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Fussing Over the 15th of Sha‘ban

01097_rockface_1680x1050Question: Is marking out the 15th night of Sha‘ban (laylat al-nisf min sha‘ban) for extra prayers and devotion sanctioned by Islam, or is doing so judged to be a reprehensible innovation (bid‘ah)?

Answer: Each year a fair amount of fussing and fighting takes place over the issue. Yet the truth of the matter is that scholars have long held this issue to be one over which there is a valid difference of opinion. The first group considered the night to have no specific virtues over and above any other night of the year, and believed that singling the night out for extra acts of worship is unsanctioned. Another group differed and held that the middle night of Sha‘ban does have special merits and can be earmarked for extra prayers and devotion.

What follows is a discussion about why such a difference has arisen and how each of the two stances has its legitimacy in the canons of classical Islamic jurisprudence. The discussion will also make a distinction between prayer in mid-Sha‘ban and the prayer of mid-Sha‘ban: the first, as will be shown, is textually grounded; the second, actually unfounded.

I

Although there is no explicit reference to the 15th of Sha‘ban in the actual Qur’an, the hadith corpus does record the merits or fada’il of this night – of which the following hadiths are among the most significant and widely cited:

1. The hadith of Mu‘adh b. Jabal, who relates the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying: ‘God looks at His creation during the middle night of Sha‘ban and forgives them all, except an idolator and one who harbours rancour.’1

2. The hadith of ‘Abd Allah b.‘Amr where the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘God, majestic is He, looks at His creation on the middle night of Sha‘ban and forgives all of His slaves, save an idolater and a murderer.’2

3. The hadith of the lady ‘A’ishah: ‘Allah, exalted is He, descends to the nearest heaven in the middle night of Sha‘ban and His forgiveness is greater than the number of hairs on the sheep [in the tribe] of Kalb.’3

II

At first blush, the bone of contention seems to be settled. For if the Prophet, peace be upon him, has spoken about the merits of mid-Sha‘ban (as per the above hadiths), then who are we to object. That said, the fact of the matter is that the authenticities of the above hadiths have been fiercely disputed. Hadith scholars differ over whether or not the above words can be reliably ascribed to the Prophet, peace be upon him.

Typifying those in ‘the night has no special distinction’ camp is the acclaimed Maliki jurist, Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi, who said: ‘There is no authentic hadith which may be relied upon in respect to the middle night of Sha‘ban; neither about its merits, nor the decree being written in it. So pay no attention to it.’4 Others in this camp include Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Tartushi and al-Hafiz al-‘Iraqi.5

This group of eminent scholars take the view that, although there is a sizeable body of hadiths that speak about the merits of this night, none of these hadiths are free from having defects and flaws in their chains. Some contain narrators whose memory and precision have been called into question. Some contain missing links in their chains. While in other cases they contain narrators whose truthfulness or veracity have been seriously doubted and disparaged.

III

In contrast, there are those who advocate singling out mid-Sha‘ban with optional acts of devotion. Their reasoning is straightforward enough. They take the view that since some of the hadiths about mid-Sha‘ban are only mildly weak they may, according to certain established rules in the science of hadith, be used to strengthen one another to yield a final grading of sahih or hasan (authentic or sound). On this basis, Ibn al-Salah, a notable Shafi‘i jurists and hadith master, ruled: ‘The middle night of Sha‘ban does have merit. To spend its night in acts of worship is recommended (mustahabb); but on an individual basis, not collectively.’6

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘Hadiths and salaf-reports about the virtues of the middle night [of Sha‘ban] have been related. It is also reported about a group of the salaf that they would pray during the night. Thus the prayer of someone praying individually during the night has a precedent with some of the salaf, and therefore stands as a proof for it. So it cannot be objected to.’7

In another fatwa, he stated: ‘If someone offers prayer in the middle-night of Sha‘ban, whether individually or collectively, then this is excellent (fa huwa ahsan).’8

In closing his definitive account about the 15th of Sha‘ban and the stance of the early scholars concerning it, Ibn Rajab states: ‘Thus it befits a believer to devote himself in this night to God’s remembrance (dhikr), exalted is He, and to asking Him to pardon one’s sins, conceal one’s faults and relieve his hardships. This should be preceded by offering sincere repentance. For God, exalted is He, relents towards those who turn to Him in repentance.’9

IV

The above is a sample of the juristic difference surrounding mid-Sha‘ban. And insofar as there is a legitimate difference on the issue, there need be no fussing over the 15th of Sha‘ban; no dividing Muslims over it; no deploying it as a benchmark to distinguish ‘pure’ follower of the Sunnah from ‘tainted’ ones; and no whipping up a frenzy among the public by blowing things out of proportion. Wherever such schisms are occurring, they simply have to stop, and repentance be made.

