Shabaan: One of the Gateways to Paradise
The entire year is an occasion as the servants of God strive to do their utmost to obey God’s obligations and prohibitions and to perform voluntary acts of worship to draw closer to their Lord, gain extra credit, win His favor, and qualify for paradise. Because man was not sent to this world as a perfect creature but with the capacity and inclination to commit sins, God in His infinite mercy appointed certain times throughout the year when there is an abundance of rewards for good deeds and an abundance of forgiveness for evil ones. God the Almighty says, “Nay,-whoever submits His whole self to God and is a doer of good,- He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” [Quran 2: 112]. As we go through our time on earth, we accumulate sins, both minor and major. So it is necessary to make use of the months, days, and hours when God’s grace and favor are at their epitome.
The superior times, so described because of the abundant flow of God’s grace and favor upon His servants, are scattered throughout the year. Some of the months that have greater meritorious value above the rest are the four sacred months, and the months of Sha’ban, and Ramadan. Examples of the superior days include Friday, the day of Ashura, Mondays and Thursdays, the night of power (Laylut al-Qard), the six days of Shawwal, and the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah. Moreover, certain parts of the day carry more virtue than others. Examples include one hour on Friday when supplications are answered and the third part of the night.
Sha’ban is the eighth month of the Islamic calendar, falling between the holy month of Rajab and the glorious month of Ramadan. It is one of the most meritorious months of the year; the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made special mention of it and gave specific instructions on its observance.
The word ‘Sha’ban’ means to spread or distribute. This month was so called because during this time the people of Arabia dispersed in search of water or set out on military expeditions after the holy month of Rajab had ended.
The month of Sha’ban is a month overflowing with Divine prosperity, mercy, and forgiveness. As with the other times that God has chosen for greater virtue, the importance of the month of Sha’ban comes from its value for greater gains and rewards. It is therefore to our greatest advantage to seize this opportunity to do good deeds and to have their rewards multiplied to compensate for our mistakes and shortcomings throughout the year. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Every deed of the son of Adam is multiplied from ten to seven hundred times” [Muslim]. If this is the reward of good deeds performed at any time, think then of the rewards earned for the performance of good deeds during this special time!
Good deeds come in many forms. They spring from a desire to please God the Almighty and end up putting extra weight in the good side of the scales. Every time we perform a good deed, the deeper the scales tips in our favor. There is not a single way to go about this; God in His grace and mercy provided us with numerous avenues for good. Some may be arduous, others may be effortless; some may be public, others may be concealed; some may be spiritual, others may have practical worldly value to us or to others. But no matter what, they are always motivated by a love for God, hope for Divine propinquity, and an elevated station in the hereafter. God the Almighty says, “So whoever does an atom's weight of good will see it” [Quran 99: 7] and “God is never unjust in the least degree: If there is any good (done), He doubles it, and gives from His own presence a great reward” [Quran 4: 40]. No good deed, however seemingly small or insignificant, will go unrewarded. This is because the reward for good deeds is based on the actual goodness they entail and only God can be the judge of this. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do not underestimate any good deed, even if it is [just] a smile in the face of your brother” [Muslim].
Fasting and Sha’ban
Perhaps there is no greater act of worship that can be performed during this month than fasting, mainly due to its excellence and the superior rewards it entails. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "All of man's good deeds are rewarded tenfold or up to seven hundred times. God the Almighty says: Except for fasting. It is Mine and I repay the faster who gives up his desires and food for My sake” [Bukhari and Muslim].
The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized the excellence of the month of Sha’ban by fasting in it more than in any other month except Ramadan. Usama Ibn Zayd narrated that he once told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “O Messenger of God! I do not see you fasting so much in any month like you do in Sha’ban.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “It is a month to which people do not pay attention for it comes between Rajab and Ramadan. It is a month in which deeds are raised to the Lord of the Worlds, so I like for my deeds to be raised when I am fasting'" [Al-Nisa`i].
Several lessons can be deduced from this hadith. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) observed fasting in abundance during this month to direct our attention to its importance and special merits. Since the month of Sha’ban falls between two months of extra worship — Rajab, a holy month, and Ramadan — the people tended to neglect this month, missing out on the great good it entails. This is why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) wanted through practical example to redirect the people’s attention to this month. The hadith further provides us with the motivation to increase our devotional activities. He said, “It is a month when the record of our deeds are raised to God the Almighty.” So it is only fitting that our deeds be presented to God when we are in a state of piety, sincerity, patience, self-restraint, and humility produced by fasting.
Ibn Rajab said, “Fasting in Sha’ban is better than fasting in the sacred months, and the best voluntary fast is that which is observed in the months closest to Ramadan, before or after. The fast of these months is to Ramadan what al-Sunan al-Rawatib are to obligatory prayers; they make up for any shortcomings in their regard. Just as al-Sunan al-Rawatib are better than other kinds of voluntary prayers, so are the fasts observed (in the months) before and after Ramadan better than the fasts observed at other times.”
Preparation for Ramadan
It was said that the month of Rajab is the month when we plant seeds; the month of Sha’ban is the month in which we water the seeds, and the month of Ramadan is the month when we harvest the fruit of our labor. How can the seeds bear fruit if we do not plant or water them?
