Praise be to God, we have just finished fasting Ramadan, and we wish to carry the good that we have done with us for the rest of the year. The most immediate way that people do this is to fast six days from the month of Shawwāl, but there are also those who will attempt to fast more regularly throughout the year, like on Mondays and Thursdays. We first need to address the regular Sunna fast before coming to the Six Days of Shawwāl, and it will help us understand why the fast of the Six Days of Shawwāl is not an authentic Sunna, is at odds with the authentic Sunna, and in fact makes people turn away from the real Sunna.
Fasting on Mondays and Thursdays
A lack of careful study of the Hadith literature and of the narrations from the earliest generations of Muslims has led the vast majority of Ummah today to believe that the Sunna of fasting is to fast two days a week: every Monday and Thursday. As will be shown, this is not only a misunderstanding, it was specifically disliked by the Companions to do so. Furthermore, this is something that is so hard to maintain that people attempt to do it and then fail and stop. Very rare are those people who keep this fast regularly – but if you are one of them (māshāʾAllāh) the optimal Sunna in your case is to keep what you have started and not stop it, as we will see below. The true Sunna, however, is much simpler than that, and much easier to adhere to and maintain for the rest of one’s life by the permission of God. A closer examination of the hadiths in this regard show that the Sunna is actually to fast three days a month, which most Companions preferred to do on Mondays and Thursdays (i.e. they fasted two Mondays and a Thursday or vice versa of every month, not every Monday and every Thursday). This is where the confusion happened, causing people to think that the Sunna was to fast every Monday and Thursday, rather than three days a month which were preferably on Mondays and Thursdays.
Abū Hurayra (may God be pleased with him) said, ‘My intimate Companion ﷺ urged me to keep three practices: to fast three days of every month, to pray two rakʿa’s in the forenoon, and to finish my night prayers with an odd number (pray witr) before going to sleep.’ (1) The same exact advice has also been narrated from Abu al-Dardāʾ (may God be pleased with him).(2)
Muʿādha al-ʿAdawiyya (may God be pleased with her) asked our lady ʿĀʾisha (may God be pleased with her), ‘Did God’s Messenger ﷺ fast three days of every month?’ ʿĀʾisha said, ‘Yes.’ Muʿādha asked, ‘Which days of the month did he fast?’ She said, ‘It did not matter to him which days of the month.’(3)
There are two reasons that the Sunna is to fast three days of every month: 1) each good deed is multiplied by ten, and in this way one gets the reward of thirty days per month, i.e. a complete month, and 2) so that every month is honoured, blessed and sanctified with some fasting, for as ʿĀʾisha said, ‘He ﷺ never left a month without having fasted at least (some days) from it.’(4) Here you should ask yourself a question: if the Sunna was to fast two days of every week, why would ʿĀʾisha have to say that God’s Messenger ﷺ never left a month without fasting in it?
As for the first reason, it is mentioned in a famous hadith of ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ (may God be pleased with him and his father). ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr had begun to fast every day of the year, and when God’s Messenger ﷺ heard of this he came to him and said,
‘It is enough for you to fast three days of every month, for each good deed will be multiplied ten times, and that will be like fasting the entire year.’
ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr insisted that he wanted to fast more than that, so God’s Messenger ﷺ said to him, ‘then fast once every three days,’ but ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr insisted that he wanted to fast more than that, so God’s Messenger ﷺ said to him, ‘then perform the fast every other day, for that is how Dāwūd (as) used to fast, and it is the best way to fast.’ In his old age, ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr found it difficult to keep the fast of Dāwūd, but he would not leave something he had intended to keep for the rest of his life, something he told God’s Messenger ﷺ that he would keep, and he used to say, ‘If I had accepted the three days a month that God’s Messenger ﷺ said to me, it would have been more beloved to me than my family and my wealth.’(5)
You will notice here that when ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr insisted on doing more than three days a month, God’s Messenger never said to him, ‘why don’t you fast twice a week?’ He ﷺ instead jumped directly to ‘once every three days,’ and this clearly shows that fasting twice a week is not a known Sunna. It would have made much more sense to first go from three days a month to eight days a month (twice per week) if that was a Sunna, but God’s Messenger ﷺ jumped immediately from three days a month to once every three days, and then to the Sunna of Prophet Dāwūd. You will notice also that ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr did not say, ‘I wish I had fasted the Sunna of twice a week,’ but he said, ‘I wish I accepted fasting three days a month.’