Upon investigation into both views, those qualified in the art of juristic evaluation and who see the validity of the night’s virtue, honour it; those who do not, treat it like any other night. The rest of the Muslims are muqallids; in other words, they simply follow the scholar they trust or feel at ease with in the issue, leaving it at that. Ibn Taymiyyah 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].’10

V

The above discussion tackled the subject of prayer in mid-Sha‘ban. As for the prayer of mid-Sha‘ban, often called salat al-alfiyyah – “Prayer of One Thousand Quls” – many a scholarly objection has been levelled against it. Ibn Taymiyyah, as an example, having endorsed praying optional prayers during this night, cautioned: ‘As for assembling in mosques so as to pray a fixed and defined prayer – such as congregating to offer one hundred rak‘ahs of prayer that require reciting Say: “He Allah, in One!” one thousand times during it – this is an innovation which none of the salaf ever recommended.’11

Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari states about salat al-alfiyyah: ‘How bizarre it is from those who have inhaled the fragrance of the knowledge of the Sunnah that they be taken in by such nonsense and pray it. This prayer was contrived in Islam after the fourth century and originated from Jerusalem.’12

In his documentation of various innovations and infringements against the Sunnah, al-Suyuti 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.’13

There is, I suggest, a peppering of confusion here. For some people mistakenly use the words of some jurists who have censured salat al-alfiyyah, and have taken it to mean that they object to any prayer or act of worship during the said night. In other words, they have confused between censuring a specific prayer of mid-Sha‘ban and prayer in mid-Sha‘ban. The first censure doesn’t entail the second, as can be seen in the fatwas from Ibn Taymiyyah.

VI

In winding up the discussion, let me gloss two more concerns related to mid-Sha‘ban. The first concerns fasting the 15th day of Sha‘ban, based on the hadith: ‘When it is the middle night of Sha‘ban, pray the night and fast the following day.’14 Al-‘Iraqi is one of a number of hadith masters who have graded this hadith to be weak (da‘if).15 Ibn Rajab concluded likewise,16 as did al-Mundhari.17 Majd b. Taymiyyah 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.’18

Other exhort fasting this day, based on the principle of fada’il al-a‘mal – encouraging “virtuous deeds”. This is the rule which states that, provided a hadith isn’t a forgery or extremely weak, then it is allowed to put it into practice, if the deed it is encouraging already has a general basis in the shari‘ah.19 In this case, they say to fast the “white [full moon] days” – the 13th, 14th and 15th of each lunar month – is encouraged in the sahih hadiths; so this forms a general basis for fasting mid-Sha‘ban.

VII

Some people believe that the yearly decree is written down during the 15th night of Sha‘ban; and this is the second and last loose end that will be discussed. The yearly decree is mentioned in the verse: We sent it down on a blessed night, for We are warning. In that night every affair is wisely decided. [44:2-3] Though it is related from ‘Ikrimah, an eminent scholar among the Successors, that he held the night in which every affair is widely decided to be the middle-night of Sha‘ban; a second opinion is related from him which says that the night refers to laylat al-qadr – “The Night of Power”.20 This latter view is also that of the vast majority of scholars.21

Hence, Ibn al-‘Arabi asserted: ‘The majority of scholars hold that it refers to laylat al-qadr. Some have stated that it refers to the night of mid-Sha‘ban; however, this [latter] view is futile.’22

And God knows best.

1. Ibn Majah, no.1390; Ibn Hibban, no.1980. After evaluating eight different chains for this hadith, al-Albani insists: ‘The hadith, with its collective chains, is sahih, without doubt.’ Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1979), 3:138.

2. Ahmad, Musnad, no.6642. Al-Albani stated: ‘There is no harm in using this chain as support.’ Refer to: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihahah, 3:136.

3. Ibn Majah, no.1389; al-Tirmidhi, no.736. Al-Mubarakpuri wrote: ‘Collectively, such hadiths constitute a proof on those who allege that nothing is confirmed with respect to the merits of the middle night of Sha‘ban.’ Consult: Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi bi Sharh Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1990), 3:367.

4. Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 4:1690.

