The great Hafiz, Imam Zain ud-Din Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 AH), may Allah be pleased with him, said of the night of the 15th of Sha`ban and its’ benefits:
Imams Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa’ii, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, al-Hakim all narrated from the hadith of Al-`Ala’ ibn `Abdur-Rahman from his father from Abu Hurairah from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who said,
“When the month of Sha`ban reaches midway, do not fast until the month of Ramadan.”
Imam at-Tirmidhi and others narrated this matter. The scholars differ regarding the authenticity of this hadith and then also acting on it. As for the authenticity of the hadith, it has been declared to be so by Imams at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Hibban, al-Hakim, at-Tahawi, Ibn `Abdul Barr.
However there has been discussion about this hadith by those greater and more knowledgeable than those previously mentioned. They state, “This is a hadith that is rejected.”
Those sharing this opinion include `Abdur-Rahman ibn Mahdi, the Imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Zur`ah ar-Razi and Abu Bakr al-Athram. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said of this hadith, “Al-`Ala’ did not narrate any hadith worse than this one.” The Imam then went on to reject the hadith and answer it with another hadith,
“Do not precede Ramadan with a fast by a day or two days.”
So the understanding that one can take from the hadith is that it is permissible to precede Ramadan with a fast that is more than two days. Abu Bakr al-Athram said of this matter, “The ahadith on the topic in total contradict the hadith of al-`Ala’ and the other ahadith on the topic indicate that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to fast all of Sha`ban, then follow it up with Ramadan.
He did indeed forbid from preceding Ramadan by two days with a fast, but that hadith is indeed divergent and contradicts the other authentic ahadith on the topic.”
Imam Abu Ja`far at-Tahawi said of the hadith of al-`Ala,’ “That hadith is abrogated and Consensus has been narrated on not acting on this hadith.”
Most of the scholars hold the position that the hadith is not to be acted on while others took hold of the hadith – like ash-Shafi`ii and his companions – and forbade from beginning an optional fast after the middle of Sha`ban for the one who does not normally fast due to some other sunnah fasts.
Some of the latter day scholars of our school also agreed with them in that, but they differed in the reason for the prohibition. Some of them said that it is for the reason that it is feared that someone may increase days in the month of Ramadan that are not from it. However this position is far from the mark as after the 15th of Sha`ban is indeed mentioned.
It is also far from the mark as the prohibition in the hadith states that someone should not precede Ramadan by a day or two days. This shows that they knew that this month was before Ramadan so there is no confusion.
Others scholars of the school said that the prohibition is so that the individual might remain strong for the fasting coming up in the month of Ramadan. So this is a tenderness towards him so that he does not become weak in Sha`ban from fasting to the point that he cannot fulfil Ramadan.
This position has been narrated from Waki` and he understood that the fasting of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in the month of Sha`ban in which he either fasted all of it or most of it and then followed it up with Ramadan. All of this is to do with the fast after the 15th of Sha`ban.
Now with regard to the topic of fasting on 15th Sha`ban, then this is not completely forbidden as in general this is from the recommended white days that one would fast in succession, which are the 13th, 14th and 15th of every lunar month and this is praiseworthy.
A command was narrated to fast in the month of Sha`ban specifically and the day was referred to in particular. This hadith appears in the Sunan of Ibn Majah with a weak chain of transmission from `Ali from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who said,
“When the middle of the month of Sha`ban appears, then stand in the night and fast in the day of this time. Indeed Allah the Exalted descends at the time of sunset to the lowest sky.
He says, ‘Is there someone who is seeking forgiveness so I can forgive him? Is there someone who is asking for sustenance so that I might give it to him? Is there someone in tribulation so that I might relieve him? Shall I not do as I have said? Shall I not do as I have said?’ This time remains until the time of Fajr.”
Regarding the virtues of the 15th of Sha`ban, there are a number of other ahadith and the scholars have differed when discussing them. Most scholars consider these ahadith as weak while Ibn Hibban declared some of them as authentic.
Imam Ibn Hibban mentioned in his Sahih the aforementioned hadith and others like it, including the hadith of `A’ishah, who said, “The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was absent from his bed one night. I went out looking for him and found that he was at the graveyard of Jannat ul-Baqi`.
