The aim of this paper is to show that the middle night of Sha‘bān is an important night in the Islamic calendar. Unfortunately, there are many Muslims – of the Salafi/Wahhabī orientation – that argue that there is no evidence to suggest the religious significance of this night. They declare the worship associated with this night as a reprehensible innovation (bid’a). As the article will show, such an opinion stems from ignorance and neglect.
The fifteenth night of Sha‘bān is an important night in the Islamic calendar. In Arabic, this night is called ‘Layla Nisf Sha‘bān’, meaning the ‘middle night of Sha‘bān.’ It is also called Layla (or Shabe, Persian for ‘night’) Barā’at, which means ‘the night of immunity’. The night is so called because Allāh offers immunity from the fire of Hell for those who repent to Him sincerely on this night. From the Qur’ān, sunna and sayings & actions of our pious predecessors, there is ample evidence to suggest that this a time of devotion and excessive worship. This article is merely a small reflection of the wealth of material available highlighting the significance of Layla Nisf Sha‘bān.
Evidence from the Holy Qur’ān.
Allāh says in the Qur’ān: Hā-Mīm. By the manifest Book. Verily We sent it down on a blessed night; verily We are ever warning. Therein that night, every matter of ordainment is decreed. (44: 1-3).
Imām al-Qurtubī writes in his Tafsīr that the ‘blessed night’ being referred to in this verse is Layla al-Qadr. This is the opinion which most scholars allude to, include the Companion Ibn Abbās (may Allāh be pleased with him). However, Imām al-Qurtubī also accepts that some scholars believe it is referring to Layla Nisf Sha‘bān.1 Ikrama, for example, believes that the night in this verse is Layla Nisf Sha‘bān, the night when all decisions are decreed for the following year.
Evidence from the ahādīth of the Prophet.
There are many ahādīth reported directly from the Prophet (peace be upon him) regarding the excellence of the middle night of Sha‘bān. In terms of authenticity, these ahādīth are of varying grades. Some are reliable whereas some are not. But overall, there are sufficient reports on the subject matter to indicate the importance of this night.
Hadīth number one: In his Sunan (Book of Fasts, Hadīth no. 670), Imām al-Tirmidhī reports from Ahmad ibn Manī, from Yazīd ibn Hārūn, from al-Hajjāj ibn Artā, from Yahyā ibn Abī Kathīr, from Urwah, from the Mother of the Faithful Ā’isha (may Allāh be pleased with her), who reports:
‘I missed Allāh’s Messenger (peace be upon him) during the night and found him in [Janna] al-Baqī’2 with his head raised to the skies. He said: ‘Were you afraid that Allāh and His Messenger would deal unjustly with you?’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allāh! I thought that you had gone to some of your other wives.’ The Prophet said: ‘Verily Allāh, the Exalted and Glorious, comes down to the heaven of the world in the middle night of Sha‘bān and forgives sins even more abundant than the hair of the goats of Banū Kalb.’3
This hadīth has also been recorded by Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad 4 and Imām Ibn Māja in his Sunan 5. The hadīth also confirms that visiting the graveyard on this night – an act closely associated with Layla Nisf Sha‘bān – is the sunna of our Messenger.
Hadīth number two: Ibn Māja reports from the hadīth of Abū Mūsā, from the Prophet (peace be upon him) that:‘Allāh looks over (yattali’u) His entire creation on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān, and he forgives all of them, except the polytheist and the quarrelsome.’
Hadīth number three: Imām Ahmad reports from the hadīth of Abd Allāh ibn Amr, from the Prophet (peace be upon him) that:‘Allāh looks over (yattali’u) His entire creation on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān, and he forgives all of them, except two: the quarrelsome and the murderer.’
Hadīth number four: It is reported from the hadīth of Uthmān ibn Abū al-Ās, to the Prophet (peace be upon him) that:‘When the middle night of Sha‘bān appears, a caller (i.e. Allāh) proclaims: “is there anyone seeking forgiveness that I can forgive? Is there anyone making a request that I can fulfill?” So no one will ask except that he will be given [on this night], except the adulterer or the polytheist.’
