T here is a recent article that seemed to not only question but undermine altogether the notion that it is recommended or rewardable to fast six-days in the month of Shawwāl [full text provided]. Is this correct? In particular, the following comments were of note:
There are no reports that the Companions or followers undertook the fasting of six-days in Shawwāl, if it was important, they would have done it. Some scholars accepted it on the basis of one ḥadith.
Regularly fasting the six-days of Shawwāl has the appearance of adding something to the obligatory fasting in Ramaḍān. Such addition, to elaborate or burden is disliked. ‘Imam Malik said: I have not known anyone of the people of fiqh fasting them [i.e., six days of Shawwal], and [doing] that has not come to my knowledge from anyone among the salaf.
While the hadith cited can be and has been used to support the commendability of fasting six days in Shawwal, it is surely wiser to have strong evidence that the hadith conforms with the sunnah of the Companions and their students.’
… restrain oneself from adding into the religion as a regular, established practice something not securely known to be a regular, established practice of Allah’s Messenger and his Companions. Such self-restraint is an integral part of respect for the distinctive, special authority of Allah and His Messenger. And that respect is in turn an integral part of the solidarity (jama`ah) of ahl al-sunnah wa-l-jama`ah.
- The argument as presented in the aforementioned quotes is fallacious for several detailed reasons, which we hope to elucidate here.
- There are specific examples of notable early scholars from the era of Imām Mālik that adopted the practice and relied upon primary evidence from the corpus of ḥadith to substantiate that.
- Allah has taken it upon himself to preserve the Dhikr, the texts of revelation, which encompasses the Qur’ān and the Prophetic Sunnah. The veracity of the science of ḥadith does not rest upon what an author mistakes or misunderstands as being an established practice from the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Put differently, the practice for the matter will have to be established in the primary Sharī’ah evidences, namely the book of Allah and the authentic corpus of Sunnah for it to have precedence – and not the other way around. That is a fundamental mistake in principles.
- In a similar manner to the rejection of traditions based upon what is perceived to be actions by the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), please refer to the translation of Issues 127/128 from al-Muḥalla that substantively deal with that point, but from the vantage point relating to dogs.
- Considerable time has passed since the comments of Imām Mālik on this matter, as well as other scholars. These comments are not something altogether new, rather they are well known and have long been debated down the ages. Well over a thousand years later, no one from amongst this Ummah has argued that fasting an additional six-days is an obligation (which if missed would render one sinful) or that doing so fundamentally adds something to an existing obligation to fast in the month of Ramaḍān. That fundamental distinction is borne out by compelling textual evidences and consensus of this Ummah throughout the ages.
- Imām Mālik may be forgiven for making an unfortunately worded comment that has reached us. Flippantly parroting that comment though without understanding key fundamental principles, let alone the scholarly debate over the authenticity of the narratives on this topic, seems to border on being disingenuous. Worse still, it seeks to try plant the seed of doubt in minds not necessarily immediately familiar either with those principles or the complexity of the wider debate.
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
Indeed, We have revealed the dhikr and We will most surely be its guardian. [15: 9]
As with the issue of prayer that has been covered, fasting is fundamentally of two types or divisions, namely the obligatory and the voluntary. There is a definite consensus established upon this point [al-Muḥalla Vol. 4, p. 385]. This is well established to the level of certitude. The obligatory fasting for the month of Ramaḍān is expressly set out in the clear Qur’ānic verses of Surah al-Baqara:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may gain God-consciousness [2: 183]
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ
It was in the month of Ramaḍān that the Qur’ān was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. Whoever of you who is present that month should fast therein. [2: 185]
After the exceptions are briefly detailed the remainder of the verse [2: 185] clearly states: ‘Allah wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful.’ That there is a clear distinction between what has been made obligatory and what is judged to be voluntary, has also been clearly explained the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him. One of the notable evidences outlining this is to be found in al-Jāmi al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣr, where Imām Bukhāri cites the following authentic tradition which includes Imām Mālik (Mālik ibn Anas) in the channel of reporting (isnād):
حدثنا إسماعيل قال حدثني مالك بن أنس عن عمه أبي سهيل بن مالك عن أبيه أنه سمع طلحة بن عبيد الله يقول جاء رجل إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم من أهل نجد، ثائر الرأس يسمع دوي صوته، ولا يفقه ما يقول حتى دنا، فإذا هو يسأل عن الإسلام فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم خمس صلوات في اليوم والليلة. فقال هل على غيرها قال لا، إلا أن تطوع. قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وصيام رمضان قال هل على غيره قال لا، إلا أن تطوع.
