Sha’ban is the name of the (eighth) month, and it is so called because in this month the Arabs used to disperse (tasha’aba) in search of water, or it was said that they dispersed to carry out raids and forays. Or it was said that it is so called because it sha’aba (branches out or emerges) i.e., it appears between the months of Rajab and Ramadan.
‘Aa’ishah said: “The Messenger used to fast until we thought he would never break his fast, and not fast until we thought he would never fast. I never saw the Messenger of Allah fasting for an entire month except in Ramadan, and I never saw him fast more than he did in Sha’baan.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
It was reported in the books of the Imams Al-Bukhari and Muslim that Ibn ‘Abbas said: “The Messenger of Allah did not fast any entire month apart from Ramadan.”
Ibn ‘Abbas regarded it as disliked to fast any entire month apart from Ramadan. Ibn Hajar said: “He observed more voluntary fasts in Sha’ban than in any other month, and he used to fast most of Sha’ban.”
Usamah Ibn Zayd said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I do not see you fasting in any other month like you fast in Sha’ban.’ He said: ‘That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan, and it is a month in which deeds are lifted up to the Lord of the Worlds. I like for my deeds to be lifted up when I am fasting.’” [An-Nasa'ee]
Ibn Rajab said: “Fasting in Sha’ban is better than fasting in the Sacred Months, and the best of voluntary fasts are those that are (observed in the months) closest to Ramadan, before or after. The status of these fasts is like that of Al-Sunan Al-Rawatib (optional prayers which the Prophet continued to perform all the time) which are done before and after obligatory prayers and which make up for any shortfall in the number of obligatory prayers. The same applies to fasts observed before and after Ramadan. Just as Al-Sunan Al-Rawatib are better than other kinds of voluntary prayers, so fasts observed (in the months) before and after Ramadan are better than fasts at other times.
The phrase “Sha’ban is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan” indicates that because it comes between two important months, the sacred month of Rajab and the month of Ramadan, people are preoccupied with those two months and they do not pay attention to Sha’ban. Many people think that fasting in Rajab is better than fasting in Sha’ban, because Rajab is one of the Sacred Months, but this is not the case.
In the narration quoted above there is an indication that even though certain times, places and people may be commonly thought to posses a particular virtue, there may be others that are better than them.
It also indicates that it is commendable to make good use of the times when people tend to be negligent, by doing acts of worship. A group of the Salaf (predecessors) used to fill the time between Maghrib (sunset) and ‘Ishaa’ (evening) with prayer, saying that it was a time when many people were negligent. Another example is the remembrance of Allah (Thikr) in the marketplace, because this means one is remembering Him in a place where people tend to be negligent. There are a number of benefits that come from making good use of times when people are often negligent, and using these times for worship, including the following:
Doing righteous deeds at times when people are distracted and negligent is more difficult. One of the indications of how virtuous a deed is, is how difficult it is: if everyone is doing a certain action, it is easy, but if most people are negligent, this makes it more difficult for those who do remember Allah.
The Prophet said: “Worship at times of tribulation (Fitnah) is like Hijrah to me.” [Muslim] The phrase “worship at times of tribulation” refers to times of upheavals and trials, when people follow their own desires, and those who adhere to Islam are doing something difficult.
The scholars differed as to the reasons why the Prophet fasted so much in Sha’ban. Their various opinions were as follows:
- That he had been unable to fast three days out of every month because he was travelling or for some other reason, so he made them all up together in Sha’ban. When the Prophet began to do some voluntary action, he would persist in it, and if he missed it, he would make it up later.
- It was said that his wives used to make up the days that they missed of Ramadan in Sha’ban, so he used to fast because of that. This is the opposite of what was reported from ‘Aa’ishah that she used to delay making up days that she had missed in Ramadan until Sha’ban because she was too busy with the Messenger of Allah to fast.
- It was said that it was because this is a month which people do not pay attention to. This is the most correct view, because of the narration quoted above, in which he says: “That is a month to which people do not pay attention, between Rajab and Ramadan.” [An-Nasa'ee]
When Sha’ban began, if the Prophet still had some voluntary fasts outstanding that he had not fasted, he would make them up during Sha’ban so that his voluntary fasts would be complete before Ramadan came. Similarly, if he had missed some Sunnah prayers or he had missed Qiyam Al-Layl (the optional night prayer), he would make it up. ‘Aa’ishah used to make the most of this opportunity to make up any obligatory Ramadan fasts that she had missed because of menstruation; during other months she was too busy with the Prophet to fast.