More than fifteen Sahabah have reported about the fasting from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.
Abu Ayyub al-Ansari رضي الله عنه reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and then follows it with six days of fasting in the month of Shawwal, it will be as if he fasted for the entire year.” [Muslim]
It is related from Thawban that the Prophet ﷺ said: "The fast of Ramadan is like observing ten months of fasting. Fasting six days of Shawwal is like observing two months of fasting. This together is like fasting throughout the year." [Ahmad]
Imam an-Nawawi رحمه الله explains, "Scholars have explained that it is like observing a year of fasting because the reward of one's good deeds are multiplied tenfold. Therefore fasting the month of Ramadan is like fasting for ten months and fasting six days in the month of Shawwal is like fasting for two months." [Sharh Sahih Muslim]
Can we fast the 6 of Shawwal before making up our missed/broken Ramadan fasts?
- Firstly, the intentions of Ramadan and Shawwal fasts cannot be merged into one day as one is an obligatory act whereas the other is a voluntary act of worship. A minority opinion championed by some Shafi'i and Maliki scholars allows dual intentions. Imam al-Ramli رحمه الله issued a fatwa that said that a person who makes up the missed days from Ramadan in Shawwal, even if he intends other than the fast of Shawwal, obtains the reward for the six days of Shawwal.
How would this mixing of intentions work? As per these scholars, one may combine the pending Ramadan fasts with the 6 fasts of Shawwal provided the principle intention (niyyah) is of qadha fasts, and just as a secondary intention have in one’s mind the fasts of Shawwal. It is hoped from the Mercy of Allah that along with the missed fasts being made-up, one will receive the reward of fasting in Shawwal. Even here, technically the scholars have not allowed combining the intention of an obligatory pending fast and a voluntary fast together. It is best to not mix intentions to stay on the safe side.
- As for the order of fasting, then this is a matter scholars have differed on and debated for centuries. The best and safest opinion is to make up the pending Ramadan fasts first and then do the Shawwal fasts. Why? Because the Prophet ﷺ said, "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan". This would indicate that the Shawwal fasts are connected to Ramadan and also have the pre-requisite of completing the fasts of Ramadan first. This is the prime position of the Hanabilah.
- But it's not always this easy, especially for women. By the time she has done completing her missed Ramadan fasts, her menses for Shawwal have come in and now she will miss more days. As per our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله, it is better for her to go for the 6 days of Shawwal first and then make up the pending fasts later. Why? Because it was narrated that Aishah رضي الله عنها said, "I would own fasts from Ramadan and I would not make them up until Shaban (nearly a year later) came." [Nasai]
- Also, because the virtue of the fasts of Shawwal is limited to this month alone (primary Hanbali position), whereas the pending fasts of Ramadan can be made up at any point of the year.
Imam al-Buhuti رحمه الله wrote, "The virtue of fasting them – i.e., the six days of Shawwal – cannot be attained at any time other than Shawwal, because of the apparent meaning of the reports." [Kashshaaf al-Qinaa’ (2/338)]
- Another group of Maliki and some Hanbali scholars opine that this virtue may be attained by the one who fasts 6 days in Shawwal or even afterwards. The ahadith mentioned Shawwal only to make things easier since fasting them after Ramadan is easier than doing it later on as the person is in a flow and rhythm.
Imam al-‘Adawi رحمه الله wrote, "The Lawgiver only mentioned Shawwaa in order to make it easier with regard to fasting, not to restrict the ruling to that time only. No doubt doing it in the first ten days of Dhu’l Hijjah along with what was narrated concerning the virtue of fasting at that time is better, because the purpose is achieved in addition to the extra reward for fasting on virtuous days. Doing it in Dhul Qa’dah is also good. To sum up: The later you fast them, the greater the reward because it is more difficult." [Sharh al-Khurashi (2/243)]
Imam Ibn Muflih رحمه الله wrote, "It is possible that the reward may be attained even when fasting them at a time other than Shawwaal, according to some scholars. This was mentioned by al-Qurtubi, because the virtue of that is based on the fact that one good deed (hasanah) will be rewarded tenfold, as it says in the report of Thawban. And the recommendation of fasting in Shawwal is because it is easier to fast as one is already used to fasting, and this is a kind of dispensation, and it is more appropriate to avail oneself of the dispensation. [al-Furoo’ (3/108)]
Imam al-Mardawi رحمه الله commented on it by saying: I say, "This view is weak and is contrary to the hadith. Rather it is connected to the virtue of Ramadan because it comes immediately after it and not because the good deed is rewarded tenfold, and because fasting them is equal to the obligatory fast of Ramadan in virtue." [al-Insaf (3/344)]
- Another important benefit of fasting the 6 days of Shawwal is that it makes up for any deficiencies in one's obligatory Ramadan fasts. Also, on the Day of Judgement, the sunnah acts will help cover the deficiencies of the fardh acts. Why? The Prophet ﷺ said, “The first thing for which people will be brought to account on the Day of Resurrection will be their salah (prayer). Our Lord, may He be glorified and exalted, will say to His angels – although He knows best – ‘Look at the salah of My slave, whether it is complete or incomplete.’ If it is perfect, it will be recorded as perfect, and if something is lacking, He will say, ‘Look and see whether My slave did any voluntary (nafl) prayers.’ If he did some voluntary prayers, (Allah) will say, Complete the obligatory actions of My slave from his voluntary actions.’ Then all his actions will be dealt with in a similar manner.” [Abu Dawud].
