.
3. Three years A.H. Hadhrat Hafsa r.a. was joined in matrimony with the Prophet PBUH.
4. In this very month forty two years later Hadhrat Hafsa r.a. took leave from this world.
5. The birth of the Prophet’s PBUH grandson Hadhrat Hussain r.a. took place on the fifth of Shaban.
6. The battle of Banu Mustaliq took place in Shaban.
7. During the above mentioned battle, the “Aayah of Tayammum” (Purifying with sand before salaah) was revealed, in the year 5 A.H.
8. The daughter of the beloved Prophet PBUH Umme Kulthum r.a. took leave from this world, in the 9 A.H.

However, the most significant feature of the month of Sha’ban is that it consists of a night which is termed in Shariah as “Laylatul-bara’ah” (The night of freedom from Fire).

This is the night occurring between 14th and 15th day of Sha’ban. There are numerous traditions of Prophet Muhammad PBUH to prove that it is a meritorious night in which the people of the earth are attended by special Divine mercy. While some of these narrations are undeniably weak, there are others which have been graded as reliable by some hadith experts. Among the most authentic of these are:

1. Hafiz Ibn Hibban recorded in his “Sahih,” [vol XII, p. 481; #5665] :
Prophet PBUH  said, “Allah looks at His creation in the night of mid-Sha`ban; He forgives all His creation except for a mushrik (polytheist) or a mushahin (one who has illegitimate hatred or enmity of others).”
As is evident, this hadith was regarded as reliable by Ibn Hibban, who was a hadith expert, and a group of later hadith scholars have also judged it as as hasan li-ghayrihi (good, through the support of other such narrations). Some other versions mention other categories of sinners as not being forgiven on that night; those who commit zina (fornication or adultery), break family ties or commit murder.

2. Aisha r.a. said: “On this night the Prophet PBUH went to Jannat-ul-Baqee to make du’a, I followed him. The Prophet PBUH said to me, “Allah puts His attention towards the first Heaven, and forgives the sins of the people, even if they were equivalent to the hairs of the goats of Bunn Qalb.” (A tribe who at the time had a lot of goats) [ Tirmidhi , Kitab-us-Siyaam]
[Narrated by Tirmidhi r.a., who points out that its chain of narration is discontinuous, although we may note that such discontinuity is not detrimental to authenticity according to some scholars. It is also narrated by Ahmad, Ibn Majah and others. Ibn Rajab describes this narration as one of the best on the subject.]

3. Usama ibn Zayd r.a. said, “O Messenger of Allah! I have not seen you fast in any of the months as [much] as you fast in Sha`ban!” He said, “That is a month which people are neglectful of, between Rajab and Ramadan, and it is a month in which deeds are lifted up to the Lord of the Worlds, and I like for my deeds to be lifted up while I am fasting.” [Narrated by Nasa’i and Ahmad]

4. Sayyiduna Mu’aadh ibn Jabal r.a. said that Rasulullah PBUH  said, ‘Allah Ta’ala turns to his entire creation on the fifteenth night of Sha’baan and forgives all of them except one who ascribes partners to Him and one who harbours enmity in his heart.’ (Recorded by Imaam Tabrani in his Mu’jamul Awsat Hadith6776 and Mu’jamul Kabeer vol.20 pg.108-109). Imaam ibn Hibbaan r.a. has classified this narration as Sahih (authentic).

Besides the above, there are many other Sahaaba (Radhiallaahu Anhum) that narrated Ahaadith regarding the merit of this night, such as: Abu Hurayra (Musnad al-Bazzaar), Abu Tha’labah (Shu’ubul Imaan), Awf ibn Maalik (Musnad al-Bazzaar), Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas (Musnad Ahmad Hadith6642), Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari (ibn Majah Hadith1390; Shu’ubul Imaan Hadith3833) and others. The collective strength of these narrations cannot be refuted.

Some of these traditions have been held by some scholars of hadith as authentic and the defects in the chain of some others have been treated by them as minor technical defects which, according to the science of hadith, are curable by the variety of their ways of narration. When all these traditions are combined together, it becomes clear that this night has some well founded merits, and observing this night as a sacred night is not a baseless concoction as envisaged by some modern scholars. In fact, that is why the elders of the ummah have constantly been observing this night as a night of special merits and have been spending it in worship and prayers. It is clearly stated in the fiqh works of the madhhabs that it is recommended to worship on this night.

Even Ibn Taymiyya r.a. says Imam Haskafi said in his Durr al-Mukhtar, one of the primary references in the Hanafi school: “Among the recommended [prayers] are on the nights of the two Eids, the middle of Sha`ban, the last ten days of Ramadan, and the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah.”

Ibn Taymiyya r.a. was asked about the prayer of mid-Sha`ban [i.e. the night of]. He answered, “If a person prays that night alone, or in a select congregation, as many groups (tawa’if) of the Early Muslims used to do, it is very good. As for gathering in the mosque for a particular fixed prayer is a reprehensible innovation, which none of the imams have allowed.” [Ibn Taymiyya, al-Fatawa al-Kubra, 2; 222-138]

Hafiz Ibn Taymiyyah r.a. mentions in his “Fatawa” that scholars have differed about this night; some of the salaf used to stay up on it, and the night has virtue. It was actually some of prominent scholars of the Tabi`een (the second generation from the Prophet PBUH) in Syria, among them MakHool, who started the practice of performing optional prayer (tahajjud/qiyam) specifically during this night. On the basis of the ahadith mentioned above, fortified by more explicit but weaker ahadith, and by the practice of these Tabi`een, it is recommended, according to a group of scholars, to perform optional worship on this night.