Ismā’il narrated to us he said Mālik ibn Anas narrated to me from his (paternal) uncle Abu Suhayl ibn Mālik from his father, that he heard Ṭalḥa ibn Ubaidallah saying: A man from the people of Najd with unkempt hair came to the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him and we heard his loud voice but could not understand what he was saying, till he came near and then we came to know that he was asking about Islam. He asked: Messenger of Allah peace be upon him – you have to offer prayers five times in a day and night; is there any other than (this)? (The Prophet replied), No, except what is voluntary. He asked: Messenger of Allah peace be upon him – you have to fast in Ramaḍān; is there any other than (this)? (The Prophet replied), No, except what is voluntary.
The tradition is reported widely, appearing in many of the notable as well as the lesser known collections of ḥadith. It isn’t necessary here either to recite the copious evidences that outline fasting in month of Ramaḍān as being one of the core pillars that the Deen of Islam is built upon. One can traverse the vast expanse of Muslim lands, from the east to the west, and ask any Muslim who will be readily able to attest to that that, even if they are unable to cite verbatim each of the detailed evidences.
The objection of Mālik
Recording of this objection appears in the Muwaṭṭā’ under the book of fasting:
Yaḥya said that he heard Mālik say, about fasting for six days after breaking the fast at the end of Ramaḍān, that he had never seen any of the people of knowledge and fiqh fasting them. He said: ‘I have not heard that any of our predecessors used to do that, and the people of knowledge disapprove of it and they are afraid that it might become an innovation and that common and ignorant people might join to Ramaḍān what does not belong to it, if they were to think that the people of knowledge had given permission for that to be done and were seen doing it.’
The objection of Mālik is not a matter that has escaped attention or scrutiny, nor is the reasoning that he laid out compelling in and of itself. Writing in Bidāyatul Mujtahid (Vol. 1, p.362) Ibn Rushd notes that fasting the six-days in Shawwāl is from the sub-category of voluntary fasts. Though it has been disputed on occasion, its ultimately finds its origin in various Prophetic traditions. Though for Mālik he writes, it was judged as being disapproved, either the tradition hadn’t reached him or more likely, is that he did not judge it reasonably to be authentic. In his acclaimed commentary of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Imām Nawawi also has mention of the view of Imām Mālik but also that of Abu Ḥanifah. He further notes scholars dissented regarding this, such as Shāfi’i, Aḥmad and Dāwud, holding that it was permissible to do and commendable.
Traditions in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim
Regarding this matter one of the more famous traditions that is often cited appears in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. In the book of fasting, Imām Muslim sets out three-channels of reporting for this tradition, all of which rest upon the authority of the Companion Abu Ayyub al-Anṣāri, may Allah be pleased with him:
حدثنا يحيى بن أيوب وقتيبة بن سعيد وعلي بن حجر جميعا عن إسماعيل قال ابن أيوب حدثنا إسماعيل بن جعفر أخبرني سعد بن سعيد بن قيس عن عمر بن ثابت بن الحارث الخزرجي عن أبي أيوب الأنصاري رضى الله عنه أنه حدثه أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال من صام رمضان ثم أتبعه ستا من شوال كان كصيام الدهر
Yaḥya ibn Ayyub, Qutayba ibn Sa’eed and Ali ibn Ḥujar narrated to us, all of them from Ismā’il; Ibn Ayyub said: Ismā’il ibn Ja’far narrated to us Sa’d ibn Sa’eed ibn Qays reported to me from Umar ibn Thābit al-Ḥārith al-Khazraji from Abu Ayyub al-Anṣāri, may Allah be pleased with him, that he narrated that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: He who observed the fast of Ramaḍān and then followed it with six (fasts) of Shawwāl. it would be as if he fasted continually.
