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Laila Nisf Sha‘ban.

The aim of this post is to show that the middle night of Sha‘ban is an important night in the Islamic calendar. Unfortunately, there are many Muslims – of the Salafi/Wahhabi 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.

Introduction.

The fifteenth night of Sha‘ban is an important night in the Islamic calendar. In Arabic, this night is called ‘Laila Nisf Sha‘ban’, meaning the ‘middle night of Sha‘ban.’ It is also called Laila (or Shabe, Persian for ‘night’) Bara’at, which means ‘the night of immunity’. The night is so called because Allah offers immunity from the fire of Hell for those who repent to Him sincerely on this night. From the Qur’an, 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 Laila Nisf Sha‘ban.

Evidence from the Holy Qur’an.

Allah says in the Qur’an:
   Ha-Mim. 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).
Imam Qurtubi writes in his Tafsir that the ‘blessed night’ being referred to in this verse is Laila al-Qadr. This is the opinion which most scholars allude to, include the Companion Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased وإذ him). However, Imam Qurtubi also accepts that some scholars believe it is referring to Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. (vol. XVI, p. 84).[1] Ikrama, for example, believes that the night in this verse is Laila Nisf Sha‘ban, the night when all decisions are decreed for the following year.


Evidence from the Ahadith of the Prophet.

There are many Ahadith reported directly from the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) regarding the excellence of the middle night of Sha‘ban. In terms of authenticity, these Ahadith 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.

Hadith number one.
In his Sunan (Book of Fasts, Hadith no. 670), Imam Tirmidhi reports from Ahmad ibn Mani’, from Yazid ibn Harun, from al-Hajjaj ibn Arta, from Yahya ibn Abu Kathir, from Urwah, from the Mother of the Faithful A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her), who reports:
      ‘I missed Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) during the night and found him in [Janna] al-Baqi’[2] with his head raised to the skies. He said: ‘Were you afraid that Allah and His Messenger would deal unjustly with you?’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I thought that you had gone to some of your other wives.’ The Prophet said: ‘Verily Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, comes down to the heaven of the world in the middle night of Sha‘ban and forgives sins even more abundant than the hair of the goats of Banu Kalb.’[3]
This Hadith has also been recorded by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad[4] and Imam Ibn Maja in his Sunan[5]. The Hadith also confirms that visiting the graveyard on this night – an act closely associated with Laila Nisf Sha‘ban – is the Sunna of our Messenger.

Hadith number two.
Ibn Maja reports from the Hadith of Abu Musa, from the Prophet ( Peace Be Upon Him ) that:
‘Allah looks over (Yattali’u) His entire creation on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban, and he forgives all of them, except the polytheist and the quarrelsome.’


Hadith number three.
Imam Ahmad reports from the Hadith of Abd Allah ibn Amr, from the Prophet ( Peace Be Upon Him ) that:
‘Allah looks over (Yattali’u) His entire creation on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban, and he forgives all of them, except two: the quarrelsome and the murderer.’

Hadith number four.
It is reported from the Hadith of Uthman ibn Abu al-As, to the Prophet ( Peace Be Upon Him ) that:
‘When the middle night of Sha‘ban appears, a caller (i.e. Allah) 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.’

Hadith number five.
Hadrat Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani writes in Gunya al-Talibin that the mother of the faithful A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) once saw the Prophet (PBUH) engaged in excessive worship one night. The Prophet explained that the reason was because it was the middle night of Sha‘ban 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. Imam Shafi’i (may Allah be pleased with him) famously remarked:
‘It has reached us that it is said that there are five nights when the Du‘as are accepted; the night of Friday, the night of Id al-Adha, the night of Id al- Fitr, the first night of Rajab and the fifteenth of Sha‘ban.’
This is perhaps partially based on the report of Imam Malik ibn Anas. He reports from Urwah, from A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) who said she heard the Prophet (PBUH) state that there are four nights in which the gates of righteousness are opened; the night of Id al-Adha, the night of Id al-Fitr, the night of Arafa (9th Zul al-Hajj) and Laila Nisf Sha‘ban.[7]

b. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya was asked about prayers on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. He replied, ‘When the Muslim reads on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban alone or in congregation – like our pious ancestors have done – then it is better (Ahsan).[8]

c. The Successors (Tabi’un) from the people of Syria would show respect to the middle night of Sha‘ban 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 Khalid ibn Ma’dan, Makhul, Luqman ibn Amir and Ishaq ibn Rahawiyya.

d. Ata ibn Yasar was reported to have said:
‘After Laila Qadr, there is no night better than Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. Allah 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 Lata’if al-Ma’arif fi ma li Mawasim al-Am min al-Waza’if, by Imam, Hafiz, Zayn al-Din Abu al-Farj Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 A.H.). His own conclusion is that:
‘It is desirable for the believer to dedicate this night to the remembrance of Allah, to pray for the forgiveness of sins…and to seek repentance. For verily Allah accepts the repentance of the one who turns to Him.’

f. Hadrat Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani has written extensively about the superiority of Sha‘ban in general and its middle night in particular in Gunya al-Talibin. He also prescribes many optional prayers (Nafl) that should be performed on this night.

g. Moulana Muhammad Taqi Uthmani produced a separate pamphlet on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. In it he concluded:
‘…the truth is that this is a night of Fazila (excellence). To stay awake at
night and to spend it in worship is a means of reward…’ [9]

h. Ashraf Ali Thanvi wrote in Zawal al-Sunna:
‘It is Mustahab (preferred) for men to visit the graveyard on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban and spend the time in supplications and seeking forgiveness. This is proven from Hadith…to keep a fast on the fifteenth is Mustahab.’[10]

Fasting on the middle day of Sha‘ban.

The Mother of the Faithful A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) reports that the Prophet ( Peace Be Upon Him ) would fast abundantly during the month of Sha‘ban (Gunya al- Talibin. p. 441). In another report, he explained that Sha‘ban is the month that a person’s actions ascend to the presence of Allah. ‘I desire that my actions are raised to Allah in the state that I am fasting’, the Prophet ( Peace Be Upon Him ) explained. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali 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‘ban 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 Id. No scholar is of the opinion that Laila Nisf Sha‘ban is one the days when fasting has been prohibited by the Prophet( Peace Be Upon Him ).

Objections on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban.

‘Giving significance to the night of 15th Sha‘ban, visiting graveyards, doing extra Ibadah (worship) and offering extra Nawafil Salah with the intention of specifically doing so on the occasion of 15th Sha‘ban, and
keeping awake for the whole night of 15th Sha‘ban 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 Ahadith 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-Baqi where A’isha found 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 Imam al-Bukhari reports in his Sahih that the Prophet (PBUH) forbade his Companions from keeping continuous fasts[11]. One of the Companions enquired, ‘O Messenger of Allah! But you keep continuous fasts.’
The Prophet (PBUH) replied:
‘Who from amongst you is like me? When I go to sleep my Lord gives me
food and drink.’[12]
‘We don’t find any evidence of such things [in commemorating Laila Nisf Sha‘ban] in the entire authentic Sirah of the Prophet and his Companions. According to Allama Ibn Rajab Abu Bakr Turtoshi, Suyuti, Shoukani etc. all the Ahadith pertaining to the subject are weak and unacceptable.’