His head was raised towards the sky and he said, ‘Did you fear that you had been abandoned by Allah and His Messenger?’ I said in reply, ‘I thought that you had gone to visit one of your wives.’
He said in reply, ‘Indeed Allah, Blessed and Exalted, comes down the lowest sky on 15th of Sha`ban and forgives more people than there are hairs on the sheep looked after by the dogs of shepherds.’ ”
This hadith was also collected by the Imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah but at-Tirmidhi mentioned from al-Bukhari that the hadith was weak.
Ibn Majah also mentioned a hadith from Abu Musa from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who said,
“Indeed Allah comes to the lowest sky on 15th Sha`ban and He forgives all of His Creation with the exception of the idol worshipper and the one addicted to intoxicants.”
The Imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, narrated a hadith from `Abdullah ibn `Amr from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him,who said,
“Indeed Allah comes down to His Creation on 15th Sha`ban and forgives His Slaves with the exception of two: the one addicted to intoxicants and the one who committed suicide.”
This same hadith was also given from Ibn Hibban in his Sahih text from Mu`adh and the hadith is attributable.
The same Imam, Ibn Hibban, narrates a hadith from `Uthman ibn Abil `As that is attributable where the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,
“When the 15th of Sha`ban comes, someone calls out, ‘Is there someone who is seeking forgiveness so that I might forgive him? Is there someone who is asking so that I can grant his request? I will not turn anyone away from me that asks Me except the one who commits fornication or adultery with a woman and an idol worshipper.’ ”
There are other ahadith on the subject but there is weakness in all of them. It is narrated from Nawf al-Bikali that `Ali, peace be upon him, came out on 15th of Sha`ban and most of the people came out looking at the sky. `Ali then said, “Dawud, peace be upon him, came out on this exact same day and looked at the sky. He then said, ‘This is an hour in which Allah called out:
Anyone that calls Me, I will answer him. Anyone who asks My Forgiveness, I will forgive him. This is as long as he is not a numerologist, magician, poet, astrologer, palm reader, policeman, taker of bribes, someone who is a drum or music player.’
Allah! Lord of Dawud, forgive the one who calls on You this night and the one who aks your forgiveness on this night.”
The night of the 15th of Sha`ban was venerated and used for strenuous worship by the followers of the Companions from the people of Sham like Khalid ibn Ma`dan, Makhul, Luqman ibn `Amir and others. There were a group of them who extolled the virtues of this night and held it in regard.
It was however said that this came from traditions that had an Israelite origin. Once this practice and the knowledge of the practice became widespread in the different lands, the people differed about the 15th of Sha`ban.
There were some people who accepted the night of Sha`ban and others who agreed with them in venerating this night and holding it in special regard. Some of these included a group of worshippers from the people of Al-Basrah and others besides.
This veneration was repudiated by most of the scholars of Al-Hijaz, such as `Ata’ ibn Abi Mulaikah. `Abdur-Rahman ibn Zaid ibn Aslam also narrated this position from the scholars of fiqh as authorities of the people of Madinah – which is the position the companions of Imam Malik – and others and they said that all the things done in veneration of that night are a innovation.
The scholars of Sham differed in how to go about venerating the night of Sha`ban and how to show it respect. There were two positions that they adopted in the matter:
1) This group held that it was praiseworthy to venerate the night by gathering a congregation together in the masjids. Khalid ibn Ma`dan and Luqman ibn `Amir and others used to wear their best clothes on that day, burn incense, wear kohl and in the night stand for extra prayers in the masjid. Those who agreed with them in this were Ishaq ibn Rahawaih who when discussing the actions on this night, like a group of people standing in optional congregational prayers, said, “This is not an innovation at all.” This was also narrated from Harb al-Kirmani in his book, al-Masa’il.
2) A group of scholars hold that all the practices mentioned above that are done in the masjids on this night – namely congregational prayer, story-telling, supplication are disliked; but it is not disliked for the man to pray by himself individually on this night. This is the statement of Imam al-Awza`ii, the Imam of the people of Sham, their scholar of fiqh and teacher. This is actually the nearest position to the truth, if Allah, the Exalted so wills.
