Those who object to fasting part or all of Rajab and Sha`ban cite the following:
- `Umar’s punishment of the mutarajjibun — those who fasted the month of Rajab according to a practice carried over from the Jahiliyya — by striking their hands until they broke their fast.However, this does not constitute a valid objection as `Umar’s act was solely due to some people’s emphasis of Rajab — which used to be fasted during the Jahiliyya — over Ramadan as the fasting month. This is clearly not feared for present-day Muslims. There was also a sacrifice named rajabiyya performed in that month, a practice carried over from the Jahiliyya. Several hadiths in Abu Dawud and Ahmad show that it became obligatory in Islam until the obligation was abrogated. Certain pre-islamic survivals were fought even in the time of `Umar, as is shown by the latter’s uprooting of a tree for fear of its veneration by some people.
It must be understood that Umar never said “Don’t fast,” rather, he said: “Break your fast,” i.e. do not complete it as you would be obliged to if it were Ramadan. And no-one fasted Rajab and Sha`ban completely, this was reserved for Ramadan. However, if someone makes the intention to fast Rajab and Sha`ban completely, it is permitted in the Shari`a, with the understanding that it is mustahabb to break it shortly before Ramadan begins.
Ibn Qudama states in al-Mughni:
It is disliked that Rajab be singled out for fasting. Ahmad said: “If a man fasts during that month, let him break the fast for one day in it, or several, just so as not to fast it all.”
The reason for this is what Ahmad has narrated with his chains:
· from Kharasha ibn al-Hurr: I saw `Umar striking the hands of the mutarajjibin until they helped themselves to the food, and he would say: “Eat! For it is only a month which the Jahiliyya used to magnify”;
· from `Abd Allah ibn `Umar that he would dislike to see the people make preparations for Rajab and would say: “Fast some of it and break fast some of it”;
· from Ibn `Abbas, something similar;
· from Abu Bakrah: He saw his household preparing new baskets and clay jugs and said: “What is this?” They said: “For Rajab, so that we may fast it.”He said: “Did you change Rajab into Ramadan?” Then he took apart the baskets and broke the jugs.
Ahmad said: “Whoever fasts all year round may fast all of Rajab. Otherwise, let him not fast all of it but only some of it so that he will not liken it to Ramadan.”13
The above makes it clear that:
- Singling out the month of Rajab for fasting is not forbidden, but at worst disliked;
- It is not even disliked as long as fast is broken to the extent that the similitude with the month of Ramadan is eliminated;
- Even unbroken fast is not disliked if the person fasts all year round.
- Others cite Sayyid Sabiq’s statement in Fiqh as-Sunnah:
- Fasting during Rajab contains no more virtue than during any other month. There is no sound report from the sunnah that states that it has a special reward. All that has been related concerning it is not strong enough to be used as a proof. Ibn Hajar says: “There is no authentic hadith related to its virtues, nor fasting during it or on certain days of it, nor concerning exclusively making night prayers during that month.”14
The opinion of Sayyid Sabiq whereby “Fasting during Rajab contains no more virtue than during any other month” etc. is certainly incorrect in view of the fact that Rajab is a sacred month, and the Prophet emphasized the merit of fasting in the sacred months and in Sha`ban. This is established by Nawawi’s commentary of the hadith of Sa`id ibn Jubayr in Muslim cited above, as well as the following hadiths:
- In Abu Dawud and Bayhaqi: From Mujiba al-Bahiliyya who reported that her father or uncle was told by the Prophet three times: “Fast some and leave some in the sacred months.”15
- In Ahmad: From Usama ibn Zayd: “O Messenger of Allah… I never saw you fast any month (besides Ramadan) as much as you fast during the month of Sha`ban?” He said: “The people become inattentive during that month between Rajab and Ramadan (i.e. between two great months), and it is a month in which actions are raised to the Lord of the worlds, therefore I like that my actions be raised while I am fasting.”16
- In Bukhari and Muslim from `A’isha: The Prophet used to fast the whole of Sha`ban but for a little.
- In Muslim from Abu Hurayra: The best month to fast after Ramadan is Muharram.
As for hafiz Ibn Hajar’s opinion it only applies to the pure singling out of the month of Rajab at the exclusion of Ramadan, or Sha`ban, or the sacred months, or the rest of the entire year, which does not have a basis. But his opinion does not provide a basis for the claim of the objectors that fasting during Rajab is forbidden or that it is an innovation: for neither the Imams of the fours schools, nor Bayhaqi, nor Nawawi, nor Ibn Hajar, nor even Sayyid Sabiq have claimed this! Furthermore, there is also no sound hadith from the Prophet forbidding the fast of Rajab or disavowing its merit.
- As for those who object by quoting the hadith in Bukhari and Muslim whereby the Prophet emphasized that the one who fasts all his life has not fasted, then their understanding of this hadith is diametrically opposed to that of the Companions and the Salaf, Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi`i, and Ahmad, who did not dislike perpetual fasting as long as it did not include the days of `Id and tashriq.
- As for the narration from Ibn `Abbas whereby the Prophet forbade the fast of Rajab, then only Ibn Majah reports it, with a chain containing Dawud ibn `Ata’ al-Muzani concerning whom Buhakri, Ibn Abi Hatim, and Abu Zur`a said: “His hadith is rejected” (munkar al-hadith), and Nisa’i declared him da`if, and Ahmad said: “He is nothing.” The chain also contains Abu Ayyub Sulayman ibn `Ali al-Hashimi about whom Yahya ibn Sa`id al-Qattan said: “His case is not known,” although Ibn Hibban declared him trustworthy, but Ibn Hibban’s leniency in this is known.
- As for the hadiths in Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and Darimi concerning the Prophet’s injunction to refrain from fasting in the second half of Sha`ban, then as Tirmidhi explained it applies to those who would deliberately intend to fast only then: it should not be done in view of the proximity of the month of Ramadan. As for those who were fasting before, then they may fast in the second half of Sha`ban.
In conclusion, it is at the very least allowed to fast Rajab and Sha`ban in part or in whole, and we say it is recommended, as the clarity of the intention to follow the Sunna and the knowledge that only the fast of Ramadan is obligatory, preclude the reprehensibility of those who used to honor Rajab in rivalry with Ramadan. Sufficient proof of the month of Rajab’s status as a great month lies in the fact that it is the month of the Prophet’s rapture and ascension to his Lord (al-isra’ wa al-mi`raj), and they are blessed who commemorate this month and that night for the sake of Allah’s favor to His Prophet and the Community of His Prophet. And Allah knows best.17
13 Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni 3:118-119.
14 Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh as-sunnah, Alms tax and Fasting, trans. Muhammad Sa`eed Dabas and Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo (ATP, 1989) p. 127-128.
15 Abu Dawud, Siyam Chapter 54; Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-kubra 4:291; Suyuti, al-Durr al-manthur 3:235
16 Ahmad, Musnad 5:201.
17 There is also a Shi`i scholar by the name of Muhammad ibn `Ali ibn Babawayh al-Qummi (d. 380) who wrote Fadai’l al-ashhur al-thalatha: 1. Shahr Rajab, 2. Shahr Sha`ban, 3. Sharh Ramadan (Najaf: Matba`at al-adab, 1396/1976). Neither this volume nor hafiz al-Kattani’s book on the merits of Rajab were available to us.