The month of Sha’ban is one which is oft-forgotten and somewhat overlooked within Islamic thought. It is usually understood as merely a precursor to the best of months; namely- Ramadan. And although this is not inaccurate, it is simplistic in thought and actually deprives the believer of reaping the full benefit of the month by knowing and acting upon its virtues. Admittedly, Sha’ban is not one of the four sacred/sanctified months as stipulated in the Quran, but this does not mean that it is something which should be understood as any less significant, in its own right, just because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran. This simplistic and literalistic methodology of understanding must not be applied here, and the reason for this is simple. The four months which Allah sanctified are made blessed by Allah and mentioned in the Quran, however, Ramadan is not mentioned amongst these four; but we know it far exceeds them in merit and Islamic significance- therefore one can understand a subtle but hugely interesting point from this. Namely; the Quran does not necessarily have to explicitly mention something to sanctify it; rather Allah can inspire something in history to occur during a given time, as to indicate to the thoughtful believer, its significance. And the historical occurrence during Sha’ban is seen clearly in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) and the ahadith which surround it. Sha’ban is reported, through Sayyida Ayesha and others, to be a month within which the messenger of Allah (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) fasted the most, outside of Ramadan. It is through these ahadith that this present work is inspired. I hope therefore to discuss not only the fasting of Sha’ban and its significance but really what that significance may mean, practically, for believers and truth-seekers alike.
Firstly, Allah, through His Divine Wisdom and Will, has sanctified certain periods of time, as a way of bringing the believer back to Him. He has filled those times, with virtues and opportunities for human-beings to draw close to Him, after they naturally stray from Him. Needless to say, humans are prone to forgetfulness and heedlessness, and who is more aware of the general nature and individual states of the creation than the Creator Himself. Moreover, it is Allah, who uses time as a way of curing and purifying the states of His creation. We see in the Quran, certain verses which mention time and nod to its significance for human beings and their spiritual journeys; the following is an example of this-
“Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth?…” (57:16)
As explained previously, although one may naturally think of times such as like Dhul Hijjah and Ramadan or perhaps the days of Jummah or Eid, I would argue that we should not limit ourselves or indeed limit our understanding or exposure to the blessings of God to just these well-known examples. In fact; Allah has made so many opportunities for us to turn back to Him and increase our closeness to Him through the times He has willed to sanctify, explicitly and implicitly, and so we should grasp, with both hands, all of these opportunities.
The fact that the messenger of Allah (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) fasted so much in the month of Sha’ban is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, one can understand why physically this may have been chosen in the month directly before Ramadan. Obviously, one can understand that before the month of fasting, which for many people, can be a time of physical difficulty (due to the amount one usually consumes) preparing the body for this by getting it used to fasting and generally restricting the consumption of food, is perfectly logical and in-line with the general nature and spirit of the sunnah. What occurs within the body during fasting is a restriction which affects not just the stomach but also affects (i.e. restricts) the lower desires and clears the brain and thought process of the one fasting. The fact that the fasting of Sha’ban therefore prepares one for Ramadan should not be understand as a merely superficial preparation but actually a very deeply important one. Not only is the body made used to the lower levels of food and feeding of desires but the thought, and arguably, the spirit of the believer is also prepared and cleansed, as to ease the believer into the holy month of Ramadan, not as someone still massively dependant on the satiation of the lower self through food etc but as one who is already partially cleansed and spiritually peaceful and who’s ego is, at least somewhat, at bay. In this slightly higher spiritual state, which is attained through the preparatory fasting of Sha’ban, the believer is able to use the month of Ramadan to be elevated even higher, spiritually, and does not, therefore, waste the month just trying to begin to get used to the restriction of food.
Secondly, we know that the messenger (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) himself fasted extensively during the month of Sha’ban and this, in of itself, is of spiritual significant for those who follow him. As Allah explains in the first verses of Surah Najm, the messenger (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) does not act from his own person but rather is it Divine revelation and inspiration which is the source of all his perfect actions. This is note-worthy here because, for the spiritual truth-seeker, the very fact that this act has been preserved in the noble sunnah of the messenger of Allah (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) means that it is part of the sanctification of the month. By virtue of the fact that everything directly connected to the messenger (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim) is sanctified by the nobility of the one it is connected to (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalim). As mentioned earlier, the fact that Allah has willed for His messenger to fast so extensively in Sha’ban is a indictor of its merit and sanctification of the month, not through explicit mention in the Quran, but through historical occurrence and the lived sunnah of the messenger, as the most perfect and worth-of-imitation human being.
Finally, and to conclude, I think it important to understand that fasting, in of itself, is an act which Allah has described as incomparable to other acts within the realm of Islamic worship. That is to say, as per ahadith literature, fasting for the Muslim is not really something which can be understood within a worldly logic or premise of thought- that is to say, in reality, fasting is an act which is directly for the hereafter of the believer and not for this world or its life. Although we can discuss the health benefits of it, or the affect it has on the lower desires etc, these are actually insignificant compared to the importance Allah has taught us about fasting. Namely, fasting is not for anything or anyone other than God Himself. Fasting for the Muslim is not about the stomach or the mind, it is about simple and certain, selfless sacrifice, for no benefit or merit other then countenance with God. It is something which pertains to the most basic and primordial aspect of human nature- namely, feeding oneself and the sacrifice therein. Allah explains that if the believer can sacrifice the most basically essential thing for God, even just for a mere few hours and days in the year, Allah will grant him not only the eternal garden but His Divine countenance too. The merits we see of fasting point towards the most awe-inspiring reality- that is the reality of Allah’s mercy, His generosity and His love for His creation. No matter how often we may forget or how badly we may fall, He will always give us some way to return to Him.
Do not wait for Ramadan to begin fasting and indeed walking to Allah; we are, after all, in constant need of Him and His bounties upon us. May Allah give us tawfiq to turn back to Him and to truly appreciate the chances He gives us to know Him. Ameen
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