The Six Fasts of Shawwaal and Other Related Matters

In the Name of Allāh, praise is due to Allāh and may prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of Allāh.

Allāh the Mighty and Exalted has scattered His immense blessings and mercy across different times and places in order to allow us to be able to benefit from them whatever time it may be and in whichever place we may reside. Part of that blessing and mercy is the fact that He has specified particular acts of virtuous deeds which we can perform throughout the year in different Islamic months whilst attaining unimaginably generous rewards and remission of sins. The month of Ramaḍān has just passed us by and we all know the virtues of Ramaḍān which include the obligatory fasting, the night prayers, the last ten nights which includes the Night of Decree and the fact that the rewards are determined by Allāh as He wishes etc. Following Ramaḍān is the first of the three months of Ḥajj: Shawwāl. This month has its own virtues and deeds which can be performed to earn even more rewards. Part of that are the six fasts of Shawwāl.

This article discusses the subject of the six fasts of Shawwāl and its related Fiqh issues which would be of interest to those engaging in this virtuous deed. The evidences establishing this practice are mentioned and a brief mention of the grading of the evidences. Following this, the fiqh issues related to the fasts are mentioned in which the discussions revolve around the exact ruling on these fasts, the rewards, the wisdom behind these fasts, how and when they should be fasted, some of the innovations that have developed around the month of Shawwāl and whether perpetual fasting is supported by the fact that the reward for fasting the six fasts of Shawwāl after having fasted Ramaḍān is equivalent to a year’s fasting. So let us begin.

The Proof-Texts

There are a number of different routes to the ḥadīth with two different wordings with regards to the analogy of time mentioned in the text. The first of them and the most popular compares it to al-Dahr (more on that later) whilst the other compares it more specifically to one complete year:

From Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu) that he narrated that the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated:

“Whoever fasts Ramaḍān and then follows it up with six from Shawwāl, it is like fasting al-Dahr.”[1]

Ibn Mājah (no. 1715) reports a more specific wording for the timing from Thawbān (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu)  the client of the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), from the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that he said:

“Whoever fasts six days after al-Fiṭr, it is [like] a complete year. Whoever performs a good deed has ten times its like.”

Grading of the Ḥadīth

The aḥādīth mentioned above are sound according to the masters amongst the muḥaddithūn. The first version for instance is mentioned in none other than Imām Muslim’s Ṣaḥiḥ.

 

 

 

Fiqh of the Ḥadīth

Shawwāl

It is the 10th month of the Islāmic lunar calendar year following the blessed month of Ramaḍān and is also the first month of the Months of Ḥajj. It is said that it is called Shawwāl because “it coincided with the season when the she-camels raised their tails or because of their milk becoming then withdrawn” due to the scorching heat and the scarcity of sufficient fresh herbage.[2] The plural is Shawwālāt.

Dahr

This term is applied to varied lengths of abundant time. The intent here however is a lunar year based on the second ḥadīth mentioned amongst the proof-texts which specifically limits the time to a complete year.

Ruling

The ḥadīth indicates that it is mustaḥabb or highly recommended to voluntarily fast six days of Shawwāl after having fasted the whole month of Ramaḍān.

There is an aberrant view held by Imām Mālik and also ascribed to Abū Ḥanīfah that it is disliked to perform these fasts. Imām Mālik’s fear was that to do so every year would give the impression that it is obligatory due to its close proximity to Ramaḍān. This is based on weak reasoning and thus incorrect for the following reasons:

  1. If we were to take this position it would mean that praying the optional prayers connected with the obligatory ones (rawātib) every single day is disliked. This necessary conclusion is false and the falsity of this necessary conclusion indicates the falsity of the premise which necessitated it. [3]
  2. Furthermore, the thing that they fear can easily be removed via teaching and explanation.[4]
  3. Aside from the above, the simple fact that the ḥadīth mentions the practise unrestrictedly is enough as an evidence for its permissibility. For this reason, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr seeks to exonerate Imām Mālik by mentioning a number of reasons why he adopted this untenable position[5]:
    1.  This ḥadīth did not reach Mālik and if it had he would have adopted it

i.     This is despite the fact that one route of the ḥadīth reached us via an inhabitant of Madīnah, the very place in which Imām Mālik resided. This is why later on in his explanation of the Muwaṭṭa’ he states that he does not believe that Imām Mālik was ignorant of the ḥadīth

  1. He was extremely cautious about preserving the dīn for the general masses and for this reason he adopted the position of it being disliked to fast the six days of Shawwāl
  2. He considered the ḥadīth to be inauthentic and not practically applicable due to it not having reached him via sound routes

Reward

We learn from the above ḥadīths that the reward for following up the fasting of the month of Ramaḍān with six days from Shawwāl is equivalent to fasting a complete year. This is because each good deed is worth ten in Allāh’s account. Thus, 30 fasts of Ramaḍān multiplied by 10 is equivalent to 300 fasts. Add six days from Shawwal which is equivalent to 6 multiplied by 10 which is of course 60 and add that 60 fasts to the 300 fasts of Ramaḍān and you have a grand total of 360 fasts for the year – or a fast for every day of the year.