People who are not equipped with knowledge of hadith science may say, ‘there is one narration of this hadith in which fasting twice a week is mentioned.’ Yes, that is true, but that one narration is a mistake. This wording is not found in Bukhārī’s eighteen narrations of this hadith, nor in any of Muslim’s fourteen narrations! Nasāʾī, whose Sunan is the third most authentic work after Bukhārī and Muslim (and the only one beside them intended to be a book of Ṣaḥīḥ), often displayed all the different variations that come in a hadith in order to point out which ones are the more authentic ones. He gave us fifteen different narrations for this hadith, with a great deal of confusion and variety in their wordings. Amongst the variety of recommendations given to ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr in these fifteen narrations, Nasāʾī pointed out some of these recommendations as worthy of noting. He did this by giving them their own section title. So he said, ‘Section: The mention of Fasting Ten Days a Month’ in reference to the instruction we have seen above of fasting once every three days; this recommendation does not appear in all narrations, but does appear in a big number of them, including some of the most authentic chains, and it is most likely authentic. Nasāʾī also pointed out two more recommendations that are less well-established and less likely to be authentic: ‘Section: The Mention of Fasting Five Days a Month,’ and ‘Section: The Mention of Fasting Four Days a Month;’ These recommendations appear in more than one narration as other possible options beside the ones mentioned in the most authentic and well-established version mentioned above. Because they are repeated more than once, Nasāʾī thought they were worth pointing out, despite the greater likelihood that they were incorrect. Nasāʾī did not give a separate section to the mention of seven or nine days per month, nor to the single narration in which God’s Messenger supposedly says, ‘then fast two days per week: Monday and Thursday.’ Nasāʾī did not think this narration was even worth pointing out because there was no chance of it being true at all, being in only one out of fifteen versions of the hadith.(6) Nasāʾī knew that the mention of Mondays and Thursdays comes authentically in other hadiths explaining how God’s Messenger would fast three days of the month, and he therefore was able to see that one narrator had taken that and inserted it into the hadith of ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr by mistake.
In his section on how God’s Messenger ﷺ used to fast, Nasāʾī narrated from ʿĀʾisha that ‘God’s Messenger ﷺ used to seek out Mondays and Thursdays for his voluntary fasts.’ Here you should ask yourself: If God’s Messenger ﷺ fasted every Monday and Thursday, why would ʿĀʾisha phrase it this way? Why would she say that he ﷺ, when he wanted to do his optional fasts, chose to do it on a Monday or a Thursday? Doesn’t that show that he did not fast every Monday and Thursday?
Nasāʾī understood that this hadith of ʿĀʾisha did not refer to fasting every Monday and Thursday, but rather three days a month. He followed this hadith with the narration of the Mother of the Believers our lady Ḥafṣa (may God be pleased with her), who said: ‘God’s Messenger ﷺ used to fast from every month: Monday and Thursday from the first week, and the Monday of the second week.’ He also narrated here a similar hadith of the Mother of the Believers Umm Salama that God’s Messenger ﷺ ‘Used to fast the Day of ʿĀshūrāʾ, the first nine days of Dhul Ḥijja, and three days of each month: the first Monday and two Thursdays.’(7). Because this hadith of Umm Salama has come with a great amount of variation in wording and attribution, Nasāʾī focused on its different versions in a subsequent section he called: ‘How Does One Fast Three Days of Every Month, and the Mention of the Variations in the Wording from the Narrators of this Report.’ In this section, he also narrated an abridged version that states, ‘God’s Messenger ﷺ used to fast three days from every month on Mondays and Thursdays.’ This is how Nasāʾī understood the fasting pertaining to Mondays and Thursdays. Nasāʾī then concluded this section by mentioning the report in which God’s Messenger ﷺ recommended to someone that he fast the three middle days of the month, which is another option.
What is the Best Way to Fast Three Days a Month?
