Shaban, the eighth lunar month of the Islamic lunar, or Hijri, year, follows the sacred month of Rajab (7) and precedes the obligatory fasting month of Ramadan (9). Rather than making Shaban a period of “religious” intermission, that makes it a crucial time of preparation. One must prepare spiritually, physically, and financially to enter Ramadan maximally sharp and ready to reap its one-time windfall of blessings.
What is notable about Shaban for Muslims?
- It falls between the sacred month of Rajab and the fasting month of Ramadan, as noted.
- The divine command for Islam’s Fourth of its famed Five Pillars — to fast Ramadan — came down in Shaban, in the second year after the Prophet’s migration (hijrah) from Mecca to Madinah, God’s blessings and peace be upon him.
- he Prophet, on him be peace, fasted more in Shaban than any other of Islam’s twelve lunar months, except Ramadan.Shaban was “of all the months, the one Allah’s Messenger preferred most for his fasting, and which he would then connect to Ramadan,” according to his wife Aisha, Allah be pleased with her (Abu Dawud).
- Allah’s pivotal command to change the prayer-direction (qiblah) of Muslims from Jerusalem to Mecca likely came down in Shaban, also in 2H (the second year after Hijrah).
Why is it significant that Shaban falls between Rajab and Ramadan?
Anything that comes between two other things of noted importance will tend to get neglected. This raises two important points:
- Good deeds done when others are likely to not do them gain a special (as in greater) reward with Allah. For example, offering ritual prayer (salah) late at night when most are sleeping. Another would be giving charity (sadaqah) during times of deprivation, like sharing food during famine, or parting with money when one is personally in need of it.After the sacred month of Rajab and before the fasting month of Ramadan, people are much less likely to fast and pray more. This is generally because people know a more religiously vigilant month has just ended and an arduous month of fasting and standing in prayer will begin after it.
- In Shaban, people’s deeds go up to their Creator, and fasting puts a beautifying seal or ribbon, so to speak, on their presentation to Him.
The Prophet, on him be peace, made these two points about Shaban to a youthful Usamah ibn Zayd, whom the Prophet, on him be peace, treated as a member of his own family. The young Companion narrates:
I said: O Messenger of Allah! I do not see you fasting [as much] in any other month like you fast in Shaban. He said: ‘That is a month — between Rajab and Ramadan — that people overlook. It is a month, moreover, wherein deeds go up to the Lord of the Worlds, and I like for my deeds to go up while I am fasting.’
This means (1) we should strive in our fasting in the month of Shaban, like the Prophet, on him be peace. And (2) fasting in Shaban holds a higher divine worth than fasting in the four sacred months of Muharram (1), Rajab (7), Dhul Qidah (11), and Dhul Hijjah (12). This comes with the exception of special fasting days like Ashura (the 10th of Muharram), and the Day of the Standing (Yawm Al-Arafah) during Hajj, for those not making the Pilgrimage.
As an aside, six days of Shawwal (the 10th month and the one following Ramadan) hold a superiority for fasting similar to the days of Shaban. This is for the same reason: the human tendency to drop off a rigorous practice after completing a major striving — in this case, Ramadan’s mandatory fast. Fasting Ramadan and then any six days in Shawwal — except Eid al-Fitr, in which fasting is forbidden — gives a reward comparable to fasting the entire Hijri lunar year.
How does Shaban prepare you for Ramadan?
Shaban, if we use it correctly, increases us in three phases of readiness. It prepares us physically, spiritually and financially to get the most out of Ramadan.
How does Shaban get you physically ready for Ramadan?
Following the Prophet’s (on him be peace) Shaban example of increasing our fasting days in this preparatory month will help us acclimate our bodies. When the Ramadan crescent appears, we’ll have adjusted to the privations of a day-long fast. We’ll also have attuned both our bodies and minds to Ramadan’s special circadian and mental rhythms.
The body flags when we first begin fasting after not having fasted for a while, especially on consecutive days. We may get hungry, thirsty, lethargic, develop headaches and grow more easily irritable and distracted. If it’s already Ramadan when we abruptly jump into fasting, almost certainly we’ll spend our first few days to a week simply stumbling through some or all of these physical withdrawal responses just trying to get to sunset. If we do gain a space of free time in our day, many of us will simply choose the couch or bed to sleep off the fast.
But what have we lost? How about lengthy Quran recitation, at least a juz (one-thirtieth) of it. One juz each night is achievable to complete ready the Quran on our own before this month comes quickly to its end.
Or we’ll miss that long-hoped-for but undefined plan to commit as many of its ayahs (verses) and surahs (partitions) of it to memory during our Ramadan fast as we can.
And in normal days, each letter — letter! — of the Quran we recite with our tongues and lips gives us its reward with Allah tenfold. If you’ve become eloquent in its Arabic, then you’ll take your place among the lofty and ever-dutiful angels. If you struggle to read and pronounce its signs, then your reward will be twice that. What about during Ramadan, then? When 700 times normative divine reward becomes base compensation for good deeds? Much more seems in store.