Or more simply, 1 month of fasting in Ramaḍān is equivalent to 10 months of fasting. Fasting another 6 days in Shawwāl is equivalent to 2 months of fasting. Add 10 and 2 and you get 12 months of fasting in total. This is how some of the scholars have explained the meaning of the ḥadīth, thus if a person does that every year it is like as if he has fasted nonstop every year of his life!

There is a popular inauthentic report regarding the reward of fasting six days from Shawwāl which states:

“Whoever fasts Ramaḍān and follows it up with six from Shawwāl; he leaves from his sins like the day his mother gave birth to him”

One of the narrators by the name of Abū ʿAbd Allāḥ al-Ḥimṣī is according to al-Albānī a man known by the name of Muḥammad b. Saʿīd al-Asadī the crucified liar and forger whose name has been altered around a hundred times by other less credible narrators to hide his notoriety. Consequently the ḥadīth is inauthentic and at worst forged[6].

Wisdom

The scholars have listed a number of wisdoms of this particular act of worship:

  • To provide an opportunity for people to attain the reward for having fasted the whole year with little effort
  • To ensure fasting is not neglected immediately after Ramaḍān since many people will have become exhausted physically from the previous month and may avoid fasting again for a while. This encourages them not to turn away from fasting so quickly.
  • To allow this optional fast to cover the imperfections that may have harmed our obligatory fasts in the same way optional prayers cover the imperfections and short comings in our obligatory prayers

When?

A person can fast them in the beginning of the month or in the middle or end since there is no evidence to state explicitly that they have to be performed in the beginning of the month etc and because the ḥadīth is absolute in its meaning without any restrictions[7]. Whoever ends up fasting six days of Shawwāl during the month then he has successfully and correctly applied the ḥadīth and followed up Ramaḍān with six from Shawwāl – and that is sufficient.

However, as with all acts of worship, some methods are of a higher level of piety than others which is why for instance al-Tirmidhī states that the famous scholar ʿAbd Allāh b. Al-Mubārak was of the view that it is better to fast them at the beginning of the month[8]. Before delving further into when it is best to fast these fasts we need to look at the issue of fasts that have to be made up for Ramaḍān:

Qaḍā’ Or Six Days of Shawwāl First?

If one intends to fast the six voluntary fasts of Shawwāl then the obligatory fasts must be made up before one can begin fasting for the six days of Shawwāl. This is because:

  • The Qaḍā’ is a binding obligation upon the person which takes precedence over all other voluntary fasts.
  • Voluntary acts of worship are not accepted until the relevant obligatory act is completed. There is an authentic athar from Abu Bakr (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu) in which he said that Allāh does not accept acts of worship from a person if he has obligatory ones pending.[9]
  • The ḥadīth states ‘Whoever fasts Ramaḍān…”. One who has not made up the Qaḍā’ has not fasted Ramaḍān and therefore cannot attain the reward mentioned in the ḥadīth until they have been kept.

Now returning back to when one should keep the six fasts of Shawwāl, an obvious point to note is that fasting 6 days from Shawwāl excludes the Day of ʿĪd which is the 1st of Shawwāl because of the prohibition of fasting on the Days of ʿĪd. Additionally, according to al-Albānī it also excludes Saturdays.

One should avoid fasting on Saturdays due to the prohibition of fasting on Saturdays unless it is an obligatory fast. The Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated:

“Do not fast on Saturday except for what is obligatory upon you and if one of you does not find anything apart from the skin of a grape or the bark of a tree then let him chew it.”[1]

It is best to fast them immediately after the Day of ʿĪd because:

  • We should hasten to do good deeds
  • It indicates that a person is desirous of fasting and engaging enthusiastically in acts of worship and is not lazy or bored
  • It reduces the chances of something preventing the person from completing the fasting
  • One’s body is already accustomed to fasting and this allows the person to complete the fasts more effectively and continue some of the good habits acquired during the month

How?

There are two ways the scholars have mentioned these fasts can be kept:

  1. Consecutively
  2. Separately

Although it is permissible to fast them in either form, Shaykh al-Albānī for instance takes the view that it is better to fast the six days consecutively but Friday and Saturday must be avoided because it is impermissible to fast voluntarily on Saturday except obligatory fasts. He holds the same view for the White Days (13th, 14th and 15th of each month).