It has been narrated from `Umar ibn `Abdul `Aziz that he wrote to his worker in al-Basrah, “You need to keep vigil on four nights of the year in which Allah completes and perfects in them his mercy on the first night of Rajab, the night of the 15th of Sha`ban, the night of `Id ul-Fitr, the night of `Id al-Adha.”
I would like to say for the record that the authenticity of this statement is disputed. Imam ash-Shafi`ii, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “It has come to our attention that the supplication is answered for a surety on five nights: the night of Friday, the night of the two `Ids, the beginning of Rajab, the night of the 15th of Sha`ban. All of what has been narrated about these nights is praiseworthy.”
As for the Imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, there is no direct statement made by him about the night of 15th of Sha`ban. There have been two narrated statements from him about standing in the night and also another two narrations about the night of the two `Ids.
There is a narration from him that it is not praiseworthy for people to stand in prayer the night of the two `Ids – in congregation – as it has not been narrated from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his Companions.
He did consider it praiseworthy in the narration due to an action of `Abdur-Rahman ibn Yazid ibn al-Aswad who was from the Followers of the Companions.
Likewise standing in prayer on the night of 15th of Sha`ban is neither established from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, nor the Companions; but this practice was established from a group of Followers that represented the high ranking people of the scholars of fiqh among the people of Sham.
It is narrated from Ka`b ibn al-Ahbar who said, “Indeed Allah, the Exalted, on the night of 15th of Sha`ban, sends out Jibril, peace be upon him, to the Paradise and orders him to beautify it and he says after that, ‘Indeed Allah, the Exalted, has freed in this night slaves the number of the stars in the sky, the number of the days of the creation and their nights, the number of leaves of the trees, the weight of the mountains, the number of the camels.’ ”
Sa`id ibn Mansur narrated, “It was narrated to us by Abu Ma`shar from Abu Hazim and Muhammad ibn Qais from `Ata’ ibn Yasar, who said, ‘There is no night after the Night of Power more virtuous than the 15th of Sha`ban. Allah, Blessed and Exalted be He, comes down to the lowest sky and forgives all of His Slaves except the idol worshipper, the one addicted to intoxicants, the one that cuts family relations. On that night, the number of people freed from the fire are many indeed in huge number. As for the one who is rejected on this night?! Great indeed is the loss! Allah has increased your loss on this night. This is indeed a great loss for you if this should happen.’ ”
I weep for myself, as indeed I have a right to weep,
I can claim no ignorance and have no doubt about what I shall reap!
If I was to say that in all the time that I lived I am perfect,
In those words I lie and that is my defect.
The days of Sha`ban and its’ 15th night have come,
As the sign of piety has appeared, it’s now time that I have some.
By my life, in all truth have I wasted my life in desecration?
Let me use this night so that the Lord of creation will save me from devastation!
The believer on this night should busy himself in the Remembrance of Allah, the Exalted, calling on Him, asking for forgiveness of sins, covering the faults, lifting of difficulties and that over and above all that repentance. Indeed, Allah the exalted will have forgiveness on whoever repents to Him.
Stand in prayer on the noble night of 15th of Sha`ban,
The honour of this month is well known, so worship if you can!
How many man has stood on that night to be safe and sound,
The date when the pages are laid bare and speech of the year’s plans abound!
Hasten to do good before the end of that time,
Beware of dying in a state of loss which on this night would be a crime!
Fast in the day – Allah help you – and hope in Him,
So that your troubles might be lifted and you feel joy again!
It is specifically for a Muslim at that time to avoid sins which would hinder him from the forgiveness of sins and acceptance of his supplication on that night. It has already been narrated that the only people that will not be forgiven on that night will be the one possessing shirk, the one who committed suicide, those who commit fornication or adultery.
These three sins are the most egregious of sins in the sight of Allah just as has been mentioned in the hadith of Ibn Mas`ud and the authenticity of this text is agreed upon. He asked the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, “Which sin is the most severe?” He answered, “That you make a rival for Allah and He created you.”