The Ahl-Sunnah say this is a permissible act, but it is not a Sunnah. There is enough proof that if the majority of the Muslims consider it to be good then it is sufficient. As the Prophet PBUH stated, “The thing that group of a Muslims says is good, it is accepted by Allah.” [ “Mishkat chapter Ihtisaam”]

The narrations concerning this night are weak but this does not matter since weak Ahadith are acceptable for virtuous actions.
[Fatawa Ahl-e-Hadith by Hafidhh Rawpari and Fatawa Thanaa’iya by Thana’ullah Amritsari, chapter on fasting]

The general virtue of this night has been accepted by many great Ulema of the past. From among many great scholars which have agreed to the virtue of this night are: Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz, Imaam al-Shaafi’ee, Imaam al-Awzaa’ie, Attaa ibn Yassaar, Imaam al-Majd ibn Abdul-Aziz, ibn Rajab al-Hanbaliy and Hafiz Zaynu-ddeen al-Iraaqiy (Rahmatullaahi alayhim) – refer Laylatul Ma’aarif of Hafiz ibn Rajab pgs.263-264 and Faydhul Qadeer vol.2 pg.317

…………..and Allah Ta’ala Knows Best

What Should be Done in this Night?

One should try and spend as much of the night as possible in worship and remembrance of Allah ta’ala. It may also be noted that there is essential unanimity that there is no specific form of worship exclusive to this night, and so those who wish to offer `ibadah in it may perform the usual form of tahajjud (qiyam) prayers, preferably 8 rak`ah, and/or other worships such as recitation of Qur’an, remembrance of Allah and supplication (dua). It is much preferred to offer such worship individually and privately; indeed most scholars consider it a bid`ah (reprehensible innovation in religion) to gather to offer such supererogatory worship in congregation. [see: Lata’if al-Ma`arif, p. 200; Maraqi al-Falah, p. 154 and Radd al-Muhtar, (2/469)]

In case of illness or women’s monthly excuse from salah and recitation, or any such valid excuse, one should try and spend time in zikr, dua, listen to recorded bayans of contemporary, confirmed and established ulema to avail of the blessings of this night.

According to a hadith, which is relatively less authentic, Prophet Muhammad PBUH went in this night to the graveyard of Baqi’ where he PBUH prayed for the Muslims buried there. On this basis, some of the fuqaha hold it as mustahabb (advisable) in this night to go to the graveyard of the Muslims and recite Fatihah or any other part of the Qur’an, and pray for the dead. But this act is neither obligatory nor should it be performed as regularly as an obligatory act.

What Should Not be Done in This Night?

One should strictly abstain from all the sins because these sins make one devoid of the blessings of this night. Cooking some special type of meal, illuminating houses or mosques, are baseless innovations in the later days by ignorant people, and in some cases they are pure imitation of some rituals performed by non-Muslim communities. Such imitation in itself is a sin; performing it in a blessed night like the Night of Bara’ah makes it worse.

Holding religious meetings, arranging gatherings in the mosques in order to celebrate the night in a collective manner, and delivering long speeches are also not advisable. This night requires worship in solitude to connect with Allah ta’ala. Prophet Muhammad  observed the acts of worship in this night in total seclusion, not accompanied by anyone, not even by his favorite life companion Sayyidah ‘Aishah r.a.

Fast of the 15th Sha’ban

It is reported from Sayyiduna `Ali r.a. that the Prophet PBUH said: “Let all of you spend the night of mid-Sha`ban in worship (i.e. partly) and its day in fasting. Allah descends to the nearest heaven during this night, beginning with sunset, and says: ‘Is there no one asking forgiveness that I may forgive them? Is there no one asking for sustenance that I may grant them sustenance? Is there no one under trial that I may relieve them? Is there not such-and-such, is there not such-and-such, and so forth until until dawn rises.’” [Narrated by Ibn Majah with a weak chain.]

On the day immediately following the Night of Bara’ah, i.e. the 15th of Sha’ban, it is mustahabb (advisable) to keep fast. Prophet Muhammad PBUH  is reported to have recommended this fast emphatically. Although the scholars of hadith have some doubts in the authenticity of this report, yet it is mentioned earlier that the fasts of the first half of Sha’ban have special merits and Prophet Muhammad PBUH  used to fast most of the days in Sha’ban. Moreover, a large number of the elders (salaf) of the Ummah have been observing the fast of the 15th of Sha’ban. This constant practice indicates that they have accepted the relevant hadith as authentic.

Therefore, it is advisable to fast the 15th of Sha’ban as an optional (nafl) fast. One can also keep a fast of qada on this day and it is hoped that he can also benefit from the merits of this fast. (Mufti M Taqi Usmani)

We pray to Allah if everything stated is correct then accept it with His infinite mercy, but if there is any mistake may Allah forgive us. (Amin)

By Ustadha Almas Taufiq

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