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. The plural forms of the word Sha’ban are Sha’banat and Sha’abeen.
Sha’ban is one of the meritorious months for which we find some particular instructions in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It is reported in the authentic ahadith that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), used to fast most of the month in Sha’ban. These fasts were not obligatory on him but Sha’ban is the month immediately preceding the month of Ramadan.
Fasting in Sha’ban:
“A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “The Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 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’ban.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, no. 1833; Muslim, no. 1956).
A group of scholars, including Ibn al-Mubarak and others, thought that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not fast all of Sha’ban, but he fasted most of it. This is supported by a report in Saheeh Muslim (no. 1954) narrated from “A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), who said: “I never knew of him” meaning the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) “fasting for any entire month apart from Ramadan.” According to another report also narrated by Muslim (no. 1955), “A’ishah said: “I never saw him fast for any entire month from the time he came to Madeenah, apart from Ramadan.”
It was reported in al-Saheehayn (the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim) that Ibn “Abbas said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not fast any entire month apart from Ramadan.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, no. 1971, and Muslim, no. 1157). Ibn ‘Abbas regarded it as makrooh to fast any entire month apart from Ramadan. Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him) 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 (may Allah be pleased with them both) 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.” ” (Narrated by al-Nasa’i, see Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, page 425). According to a report narrated by Abu Dawood (no. 2076) she said: “The most beloved of months for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to fast in was Sha’ban, and his fasting in Sha’ban was continuous with his fasting in Ramadan.” (Classed as saheeh by al-Albani, see Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood, 2/461).
Ibn Rajab (may Allah have mercy on him) 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 which are done before and after fard (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 fasting, 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.
These reports indicate that fasting in the month of Sha’ban, though not obligatory, is so meritorious that Prophet Muhammad (Allah’s peace be upon him), did not like to miss it.
But it should be kept in mind that the fasts of Sha’ban are for those persons only who are capable of keeping them without causing deficiency in the obligatory fasts of Ramadan. Therefore, if one fears that after fasting in Sha’ban, he will lose strength or freshness for the fasts of Ramadan and will not be able to fast in it with freshness, he should not fast in Sha’ban, because the fasts of Ramadan, being obligatory, are more important than the optional fasts of Sha’ban.
Fasting towards the end of Sha’ban:
Ibn `Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Do not observe Saum (fasting) before the advent of Ramadan. Observe Saum at sighting of the crescent of Ramadan and terminate it at sighting the crescent (of Shawwal). If the sky is overcast, complete (the month as) thirty (days).” [At-Tirmidhi].
Ammar bin Yasir (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: He who observes the fast on a doubtful day, has in fact disobeyed Abul-Qasim, (i.e., Messenger of Allah (PBUH)). [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi].
“Doubtful day” here signifies the day of 30th Sha`ban. In other words, if the moon is not sighted on 29th of Sha`ban because of clouds and a person observes Saum, he will be in doubt whether it is the 30th of Sha`ban or the 1st of Ramadan. Thus, there is no need to observe Saum on a doubtful day, and one should complete thirty days of the month of Sha`ban.