The month of Sha'ban is an extremely virtuous month. It is a month that falls between the sacred months of Rajab and Ramadan and is the eighth month of the Hijri calendar. It is said that historically, the people (sha‘b) used to ‘scatter’ or ‘disperse’ (tasha‘aba) in this month in search of water or provision. Many important events are reported to have occured in this month:
- The obligation of fasting Ramadan came down in Sha'ban 2AH.
- The Muslims were directed to change their Qiblah towards Makkah instead of Jerusalem on 15th Sha'ban.
- The Prophet ﷺ married Hafsa bint Umar ibn al-Khattab
- The Battle of Tabuk occurred in Sha'ban 9AH where the Romans surrendered to the Muslims.
- Scholars of Seerah record that the miracle of the Splitting of the Moon occurred in Sha'ban.
It is reported that the Prophet ﷺ said, "Sha'ban is a month between Rajab and Ramadan, much neglected by people. In it, the actions of all servants are raised to the Lord of the Worlds; I love that my actions are not presented except that I am fasting." [Bayhaqi]
Imam Abu-Bakr al-Balkhi رحمه الله 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.”
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali رحمه الله stated, "When the month of Sha'ban entered, Tabi'i 'Amr b. Qays (رحمه الله) would close his business, devote himself to reciting the Qur'an, and would say, 'Glad tidings for the one who rectifies himself before Ramadan.
Imam Ibn Rajab رحمه الله further said: "... and since Sha'ban was like a prelude to Ramadan, what was legislated in it was that which was legislated in Ramadan from fasting and reciting Qur'an as a form of preparation to meet Ramadan and training of the nafs by these means to obey ar-Rahman. [Lata'aif al-Ma'arif]
Salamah ibn Suhayl used to say: "The month of Sha'ban is the month of reciters (of the Qur'an)."
Habib ibn Abi Thabit used to say, when Sha'ban came, "This is the month of reciters (of the Qur'an)." When Sha'ban came, 'Amr ibn Qays al-Mala'i used to close his store and devote his time to reading the Qur'an.
Some of the salaf gave their zakat in Sha'ban instead of Ramadan as they wanted to clear any dues and obligations and enter Ramadan free of everything. It was an added form of generosity and dedication to Allah, such that now, any offering given in Ramadan is on top of the basic zakat. This also helps the poor and needy to prepare and worship in Ramadan without having to worry about financial burdens.
This is a month of reflection and preparation. The salaf would start preparing for Ramadan months before in advance. We need to train ourselves, fix our sleeping patterns, sort our schedules, and take care of all tasks that would hinder us from making the most out of Ramadan.
Fasting in Sha'ban
Aishah رضي الله عنها said, “The Messenger (ﷺ) 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 Allah fasting for an entire month except in Ramadan, and I never saw him fast more than he did in Sha’ban.” [Bukhari]
Commenting on this, Imam Ibn Rajab رحمه الله said, “Fasting in Sha’ban is better than fasting in the sacred months, and the best of voluntary fasts are those that are (observed in the months) closest to Ramadan, before or after. The status of these fasts is like that of al-Sunan al-Rawatib which are done before and after obligatory prayers, which make up for any shortfall in the number of obligatory prayers. The same applies to fasts observed before and after Ramadan. Just as al-Sunan al-Rawatib are better than other kinds of voluntary prayers, so are fasts observed (in the months) before and after Ramadan better than fasts at other times.”
Usamah b. Zaid رضي الله عنه reported, “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I do not see you fasting in any other month like you fast in Sha’ban.’ He (ﷺ) said: ‘That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan. 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 whilst I am fasting.’” [Nasai]
It was reported in al-Sahihayn that Ibn Abbas رضي الله عنه said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not fast any entire month apart from Ramadan.” [Bukhari] Ibn Abbas regarded it as makruh (disliked) to fast any entire month apart from Ramadan. Imam Ibn Hajar رحمه الله said: “He observed more voluntary fasts in Sha'ban than in any other month, and he used to fast most of Sha'ban.”
The scholars differed as to the reasons why the Prophet ﷺ fasted so much in Sha'ban. Their various opinions were as follows:
- That he had been unable to fast3 days out of every month because he was travelling or for some other reason, so he made them all up together in Sha'ban. When the Prophet ﷺ began to do some voluntary 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 Ramadan in Sha'ban, so he used to fast because of that. This is the opposite of what was reported from 'Aishah, that she used to delay making up days that she had missed in Ramadan until Sha'ban because she was too busy with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ 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 hadith of Usamah quoted above, in which it says: "That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan." [Nasa'i]
Sheikh Muhammad Saliḥ al-'Uthaymin رحمه الله said: "It is not permissible to postpone making up fast (from the last Ramadan) to the point that the second Ramadan enters without an excuse. This is because of the statement of Aishah رضي الله عنها: "I had to fast to make from Ramadan and I was not able to do so except in Sha'ban." [Bukhari]
Sheikh 'Abdul Muhsin al-'Abbad حفظه الله إيمانه said: "The Messenger ﷺ would fast the most in the month of Sha'ban and Muḥarram from the months. And the Messenger ﷺ never completed fasting an entire month except Ramadan." and ".. so it is not from the Sunnah to fast all of Sha'ban, rather the Sunnah is to fast the majority of it." [Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud]
This is the best time to make up any pending fasts that one might have especially women. You get to hit two birds with one stone InshaAllah. We should not single out the 15th of Sha'ban alone to fast and fast none of the other days as this would be offering a specific act of worship that was not legislated in the Shariah. Rather, we can fast the 13, 14, and 15 of the Sha'ban.
Narrated Qatadah Ibn Malhan al-Qaysi رضي الله عنه, "The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to command us to fast the days of the white (nights): thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth of the month. He said: This is like keeping perpetual fast. [Abu Dawud]
Abu Dharr رضي الله عنه said, "The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to me: 'If you fast any part of the month, then fast the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth.'" [Tirmidhi]
Allah Descending On 15th of Sha'ban
Aishah رضي الله عنها said: I missed the Prophet ﷺ one night, so I went out and I found him in al-Baqee‘, raising his head towards heaven. He said, “O Aishah, were you afraid that Allah and His Messenger would wrong you?” She said: I said: I thought that you had gone to one of your other wives. He said: “Verily Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, descends on the night of the fifteenth of Sha‘ban to the lowest heaven, and He forgives more (people) than the number of hairs on the sheep of Bani Kalb.” [Ahmad]
This hadith was classed as da‘eef (weak) by Imams al-Bukhari, at-Tirmidhi, al-Albani and the commentators on al-Musnad. The origin of this hadith is sound, except for the additional material having to do with the fifteenth night of Sha‘ban.
Allah’s descending to the first heaven does not only happen on the night of the fifteenth of Sha'ban, rather it is proven in al-Sahihayn and elsewhere that Allah descends to the first heaven every night, in the last third of the night. The night of the fifteenth of Sha'ban is included in this general meaning.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah, that the Prophet ﷺ said: “The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says: ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?" [Bukhari and Muslim]
This hadith was narrated from the Prophet ﷺ by approximately twenty-eight of the sahana and Ahl al-Sunnah are unanimously agreed that it is to be accepted.
Imam Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak رحمه الله was asked about the descent of Allah on the night of the fifteenth of Sha'ban, he said to the one who asked him: “O weak one! The night of the fifteenth?! He descends every night!” [I’tiqad Ahl al-Sunnah]
Imam al-‘Aqili رحمه الله said, “With regard to Allah’s descending on the night of the fifteenth of Sha'ban there are ahadith which are weak, but the reports that He descends every night are proven and sahih, so the night of the fifteenth of Sha'ban is included in that, InshaAllah.” [Al-Du’afa’]
How does Allah descend? A man asked Imam Malik رحمه الله, "How did Allah make Istiwa' on the throne?" Imam Malik inclined his head and was silent until the sweat of fever covered his brow, then he looked up and said:
الاِسْتِوَاءُ مَعْلُومٌ، وَالْكَيْفُ مَجْهُولٌ، وَالإِيـمَانُ بِهِ وَاجِبٌ، وَالسُّؤَالُ عَنْهُ بِدْعَةٌ
‘The establishment (Istiwa) (on the throne) is known, the mode (‘how’) is unknown, asking about it is an innovation, and belief in it is compulsory’.