We have seen more than one way that one could fast three days a month. Some hadiths mention two Mondays and a Thursday or two Thursdays and a Monday from the beginning of every month. Another hadith mentions the three middle days of the month which are known as the ‘Days of the White Nights’ because the moon is full on these days. Even though the fasting of the middle days is more famous among Muslims today because it is mentioned in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, Imam Mālik said that he did not recognise it as a Sunna.(8) This is because the hadith in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī is the recommendation of God’s Messenger ﷺ to a single person, whereas the hadiths about Mondays and Thursdays are mentioned as representative of his own fasting and the fasting of his wives and Companions. Sometimes a hadith appears in more authentic collections but is less representative of the Sunna than hadiths that appear in less authentic collections (and as I have said, the narrations about Mondays and Thursdays appear in al-Nasāʾī, the third most authentic book after Bukhārī and Muslim, as well as Abū Dāwūd). One can also choose the very last days of the month because God’s Messenger ﷺ recommended to one Companion to do that, but again, that is a recommendation that was given to a single person and was not practiced by as many Companions as choosing three Mondays and Thursdays.(9)
There is also a hadith of Ibn Masʿūd which simply says, ‘God’s Messenger ﷺ used to fast three days from the beginning of every month.’(10) The best way to understand the variation in these hadiths and apply them is to realise that when the Islamic month starts, one might come across a Monday first or a Thursday first. If a Monday comes first, then it would be best to fast the Monday and Thursday of that week, then the following Monday. If a Thursday comes first, then one fasts that Thursday, then Monday and Thursday from the following week. In this way, one would also be acting upon the hadith of Ibn Masʿūd which could be understood to mean that God’s Messenger ﷺ would fast the first three Mondays and Thursdays of every month, allowing both hadiths to be combined. There is of course flexibility in this, and one can always fast on other Mondays or Thursdays, or, if the middle of the month comes and one still has not fasted from these days, one can fast from the three days in the middle of the month. If one misses those, they can fast in the very last days of the month. But it is best that one always attempts to start early in the month, as that is better for guaranteeing that one can fulfil the three days of the month. It is because of all of this flexibility that ʿĀʾisha said, ‘It did not matter to God’s Messenger ﷺ which three days of the month he fasted.’(11)
Imam Tirmidhī narrates that the great imam Sufyān al-Thawrī used to rotate between the days of the week so that each day would get its share of fasts, while also avoiding Fridays because Friday is a day of Eid (celebration and eating and drinking). He would fast three consecutive days a month: in one month he would fast Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and the next month Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. (Tirmidhī narrated this initially with a weak chain as the practice of God’s Messenger ﷺ himself and then noted that this was more authentically narrated as the practice of Sufyān al-Thawrī, not God’s Messenger ﷺ).
Why Mondays and Thursdays?
Why was it a Sunna to prefer Mondays and Thursdays for fasting? Because these were blessed days of God’s good pleasure and forgiveness. Abū Hurayra narrated that God’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘The Gates of Heaven are opened on Mondays and Thursdays, and God forgives every servant who associates no partners with Him, except him who has a grudge against his brother. It will be said, “Delay the forgiveness of these two until they are reconciled.”
There is a popular version of the same hadith of Abū Hurayra above that directly links fasting to these days because of the virtue of these days. Tirmidhī narrated it thus: ‘Deeds are presented (i.e. to God) on Mondays and Thursdays, and I like for my deeds to be presented while I am fasting.’ He added, however: ‘This hadith is ḥasan gharīb on this topic (of fasting) from Abū Hurayra.’ What this means is: this hadith of Abu Hurayra on the virtue of Mondays and Thursdays does not mention fasting in all its other (more correct) versions, and only mentions fasting when it comes through this particular chain of narrators, which is weak. In other words, this is an anomalous addition by a weak narrator (shudhūdh) – a mistake.(12) Tirmidhī never intended his book to be a collection of authentic hadiths but made it clear that he intended to quote every hadith used by the jurists and to comment on their authenticity and show the hidden faults in many of them. The correct virtue is also that the Gates of Heaven are opened and God forgives His servants, not that deeds are presented to God.(13) Despite this, the Tirmidhī hadith, with all its mistakes that Tirmidhī himself intended to point out, is the most commonly cited hadith as a basis for fasting every Monday and Thursday!