Said the Prophet, on him be peace:
Very truly, one who recites the Quran eloquently, easily, and accurately will attend the company of the noble and obedient angels, while one who recites it with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses shall have twice this reward” (Bukhari).
Now, we ought to know, and probably do, that Allah opens the ajar, or divine reward, floodgates for His people in Ramadan. It’s the ever-flowing jackpot of Heaven’s blessings just cashing into our Celestial Scales of good, the Mizan, or Balance, on the Day of Judgment. And we’re sleeping or semi-comatose in a fasting stupor?
After Salat Al-‘Asr, the Mid-Afternoon Ritual Prayer, stands as an established time for retreat to Quran reading and memorization. We are, after all, the Ummah of ‘Asr, the declining day of man on earth.
Or perhaps we’ve retreated to that truly sacred space of sajdah, bowing our heads down to the ground in prostration. We’re speaking of going into the mosque in that precious window of free time — again to recite the Words and Instructions of Allah, the Quran. It’s with it that our reward will grow even more abundantly because we are fasting, we are in retreat in the mosque, and we are reciting Quran.
Or it may be we’re using that time to help others, distributing iftar (fast-breaking meals) to our brothers and sisters. Or we’re finding ways to give other physical sadaqah (charity) to some of the now-countless human beings in varied grades of need and help and suffering. Finding a way to help one of the millions — maybe billions — and working hard despite our food and water deprivation. We do it for Allah. We provide for the widow, or the orphan, or the captive, or our parents, or our relatives.
Allah said in His Book:
Thus Thus they feed with food — despite their own desire for it — the poor and the orphan, and the captive [saying]: We feed you purely for the sake of Allah. We desire no reward from you nor thankfulness” (Surat Al-Insan, 76:8-9).
The Prophet said:
One who exerts himself on behalf of the widow or the poor is like the striver in the path of Allah, and like the one fasting in the day and standing in prayer in the night” (Graded sahih by Albani).
This is a Ramadan goal one cannot easily fulfill without preparing his or her body and mind beforehand to endure the physical and psychological hardships of fasting.
How does Shaban get you spiritually ready for Ramadan?
When fasting from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, water, and sexual fulfillment are only the physical aspects. Negating these disciplines is only part of this ancient form of prescribed ritual.
Refraining from all expressions of wicked behavior means disciplining the soul (nafs) as well as the body. This refraining is in its nature spiritual. It is the essence and essential purpose of the Ramadan fast: to cause us to rise to a constant remembrance of Allah with an awe that motivates deeds of virtue and checks immoral conduct.
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those who have believed before you, so that you may be ever God-fearing” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:183).
Thus, fasting among some preceding communities of Heavenly Revelation included not speaking during the fast, as a mechanism for training self-control. Allah gave Mary, on her be peace, a special command after her delivery of Jesus, on him be peace. Should she see anyone who might question her having a child:
And if you should see any human being, then say only: Indeed, I have vowed a fast to the All-Merciful. Thus, I shall not speak today to any human being. (Surat Maryam, 19:26)
Shaban gives us a chance to train our souls rigorously, like an athlete training for a major event. The consequential moment of winning and losing, in this case, is Ramadan.
For the reason of using our fasts to discipline the soul, the Prophet, on him be peace, does not ban us from talking. But he challenges us with the charge of controlling our tongues against corrupt or irreligious speech as part of our fast. To break this is to break our fast (though if we fall into it, we may still not break our physical fasts). He said:
One who does not give up evil and ignorant speech, and the acts that accord with this, Allah has no need for him to give up food and drink” (Ibn Majah).
It is especially important to maintain spiritual discipline in the home stretch of the physical-spiritual Ramadan marathon. That is Laylat Al-Qadr, the Night of Empowering Decree, better than a thousand months of worship in a single night. It is for victory on this night, most of all, that we train in Shaban.
How does Shaban get you financially ready for Ramadan?
Ramadan is the best time to pay Zakat and to strive in giving as much sadaqah as one possibly can. The rewards for these acts of charity, obligatory and voluntary, are always immense, but Allah multiplies them exponentially in Ramadan.
So as with our fasting preparation and training, we should incorporate two financial strategies into our Shaban observances:
- Shaban is the month for you to organize resolving your debts by paying them off so your debts will not hinder your payment of Zakat in Ramadan.The noble Companion, martyr, and third of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, God be pleased with him, used to exhort the Companions and their Successors in Shaban about Ramadan:Here is the month for you to pay your Zakat. If you have debts, then pay them off so that you can sort out your wealth and take Zakat from it” (Malik’s Muwatta).
- We should ramp up giving charity voluntarily in Shaban as preparation for Ramadan.This means giving money:
- Especially to help your parents and nearest kin in debt and in need
- To feed the poor, dig a well for the waterless, sponsor an orphan, and pay the expenses of a widow
- To help the refugee, the displaced, and the imprisoned with food, shelter, clothing, resettlement, and security against the ravages of war, conflict, and social injustice
It also means volunteering your time to charities, mosques and schools. This is in addition to supporting organizations that work for the welfare of Muslims and humanity whose goals align with enjoining the right and forbidding wrong, in accordance with Revelation, meaning the Quran and the instructions of the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace.