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Virtues of Shaban: How to Prepare for Ramadan Spiritually


Published: February 12, 2024 • Updated: February 13, 2024

Author: Dr. Omar Suleiman

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Shaban is a month that is often neglected as people look forward to the excitement of Ramadan and its long nights of worship. But the month of Shaban is a month of incredible virtue, expressly highlighted by our beloved Prophet ﷺ. It has great historical significance as it is the month in which fasting Ramadan was legislated through revelation and it is the month in which the qibla changed from Jerusalem to Mecca. Beyond its historical significance, Shaban is a month of fasting and increased focus on the Qur’an, giving it great spiritual significance.

What is Shaban? A Month of Fasting

The first virtue of Shaban is that it is a month of fasting. Typically, many of us forget about fasting in this month because we’re looking forward to Ramadan. ʿĀisha (rA) said as part of a larger hadith, “I never saw Allah’s Messenger ﷺ fast for an entire month except for Ramadan, and did not see him fasting in any month more than in Shaban.” 
ʿĀisha (rA) also said in an authentic narration, “The most beloved of months or the month in which Allah’s Messenger ﷺ loved to fast more than anything else was Shaban. Indeed, he used to join it to Ramadan”; i.e., he would not take a break from fasting between Shaban and Ramadan.
From these two hadiths, we can see that the Prophet ﷺ never fasted an entire month outside of Ramadan, but the month that he fasted most after Ramadan was Shaban, to the point that it was as if he had connected the fasting of Shaban to the month of Ramadan.

When is Shaban?

Shaban is the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar; it immediately precedes the month of Ramadan. Jurist and spiritual author, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751/1350), beautifully mentions that the Prophet ﷺ fasted almost all of Shaban as a means of glorifying Ramadan, the same way that the most beloved of sunnahs is the sunnah before Fajr because it glorifies the most beloved of prayers, Fajr. And just like you use the sunnah as preparation for the obligatory prayer, so too is Shaban a preparation for and glorification of Ramadan.
Ibn Al-Qayyim also mentions that the Prophet ﷺ was known to voluntarily fast three days of every month, but sometimes he was not able to do so. When that happened, he would fast in Shaban to make up those days before the obligatory fast of Ramadan. This was the Prophet’s habit across a range of optional acts of worship that he used to do regularly but sometimes missed, including the night prayer and optional fasting.

Shaban Tip:

If your spouse or friends have missed fasts to make up, you can support them by fasting with them, making it both a means of good deeds for you and an aid to you both.

A Neglected Month

Usāma b. Zayd (RA) narrated “I asked the Prophet ﷺ, ‘Why is it that you fast more in Shaban than any other month?’ The Prophet ﷺ replied, ‘That is a month neglected by the people between Rajab and Ramadan, and it is a month in which one’s deeds are raised to the Lord of the Worlds, so I love for my deeds to be raised while I am fasting.’”
This powerful hadith gives us two layers to really unpack the gems of this month of Shaban. First and foremost, Shaban is a month most people neglect. The spiritual significance here is that the scholars suggest that the best time to compete for Allah’s pleasure are those times in which Allah is most likely to be forgotten. A person striving for excellence (muḥsin) will take advantage of these neglected times, and when everyone else is heedless, they will compete for Allah’s pleasure. This is one of the reasons the night prayer is so special, because worship in these times particularly shows that you truly want the pleasure of Allah. The great polymath Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1201) says that “This is the evidence of your insistence upon doing good.”
Further evidence for this notion comes from the Companions’ love for the time between the Sunset (Maghrib) and Evening (ʿIshāʾ) prayers (or as they were commonly referred to, the ‘two ʿIshāʾs). The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ used to love to give life to the time between the two ʿIshāʾs by remembering Allah, citing it as an hour that most people are heedless of. Similarly, the reward for the one who remembers Allah upon entering the marketplace is so grand—the granting of a million good deeds, the removal of a million bad deeds, and an elevation of a million levels in Jannah and a palace therein—because this is the time that we are least likely to remember Allah and worship of Him is often neglected.
On this notion, Ibn Rajab points out that worship done when people are generally heedless should be done as secretly as possible because these are deeds of isān (excellence) and should therefore be done in the best manner possible.

Shaban Tip:

Seize opportunities to worship Allah in times that are often neglected. Don’t delay, make your intention and plan to fast, read the Qur’an, and increase in dhikr! One habit you can form in Shaban is to pray two extra rakahs between Maghrib and ‘Isha, a time that was beloved to our Companions. Then in Ramadan, the time between Maghrib and ‘Isha, when most people are rewarding themselves for a long day of fasting, becomes a special time to remember Allah when others are heedless.

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A Month of Qur’an

Just as fasting in Shaban is neglected by many, so too is reading the Qur’an in this month. Whereas we all intend to increase the amount of Qur’an we read in Ramadan, Shaban is the time that the reciters prepare themselves for the recitation of Ramadan. Shaban was known by some of the pious predecessors as the month of the reciters because of how much of the Qur’an people would read during it.
Salama b. Kuhayl al-Kūfī (d. 121/739), one of the early generation of believers, known as ‘the Followers’ (tābiʿīn), narrates that when the month of Shaban approached, his people freed their time to recite the Qur’an. He said, “The month of Shaban [is] the month of reciters.” Another narration states that “When Shaban would begin, Amr ibn Qais would close his store, and devote himself to the recitation of the Qur’an.”
Shaban is a month of preparation for Ramadan, a time to review the Qur’an.

