Most Muslims today think that our actions are presented to God on Mondays and Thursdays, and that this is why it is good to fast on these days. However, this belief is based on an incorrect version of an authentic hadith which is differently worded. Tirmidhī narrated this hadith, and it is through him that it is usually quoted, but because people are not careful in studying Tirmidhī’s comment on this hadith, they miss what he is trying to teach us about its incorrect wording. It is important to know the authentic wording of the hadith and see how its wording changed in some versions, and why people have (mis)placed their trust in that hadith.
The authentic hadith comes from the Muwaṭṭaʾ of Imam Mālik, and through him, Imam Muslim’s Ṣaḥīḥ. This hadith goes back to Abū Hurayra via his student Abū Ṣāliḥ al-Sammān. Abū Hurayra narrated that God’s Messenger ﷺ said,
Mālik, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, Chapter on Good Character (Ch 47), Hadith number 1732.
The Gates of Heaven are opened on Monday and Thursday, and God forgives all of his Muslim servants who do not associate partners with Him, except a person who has rancour in his heart toward his brother. It will be said, ‘Wait until these two make up, wait until these two make up.’
Imam Mālik took this hadith of Abū Ṣāliḥ from the latter’s son Suhayl who was a very well known and respected traditionist. Suhayl eventually suffered an illness that weakened his memory and he became forgetful. For this reason, Imam Bukhārī avoided his hadith altogether. Some scholars believe Imam Bukhārī should not have excluded Suhayl’s reports, and that he should have at least narrated those reports from Suhayl that came from Imam Mālik, just as Imam Muslim did, because they believe Mālik learned from Suhayl before his memory suffered; according to all other counts, Suhayl is worthy of inclusion as a narrator in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, they argued.
This narration from Suhayl is the most authentic one that exists on this topic of the virtues of Mondays and Thursdays. Four of Imam Mālik’s contemporaries also took the hadith from Suhayl and narrated in exactly the same wording, as preserved by in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and other sources.
Tirmidhī narrated this hadith in its authentic wording in his Chapter on Goodness to Others, and labelled it Ḥasan Ṣaḥīḥ, meaning authentic in both its chain and its meaning. Tirmidhī then narrated a different version of the same hadith in his Chapter on Fasting via a sixth narrator from Suhayl but here the wording is different. Here God’s Messenger ﷺ is reported to have said,
Actions are presented (i.e. to God) on Mondays and Thursdays, and I like for my actions to be presented while I am fasting.Tirmidhi, Sunan, al-Birr wa-l-sila, hadith number 2023.
However, Imam Tirmidhī did not label this version authentic. Instead, he said, ‘The hadith of Abu Hurayra on this topic (of fasting) is ḥasan gharīb.”
What this means is this: This hadith comes from a weak chain, but the chain does not contain liars or people who always narrated wrong hadiths, just some narrators who are weak and can sometimes make mistakes (This is roughly the meaning of ḥasan when used by Tirmidhī on its own without the word ‘Ṣaḥīḥ‘). The other more correct versions of this hadith do not mention fasting and this is what Tirmidhī meant when he said it was gharīb (comes from only this chain) on this topic.
In other words, Tirmidhī is telling us that this hadith is almost certainly a mistake made by one of the weak narrators in the chain, because this hadith has been narrated from Suhayl by five great imams in diffent wording that does not mention fasting at all. Tirmidhī’s version comes from a sixth narrator from Suhayl, Muḥammad ibn Rifāʿa, who is weak. In fact, one hadith critic considered him ‘munkar in hadith,’ meaning that he narrates hadith that are not recognised or validated by other sources, and are wrong. Ibn Ḥajar said: ‘acceptable,’ which is something used for weak people who are not liars. From him it was passed down to Abū ʿĀṣim then to Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā then to al-Tirmidhī. We know that it was Muḥammad ibn Rifāʿa who made the mistake of adding the mention of fasting because Ibn Mājah also narrated this hadith with a different chain back to Muḥammad ibn Rifāʿa where fasting is also mentioned. This is Ibn Mājah’s version,
Abū Hurayra reported that God’s Messenger ﷺ used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. He was asked, ‘O Messenger of God, you fast on Mondays and Thursdays?’ He said, ‘On Mondays and Thursdays, God forgives all Muslims except two who are not speaking to each other. He will say (to the angels), “Leave them until they make up.”