The month of Sha’ban is a prelude to Ramadan. It is therefore tantamount to a training period for the upcoming month-long physical and mental strain of fasting. The physical restraints upon nourishment and sexual activities required by fasting and the emphasis on the conscious avoidance of spiritual and moral defects and shortcomings during the fast of Sha’ban all help to wean us off appetites, desires, and sins that can become our masters rather than our servants.
Other voluntary acts of worship
Because Sha’ban is tantamount to a training period for Ramadan, it is most advantageous to perform in it what is to be performed in Ramadan. Apart from fasting, it is also desirable to pray in abundance, make dhikr (remembrance of God), maintain good relations with others, give alms, and make a conscious and sincere effort to abstain from sin and disobedience to God.
It is moreover especially favorable to recite the Quran and reflect on its meanings. Apart from being a religious duty, the recitation of the Quran will intercede for its reciters on the Day of Judgment, raise their status in this life, make them from the best of people, admit them in the company of the noble and obedient angels, and elevate their rank in paradise. Salamah Ibn Kuhayl said, “It was said that the month of Sha’ban is the month of reciters [of the Quran].”
The month of Sha’ban is indeed an opportune time to engage in profitable trade with God. He says, “Verily, those who recite the Book of God, and perform prayer, and spend (in charity) out of what We have provided for them, secretly and openly, hope for a (sure) trade gain that will never perish” [Quran 35: 29], and “O You who believe! Shall I guide you to a commerce that will save you from a painful torment?” [Quran 61: 10].
Celebrating the eve of mid-Sha’ban
The eve of mid-Sha’ban is a special night. Commemorating this night is, without doubt, lawful regardless of the strength and authenticity of the hadiths that establish its merit. The majority of scholars have maintained the permissibility of acting upon weak hadith if
They are related to virtuous deeds and to exhortation and dissuasion.
It was reported that Aisha, the mother of the Believers (may God be pleased with her) said, “One night, I did not find the Prophet in his bed, so I went out in search of him. I found him at al-Baqi’ cemetery with his head raised towards the sky. He said, ‘O Aisha! Did you fear that God and His Messenger would treat you unfairly?’ I said, ‘No, I thought you had gone to spend the night with one of your [other] wives.’ He said, ‘God the Almighty descends on the eve of mid-Sha’ban to the lowest heavens and forgives more people than the number of hairs on the hides of the sheep of Banu Kalb” [Al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad].
Mu’adh Ibn Jabal (may God be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “On the eve of mid-Sha’ban, God looks at His creation and forgives all of them except for the polytheist and the quarrelsome” [Ibn Majah].
There is no objection to celebrating this night by performing extra devotional observances, whether individually or in a group, provided they are not considered obligatory and sinful to neglect them and provided the celebrations do not include anything unlawful. The command to observe “the days of God” has been mentioned in the Shari’ah. God the Almighty says in the Quran, “… and remind them of the Days of God” [Quran 14: 5].
Furthermore, the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) provides us with a precedent for such commemorations as it was reported that he used to fast on Mondays because it was the day on which he was born. It was also recorded in the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim that when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) migrated to Medina, he found the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. So he asked them, “What is the significance of this day you are fasting?” They replied, “On this day, God delivered Musa and his people [from their enemy] and drowned Pharaoh and his army—so Musa fasted this day out of gratitude to God. We therefore fast on this day too.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) then said, “We have a greater right to Musa than you.” So he fasted on this day and commanded [Muslims] to fast it.”
A landmark event
Numerous reports mention the manifold virtues associated with the eve of mid-Sha’ban. Apart from its spiritual excellence, a great incident that is of special significance for Muslims occurred on this blessed night. During his journey to the heavens, the Mi’raj, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) received the command for him and his followers to perform the five daily prayers. The qiblah, direction to which the Muslims were told to face during prayer, was Jerusalem. During their time in Mecca and for sixteen or seventeen months after their migration to Medina, the Muslims had turned their faces towards Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during prayer. Then came God’s command to change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca. For the Muslims of Mecca and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in particular, the Ka’ba was of central significance. The fact that it was erected by the Prophet of God, Ibrahim, not only gave it great antiquity but emphasized its connection to Islam. It was moreover a symbol of unity — the gathering ground of all people in pilgrimage. So it was therefore only natural that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) had a sincere desire to pray towards the Ka’ba. God knew what was in His Messenger’s heart and answered his deepest desire. He told His Messenger, “We see the turning of your face (for guidance to the heavens: now Shall We turn you to a Qiblah that shall please you. Turn then your face in the direction of the sacred Mosque: Wherever you are, turn your faces in that direction. The people of the Book know well that that is the truth from their Lord. Nor is God unmindful of what they do” [Quran 2: 144].
Every second, minute, and hour in a day or night that we spend in worship and submission to God, the Lord of all, is of exceptional value. Let us not waste these precious times, especially those that God the Almighty has singled out with greater blessings and excellence. Let us not be among those who are heedless of this month but make good use of the innumerable blessings and opportunities presented to us. Let us knock hard on the door of the Almighty to forgive us, to have mercy on us, and to accept us among His righteous servants. Let us turn to God with pure hearts laden with faith. Let it be registered in our book of deeds in these days of grants, mercy, and forgiveness that we hear and obey His words, “O you who believe! Do your duty to God, seek the means of approach to Him, and strive with might and main in His cause; that you may prosper.” [Quran 5: 35]