What is more correct in this regard is the narration that the young Companion Usāma ibn Zayd used to fast every Monday and Thursday because of their virtue.(14)
What About Fasting Every Monday and Thursday?
As for fasting every Monday and Thursday, Ibn Rajab narrates in Laṭāʾif al-Maʿārif that Anas ibn Mālik criticised those who did this and called them ‘athnāʾiyyūn’ (Monday people) and ‘khamīsiyyūn’ (Thursday people) and said that it was not the Sunna to fast the same days every week. He added that it was narrated from the Companions Ibn ʿAbbās and ʿImrān ibn Ḥuṣayn, and from the Followers al-Shaʿbī and al-Nakhaʿī, as well as Imam Mālik, that they all held it was disliked to fast every Monday and Thursday.(15) Ibn ʿAbbās was asked about fasting these days on a weekly basis and he said, ‘It is disliked for a person to choose days on which he regularly has to fast, that is: that whenever that day comes he fasts it.’(16) ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (aka ʿUmar II) used to fast every Monday and Thursday and then left it and considered it disliked.(17)
On the other hand, we have seen above that the young Companion Usāma ibn Zayd used to fast every Monday and Thursday, but there is a reason for that. At first, Usāma used to fast a number of days consecutively every week until someone asked him why he does not choose Mondays and Thursdays specifically because of what has been narrated about their virtue. Because of this, Usāma decided to make Mondays and Thursdays his regular weekly fasts. What this shows is that he did not fast twice a week because he thought that was the Sunna, but because he had already chosen to go beyond the Sunna of three days a month and had set a number of days each week for fasting. Usāma did not want to stop the good he was doing, but he decided to fast on Mondays and Thursdays rather than on other days. This narration comes from the Muṣannaf of Ibn Abī Shaybah which is the greatest compendium of the fiqh of the Companions and Followers.(18) There is another narration regarding this in Sunan Abū Dāwūd which suffers from two unnamed narrators (‘the servant of Qudāma narrated from the servant of Usāma), and cannot be relied upon. This one does not provide this context at all, and if you read it on its own and assumed it to be authentic, you would be mislead to thinking that the Sunna is to fast every Monday and Thursday.(19) There are also narrations from a handful of Followers that they fasted these days regularly. I hope to have shown, however, that this is not the established Sunna as intended for the Ummah. The imam of the Followers in Basra, Ibn Sīrīn, was asked by Ibn ʿAwn (who succeeded al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī and Ibn Sīrīn to become the Imam of Basra in his age) about fasting Mondays and Thursdays. Ibn Sīrīn said: “I do not know anything wrong with that.”’(20) That is the position of these great early imams of the Sunna: that this was not the Sunna, but there was nothing wrong with it. Similarly, Imam ʿAṭāʾ ibn Abī Rabāḥ, the imam of the Followers in Mecca was asked by his successor Ibn Jurayj, ‘What if I wanted to fast more than three days in a month?’ He said, ‘That is good.’ This very question and the answer to it both show that the concept of fasting every Monday and Thursday did not exist yet in the minds of the questioner and his teacher, or else the question would not have been asked, and the answer would have been different.(31)
The Six Days of Shawwāl
When we understand all of the above, we understand why al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, Mālik, Sufyān al-Thawrī, Abū Ḥanīfa and Abū Yūsuf strongly rejected the concept of fasting six days of Shawwāl to get the reward of fasting the entire year, and why imam Bukhārī did not accept any hadith on the subject.(21) The Sunna as clearly demonstrated in the most authentic hadiths that are agreed upon by both Bukhārī and Muslim, is that one should fast three days of every month outside of Ramadan, and each day will be multiplied by ten in reward, so that one gets the reward of fasting the entirety of the month, every month outside of Ramadan.
Most people instead act upon a hadith in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim narrated on the authority of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī, that God’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘Whoever fasts Ramadan and then follows it with six days from Shawwāl, it is as if he fasted the entire year (in terms of reward).’ There is also a similar hadith that gives the rationale for this: Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal narrated on the authority of Thawbān that God’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘Fasting Ramadan counts for ten months and fasting six days counts for two months (i.e. because of the multiplication of the reward of each good deed by ten), and that makes a year.’