It means that we understand Istiwa from the perspective of language. We do not understand the 'how' of it. That is something known only to Allah. To believe in the Istiwa is obligatory. To ask about the 'how' of it is an innovation.
It is night in one place and morning in other. How does Allah descend multiple times? Allah is not bound by time. He descends in a real descent in a manner that befits His Majesty and whenever He pleases. There is nothing like unto Allaah in all His Attributes, so His descending is not like the descending of any of His creatures. It is not permissible to distort the meaning of the hadith by saying that what is meant is that His command or mercy descends, or that one of His angels descends. Allah teaches us in the Quran,
لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing. [Sura ash-Shura, 11]
The Case of the 15th of Sha'ban - Shab-e-Barat
Allah teaches us in the Quran that the correct form of loving Allah and seeking rewards is by actually following what Allah has commanded us to do. We learn what Allah commanded us to do is by following the teachings of His Messenger and abstaining from innovating and adding to these changes.
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ
"Say (O Muhammad): If you love Allah, then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive your sins" [Surah Aal Imran, 31]
Allah further tells us that the religion has been completed and nothing more can be added to it.
ٱلْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَمَ دِينًۭا ۚ
"This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion" [Surah al-Maidah, 3]
The mid of Shab'an which is the 15th of Sha'ban is celebrated in many parts of the world as the Night of Records, Laylat al-Bara'at, or Shab-e-Baraat. This is quite a problematic innovation. But before addressing that we need to understand the discourse with regards to this night itself.
We should strive harder in worship throughout the month and not single out days for specific acts of worship that are not legislated by Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. Many in our communities have made the 15 Night of Sha'ban as an Eid, the way celebrations and other events happen. Majority if not all the narrations regarding certain acts of worship on the 15 of Sha'ban are either extremely weak, rejected or fabricated. That being said there is definitely an element of virtue with regards to this night that been reported from scholars and many like the standard position of the Hanbali madhab recommend people to exert effort in voluntary worship in this night. There is a difference between a night having virtue and blessings as compared to doing certain acts of worship that are specifically for this one night.
Mu’adh bin Jabal رضي الله عنه narrates that the Messenger ﷺ said: “Allah looks at His creation during the middle night of Sha’ban and forgives everyone, except an idolater and one who harbours hatred”. [Ibn Majah] After evaluating the different chains of this narration, Sheikh al-Albani رحمه الله concludes the narrations to collectively establish virtue for the 15th night of Sha’ban.
The scholars have differed on the excellence of this night, with the scholars of Hijaz denying any merit at all whereas many other scholars have agreed on its excellence. We have established that doing specific acts of worship is baseless and an innovation, lets look at the statements of the scholars that affirm the blessed station and virtue of this night:
Imam ash-Shafi'i رحمه الله writes: “It has reached us that it used to be said: The supplications are answered on five nights: the night of Friday, The night of al-Adha, the night of al-Fitr, the first night of Rajab and the night of the middle of of Sha’ban…and I prefer everything that has been reported about these nights without it being compulsory.” [al-Umm]
Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله writes, “And under this chapter (is) the night of the middle of Sha’ban. Some marfu' ahadith and athar regarding its merit have been narrated which shows that it is a chosen night. Moreover, some of the pious predecessors (salaf used to dedicate it with and fasting in the month of Sha’ban, as has been related in authentic narrations. He continues: And from the salaf, from the people of Madinah, and those who came later, (they) rejected its merit and criticized the narrations mentioned regarding it…But the opinion of many of the scholars or the majority, from our companions and others, is of the merit of this night. This is indicated in the saying of Aḥmad, since there are many athar mentioned regarding it. This is (further) confirmed by the statements of the pious predecessors.”[Iqtida Sirat al-Mustaqim] He further added in his famous collection of fatawa, “If a person prays that night alone, or in a select congregation, as many groups of the early muslims (salaf) used to do, it is excellent.” [Majmu' al-Fatawa]
Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali رحمه الله states, “It is required for a believer to free himself on that night for remembering Allāh, and supplicating to him for forgiveness, (asking Allāh) to veil his sins and remove distress. (It is better) to precede that with repentance, since Allāh forgives in it the one who repents.” [Lata'aif al-Ma'arif]
The Imam in Hadith, Ibn as-Salah رحمه الله writes, “As for the night of the middle of Sha’ban it has some merit and to spend it in worship is preferable….” [Taslih ash-Shaja’an]
Imam al-Buhuti رحمه الله writes, ”It is sunnah to offer qiyam al-layl and it should begin with two light units of prayer. It’s time (begins) from Maghrib to Fajr and one should not stand in prayer the entire night except on the night of Eīd and the night of the middle of Sha’ban…” [ar-Rawḍ al-Murbi']
Our Sheikh, Dr.Sajid Umar summarizes and said, "A large group of our scholars from our distant and recent past have confirmed the night of the 15th of Sha’ban to possess virtue. This conclusion has been reached after a study of several narrations attributed to the Messenger ﷺ via several of his ﷺ companions, such as Aisha, Abu Musa, Abu Tha’labah, Mu’ath bin Jabal, Abdullah bin Umar and others رضي الله عنهم.
It should be noted though, that each of these narrations has certain conditions missing (as established by the scholars of hadith) which prevent the narrations from being attributed to the Messenger ﷺ in an authentic and authoritative manner.
However, some scholars of hadith have supported the meaning of these narrations as fair and acceptable through context. They agree that the narrations in and of themselves are weak in terms of being established as something taught by the Messenger ﷺ, however they say that these weak narrations support each other and collectively present a case of the teaching to have come from the Messenger ﷺ. This, in turn, permits the deduction of the night of the 15th of Sha’ban to possess virtue."
But there has to be some basis for these statements right? Our brother Hanbali Farra'i researched deeper and I summarise the main points which he concluded that - The origins can be traced back to even earlier generations, back to the salaf from Sham (Syria) during the era of the Tabi'in. The first one, that he could find, who greatly popularised this practice was the great Tabi' & Jurist of Syria, Imam Khalid B. Ma'dan (his status is indisputable amongst biographers). Others from his time such as Luqman B. Amir رحمه الله & Makhul رحمه الله would also glorify this night. They'd wear good clothes, perfumes and arrange additional congregational worship in Masajid, as reported in the Musannaf collections that compile earlier views of the salaf.
Another important aspect of his research dwelled on the usage of Israeliyyat by the salaf. Contrary to what's popularised nowadays, the salaf actually put a great deal of consideration to Israeliyyat as long as they didn't contradict sound text, conclusive fact or aql (rationale).
The great mufassir of our times, Dr. Musa'ad al-Tayyar (h) confirms that the vast majority of the salaf did rely on Israeliyyat to further complement/interpret aspects of Islam. He said the contemporary negative outlook on Israiliyyat go against the methodology of the earliermost traditionalists & how they perceived them; and that even some later scholars like Ibn Kathir fell short in this methodology. Scholars like the great Hafidh Imam al-Darqutni رحمه الله & Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali رحمه الله indicated that after the Israeliyyat on the importance of this night had arrived, the people of Sham (Syria) began to popularize the practice. It should be noted that Sham was where a large number of ahl al-Kitab settled. If israiliyyat were to be narrated, Sham would be the ideal place.
The great famous Tabi'i, Ka'b al-Ahbar رحمه الله, an ex-Jew who accepted Islam during Umar's Caliphate, also settled in the land of Hims from Syria later in life. It is interesting to note that one the teachers of Khalid B. Ma'dan just happened to be Ka'b al-Ahbar. Both Luqman & Makhul also narrated from Ka'b. Ka'b had a famous athar where he said:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَطْلُعُ إِلَى خَلْقِهِ فِي لَيْلَةِ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ فَيَغْفِرُ لَهُمْ جَمِيعًا إِلَّا لِمُشْرِكٍ أَوْ مُشَاحِنٍ
"Verily, Allah ﷻ appears to His Creations in the middle of the night of Sha'ban, and forgives them all except a mushrik & a mushahin".