He was asked by Ibn Mas`ud, “Then what?” He was told, “That you kill your children out of fear that they will eat from your own food.” After that he was asked, “Then what?” Then he was told, “That you fornicate or commit adultery with the wife of your neighbour.”
Allah, the Exalted, then sent down, as a confirmation of that statement,
And those who do not call on another god with Allah, nor slay a soul that Allah has declared sacred except by a valid right and they do not commit adultery or fornication. Surat ul-Furqan (26), ayah 68
Another one of the sins that hinder from forgiveness is the Muslim hating his own brother out of something that he desires for himself. This hinders from forgiveness most of the time and this stops forgiveness and mercy. This has been mentioned in the Sahih collection of Imam Muslim as narrated by Abu Hurairah where the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said in an attributed hadith,
“The Gates of the Paradise are opened on Monday and Thursday and every soul is forgiven that has not associated partners with Allah. The only one not forgiven would be the one that has some matter of hatred between him and his Muslim brother. When Allah sees that He says to one of the angels, ‘Check his affair until these two reconcile.’ ”
This hatred that hinders forgiveness was described by Imam al-Awza`ii as something that is in the heart, like hatred for the Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
This hatred is greater and more severe than the hate that would happen among equals. Imam Al-Awza`ii also mentioned this as every worker of innovation that divides the Ummah.
Ibn Thawban also said that the one who is hating of the truth is every abandoner of the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who has gone against the Ummah, spilling their blood.
This is the hatred that I mean when I say that it is the innovation that causes a break in the Collective of the Muslims, their blood, wealth and honour being declared permitted. This is like the innovation of the Khawarij, the Shi`ah and others.
The best of actions are to have a heart clean from hatred in all its’ forms and the best way to have a clean heart is to stay away from the hatred and rage present in the people of desires and innovation.
This same innovation of showing hatred towards the early generations of the Ummah and their hatred and animosity towards them, believing that it is permitted to declare them unbelievers, innovators, astray is also present among some.
When the heart is clear from this form of hatred, one will not show hatred towards the main body of the Muslims. He will only want good for them, advise them sincerely and he will love for them what he loves for himself.
Allah, the Exalted, has already described the believers and their main body when they said,
Our Lord! Forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith. Do not make our hearts to have hatred towards those who believe. Our Lord! Indeed You are the Benevolent, the Most Compassionate. Surat ul-Hashr (59), ayah 9.
There is a narration in the Musnad from Anas ibn Malik that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said to his Companions,
“In three days there will come out to you a man from the people of Paradise.”
Then a man came out and `Abdullah ibn `Amr decided to become his guest to find why he was one of the people of Paradise. So for three days he slept in his home, to look at his deeds. However, while with him, `Abdullah ibn `Amr did not see any large deeds and after the three days he informed him of this and asked why he would be special.
The man remarked that he knew of nothing other than that as long as he had been alive he had made sure that there was no hatred in his heart towards any of the Muslims. `Abdullah ibn `Amr then said, “This is what has reached the level! This is the truth of the matter!”
In the Sunan of Ibn Majah, there is the narration from `Abdullah ibn `Amr in which he said, “It was said to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, ‘Who is the best of people?’ He said, ‘Every one with a tranquil heart and a truthful tongue.’ The people remarked, ‘We know about a truthful tongue; but what is the meaning of the tranquil heart?’ He answered them, ‘It is the one who is pious, pure of heart, who there is no sin in the heart nor evil intention towards other. This heart also bears no ill will or envy towards another.’ ”
One of the early generations used to say, “The best of deeds are pure hearts, humble selves, those who sincerely advice the Ummah.” So with these descriptions, it can be seen that this is reached by what is in the heart and not by hard work expended in the actions of fasting and prayers.
My brothers, avoid the sins which will hinder the slave from the forgiveness of his Lord, the Lord who His Name is the Forgiver. He is the Forgiver in all of the ways of mercy, repentance, seeking forgiveness. As for shirk, then it has been mentioned:
Indeed, whoever associated partners with Allah, then Allah has made the Paradise impermissible for him and his home is the Fire. The oppressors shall have no helpers. Surat ul-Ma’idah (5), ayah 72.