Admittedly, there are a handful of fabricated Ahadith on the superiority of Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. There is a report where the Prophet (PBUH) was alleged to have said:
‘When Laila Nisf Sha‘ban appears, then revive the night [in worship] and
fast its day.’
Most scholars declare this particular Hadith to be weak and some suggest it is fabricated. But that does not mean that all the Ahadith on the issue are also fabricated.13 Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya himself admits that there are sufficient, acceptable Ahadith on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban 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 [Hanbali] 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 Ahadith 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 Hadith…’[14]

By declaring the Ahadith on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban as ‘weak and unacceptable’, the Salafi/Wahhabi’s show their true ignorance on the very basics rules of Islamic Shari‘ah. Hypothetically speaking, even if all the Ahadith on this night were weak (Da‘if) and not fabricated, the classical scholars agree that it is still legitimate to use this in the field of Targhib wa Tarhib (encouraging good acts and warning against evil acts). The famous Hadith master Ibn al-Salah writes:
‘According to the scholars of Hadith, it is permissible to adopt leniency in the chain and in the narration of Da‘if traditions, other than Mawdu‘(fabricated) Ahadith, without having to explain its weakness. This is not [however] where the text deals with the attributes of Allah, 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-Targhib wa al-Tarhib]. Amongst the scholars who have reported leniency with such narrations are Abd al- Rahman ibn Mahdi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.’[15]

In short, there are sufficient sound reports on Laila Nisf Sha‘ban to prove its legitimacy. Even if all reports were weak, it is still acceptable to use them, because they are not fabricated.

‘Besides Shaykh Nasir al-Din Albani also said that offering special prayers on the night of Shab-e-barat is an innovation.’

Shaykh Nasir al-Din Albani, an infamous Salafi, does accept the importance of this night.
In volume three of Salsala al-Ahadith al-Sahiha, he cited eight Ahadith regarding the superiority of Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. After mentioning them all, he wrote, ‘these reports through all of their collective chains are authentic without doubt (BilaRayb).
A student of mine read this book of Shaykh Albani’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 Laila Nisf Sha‘ban Ahadith they were all missing; (page 116 to 179). The Wahhabi propaganda machine simply deleted the Ahadith which do not suit their doctrines.


Conclusion.

Owing to the numerous Ahadith on the issue, it is almost impossible to argue that Laila Nisf Sha‘ban 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 Ali
Thanvi and Moulana Muhammad Taqi Uthmani.

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-Auza’i disliked the collective gathering in the mosque for Laila Nisf Sha‘ban. 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 Allah Almighty. As the Ahadith suggest, Laila Nisf Sha‘ban 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.
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[1]Tafsir Qurtubi. Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, Beirut, Lebanon (2004).
[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: Hadith no. 24825.
[5]The establishing of prayer and its Sunna: Hadith no. 1379.
[6]Gunya al-Talibin. Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani. p. 447. Farid Book Stall Publications, Lahore, Pakistan(1998).
[7]Gunya al-Talibin. Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani. p. 448. Farid Book Stall Publications, Lahore, Pakistan(1998).
[8]Majmu’a al-Fatawa, 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]In Arabic, this is called al-Wisal. It means keeping a fast throughout the day and night for many days.
[12]Sahih al-Bukhari. Book of Hudud (punishments). Hadith no. 6345.
[13]The case is similar to Ahadith which extol the virtue of certain Surahs of the Qur’an. Certainly, there are a handful of Ahadith which are forged and fabricated but that does not imply all reports mentioning the excellence of certain Surahs are also forged. The Sahih of Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim are full of sound, authenticated Ahadith on the superiority of Surahs like Surah Ikhlas and Surah Baqara.
[14]p. 208. Haddad, G.F. (2005) Sunna Notes- Studies in Hadith & Doctrine (Volume II; The Excellent Innovation in the Qur’an and Hadith. Aqsa Publications: UK.
[15]Ibn al-Salah Uthman ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman. (1986) Muqaddima (‘Ulum al-Hadith). Dar-al-Fikar: Beirut, Lebanon, p. 103.

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Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari.
BA Principles of Theology, Al-Azhar University, Cairo:
MPhil Theology & BA Political Science, University of Birmingham:
MA Arabic & Islamic Studies, Bhera Sharif, Pakistan.