Hadīth number five: Al-Shaykh Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī writes in Gunya al-tālibīn that the mother of the faithful Ā’isha (may Allāh be pleased with her) once saw the Prophet (peace be upon him) engaged in excessive worship one night. The Prophet explained that the reason was because it was the middle night of Sha‘bān when:
‘The name of every child to be born in the following year is written on this night. The name of every person to die in the following year is also recorded on this night. The rizq (sustenance and provision) of each person descends on this occasion and the actions of people are raised to the heavens.’6 (p. 447).
Support from the pious ancestors.
a. Imām al-Shāfi’ī (may Allāh be pleased with him) famously remarked: ‘It has reached us that it is said that there are five nights when the du‘ās are accepted; the night of Friday, the night of Īd al-Adhā, the night of Īd al- Fitr, the first night of Rajab and the fifteenth of Sha‘bān.’
This is perhaps partially based on the report of Imām Mālik ibn Anas. He reports from Urwah, from Ā’isha (may Allāh be pleased with her) who said she heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) state that there are four nights in which the gates of righteousness are opened; the night of Īd al-Adhā, the night of Īd al-Fitr, the night of Arafa (9th Dhul al-Hajj) and Layla Nisf Sha‘bān.7
b. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya was asked about prayers on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. He replied: ‘When the Muslim reads on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān alone or in congregation – like our pious ancestors have done – then it is better (ahsan)’.8
c. The Successors (Tabi’ūn) from the people of Syria would show respect to the middle night of Sha‘bān and would exert great effort in performing worship on this night. This was done collectively in the mosque. Support for this is found from the likes of Khālid ibn Ma’dān, Makhūl, Luqmān ibn Āmir and Ishāq ibn Rāhawiyya.
d. Atā ibn Yasār was reported to have said: ‘After Layla al-Qadr, there is no night better than Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. Allāh descends to His creation on this night and forgives all of His creation; except the polytheist, the quarrelsome and the one who severs family ties.’
e. Most of this article has been based on the excellent work Latā’if al-ma’ārif fī mā li mawāsim al-ām min al-wazā’if, by al-Imām al-Hāfiz, Zayn al-Dīn Abū al-Farj Abd al-Rahmān ibn Ahmad ibn Rajab al-Hanbalī (d. 795 A.H.). His own conclusion is that: ‘It is desirable for the believer to dedicate this night to the remembrance of Allāh, to pray for the forgiveness of sins…and to seek repentance. For verily Allāh accepts the repentance of the one who turns to Him.’
f. Al-Shaykh Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī has written extensively about the superiority of Sha‘bān in general and its middle night in particular in Gunya al-tālibīn. He also prescribes many optional prayers (nafl) that should be performed on this night.
g. Mawlāna Muhammad Taqī Uthmānī produced a separate pamphlet on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. In it he concluded: ‘…the truth is that this is a night of fazīla (excellence). To stay awake at night and to spend it in worship is a means of reward…’ 9
h. Ashraf Alī Thānwī wrote in Zawāl al-sunna: ‘It is mustahabb (preferred) for men to visit the graveyard on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān and spend the time in supplications and seeking forgiveness. This is proven from hadīth…to keep a fast on the fifteenth is mustahabb.’10
Fasting on the middle day of Sha‘bān.
The Mother of the Faithful Ā’isha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would fast abundantly during the month of Sha‘bān.11 In another report, he explained that Sha‘bān is the month that a person’s actions ascend to the presence of Allāh. ‘I desire that my actions are raised to Allāh in the state that I am fasting’, the Prophet (peace be upon him) explained.
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbalī declared that fasting on this day is not forbidden. The Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraged Muslims to fast in the middle part of each month, and the middle day of Sha‘bān falls under this general encouragement. The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) guidance on voluntary fasts are explicitly clear. He encouraged Muslims to keep voluntary fasts as a whole and pinpointed the days when fasting is prohibited, such as Īd. No scholar is of the opinion that Layla Nisf Sha‘bān is one the days when fasting has been prohibited by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Objections on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān.