Ka'b was fully aware of which Jewish traditions contradicted Islam and which didn't. Hence, Imam al-Dhahabi writes, "He was an expert in books of Jews, he had a sense that allowed him to know what's right from wrong amongst them in general".
Now, we look at the statements of scholars on the different narrations and their authenticity with regards to this night:
Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله said, "...and also taking it (15th night of Sha'ban) as a festival where food is made and place is decorated. This is from the is from the innovated festivals that have no basis (i.e: there is no proof from the Qur'an and the authentic Sunnah to support its celebration. [Iqtida al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem]
Imam Ibn Rajab رحمه الله said after citing a hadith that mentions the virtue of the 15th night of Sha'ban: "..and there are quite a number of ahadith other than this that mentions the virtue of the 15th night of Sha'ban. Verily there is differing concerning them, but majority have weakened these narrations. [Lata'aif al-Ma'arif]
Imam Abu Shamah رحمه الله mentioned when commenting on the Salah that is prayed on the 15th night of Sha'ban, "There has not been a single hadith or narration concerning it except that it is weak or fabricated."
Imam Ibn Dihyah al-Kalbi رحمه الله said: The people of at-Ta'dil wa at-Tajrih (Scholars of Ḥadith) have said, "There isn't a single ḥadith about the 15th night of Sha'ban that is sahih.
Imam Zayd Ibn Aslam رحمه الله stated: "We have not encountered anyone from our Mashayikh or Scholars of fiqh who acknowledge the middle of Sha'ban, nor do they acknowledge the hadith of Makḥul, nor do they see it has having more merit than other months."
Al-`Uqaylī رحمه الله writes: “As for Allah descending on the night of the middle of Sha’ban, there is weakness (in the narrations), whilst the narrations of (Allah) descending every night are authentic and the night of the middle of Sha’ban is included in them.”[al-Duafah al-Kabir]
Sheikh Prof Muḥammed bin Gamal al-Suyuti al-Hanbali said, "There is no sahih hadith (Marfu’) report that speaks of the virtues of the middle of Sha’ban that may be followed, not even in the chapters on al-Fada’il (chapters on virtues). Some maqṭu’ reports (reports whose chains do not go back further than the Tabi'in) have been narrated from some of the Tabi'in, and there are some ahdith, the best of which are mawdu’ (fabricated) or dhaif jiddan (very weak). These reports became very well-known in some countries which were overwhelmed by ignorance; these reports suggest that people’s lifespans are written on that day or that it is decided on that day who is to die in the coming year. On this basis, it is not prescribed to spend this night in prayer or to fast on this day, or to single it out for certain acts of worship. One should not be deceived by the large numbers of ignorant people who do these things."
This group of eminent scholars take the view that, although there is a sizeable body of ahadith that speak about the merits of this night, none of these ahadith are free from having defects and flaws in their chains.
None of what we have discussed till now allows for the innovated practices and celebrations of Shab-e-Barat as is specifically seen in the Desi subcontinent. Rather they are reprehensible innovations and a defiance of the Sunnah as we will highlight below. The custom of cooking a specific food for the 15th night of Sha’ban has no basis in the Qur’an or Sunnah. Nor does the lighting of lamps or having lighting outside the Masajid as practised by some people.
The Innovation of Salat al-Alfiyyah - The Prayer of One Thousand Quls
One of the most widely narrated narrations from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is, “Anyone who introduces something into this matter of ours, which is not from it, will have it rejected.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
There is a report that claims of Salat al-Alfiyyah - Ali رضي الله عنه said, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “O `Ali, whoever prays a hundred rak'ats (units of prayer) on the night of the middle of Sha’ban, and recites ‘al-Fatiha in every rak'ah and ‘Qul Huwa Allahu Aḥad” (Surah al-Ikhlas) ten times, O Ali, there is none from my servants who prays this except that Allh fulfils all the needs he asks for that night….”