Shaban Tip:

A very practical tip going into the month of Shaban is to take the goal that you have for recitation during Ramadan and do half of it in the month of Shaban. So, if you are planning to recite the whole Qur’an at least once in Ramadan, then do half of a complete reading (khatm) in Shaban. This will make achieving your Ramadan goal easier because you will have prepared yourself in a way that makes the task ahead familiar and thus you’re able to push yourself further.

15th of Shaban: A Night of Forgiveness

In an authentic narration, the Prophet ﷺ said “Allah looks on the night of the half of Shaban (i.e., the 15th), so He forgives the entirety of His creation except for a polytheist or a person with enmity.” A narration from ʿIkrima al-Barbarī (d. 105/723), the bondsman (mawlā) of ʿAbd Allāh Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687), is frequently quoted in which he calls the 15th of Shaban the ‘Night of Exemption’ (laylat al-barāʾa), the day that we are freed from the Hellfire. 
The Prophet ﷺ said that Shaban is the month in which deeds are presented to Allah and the 15th is the particular night that Allah looks at those deeds and forgives all of them. Taking advantage of this night will allow us to enter Ramadan with amnesty, free from the burden of our sins with only the longing for our Creator remaining.
Many great scholars have written about observing the 15th of Shaban and whilst we should fill the night with worship, there are no specific acts that have been mentioned by the Prophet ﷺ to be singled out on this night.

Shaban Tip:

The 15th of Shaban is a call to action. This is the time to really reflect deeply. Is that grudge worth missing out on this incredible reward? Do I really want my deeds to not be presented to Allah and to be amongst those people who are not forgiven by Allah on that night? Is my hatred of that person worth me sacrificing the love of Allah?

 
In a beautiful statement, Ibn Rajab said that fasting in Shaban “takes away the hardship of fasting and leaves only the sweetness of it for the time of Ramadan.” For most of us, the first few days of Ramadan are sluggish as we get used to kicking our old habits and changing our schedule. However, by practicing our acts of worship in Shaban we can enter Ramadan with such energy and strength that we only taste the sweetness of our worship. By optimizing our time in Shaban we can begin Ramadan reaping the fruits of our preparation.

Notes

1 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 1969; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 1156.
2 Sunan Abū Dāwūd, no. 2431; Sunan al-Nasā’ī, no. 2350. The authentication of this hadith is deemed rigorously authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) by numerous scholars of hadith, among them al-Ḥākim who said that it is authentic according to the criteria of both al-Bukhārī and Muslim. See: al-Mustadrak ʻalā al-Ṣaḥīḥayn, no. 1605.
3 Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Tahdhīb Sunan Abū Dāwūd, ed. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-ʿUmrān et al. (Riyadh: Dār ʿAṭāʾāt al-ʿIlm, 2019), 2:154.
4 Sunan al-Nasā’ī, no. 2357; Musnad al-Imām Aḥmad, no. 21753; graded acceptable (ḥasan) by al-Albānī and al-Arnāʾūṭ.
5 See Sunan Abū Dāwūd, no 1321. Muḥammad Shams al-Ḥaqq al-ʿAẓīm Abādī, ʿAwn al-Maʿbūd ʿala Sunan Abū Dāwūd, with commentary by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmā˜Muḥammad ʿUthmān (Medina: al-Maktaba al-Salafiyya, 1968), 4:143; Muḥammad al-Shawkānī, Nayl al-awṭār, ed. ʿIṣām al-Dīn al-Ṣabābāṭī (Cairo, Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1993), 3:68.
6 Al-Tirmidhī (no. 3428) and Ibn Mājah (no. 2235) narrate on the authority of Umar ibn al-Khattab that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever enters the marketplace and says ‘There is none worthy of worship except Allah, Alone, without partner, to Him belongs the dominion, and to Him is all the praise, He gives life and causes death, He is Living and does not die, in His Hand is the good, and He has power over all things (Lā ilāha illallāh, waḥdahu lā sharīka lahu, lahul-mulku wa lahul-ḥamdu, yuḥyī wa yumītu, wa huwa ḥayyun lā yamūtu, biyadihil-khairu, wa huwa `alā kulli shay’in qadīr)’, Allah shall record a million good deeds for him, wipe a million evil deeds away from him, and raise him a million ranks.” The scholars of hadith differ regarding the authenticity of this narration, with some of them declaring it weak (ḍa’īf), while others (such as al-Hakim, al-Baghawi, ad-Dhahabi, and al-Albani) have graded it acceptable (ḥasan).
7 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn Rajab al-Hanbalī, Latāʾif al-maʿārif, ed. Tāriq ʿAwad Allāh (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 2007), 242.
8 Narrated by Ibn Ḥibbān, Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān, no. 5665; al-Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, 20:108. According to Ibn Ḥibban’s authentication, the hadith is deemed rigorously authentic. Shuʿayb al-Arnaʾūṭ deems it so based on corroborative narrations. Al-Amīr ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn b. Bilbān al-Fārsī, al-Iḥsān fī taqrīb Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibān, ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnaʾūṭ (Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 1998), 12:481. Al-Albānī also deemed it authentic. Abū Bakr b. Abī ʿĀṣim al-Daḥḥāk, Kitāb al-janna, with Naṣir al-Albānī, Dhilāl al-janna fī takhrīj al-sunna on the margin, ed. Naṣir al-Albānī (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1980), no. 512.
9 Muḥammad al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmīʿ li-aḥkām al-Qur’ān, ed. Aḥmad al-Bardūnī and Ibrāhīm Aṭfīsh (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub al-Maṣriyya, 1964), 16:126.
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