The second and third-channels of reporting are as follows:
وحدثنا ابن نمير حدثنا أبي حدثنا سعد بن سعيد أخو يحيى بن سعيد أخبرنا عمر بن ثابت أخبرنا أبو أيوب الأنصاري رضى الله عنه قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول بمثله
And Ibn Numayr narrated to us my father narrated to us Sa’d ibn Sa’eed, brother of Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed narrated to us Umar ibn Thābit reported to us Abu Ayyub al-Anṣāri, may Allah be pleased with him reported to us: he said I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, with similar to it.
وحدثناه أبو بكر بن أبي شيبة حدثنا عبد الله بن المبارك عن سعد بن سعيد قال سمعت عمر بن ثابت قال سمعت أبا أيوب رضى الله عنه يقول قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم بمثله
And Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shayba narrated it to us Abdullah ibn al-Mubārak narrated to us from Sa’d ibn Sa’eed he said I heard Umar ibn Thābit, he said I heard Abu Ayyub, may Allah be pleased with him saying the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said, with similar to it.
In his collection of Sunan, Tirmidhi records the same narration, again via the channel of Sa’d ibn Sa’eed and the companion Abu Ayyub, may Allah be pleased with him:
حدثنا أحمد بن منيع حدثنا أبو معاوية حدثنا سعد بن سعيد عن عمر بن ثابت عن أبي أيوب قال قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم من صام رمضان ثم أتبعه ستا من شوال فذلك صيام الدهر
Aḥmad ibn Maneeḥ’ narrated to us Abu Mu’āwiya narrated to us Sa’d ibn Sa’eed narrated to us from Umar ibn Thābit form Abu Ayyub, he said the Prophet peace be upon him said: Whoever fasts Ramaḍān, then follows it with six from Shawwāl, then that is (equal in reward) to fasting continuously.
Thereafter, as is often his customary style, Tirmidhi provides a useful and detailed comment, he writes:
In this regard, there are narrations on this topic from Jābir, Abu Hurayrah and Thawbān. Abu Esa said: The ḥadith of Abu Ayyub is a ḥasan Ṣaḥīḥ. There are those people who consider fasting six (days) of Shawwāl recommended due to this ḥadith.
Ibn Al-Mubārak said it is good to do so, just like fasting three days of every month. Ibn AI-Mubārak (also) said that it has been reported in some of the aḥādith: ‘This fast is connected to Ramaḍān.’ Ibn al-Mubārak preferred that these six days be at the beginning of the month. And it has been reported that Ibn al-Mubārak said that if one fasted six separate days of Shawwāl then it is acceptable.
It is reported by Abdul-Aziz ibn Muḥammad from Ṣafwān ibn Sulaym and Sa’d ibn Sa’eed from Umar ibn Thābit from Abu Ayyub from the Prophet peace be upon him. And this ḥadith is reported by Shu’ba from Warqā’ ibn Umar from Sa’d ibn Sa’eed.
Sa’d ibn Sa’eed is the brother of Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed al-Ansāri and has been criticised by some of the people of ḥadith due to his memorisation. Ḥannād narrated to us he said al-Ḥusayn ibn Ali al-Jufri reported to us from Isrā’il Abu Musa from al-Ḥasan al-Basri, when fasting the six days of Shawwãl was mentioned he said: ‘By Allah! Allah is more pleased with fasting this month, than the entire year.’
Three obvious points emerge from Tirmidhi’s comment: firstly, the tradition cited in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim is not the only one on record and there are other channels of reporting on this topic from different Companions. Secondly, statements are referred to from notable early scholars such as Abdullah ibn al-Mubārak (d. 797 CE) and al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri (d. 728 CE) who are supportive of its practice. The statement of al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri also appears via this channel in the Muṣṣanaf of Abdar-Razzāq. Thirdly, although the narrator Sa’d ibn Sa’eed has been criticised by some scholars of ḥadith, Tirmidhi regarded it as ḥasan Ṣaḥīḥ.
A complex discussion
Behind this there is much scholarly discussion about the narrator Sa’d ibn Sa’eed, particularly given that his brother, Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed was an eminent Imām and judge of Medina. Across the spectrum, statements regarding the trustworthiness and reliability of Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed in narration abound. The picture is more complex though for his brother, Sa’d ibn Sa’eed. Although there isn’t a standalone section in al-Muḥalla on this topic, we can surmise though that Ibn Ḥazm probably would challenge the veracity of his narrations. Elsewhere in al-Muḥalla under a different topic he regards him as being a very weak narrator.