5. See: Kitab al-Mawdu‘at (Riyadh: Adwa al-Salaf, 1997), 2:440-45; al-Mughni ‘an Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Tabariyyah, 1995), 1:157; al-Hawadith wa’l-Bida‘ (Riyadh: Dar al-Samay‘i, 2000), 3:789, respectively.

6. Approvingly cited by al-Suyuti, al-Amr bi’l-Ittiba‘ wa’l-Nahy ‘an’l-Ibtida‘ (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Qayyim, 2001), 170.

7. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 23:132.

8. ibid., 23:131.

9. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm & Mu’assasah al-Rayyan, 1996), 154.

10. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 35:233.

11. ibid., 23:131.

12. Al-Asrar al-Marfu‘ah fi’l-Akhbar al-Mawdu‘ah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), 439-40.

13. Al-Amr bi’l-Ittiba‘ wa’l-Nahy ‘an’l-Ibtida‘, 176.

14. Ibn Majah, no.1388.

15. Al-Mughni ‘an Haml al-Asfar, 1:157; no.634.

16. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif, 151.

17. Al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2003), no.1491.

18. Cited in al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:317.

19. This principle is discussed in al-Nawawi, al-Adhkar (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 36; Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa, 18:65-6; al-Sakhawi, citing Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, al-Qawl al-Badi‘ (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1987), 215.

20. See: Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1984), 7:336-37, where the two conflicting views ascribed to ‘Ikrimah are reported.

21. See: al-Tabari, Jami‘ an Ta’wil al-Qur’an (Cairo: Dar Hijr, 2001), 21:5-6; Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutib al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 16:84-5; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 4:148; Sawi, Hashiyah al-Sawi ‘ala Tafsir al-Jalalayn (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2000), 5:261; Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa’l-Tanwir (Beirut: Mu’assasah Tarikh al-‘Arabi, 2000), 25:308.

22. Ahkam al-Qur’an, 4:1690.

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29 thoughts on “Fussing Over the 15th of Sha‘ban

  1. Umm Yusuf on said:

    Masha’Allah laa quwwata illa billah

    That has to be the best, most balanced, most honest and well referenced piece about the 15th of Sha’ban that I’ve read to date.

    Usually articles about this topic can be pretty biased but this allows a reader to think and reflect rather than being pushed into taking sides.

    BarakAllahu feek 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Murat on said:

    As salamul aleykum,

    “44:3
    Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night. Indeed, We were to warn [mankind].”

    Is not this verse about laylat al-nisf min sha‘ban? Thank you very much.

    Kind Regards,
    Murat

    Like

    • Wa alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah.

      As mentioned in the article [section VII], there are two opinions about the issue. The great majority hold that the verse in question refers to laylat al-qadr – not laylat al-nisf min-sha’ban.

      The verse before [44:2] says: We sent it down on a blessed night, refers to the Qur’an being sent down in Ramadan, on laylat al-qadr.

      If you can, please re read section VII.

      Like

  3. Namir Uddin on said:

    Salam shaykh, may Allah bless you and accept your efforts. Shaykh can I with your permission share this article as well as past and future articles of yours with others?

    Like

  4. Mateen on said:

    Mashallah, brillient article that is well balanced and long over due. Jazak Allah Khair Surkheel.

    Like

  5. Esam Mohammed on said:

    MashaAllah very balanced article Abu Aaliyah, May Allah guide us all to be tolerant to others views and not fight between one another on these matters. JazakAllah Esam

    Like

    • Amin, br Esam, and jazakallahu khayran for your comment.

      Binding hearts and nurturing unity is one of the great fundamentals of Islam. May Allah protect us from schisms and sectarianism.

      Like

  6. Thank you for a most comprehensive discussion on an issue that has unnecessarily confused many and caused the separation of hearts. May Allah make this article a means to clarification, understanding and reconciliation. Jazakum Allahu khairan
    I feel it is the duty of everyone who reads it, to forward it on.

    Like

  7. Ahmed on said:

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    Could you please clarify a bit more on ‘fasting in the middle of Shaban’ in the light of Hadith of Sahih Muslim Book 6 Number 2607 – 2609 as given here http://www.theonlyquran.com/hadith/Sahih-Muslim/?volume=6&chapter=34

    JazakAllahu Khair

    Like

    • Wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      The three hadiths cited from Sahih Muslim seem to have a problem in their translation. The wordings of the hadith mention asumtu min surari sha’ban – “Did you fast the surar of Sha’ban?” or hal sumta min surari hadha’l-shahr -“Did you fast the surar of this month?”