There are multiple problems with these reports, however.
First, the problem of authenticity. As for the hadith in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Tirmidhī considered this hadith authentic but admitted after narrating it that one of the narrators in its chain, called Saʿd ibn Saʿīd, is a weak narrator in terms of his memory according to many experts. Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal and al-Nasāʾī both declared him a weak narrator. Furthermore, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal and Sufyān Ibn ʿUyayna – Imam Mālik’s counterpart and contemporary in Mecca – believed that the more authentic version stopped at Abū Ayyūb the Companion, and that this was his own opinion and ijtihād: he believed the reward of Ramadan will be multiplied by ten, and one needed only six more days to get the reward of two more months.(22) Therefore, this hadith suffers from two faults: one, a weakness in one narrator’s memory, and two, that it is more likely the saying of a Companion.(23) This is why Imams Bukhārī and Mālik avoided this hadith and did not narrate it in their works – and it was a Medinan hadith that Mālik would have known well. Imam Muslim, on the other hand, made his ijtihād and thought it was more likely to be correct as a hadith of the Prophet.(24) These are matters of ijtihād among the experts where they can disagree on whether a hadith goes back to the Prophet or to a Companion when it has been narrated both ways.
As for the second hadith, Ibn Ḥanbal considered it more authentic than the first one in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (because of the problems mentioned above) but still doubted its authenticity.(25) Ṭabarānī rejected it as a faulty narration in his al-Muʿjam al-Kabīr. Nasāʾī narrated it in his larger Sunan work in which he included weak hadiths but removed it for his abridgement (the one we know as Sunan al-Nasāʾī) where he only kept what he thought were authentic hadiths (in other words Nasāʾī did not accept its authenticity either). This is why it was also avoided by Bukhārī, Muslim and the rest of the Six Books.
Second, the problem with the meaning of these reports. How could it be that one need only fast six days outside of Ramadan to get the reward of fasting the whole year, when we know from the undisputedly authentic narrations that the Sunna is to fast three days a month for eleven months for the same exact reason? Six days and thirty-three days are not the same! The belief that only six days are needed is based on the assumption that Ramadan will be multiplied by ten and will count for ten months of voluntary fasts! How could it be that the compulsory Ramadan fast will also give you the reward of fasting voluntarily for most of the year? Yes the Ramadan fast has its own great rewards, but these rewards, as immense as they are, are different from voluntary fasts outside Ramadan, because this is a month in which fasting is obligatory and is not optional. How then could you get the reward of fasting ten optional months by fasting it? You might object and say: why not? The answer is that God’s Messenger ﷺ did not think so in the undisputedly authentic hadith of ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr. To repeat, God’s Messenger ﷺ said to him, ‘It is enough for you to fast three days of every month, for each good deed will be multiplied ten times, and that will be like fasting the entire year.’(26) Clearly in this hadith God’s Messenger ﷺ did not think that the month of Ramadan covered the reward of ten other months too. This more authentic hadith makes more sense: Ramadan is obligatory and is separate. If you want the reward of fasting the rest of the year voluntarily, fast three days from each month as those three days will get you the reward of fasting that entire month. Doing that for eleven months in addition to Ramadan will be as if you fasted the whole year.
The third problem with those reports is that no single scholar from the first three generations of Islam, starting with the Companions, is known to have acted upon them. Imam Mālik’s student Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā wrote in the Muwaṭṭaʾ,
I heard Mālik say regarding the fasting of six days after one has ended the Ramadan fast, that he has not not seen any person of knowledge and understanding (ʿilm and fiqh) fast these days. He said, ‘It has not reached me that anyone from the Salaf ever fasted these days. The people of knowledge dislike it and fear that it is a harmful innovation, and that it will lead the ignorant to connect to Ramadan that which is not connected to it if they saw any scholars even allow it or practice it.’
These are some very strong words. Some contemporary Mālikīs attempt to explain away these words by giving them a different interpretation, claiming that imam Mālik meant to say that these days did not have to be fasted in Shawwāl, but anytime in the year starting from Shawwāl. That is not what the imam said. This is just an attempt by Mālikī jurists to defend his words when they see a hadith in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim that goes against his words, not realising that both Mālik and Bukhārī believed there was a mistake in this hadith.(27) If only these people followed in the footsteps of their imam in dedicating their time to the careful study and analysis of hadith and its sciences rather than just studying his fiqh, they would have understood his fiqh better, and would have known why he said what he said.