Ibn Mājah, Sunan, Kitab al-Siyam, hadith number 1740.
We have seen that Tirmidhī pointed out the problem with the mention of fasting in this hadith, but you’ll notice another change in his version. All other versions of this hadith do not mention that ‘actions are presented on Mondays and Thursdays.’ This is not in the narrations of the five other great imams who took this hadith from Suhayl. Nor is it in all narrations that come from Muḥammad ibn Rifāʿa, because while he does mistakingly add the mention of fasting, the narration going back to him in Ibn Majah via his student al-Ḍaḥḥāk ibn Makhlad does not contain that wording either. It is only the narration in Tirmidhī via Muḥammad ibn Rifāʿa’s other student Abū ʿĀṣim al-Nabīl. We can see how late down the chain the wording of the hadith is still in flux and different changes occur in different generations.
Now the question is: What is the source of this incorrect wording (‘Actions are presented on Mondays and Thursdays’)?
We saw that the most authentic wording of the hadith comes Suhayl, from his father Abū Ṣāliḥ, from Abū Hurayra. The incorrect wording comes from another student of Abū Ṣāliḥ called Muslim ibn Abī Maryam. This person has been rated ‘ṣāliḥ‘ (acceptable) by the master hadith critic Abū Ḥātim because he made mistakes, meaning that his hadith can be written down and taken into account, but cannot be relied upon on their own as a basis for knowledge. It is beause of his slight weakness that Bukhārī and Muslim each narrated only one hadith from him each, while Muslim narrated this one also, but as a supplementary (weak) version of a more authentic one, not as an independant hadith. Muslim Ibn Abī Maryam narrated it thus,
‘The actions of people are presented twice a week, Monday and Thursday, and God forgives all of his Muslim servants who do not associate partners with Him, except a person who has rancour in his heart toward his brother. It will be said, ‘Wait until these two make up, wait until these two make up.’
Mālik, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, Chapter on Good Character (Ch 47), Hadith number 1733.
Imam Mālik may have put this version below the other one from Suhayl to tell us that the version from Suhayl, which says, ‘The Gates of Heaven are opened,’ is more correct than this version. That is what Imam Muslim did in his Chapter on Goodness to Others and Etiquette (al-Birr wa-l-Ṣila wa-l-Ādāb). It is well known that Imam Muslim always puts the most correct version of a hadith on top, and then supplements it with weaker versions of the same hadith to show the variations in wording and to teach us which are more authentic than others. The editors of my copy of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (Dār al-Minhāj) knew this, which is why they did not give a separate number for this narration of Muslim ibn Abī Maryam, because they recognised that it is the same exact hadith as the one that comes via Suhayl but worded differently. They put both versions under the same hadith number. In fact, it appears that Muslim ibn Abī Maryam used to narrate this hadith by meaning, not by wording, and would sometimes change the wording, because another of his students, Abu Bakr ibn Abī Sabra, narrated from him thus:
‘Fast on Mondays and Thursdays for they are days in which actions are raised, and God forgives all of his Muslim servants who do not associate partners with Him, except a person who has rancour in his heart toward his brother. It will be said, ‘Wait until these two make up, wait until these two make up.’
ʿAbd al-Razzāq, al-Muṣannaf, Kitāb al-Ṣiyām, Bab Ṣiyām Yawm al-Ithnayn, hadith number 7915.