(Issue: 2136: Breaking a dead man’s bone)
Abu Muḥammad, may Allah have mercy upon him said: This isn’t reported except from this channel; Sa’d ibn Sa’eed al-Anṣāri, is the brother of Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed – together there are three-brothers: Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed is a trustworthy Imām. ‘Abd-Rab ibn Sa’eed there’s nothing untoward with him and not being here (in the category) of Imām. Sa’d ibn Sa’eed he is very weak (ḍaef jiddan), (we) do not take from him and there’s no disagreement in that [al-Muḥalla, Vol. 11, p. 251].
In al-Sunan al-Kubra after outlining a channel of reporting from one of the narrations of Thawbān on this topic, al-Nasā’i follows it up with a similar comment:
[Aḥmad ibn Abdullah al-Ḥakam reports from Muḥammad, he said Shu’ba narrated to us, he said I heard Warqā’ from Sa’d ibn Sa’eed from Umar ibn Thābit from Abu Ayyub from the Messenger of Allah],
Abu ‘Abdar-Rahman said: Sa’d ibn Sa’eed is weak (ḍaef), similar was said by Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal. They are three brothers: Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed ibn Qays is trustworthy and reliable, one amongst the Imām’s. And ‘Abd Rab ibn Sa’eed, there is nothing untoward with him. The third among them, Sa’d is Sa’eed is weak (ḍaef).
Ibn Ḥazm though appears mistaken in arguing that there isn’t disagreement about the narrator Sa’d ibn Sa’eed. Scholarly opinion varies considerably. For example, in Siyar ‘Alam an-Nubula’, al-Dhahabi says that he was one of the those that are trustworthy. Al-Ḥāfiz (Ibn Ḥajar) takes the position that he was truthful (but) with weakness of memory; al-Dāraqutni said: ‘There is nothing untoward with him,’ Ibn Sa’d is recorded as saying, he was ‘Trustworthy, (but with) few ḥadith.’ Broadly fitting in with the summary of criticism outlined by Tirmidhi, Ibn Ḥibbān said: ‘He was poor in memorisation,’ and ‘He made mistakes when narrating from memory.’ That criticism then becomes slightly stronger with others, for example al-Nasā’i as above, but also on record as saying: ‘He is not strong;’ and Abdullah ibn Aḥmad narrating from his father, Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal: ‘Weak (ḍaef) in ḥadtih.’ [Ibn Ḥajar, Tahzeeb al-Tahzeeb].
Al-Ḥāfiz (Ibn Ḥajar) also records: ‘Ibn Abi Ḥātim said: I heard my father saying Sa’d ibn Sa’eed al-Anṣāri yu’adi, meaning that: he did not memorise and retain what he heard. And Ibn Abi Ḥātim said in al-Jarḥ wa’Ta’deel: he mentioned (from) his father from Isḥāq from Manṣur from Yaḥya ibn Ma’een that he said: Sa’d ibn Sa’eed al-Anṣāri: mu’adi. Abul’Ḥasan ibn al-Qahṭān al-Fāsi said: this is disagreement over accuracy (ḍabṭ).’ Concerning the terms yu’adi / mu’adi, essentially it means he was a good narrator and would give (which is essentially what mu’adi means, a giver). The implication being is that he wasn’t a ḥāfiz of ḥadith with encyclopedic knowledge.
It would be beyond the scope of this short response to detail every collection of ḥadith and every single channel of reporting (isnād) upon the topic of the six voluntary fasts in the month of Shawwāl. It may be of benefit though, further to the comment of Tirmidhi earlier, to cite a couple of brief examples of traditions reported on the authority of other Companions.
- Ḥadith of Jābir
In the Musnad of Imām Aḥmad, the following is recorded upon the authority of the Companion Jābir ibn Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him:
حدثنا أبو عبد الرحمن حدثنا سعيد حدثني عمرو بن جابر الحضرمي قال سمعت جابر بن عبد الله الأنصاري يقول سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول من صام رمضان وستا من شوال فكأنما صام السنة كلها
Abu ‘Abdar-Rahman narrated to us Sa’eed narrated to us ‘Amr ibn Jābir al-Ḥaḍrami narrated to me he said I heard Jābir ibn Abdullah al-Anṣāri saying, I heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him saying: Whoever fasts Ramadan and six from Shawwāl, is like the one who fasts the entire year.