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله states:”As for that which has been innovated in the night of the middle of Sha’ban, with the people gathering for aṣ-Salah al-Alfiyyah.- this gathering for a specific supererogatory prayer at a specific time with a specific recitation is not authorized and is despised. The narrations mentioned regarding as-Salah al-Alfiyyah are fabricated as has been agreed upon by the scholars of ḥadith…” [al-Iqtida]
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim رحمه الله writes, “It is amazing that one who smells the fragrance of the knowledge of the Sunnah would then be deceived by this irrational nonsense and pray it?! This prayer was an innovation introduced into Islam after four hundred years, and began in Jerusalem." [al-Manar al-Munir]
Imam Ibn as-Salah رحمه الله although agreeing to the excellence of the night writes: “As for the ‘al-Alfiyyah‘ which is prayed on the night of the middle of Sha’ban, it has no evidence…and it is strange how the people are so keen to do these innovations on these two nights (i.e. the 15th of Sha’ban and Rajab) and yet they neglect the Sunnah established from the Messenger of Allah…”
Al-Hafiz al-Iraqi رحمه الله wrote, “The hadith about the prayer during the night of the middle of Sha’ban is fabricated and is falsely attributed to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.”
Imam al-Suyuti رحمه الله wrote, ‘And this includes Salat al-Alfiyyah, which is prayed in the middle of Sha‘ban. It is a lengthy and arduous prayer which is neither established by any (sound) hadith, nor any weak report from any of the salaf. The masses are put to trial with it, in their striving to perform it.’
Imaam al-Nawawi رحمه الله said, "The prayer that is known as Salat al-Raghaa’ib, which is twelve rak’ahs between Maghrib and ‘Isha’ on the night of the first Friday in Rajab, and the prayer of Laylat al-Nusf min Shaban, of one hundred rak’ahs – these two prayers are reprehensible bid’ahs. No one should be deceived by the fact that they are mentioned in the books Qoot al-Quloob and Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Deen (Imam Ghazali), or by the hadith which is mentioned in these two books. All of that is false. Nor should they be deceived by the fact that some of the imams were confused about this matter and wrote a few pages stating that these prayers are mustahabb, for they were mistaken in that.” [al-Majmu']
Sheikh al-Shuqayri رحمه الله wrote, "Praying six rak‘ahs on the mid of Sha'ban with the intention of warding off calamity, having a long life and being independent of people, and reciting Ya-Sin and offering du‘a in between that -- there is no doubt that this is something that has been introduced into the religion and is contrary to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah. The commentator on al-Ihya said: This prayer is well known in the books of later Sufi masters, but I have not seen any sahih report in the Sunnah to support it and the connected du‘a. Rather this is the action of some shaykhs. Our companions said: It is makruh to gather on any of the nights mentioned in the mosques or elsewhere. Al-Najm al-Ghayti said, describing spending the night of al-Nisf min Sh‘ban (mid-Sha‘ban) praying in congregation: That was denounced by most of the scholars of the Hijaz, including ‘Ata and Ibn Abi Mulaykah, the fuqaha of Madinah and the companions of Malik. They said: All of that is an innovation (bid‘ah) and there is no report to suggest that the Prophet spent that night in praying in congregation or that his Companions did that either. Al-Nawawi said: The prayers of Rajab and Sha‘ban are two reprehensible innovations.” [Al-Sunan wa’l-Mubtada‘at]
Many people have mistakenly taken the words of the scholars with regards to this innovated prayer and misapplied it to all individual voluntary prayers done on this night.
Some people use the word al-Sha‘baniyyah to refer to the last days of Sha‘ban , and say, “These are the days of bidding farewell to food,” and they take advantage of these days to eat a lot before Ramadan begins. Some scholars say that this idea was originally taken from the Christians, who used to do that as their fasting period (Lent) approached.
Confusing The 15th Night of Sha'ban with Night of Qadr in Ramadan
Allah tells us in Surah Dukhan,
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ
فِيهَا يُفْرَقُ كُلُّ أَمْرٍ حَكِيمٍ
أَمْرًا مِّنْ عِندِنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا مُرْسِلِينَ
As per this ayah, major decisions are taken on the night when the Quran was revealed. Some scholars said this means the 15 Night of Sha'ban aka Shab e Barat. People according to this believe that all their decisions will be finalized on this 15 night of Shaban, hence remain busy in worship from Maghrib till Fajr. But is such an interpretation even correct? Misunderstanding the ayat of the Quran causes many problems. The best tafseer of the Quran is the tafseer done by the Quran itself for Allah alone can tell us what His word means.