Here we see yet again how two transmitters from Muslim ibn Abī Maryam (Mālik and Abu Bakr ibn Abī Sabra) differed once again. Malik’s version does not mention fasting, and mentions actions being ‘presented’, whereas Abu Bakr ibn Abī Sabra’s version adds mention of fasting and mentions actions being ‘raised.’
What all this has shown is that, 1) The mention of our actions being presented to God on Mondays and Thursdays does not authentically come from the hadith of Abū Hurayra, and 2) The direct connection of fasting to the virtue of Mondays and Thursdays does not come in the authentic narrations of this hadith of Abū Hurayra. It comes instead from a hadith of Usāma ibn Zayd, which we will now come to.
It is narrated that Usāma ibn Zayd used to have a number of days that he used to fast every week. Someone said to him, ‘Why not Mondays and Thursdays?” Because of this, he began fasting every Monday and Thursday (as narrated by Ibn Abī Shaybah in his Muṣannaf; this narration is disconnected because the Follower saying this about Usāma did not take from him directly). Another narration reports that when he was asked why he fasts every Monday and Thursday, he said, ‘Because God’s Messenger used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays and when he was asked about it he said, “The actions of God’s servants are presented on Mondays and Thursdays” (Sunan Abū Dāwūd). This narration suffers from completely unknown and unnamed narrators, which means it cannot be relied upon at all. The chain goes back to ‘the servant of Qudāma ibn Maẓʿūn who narrated from the servant of Usāma ibn Zayd…’ There are other versions of this hadith with similar chains in al-Nasāʾī’s al-Sunan al-Kubrā all of which he removed from his al-Sunan al-Ṣughrā (which we know as Sunan al-Nasāʾī) because of their weakness. Also, one of these narrations does not mention the reasoning at all, only that he fasted them because God’s Messenger ﷺ fasted them.
This shows that the mention of our actions being presented to God on Mondays and Thursdays is not narrated in any chain that could be relied upon to hold such a belief. What is authentic – at least according to the standards of Muslim and the others but not Bukhārī – is that Mondays and Thursdays are days in which the ‘Gates of Heaven’ are opened and God is very forgiving on these days. In his work al-ʿUḥūd al-Muḥammadiyya, Imam ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Shaʿrānī and his teacher ʿAlī al-Khawwāṣ explained this to mean that these are days of God’s good pleasure in which sins are more likely to be forgiven, actions are more likely to be multiplied, and prayers are more likely to be answered. This is a very sensible explanation of this hadith.
There is also the similar case of the hadith in Sunan al-Nasāʾī that God’s Messenger ﷺ said that he fasted most of the month of Shaʿbān because ‘it is a month in which actions are raised to the Lord of the Worlds, and I like for my actions to be raised while I am fasting.’ The problem with this hadith is that it is narrated via a person from Medina of very few narrations called Thābit ibn Qays. Ibn Ḥibbān said of him, ‘He narrated very little, but made many mistakes in what he narrated. What he reports cannot be relied upon if no one else also reports it.’ (Ibn Ḥibbān, Kitāb al-Majrūḥīn). This hadith was only included by al-Nasāʾī to show the variety in the narrations that have come regarding the fasting of God’s Messenger ﷺ in Shaʿbān. While it is authentically narrated that God’s Messenger ﷺ fasted most of Shaʿbān, this addition comes only from this man and we must assume it to be one of his mistakes, otherwise someone else would have narrated it too.
There are also obvious problems in attempting to reconcile between these reports about Mondays and Thursdays on the one hand, and Shaʿbān on the other hand. This is why there are so many questions submitted to scholars asking, ‘If our actions are presented to God on Mondays and Thursdays, what is presented in Shaʿbān?’ And of course the answers are never convincing. There is no reason to attempt to reconcile them however, because none of them can be relied upon at all – they are simply not authentic. The mention of actions being presented to God only appears in the narrations of weak people in the context of fasting – errors they made in transmitting authentic hadiths that do not mention that. And God ﷻ knows best.
On the correct understanding of the Fast on Mondays and Thursdays, see this article.