Shu’ayb al-Arnā’uṭ commented on this saying: ‘Authentic by itself (Ṣaḥīḥ li-ghayrihi) and this is channel of transmission (isnād) is weak (ḍaef).’ The reason for this judgement would likely stem from the presence of the narrator ‘Amr ibn Jābir al-Ḥaḍrami; for the previous narration listed in the Musnad, al-Arnā’uṭ makes this point explicit.
- Ḥadith of Abu Hurayrah
On occasion the channel presented by Abu Nu’aym al-Aṣbahāni is quoted in relation to this topic. That isnād though is quite disastrous containing many problems, hence it is not cited. In Kashf al-Astār ‘an Zawā’id al-Bazzār though, two channels are presented, the first of which is:
حدثنا عمر بن حفص الشيباني ثنا ابو عامر ثنا زهير عن العلاء عن ابيه عن ابي هُريرة عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: من صام رمضان واتبعه بست من شوال فكأنما صام الدهر
Umar ibn Ḥafṣ al-Ṣhaybāni narrated to us Abu ‘Aāmir narrated to us Zuhayr narrated to us from al-‘Alā from his father from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said: Whoever fasts Ramaḍān and follows it with six from Shawwāl, it will be like a continuous fast.
- Ḥadith of Thawbān
The traditions reported from the companion Thawbān may Allah be pleased with him, convey the same sense of meaning regarding the six-days of fasting in Shawwāl, although with slightly different wording. Ibn Mājah has the following in his Sunan:
حدثنا هشام بن عمار حدثنا بقية حدثنا صدقة بن خالد حدثنا يحيى بن الحارث الذماري قال سمعت أبا أسماء الرحبي عن ثوبان مولى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال من صام ستة أيام بعد الفطر كان تمام السنة من جاء بالحسنة فله عشر أمثالها
Hishām ibn Ammār narrated to us Baqqiyah narrated to Ṣadaqah ibn Khālid narrated to us Yaḥya ibn al Ḥārith al-Dhimāri narrated to us he said I heard Abu Usāma al-Raḥbi from Thawbān, mawla of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon that he said: Whoever fasts Ramaḍān, and then six days after al-Fiṭr (Eid) it is [like fasting] an entire year. Whoever does a good deed shall have ten times its reward.
Again, in his Musnad Imām Aḥmad records similar from the same channel, though with slight variance of wording:
حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي ثنا الحكم بن نافع ثنا بن عياش عن يحيى بن الحرث الذماري عن أبي أسماء الرحبي عن ثوبان عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: من صام رمضان فشهر بعشرة أشهر وصيام ستة أيام بعد الفطر فذلك تمام صيام السنة
Abdullah narrated to us my father narrated to me al-Ḥakam ibn Nāfi’ narrated to us Ibn ‘Ayyāsh narrated to us from Yaḥya ibn al Ḥārith al-Dhimāri from Abu Usāma al-Raḥbi from Thawbān from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said: Whoever fasts Ramaḍān (fasts) ten-months and fasting six-days after al-Fiṭr [Eid] is akin to fasting for the entire year.
Shu’ayb al-Arnā’uṭ commented upon this tradition saying: ‘(The) ḥadith is Ṣaḥīḥ and this isnād is ḥasan due to Ibn ‘Ayyāsh.’ The tradition is also cited in the Sunan of al-Dārimi, as well as by Ibn Khuzaymah in his Ṣaḥīḥ, and in Sunan al-Kubra by al-Nasā’i amongst many others.
Whether one accepts the validity of fasting six-days in Shawwāl is a matter that would ultimately stand or fall based upon the authenticity of the reported traditions. As can be discerned from a very quick overview here, these traditions are not limited to one Companion, nor is it totally unknown amongst the early generations. Making flippant remarks about confusion arising over the obligation of Ramaḍān, or conflating it to adding matters to the established principles of Deen without legal precedent, or even citing an odd remark from earlier scholarly figures, doesn’t reasonably help to establish clarity upon the issue. Rather it seeks to confound, confuse and obfuscate.