Allah tells us in Surah al-Baqarah,
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ
The month of Ramadan (is that) in which was revealed the Quran. This informs us that Ramadan is when the Quran was revealed. How then can you follow that the Quran was revealed in Sha'ban and not Ramadan? Allah further tells us in Surah Qadr,
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ
Indeed, We sent the Quran down during the Night of Decree.
This ayah informs us that the Quran was revealed in Shab e Qadr. When does this happen? In the last odd nights of Ramadan, and not in Sha'ban.
It was said to Ibn Abi Mulaykah رحمه الله: 'Indeed, Ziyad an-Numayri states the reward of the middle night of Sha'ban is like the reward of Laylatul al-Qadr.' To which he responded: 'If I were to hear him and had a stick in my hand, I would have beat him."
Those who wish to offer any act of worship may perform the usual form of tahajjud (qiyam) prayers, and/or other worship such as giving charity, recitation of Quran or remembrance of Allah that is usually legislated on a voluntary basis. It is best to stay away from areas of differences and offer such acts of worship individually and privately instead of in congregation as it could fall under the realm of an innovation.
In the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as a Prophet, the month of Sha'ban occurred 23 times. After hijrah, the month of Sha'ban occurred 10 times in Madinah. Can we bring even one sound hadith that the Prophet ﷺ did anything special on the 15 of Sha'ban or order something to be done? After the Prophet ﷺ, did any of the major companions or even those that came after them single out the 15 Night of Sha'ban for any specific acts of worship? They were the best of the Ummah and no one can compare to their level of worship. We agree that some scholars do hold this night to be virtuous and they take the ahadith of Mu'adh Ibn Jabal and others in Musnad Ahmed to be graded as Hasan or even reach the level of Sahih. Just because a night has virtue doesn't mean we can make acts of worship specific to that day. Virtuous day is one thing and doing specific actions on that day specifically is another. A very thin line.
We observe that there is a difference of opinion among the scholars with regards to this night. From everything, it can be summarized that the night has an element of virtue but no extra acts of worship are legislated that are unique to this night. Legislating specific acts of worship would be an innovation. Based on this, it is makruḥ to gather in the congregations like in the masjid for specific or voluntary ṣalah, special lectures and dua (congregational or otherwise). Rather, one should engage in worship and supplications in their own personal capacity. This is the view of Imams al-Awzai, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Rajab, Ibn as-Salah and others.
Imam Ibn as-Salaḥ responded to a question and said, ”As for the night of the middle of Sha’ban, it has merit and to commemorate it with worship is preferable but alone and not in congregation…” [Taslih ash-Shaj'an]
The great Hanafi Imam, Ash-Sharanbulali states,”And it is makruḥ to gather in the masjid to commemorate these nights…since it was not done by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and also it was rejected by the scholars of Hijaz…” [Maraqi al-Falaḥ]
Imam Majd ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله declared, "The merits of the middle night of Sha‘ban are related in the (hadith) narratives and salaf-reports, proving its virtue. There were those of the salaf who even singled it out with prayer. Also, fasting in Sha‘ban is soundly related: as for specifying the fifteenth day to fast, this has no (sound) basis to it. Rather, it is disliked to do so." [Fayd al-Qadir]
When there is such level of scholarly difference of opinion among the scholars, rather Imams of this Immah, then it does not befit the layman to blame another layman from following the opinion of established scholars. They cannot be blamed of indulging in innovations or going against the Sunnah. Let me be clear that this refers to only and only the virtue of the night and individual nawafil acts. Why?
What To Do When There Is A Valid Difference of Opinion?