‘Giving significance to the night of 15th Sha‘bān, visiting graveyards, doing extra ibādah (worship) and offering extra nawāfil salāh with the intention of specifically doing so on the occasion of 15th Sha‘bān, and keeping awake for the whole night of 15th Sha‘bān and encouraging others to do the same – all these are bid’a (innovation). The Prophet and the Sahaba never did so nor commanded Muslims to do so.’
The ahādīth cited above show that (a) Prophet (peace be upon him) did give importance to this night (b) did engage in extra worship as a result (c) did visit the graveyard (as he was in Janna al-Baqī where Ā’isha found him, peace be upon him). Therefore such cannot be deemed as bid’a.
The Muslims who do not attach importance to this night take the stance that until a direct, verbal order from the Prophet is not found instructing us to spend this night in worship, we cannot commemorate this night at all. They fail to understand that the Prophet does not have to explicitly order us to worship on this night in order for it to be incumbent on us. This is because any of his acts automatically become a sunna for us. If the Prophet (peace be upon him) did something in the field of worship, and did not want his followers to emulate him, he always forbade them clearly. For example Imām al-Bukhārī reports in his Sahīh that the Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade his Companions from keeping continuous fasts12. One of the Companions enquired: ‘O Messenger of Allāh! But you keep continuous fasts.’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied:
‘Who from amongst you is like me? When I go to sleep my Lord gives me food and drink.’ 13
‘We don’t find any evidence of such things [in commemorating Layla Nisf Sha‘bān] in the entire authentic sīrah of the Prophet and his Companions. According to Allāma Ibn Rajab Abū Bakr Turtoshī, al-Suyūtī, Shawkānī etc. all the ahādīth pertaining to the subject are weak and unacceptable.’
Admittedly, there are a handful of fabricated ahādīth on the superiority of Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. There is a report where the Prophet (peace be upon him) was alleged to have said:
‘When Layla Nisf Sha‘bān appears, then revive the night [in worship] and fast its day.’
Most scholars declare this particular hadīth to be weak and some suggest it is fabricated. But that does not mean that all the ahādīth on the issue are also fabricated.14 Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya himself admits that there are sufficient, acceptable ahādīth on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān to justify its importance:
‘[Some] said there is no difference between this night and other nights of the year. However, the opinion of many of the people of learning and that of the majority of our [Hanbalī] colleagues…is that it is a night of superior merit, and this is what is indicated by the words of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, in view of the many ahādīth transmitted about it and in light of…the words and deeds transmitted from the early generations. Some of its merits have been narrated in the books of hadīth…’15
By declaring the ahādīth on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān as ‘weak and unacceptable’, the Salafi/Wahhabī’s show their true ignorance on the very basics rules of Islamic Sharī‘ah. Hypothetically speaking, even if all the ahādīth on this night were weak (da‘īf) and not fabricated, the classical scholars agree that it is still legitimate to use this in the field of al-targhīb wa al-tarhīb (encouraging good acts and warning against evil acts). The famous hadīth master Ibn al-Salāh writes:
‘According to the scholars of hadīth, it is permissible to adopt leniency in the chain and in the narration of da‘īf traditions, other than mawdū‘ (fabricated) ahādīth, without having to explain its weakness. This is not [however] where the text deals with the attributes of Allāh, or Islamic rulings like the forbidden and permitted things. It is [only] permissible where the text refers to admonition, stories, the superiority of certain actions and in all areas of preaching [al-targhīb wa al-tarhīb]. Amongst the scholars who have reported leniency with such narrations are Abd al- Rahmān ibn Mahdī and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.’16
In short, there are sufficient sound reports on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān to prove its legitimacy. Even if all reports were weak, it is still acceptable to use them, because they are not fabricated.
‘Besides Shaykh Nāsir al-Dīn Albānī also said that offering special prayers on the night of Shab-e-barāt is an innovation.’
Shaykh Nāsir al-Dīn Albānī, an infamous Salafī, does accept the importance of this night.
In volume three of Salsala al-ahādīth al-sahīha, he cited eight ahādīth regarding the superiority of Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. After mentioning them all, he wrote: ‘these reports through all of their collective chains are authentic without doubt (bilā rayb).