      According to Imam al-Nawawi’s commentary to Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 8:42-3, no.1161, the word surar does not mean midlle of the month. Rather he says that the majority of hadith specialists and Arabic lexicalists say that surar refers to “the end of the month”. And that the way these hadith square with the ones that forbid fasting towards the end of Sha’ban (so as not to weaken oneself for the obligatory fasts of Ramadan) is that it refers to the one who is accustom to fasting throughout Sha’ban; including its end days – knowing through experience that it will not weaken him for Ramadan.

      Thus, these hadiths have no bearing on the mid-Sha’ban issue.

      And Allah knows best.

      Like

      • Athar on said:

        Assalaamualaikum brother very informative. With respect to above mentioned hadith, in one hadees its mentioned as ‘surrata’. If we look for general meaning of ‘Surar’ it also means ‘knavel’ which can be considered as middle of stomach. It looks like these hadiths has been singled out to mean ‘end of the month’ in order not to support the scholars who followed mid if shaban but people might b missing important fasts. It would be better brother if these hadiths are given a careful analysis in order to remove confusion. I hope you can throw some light on it.

        Jazakallah

        Like

  8. Umm Khawla on said:

    Reblogged this on ❁ طالبة الجنان ❁.

    Like

  9. JazakAllahu khayran for a very balanced, one-of-a-kind academic discussion. Maa-shaa’Allah. May Allah swt put barakah in your knowledge, time and efforts. Ameen. Wa salamu ‘alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

    Like

    • Amin.

      I’m pretty sure it’s not one of a kind; though I accept there aren’t very many articles on this topic in English that emphasises the legitimacy of both sides.

      May Allah bless you too and may He guide us all to His good pleasure.

      Like

  10. Asalamo alaikum!indeed a very interesting article to such a confusing issue.thanks for enlighthning us.this is really dividing the ummah.on one hand those who ignore the 15th shabaan.on the other hand those who visit the graveyards and prepare halwah the whole day to give neighbors and relatives and spend the whole night in collective prayers!

    Like

    • Barakallahu fikum.

      May Allah guide us all to being concerned about the unity of Muslims; honouring valid differences between the great imams; and knowing our own levels, so that we do not delude ourselves into thinking we are at a level of knowledge that we actually are not.

      The ego is very deceptive and the devil very persuasive; so Allah’s help is sought.

      Like

  11. A.w.w
    Shaykh mentioned:

    “This is the rule which states that, provided a hadith is not a forgery or extremely weak, then it is permitted to put it into practice, if the deed it is encouraging already has a general basis in the shari‘ah.19 In this case, they say to fast the “white [full moon] days” – the 13th, 14th and 15th of each lunar month – is encouraged in the sahih hadiths; so this forms a general basis for fasting mid-Sha‘ban.”

    As a hanfi student of specalization in hadeeth Sciences I would like to share that the raawiy in the above mentioned narration is not suitable for usage in fadhaail. This is due to him being attributed to lying while some have left narrating his hadeeth. Even though some have taken a soft approach to his jarh (critcal analysis) but are not considered due to the rules of jarh wa tadeel when there is a clash of opinions regarding a narrator.

    It would be however recommend to fast on the ayam al-beyadh (13, 14, 15)
    Like shaikh has mentioned under its proven fadhilah and tying it in with the genreal fadhilah of fasting in sha’baan.

    Wallahu alam

    Like

    • Jazakallahu khayran for your input. There are indeed a number of scholars who object to the hadith being used as part of the fada’il genre, precisely because they believe the hadith contains serious weakness.

      Like

  12. Pingback: শবে বরাত ও আমরা | আমার স্পন্দন

  13. Muhammad Talha on said:

    Jazakallah Khair Shaikh. If I say that I will try to pray during this night but try not to fast during the day, will it be a reasonable conclusion to take from this blog.

    Also, not pointing out any finger to anyone who is doing otherwise.

    Like

  14. Masha Allaah TabaarakAllaah, that writing is phenomenally epic. It is one of the well-balanced article that I was yearning for. Looking forward for more articles of such calibre Insha Allaah.

    Like

    • Thank you for your kind words, mashallah. And all thanks and praise is for Allah by Whom all good deeds reach their fruition. May Allah grant us tawfiq on the blessed night of mid-Sha’ban and grant us all His forgiveness.

      Please do continue to visit The Humble I and share your comments.

      Like

  15. Pingback: শবে বরাত নিয়ে অস্থিরতা (অনুবাদ) | Ourway2islam

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