Accordingly, one can fast for instance from Sunday to Thursday which would be 5 days and then fast on the Sunday after missing Friday and Saturday and that would be considered a consecutive fast according to the Shaykh’s opinion.

It is better to fast them consecutively because of the same reasons mentioned above for why we should fast them immediately the day after ʿĪd.

   

Innovations

ʿĪd al-Abrār

Some of the common people refer to the 8th of Shawwāl as the ʿĪd of the Pious based on the fact that those who rush to do good deeds do so by fasting the six immediately after the day of ʿĪd which is from the 2nd of Shawwāl until the 7th of Shawwāl thereby completing their 6 days of fasting for the month. This is an innovation since there is no evidence from the textual sources to support this. As Shaykh Ibn al-ʿUthaymīn, echoing Shaykh al-Islām before him, so eloquently puts it, it is neither the ʿĪd of the Pious nor of the Impious.[10] Furthermore, this belief of theirs implies that those who do not fast six days from Shawwāl are not pious and this is a mistake for the one who completes his obligation is pious without doubt even if some acts of piety are more perfect than others.[11]

Avoiding Marriage and Consummation of One’s Marriage

The pre-Islāmic Arabs used to consider marriage during Shawwāl to be an evil omen. They believed that a woman who gets married during Shawwāl would prevent herself from her husband just as a she-camel prevents herself from the male camel during the same period.

However, no attention should be paid to such superstitions. It is sufficient to cite the fact that the Prophet married the Mother of the Believers, ʿĀ’ishah (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhā) during the month of Shawwāl. She stated: “The Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) married me in Shawwāl and consummated the marriage with me in Shawwāl…”[12] Ibn Kathīr states that the fact that the Prophet consummated his marriage with ʿĀʾishah (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhā) during Shawwāl refutes the misconception of some of the people who believe it is disliked to consummate one’s marriage during that period for fear of the spouses being separated.[13] Al-Nawawī goes further and states that it is recommended for one to marry in Shawwāl and consummate the marriage therein based on ʿĀʾishah’s ḥadīth.[14]

Combining Intentions

It is technically permissible for a person who is making up obligatory fasts in the month of Shawwāl to combine the intention with that of the six days of Shawwāl. However, al-Albānī states that the person would only receive one multiple of ten rewards for doing this whereas if he did them separately he would receive two multiples of ten rewards as they would be two separately practised good deeds.

What If You Receive An Invitation?

It is not obligatory to break one’s fast but it is obligatory to attend the invitation unless there is a legitimate excuse. He should supplicate for the host if he does not break his fast:

Abū Hurayrah (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu)  reported that the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“When one of you is given an invitation let him respond, if he is fasting let him supplicate and if he is not then let him eat”.

(Muslim)

 One can break their voluntary fast and eat because of the maxim that a person who begins a voluntary act of worship is not obligated to complete it whereas one who begins an obligatory act of worship must complete it:

Umm Ḥani’ (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhā)  narrated that the Messenger of Allāh Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“…The one who is observing a voluntary fast is his own master; if he wishes he may fast and if he wishes he may break his fast.”

[Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʿ, 3854]

If, however, one feels that the host would be hurt if he did not break his fast and eat then it is better for the person to eat and he can make up that fast later if he wishes:

Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu) narrates an incident in which some food had been prepared for the Prophet and when it was served one man refrained from eating with the excuse that he was fasting. Upon hearing this, the Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) then stated:

“Your brother has invited you and gone through some trouble. Break your fast today and make it up another day if you wish.”

[Irwā’, 1952 and it is Ḥasan].

Not Being Able To Fast During Shawwāl

If one is unable to fast during the month of Shawwāl due to a legitimate Sharʿī reason such as being prevented due to sickness or having to make up the whole month of Ramaḍān then it is permissible for that person to fast them even if Shawwāl has passed and he will have the reward written for him. This is based on the analogy that an obligation which is delayed due to a legitimate reason such as when an optional prayer connected with the obligatory prayer is delayed beyond its time then it is permissible to make it up as evidenced by the Sunnah.[15]

Perpetual Fasting – Recommended or Not?

Ṣiyām al-Dahr is to fast every single day voluntarily. It is impermissible to perform this type of fasting as it would involve the fasting of prohibited days such as the two days of ʿĪd and the Days of Tashrīq and Saturdays.

Some have argued that the fact that the reward for fasting six days from Shawwāl after having fasted Ramaḍān is equivalent to fasting nonstop for the year just as fasting three days out of every month is as well, is an indication that Ṣiyām al-Dahr is superior to all forms of fasting and its reward is also greater and that this is an act that people should aspire to for the Prophet made an analogy of the reward with perpetual fasting.