A student of mine read this book of Shaykh Albānī’s in Mauritius, from a print published in Lebanon. When he was in Egypt he bought the same book but published in Saudi. When he checked the Layla Nisf Sha‘bān ahādīth they were all missing; (page 116 to 179). The Wahhābī propaganda machine simply deleted the ahādīth that did not suit their doctrines.
Owing to the numerous ahadīth on the issue, it is almost impossible to argue that Layla Nisf Sha‘bān has no importance. Certainly to describe worship on this night as bid’a is nothing short of scandalous. Scholars from all Islamic denominations accept the importance of this night, such as Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya, Ashraf Alī Thānwī and Mawlāna Muhammad Taqī Uthmānī.
Admittedly, there is a difference of opinion regarding the worship related to this night, but this has been misinterpreted by some Muslims. For example, the Successor al-Awzā’ī disliked the collective gathering in the mosque for Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. Some people took this statement to mean he was against commemorating the night. This is not what he said. Instead, he believed that Muslims should perform their own prayers individually. Likewise, some Muslims have over-stressed the importance of the prayers on this night. The prayers on this night are nafls and nothing more.
Muslims should take every opportunity to seek the forgiveness of Allāh Almighty. As the ahādīth suggest, Layla Nisf Sha‘bān is a gilt-edged chance for Muslims to turn to their Lord and ask from His benevolence and Mercy. It is unfortunate that some Muslims choose to display religious passiveness on this night, and attempt to encourage other Muslims to follow suit.
In memory of Hafiz Muhammad Zia al-Mustafa, who died in June 2010, aged eighteen. May Allah forgive his sins and grant him a place in Paradise. Ameen.
Hafiz Dr. Ather Hussain al-Azhari.
BA Principles of Theology, Al-Azhar University, Cairo: PhD Theology, MPhil Theology & BA Political Science, University of Birmingham: MA Arabic & Islamic Studies, Bhera Sharif, Pakistan.
1 Tafsir al-Qurtubi, (vol. XVI, p. 84) Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, Beirut, Lebanon (2004). Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari
2 This is the graveyard in Madina Sharif, adjacent to the Prophet’s Mosque.
3 Banu Kalb was mentioned by the Prophet because they possessed the most livestock at that time. 4 The remaining Ansar: hadīth no. 24825.
5 The establishing of prayer and its sunna: hadīth no. 1379.
6 Gunya al-talibin. Al-Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani. p. 447. Farid Book Stall Publications, Lahore, Pakistan (1998).
7 Gunya al-talibin. Al-Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani. p. 448. Farid Book Stall Publications, Lahore, Pakistan (1998).
8 Majmū’a al-fatāwa, Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya, vol. XXIII.
9 p. 9. Shabe Baraat ki haqiqat. Farid Book Depot Ltd, Delhi, India (2000).
10 p.17:10. Cited in Shabe Baraat ki haqiqat (pp. 73-74) Farid Book Depot Ltd, Delhi, India (2000).
11 Gunya al-tālibīn. p. 441.
12 In Arabic, this is called al-wisāl. It means keeping a fast throughout the day and night for many days.
13 Sahih al-Bukhari. Book of Hudud (punishments), hadīth no. 6345.
14 The case is similar to ahādīth that extol the virtue of certain surahs of the Qur’ān. Certainly, there are a handful of ahādīth which are forged and fabricated but that does not imply all reports mentioning the excellence of certain surahs are also forged. The Sahīh of Imām al-Bukhārī and Imām Muslim are full of sound, authenticated ahādīth on the superiority of surahs like Surah Ikhlās and Surah al-Baqara.
15 p. 208. Haddad, G.F. (2005) Sunna Notes- Studies in Hadīth & Doctrine (Volume II; The Excellent Innovation in the Qur’ān and Hadīth). Aqsa Publications: UK.
16 Ibn al-Salāh Uthmān ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmān. (1986) Muqaddima (‘Ulum al-Hadīth). Dār-al-Fikar: Beirut, Lebanon, p. 103.