As far as the topic of killing, then if the people of the skies and earth had gathered together to kill one Muslim without right, Allah would have put all of them in the Fire. When discussing fornication and adultery, Then take warning in the strongest possible terms from the wrath of the Most Forceful One.
All of the creation are Slaves of Allah and His Handmaidens. There is no one with more jealousy for His Right than Allah so that any handmaiden or slave violates this by fornication will surely provoke Him.
So due to this holiness and jealousy, He has forbidden all types of perversions and commanded that the slaves lower their eyes. As far as the hate that is in a slave towards his brother, this is evil and the intention will be to harm that brother.
Do not think that Allah is unmindful of the what the oppressors do. He has only delayed them for a day in which their eyes will roll back in their heads in abject terror. Surah Ibrahim (14), ayah 42
Is it not enough for you to know the reasons why forgiveness might be hindered at the times where it should most ardently be sought and the forgiveness of sins is most assured?
Destroyed is the slave that lost his way from his Lord,
All due to reasons stemming from acts of disobedience!
May mercy be upon the one who his heart was clean,
There is no fear there of the Day of Accounting of all things seen!
The thunder shall assuredly roll on that day,
On the very day that the hair of children shall be grey!
I have sins in abundance that need to be forgiven,
A life of waste, so I should fear when I am risen!
When I act I do deeds but I don’t know and I fear,
That I might have acted when my hear was not sincere!
`Ikrimah and other scholars of commentary mentioned the ayah,
And in that night every matter is indeed settled by the Most Wise. Surat ud-Dukhan (45), ayah 4
They said in their commentaries that it is a reference to the night of the 15th of Sha`ban; but the Vast Majority say that this is actually referring to the Night of Power and that is the correct position.
`Ata’ ibn Yasar said, “When the night of the 15th of Sha`ban has come, the angel of death is shown a page that has written on it instructions to take the soul of whoever is written down on it.
It is also listed for the slave what will come to pass for sustenance, those who will marry, what will be built, the name of the place and time of death. It is at that point that the angel is just waiting for the command to go and take the soul.”
Let the one deceived by his long life and happy with his wicked deeds think and know that the death will come shortly to every one and he does not know when he will suddenly be grabbed.
Every one that is alive with his family thinks everything is in his grasp,
But has no idea that death is closer than his own sandal strap!
One of the early generations said, “How many have risen to face a new day and didn’t finish it? How many people planned for tomorrow but never made it? Had you been able to see the end and how, you would have been angry about the time lost and the deception that grabbed you.”
I run through life as if I will be forever,
Day by day I realise that the Hereafter is forever!
I don’t know if I will see another afternoon,
Then I don’t know if I will live to the morning when I see the afternoon!
How many people have there been that exhausted themselves in seeking earthly riches,
That went down into the grave having failed to fulfil their wishes?
It is as if you passed all your time and efforts and strain,
To obtain or reach something that would cause you great pain!
Then comes to the time of the washer to prepare you for your shroud,
Hastening you on to your grave no matter the voices raised or how loud!
There is nothing to stop the carrying of the shroud and strips of cotton,
Whether you are many or few, your appointment is not to be forgotten!
Men before you passed away and went on and you can see,
You will follow in their footsteps shortly not long…just wait and see!
The carriers call one another to lift them and head to the grave site,
Carrying people like you to move on into the dark night!
When they lower you into that dark grave, no safety for you,
No safety or protection from the consequences of things you now do!
Who will help you on the day you enter in the presence of the Most Compassionate,
The One Benevolent to His Slaves decides the destination that is permanent!
Death will come no matter how long the lifespan,
You will be taken whether your life is short or long, no matter how much you plan!
My brother, I advise you so please listen to me,
By Allah, you should seek His Help to be in good stead for eternity!
Don’t you see the signs all around you that are present every day,
The end will reach you and your friend, so prepare for the end of days!
Taken from Lata’if ul-Ma`arif Fima Li-Mawasim il-`Ami min al-Waza’if, pp. 151-157