This form of reasoning however is invalid for the following reasons:

  • The Prophet  (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) explicitly stated in a sound ḥadīth which is agreed upon that the best form of fasting is that of Dāwūd (ʿalayhissalām) which is to fast a day and break it for a day i.e. to fast alternate days and that there is nothing better than it. This explicit ḥadīth takes precedence over any other implicit deductions made from other proof-texts.
  • The fact that the Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) compared six fasts from Shawwāl and three days from every month to perpetual fasting does not necessitate its permissibility let alone it being recommended as a righteous act as Ibn al-Qayyim argues in Zād al-Maʿād[16]. The similarity is only in the reward if it had been a recommended form of fasting. The evidence against this reasoning is in the very ḥadīth itself for it states explicitly that fasting three days out of every month is equivalent to perpetual fasting for every good deed is ten times its like which means the person attains the reward of fasting 360 days and it is known definitively that fasting every single day of the year is ḥarām according to consensus. Consequently, it is known that the intent is the attainment of the reward and not the form.
  • Even more explicitly, the Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated clearly in the version of the ḥadīth in Ibn Mājah which was mentioned in the beginning of this article regarding the six fasts of Shawwāl which ends with the words, “Whoever performs a good deed has ten times its like”. Thus the analogy is with regards to the reward and not the mode of fasting.
  • Finally, the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) routinely compared one act of worship which was within the capability of a person with one which is usually impossible to perform. He did this to emphasise the greatness of the act and its reward in terms of its quality even though the act is less than the comparison in terms of quantity. So for example, when the Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was asked regarding an action which is equal to Jihād, he compared it to praying nonstop without taking a break and fasting without breaking one’s fast. Now, the act of Jihād is within a person’s capability but in order to emphasise its greatness and reward the Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) compared it to something that cannot be usually performed which is praying nonstop and fasting perpetually. This obviously does not contain any recommendation to perform those actions in that manner. Another example is when the Prophet  (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated that praying ʿIshā’ and Fajr in congregation is equivalent to praying the whole night even though he explicitly stated as reported in Būkhārī and Muslim that the best form of night prayer is not to pray it all night but to pray a third of it.

 

 

 

 

Selected Bibliography

al-Bassām, ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. Tawḍīḥ al-Aḥkām Min Bulūgh al-Marām, 7 vols. Makkah: Dār al-Asadī, 1423/2003.

Ibn Qudāmah, al-Muwaffaq al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh b. Aḥmad al-Maqdisī. Al-Mughnī, 5th Edition, eds. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī and ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ Muḥammad al-Ḥalw, 15 vols. Riyāḍ: Dār ʿĀlam al-Kutub, 1419/1999.

Al-Tuwayjirī, ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Aḥmad. Al-Bidaʿ al-Ḥawliyyah. Riyāḍ: Dār al-Faḍīlah, 1421/2000.

al-ʿUthaymīn, Muḥammad b. Ṣāliḥ. Al-Sharḥ al-Mumtiʿ ʿalā Zād al-Mustaqniʿ, 15 vols. Al-Dammām: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, 1422AH.

Yamāmah, ʿAbd al-Sanad Ḥasan. Mawsūʿat Shurūḥ al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, ed. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī, 25 vols. Cairo: 1426/2005.


[1] Reported by al-Tirmidhī and Ibn Mājah (Ṣaḥīḥ Sunan ibn Mājah (1403)), al-Ḥākim and others, Shaykh (al-Albānī) – may Allāh have mercy upon him – authenticated it in al-Irwā’ (960) and Tamām al-Minnah (405).


[1] Muslim (1164), Ibn Mājah (1716), Abū Dāwūd (2433), al-Tirmidhī (759)

[2] Lane, vol. 4, p. 347pdf or 1623 col. 1

[3] Al-Sharḥ al-Mumtiʿ, vol. 6, p. 467

[4] Ibid, p. 467

[5] Mawsūʿat Shurūḥ al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, vol. 9, p. 368-9

[6] Al-Ḍaʾīfah, no. 5190

[7] Al-Mughnī, vol. 4, p. 440

[8] Al-Tirmidhī, no. 579 – the statement of Ibn al-Mubārak follows on from the ḥadīth.

[9] Tawḍīḥ al-Aḥkām, vol. 3, p. 535. The narration is also mentioned by al-Albānī in his fatāwā on this topic.

[10] Al-Sharḥ al-Mumtiʿ, vol. 6, p. 465

[11] Ibid.

[12] Muslim, Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, al-Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah.

[13] Al-Bidaʿ al-Ḥawliyyah, p. 348

[14] Ibid

[15] Al-Sharḥ al-Mumtiʿ, pp. 466-7

[16] Zād al-Maʿād, vol. 2, pp. 77-8

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