Ibn Abī Shaybah’s Muṣannaf – the greatest source for the fiqh of the Companions, Followers, and Followers of the Followers – has nothing in the section on Fast of the Six Days of Shawwal except the hadith of Abū Ayyūb and al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī’s criticism of the practice ‘which was done by some people (non-scholars)’! Tirmidhī, after narrating the hadith of Abū Ayyūb, also quoted al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī’s rejection of the fasting of the practice but noted that some later imams like ʿAbdullāh ibn al-Mubārak accepted it. Ibn al-Mubārak was a student of Mālik, al-Thawrī and Abū Ḥanīfa, all of whom rejected this practice; he is therefore a late person and the first great scholar known to act upon it, whereas early authorities from al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī down to Imam Mālik and al-Thawrī rejected it. As for imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, because he doubted the authenticity of the reports on the topic, he did not call this act a Sunna. His son said, ‘I asked my father about those days that some people fast after Ramadan,’ to which the imam replied, ‘There is no harm in fasting them.'(28) This is clearly not the answer that would be expected if the imam believed this was an established Sunna, and the wording of his son’s question also indicates that this fast was not widely accepted at the time.
As the contemporary hadith expert Shaykh Akram Nadwi wrote, ‘It is not reported of the Companions and Followers that they fasted six days of Shawwāl. Now these are the people who raced and competed for every good deed. If fasting these days had been important they surely would have fasted them and taught others to do the same.’(29)
Unlike Imam Ibn Ḥanbal, Imam Mālik did not think this practice was harmless, but what he feared would happen has now in fact happened and become almost universal! But there is another concern beyond that of Imam Mālik which still holds today, which is that those who fast of the Six Days of Shawwāl think they are getting the reward of fasting the entire year, and therefore do not have the motivation to fast three days a month to get that reward.
As this article has attempted to show, much confusion has resulted from the lack of careful analysis and study of the hadith literature. Unfortunately most people today, jurists included, get their hadith from secondary sources, the books of their madhhabs, rather than the books of hadith, and do not learn the methodology of the authors of these books, being content rather with the science of ‘Hadith Terminology’ (muṣṭalaḥ al-ḥadīth) rather than delving into the hadith methodology of the early experts.(30)
The Sunna of voluntary fasts is to fast three days per month, which is very easy to keep as a regular practice throughout the year. God’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘God loves that which is small but regular.’ Instead, people think that the Sunna is to fast twice a week, which they usually attempt and then give up on. This way they end up not fasting the entire year at all until next Ramadan (except for the days of ʿArafa and ʿĀshūrāʾ). Then they fast the six days of Shawwāl, thinking it will give them the reward of having fasted the entire year, and because of that, there is no longer a motivating force for them to perform the real Sunna that will get them that reward.
If you are one of those people who have already been fasting every Monday and Thursday on a regular basis, māshāʾAllāh, that is amazing, and please do not stop! Remember the case of ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr who wished he accepted the Sunna of fasting only three days a month, but he also understood that it was a Sunna not to leave a practice you have dedicated to God once you have started it. So he kept this practice to the end of his life despite the great difficulty it caused him. Of course you are free to stop this practice if it causes you difficulty, as we are not all expected to have the piety of ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr, and it is certainly not wrong to do so, but there is great reward in sticking to what you have started doing for God’s sake.
If you do not fast every Monday and Thursday, or have tried and failed, then know that God loves actions that are small but constant, and inshāʾAllāh the Sunna of three days a month is something you can easily maintain with the tawfīq of Allah. Now that Ramadan is over, let us take the blessing of fasting with us for the rest of the year. We should try to fast the first three Mondays and Thursdays we come across every Islamic month, but it is flexible. If we miss fasting at the beginning of the month, we can fast the middle three days, or the final three days, or any other three days. May God give us success.