Mix n Match Intentions
If this was not enough, we can maximize our rewards even more by strategically combining our intentions of the 6 fasts of Shawwal with other Sunnah fasts namely - fasting the 3 white days and the fasting of Mondays and Thursdays. Why?
- The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The deeds are presented on Monday and Thursday. Thus, I love for my deeds to be presented while I am fasting.” [Tirmidhi]
- The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me: “It is sufficient for you to fast three days every month because for every good deed you will have (the reward of) ten like it, so that will be like fasting for a lifetime.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
- This also shows that the fasts of Shawwal don't have to be kept consecutively, and can be moved around as per a person's convenience as long as it is after the Day of Eid (1 Shawwal). Fasting on the day of eid is haram by consensus of the scholars. The best is to get them done asap because Allah says, "So compete in good deeds." [Surah al-Ma'idah, 48]
Imam Ibn Qudamah رحمه الله said, “There is no difference between fasting these days consecutively or fasting them separately; at the beginning of the month or at its last days because the hadith is general and does not limit fasting these days within a given period of time during the month.”
Did Imam Malik Dislike Fasting Shawwal?
It is attributed that some scholars regarded fasting six days in the month of Shawwal to be something disliked. This view has been related from Imams Malik and Abu Hanifa.
Yahya said that he heard Malik say, “I have not heard that any of our predecessors used to do that, and the people of knowledge disapprove of it, and they are afraid that it might become a bid’ah and that common and ignorant people might join to Ramadan what does not belong to it, if they were to think that the people of knowledge had given permission for that to be done and were seen doing it.” [Muwatta]
It is clear from the full statement that the main argument is that they feared for the general public to misconstrue fasting these six days to be something obligatory. They also see it as emulating the People of the Scripture to exceed the number of fasting days in the prescribed month of fasting.
In a narration from Imam Malik, it is reported that he never saw any scholars and the people of fiqh fast as such, and the narrations from the salaf about the six days of fasting in Shawwal did not reach him. There are also some scholars that ruled it undesirable, fearing that the people that do not have any knowledge would think that the fasting is part of Ramadan. [Sharh az-Zarqani ‘ala al-Muwatta’, 2/297)]
According to Sheikh ad-Dusuqi, the ruling of these fasts being makruh is only applicable when it is feared that people would confuse Shawwal and Ramadan. Furthermore, it is ruled makruh for people that consider the rewards to be attained only for those that perform the fasting continuously. If not, then it is permissible. [Hahiyah ad-Dasuqi ‘ala as-Sharh al-Kabir, 1/517)]
Imam al-Nawawi commenting on Imam Malik’s statement saying that there are no scholars in his time that practise the six days of fasting said, "When something is sunnah and established, even when the sunnah is neglected by some or all people, it should not be renounced or abandoned."
Imam Malik’s opinion of it being disliked doesn't really apply today as the ‘illah that he used - worried that people would consider the six days of fasting as a part of Ramadan - is not an issue because of the technology and advancements in communications that we have now. It has been narrated by Mutarrif that Imam Malik himself used to fast six days in the month of shawwal. Honestly, it is highly unlikely that Imam Malik was not aware of the hadith since it is a hadith narrated in Madinah. It is reported that Imam Malik used to fear leading people to believe that a recommended act was an obligation. Therefore, he would refrain from certain actions in front of the masses who could misunderstand.