Not every difference of opinion is a valid difference of opinion. But when there is a valid difference of opinion between the scholars, we have to tread carefully. Let's see what scholars have advised on this topic:
Imam Sufyan al-Thawri said, "As for the issues about which the jurists differed : I do not denounce any of my brothers from acting on them." [Al-Faqih wal-Mutafaqih]
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله wrote, "Whoever adopts a view by being a muqallid to someone, cannot rebuke one who takes another view due to being a muqallid to someone else. But if one of them does have a conclusive shari‘ah proof, it is required to comply with it when it becomes known. It is not lawful for anyone to to say that one view is preferable to another, without proof; nor be biased to one opinion over another – or one person over another – without a definitive proof. Instead, one who is a muqallid is obliged to follow a qualified scholar: he cannot evaluate, weigh-up, or say something is right or wrong … As for someone who only knows the opinion of one scholar and his proofs, but does not know the other scholar’s opinion or proofs, he is from the generality of the muqallids. He is not of the scholars who are able to evaluate or weigh-up (proofs). [Majmu' al-Fatawa]
Imam Ibn al-Qudamah رحمه الله said, "No one should denounce anyone for following his madhab, for there is no denunciation with regard to issues that are subject to ijtihaad." [Adab al-Shar’iyyah]
Imam al-Nawawi رحمه الله said, "The scholars only denounce [if someone opposes] what the nation is agreed upon, as for the issues upon which they differed - there is no denunciation on those issues." [Sharh Nawawi]
Imam Ibn Muflih al-Hanbali رحمه الله said, "The threat (of punishment) is not applicable on issues that are differed upon." [al-Furu']
Imam al-Zarkashi al-Shafi'i sرحمه الله aid, "Denouncing evil only occurs on things that are agreed upon (that they are evil), as for what is differed upon, there is no denouncing on those issues." [al-Manthur fi al-Qawa'id].
Imam al-Suyuti رحمه الله said, "What is differed upon is not to be denounced. Denounciation only takes place [if someone opposes] the agreed upon." [al-Ashbah]
Imam al-Mawardi رحمه الله said, "As for the issues upon which the jurists differed about its prohibition or permissibility, then these are not to be denounced, except if the difference of opinion on the matter is weak." [Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah]
Our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله said, "Enjoining good and forbidding evil can be done only by a person who has knowledge. Having knowledge doesn't necessitate that a person must be a scholar. Every Muslim must do it as long as they have knowledge regarding that matter. The person must be sure that the Ma'aruf being propagated is actually Ma'aruf and the Munkar being spoken against is actually Munkar. A person must be careful of the difference of opinion regarding Munkar. Not every difference is a valid difference. The difference spoken about here is when the proofs being presented are strong on both the sides without following desires. Instead of passing a ruling on one another, the opposing side needs to be explained with the proofs that the case they believe in is a Munkar. [Sharh Riyadhu Saliheen]
Other acts of innovations like Salat al-Alfiyyah, celebrations, group dhikr etc are a reprehensible innovation that is highlighted and refuted by Imam Ibn as-Salah.
Action Points for Sha'ban
- Increase in fasting to prepare ourselves for Ramadan.
- Make dua to be allowed to witness Ramadan.
- Make an abundance of dua and prepare a list of things that you want to make dua for in Ramadan,
- Increase in voluntary prayers to prepare ourselves for qiyam in Ramadan
- Learn about the rulings pertaining to Ramadan.
- Fix your sleeping and work schedules.
- Add a daily reading of one page of the Quran and its meanings in your day.
- Give charity and food to the poor and needy so that they can also worship in Ramadan without fear and distress.
- Increase in dhikr and salawat upon the Messenger of Allah.
- Reflect on the year that has passed and what you want to achieve in the upcoming year. From the Sunnah is to plan ahead of time and execute
Imam Ibn al-Jawzi رحمه الله was once asked, "Is it better for me to make tasbih or to make istighfar?" He replied: "The dirty robe is more in need of soap than perfume."
اللَّهُمَّ بَارِكْ لَنَا في رَجَبٍ وَ شَعْبَانَ وَ بَلِّغْنا رَمَضَانَ
“O Allah bless us in Rajab and Sha’ban and enable us to reach Ramadan!”
Note: This is not a dua authentically attributed to the Messenger of Allah, but because of the meaning, scholars recommended it as a general dua to be made.