Fasting Outside the Month of Ramadhan?

With the month of Ramadhan quickly approaching, many of us have started to contemplate what changes in our daily schedules will be necessary to make the most out this blessed month. Due to enormous amount of attention given to the holy month of Ramadhan, and secondarily, the month of Rajab, considered one of the four sacred months, many of us neglect to appreciate another very important month which we are about to enter.

The month of Shaban, which follows Rajab and precedes Ramadhan, is also a very blessed month.  This is based on a tradition recorded in the Sahih of Imam Muslim, whereby Aisha, the wife of the Prophet SallaAllahu Alaihi wa Salam is reported to have said, “The messenger of Allah used to fast to the point that we would say that he will not ever break his fast.  Likewise, he would not fast to the point that we would think that he doesn’t want to fast.  I have never seen the Messenger of Allah fast an entire month except for the month of Ramadhan, and I have not seen him fast more in any specific month, other than the month of Shaban.”   

This tradition reminds us of at least three very important lessons:

1) The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam chose the middle path, even when it came to fasting.  Throughout his life, he was not at one extreme, where he only fasted during the month of Ramadhan and neglected the other months, nor was he at the other extreme, where he constantly fasted.  One of the great wisdoms behind this balanced middle path was to preserve the sanctity of the worship of the fast, where if one constantly fasted, fasting would become routine and this sanctity would be ruined.  Likewise, if one neglected fasting during the other eleven months, the approach of the month of Ramadhan would appear as a great hardship and an almost unsurmountable task.

2) The month of Ramdhan is the greatest of all months and is unparalleled in the worship that is offered during it.  

3) The great virtue of fasting during the month of Shaban was highlighted by the Prophet’s Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam actions.  Scholars have differed as to the wisdom behind this and have noted the following:

a.  At times the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam, was busy and was unable to fast the three days of every month, so he would “make up” these days during Shaban.

b. In order to honor the coming of Ramadhan, the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam would fast during Shaban.

c. The Prophet’s wives would make up their missed Ramadhan fasts (from the prior year) during Shaban.

d. The fasting of Shaban was done as a “warm up exercise” in preparation for Ramadhan, so that he would not find the fasting of Ramadhan difficult and burdensome.  Rather by fasting some of the days of Shaban, a strong love of fasting was developed thereby allowing the entrance into Ramadhan with full confidence, strength, and endurance.

e. Shaban is a month where deeds are raised to Allah Taala and the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam preferred that his deeds be raised to Allah Taala while he was fasting.

f.  Fasting during the month of Shaban differentiates the strong believer from the average believer.  This is due to the fact that the entire Muslim community fasts during Ramadhan, so the difficulty of fasting during this blessed month is lightened because one is encouraged by those around him.  Opposite to this, during Shaban, most of the Muslims are eating and drinking, so when one fasts during this month, his rank in the sight of Allah is elevated above the other believers, due to his sincerity and the worship he uniquely performs.

From these various opinions, we can begin to gain an appreciation of the numerous benefits the believer can avail, if he fasts some days during the month of Shaban.  We ask that Allah Taala give us all the sincerity and strength to fast during the month of Shaban, as the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam fasted!

Aamir Sheikh is the Resident Scholar for Dar Al-Taqwa in Ellicott City, Maryland.