- Agreed upon
- Agreed upon
- It is a common but very problematic practice of Muslims to simply pick a hadith out of any of the Ṣaḥīḥ or Sunan works and assume it is authentic. As can be seen from the example above, however, the likes of Muslim and Nasāʾī quote several versions of each authentic hadith to show the reader which versions are more authentic than others. Even Bukhārī does this but in a more complicated way which someone who has not studied Bukhārī’s own unique methodology in his book would be completely unaware of
- A study of the arrangement of Nasāʾī’s al-Mujtabā (al-Sunan al-Ṣughrā) has found that he placed the more authentic narrations of a hadith under the fiqh section headings where he wanted to teach fiqh, then placed weaker ones in the hadith-variation section headings where he wants to teach variations in hadith chains and wordings (see Nabīl Ziānī, ‘Tartīb al-ḥadīth fī al-Mujtabā li l-Nasāʾī: al-Dilāla al-Isnādiyya wa l-Fiqhiyya,’ Majallat Jāmiʿat Dimashq li l-ʿUlūm al-Iqtiṣādiyya wa l-Qānūniyya, 29:1 (2013), 429-448). In his section on how God’s Messenger used to fast, Nasāʾī placed a hadith of a narrator called Sawāʾ with two alternate attributions: he either heard it from Ḥafṣa or Umm Salama. In this case, Dāraquṭnī in his ʿIlal seems to accept the Ḥafṣa narration (ʿIlal al-Dāraquṭnī 15: 199-200), and Ibn Ḥanbal and Abū Dāwūd only include the Ḥafṣa version in the Musnad and Sunan, respectively. Nasāʾī concludes this section with the hadith of Hunayda ibn Khālid via his wife who heard it from ‘one of the Prophet’s wives.’ Nasāʾī showed the variation in its chains and wording in a separate section. It has been sometimes left without naming the wife, or attributed to either Ḥafṣa or Umm Salama. The most incorrect version attributes it to Ibn ʿUmar instead. Bukhārī, Abū Ḥātim and Abū Zurʿa believe the correct attribution is: Hunayda – his wife – Umm Salama (Bukhārī, al-Ṭārīkh al-Kabīr, 8:248; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, ʿIlal al-ḥadīth, 3:33-34). Nasāʾī ‘s preferred version is likely to be the one he placed in the first section (which he repeated in the subsequent one). I have quoted above both versions that include the correct names at the top of the chain (whether it is Umm Salama or an unnamed wife).
- Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Kāfī fi l-fiqh ʿalā madhhab Ahl al-Madīna (Damascus: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 2013), 1:335.
- Abū Dāwūd
- The hadith was passed down from Abū Hurayra to his student Abū Ṣāliḥ al-Sammān, who passed it down to his son Suhayl ibn Abī Ṣāliḥ. Five students narrated it from Suhayl without mention of fasting: Mālik, Jarīr and ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Dārāwardī (all in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim), Maʿmar (as narrated in Muṣannaf ʿAbd al-Razzāq), and Wuhayb (as narrated in Musnad Aḥmad) Only one student of Suhayl narrated it with the addition of the mention of fasting, and he is the weakest and least reliable of them all : Muḥammad ibn Rifāʿa (as found in Tirmidhī and Ibn Mājah). Here Tirmidhī is saying that this wording is shādh (anomalous), which is one of three ways he used the term gharīb as explained at the end of his book. Those who rely on the definition of gharīb in books of Hadith Terminology would likely miss what he meant here.
- Both Mālik and Muslim pointed this out in their works by placing the more correct version first and the incorrect one below it (note the incorrect wording in both of these does not mention fasting, it is simply that the Gates of Heaven being opened are substituted with deeds being presented to God).
- Compare the narrations Ibn Abī Shaybah’s Muṣannaf with the narration in Sunan Abū Dāwūd.
- Ibn Rajab, Laṭāʾif al-Maʿārif (Damascus: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1999), 246-7.
- Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Muṣannaf, Kitāb al-Ṣiyām.
- Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Muṣannaf, Kitāb al-Ṣiyām.
- Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Muṣannaf, Kitāb al-Ṣiyām.
- There is also another incorrect version of this hadith which Nasāʾī narrated in al-Sunan al-Kubrā but removed for the Sunan al-Ṣughrā where he only kept what he considered to be authentic hadith. In this version, Usāma asked God’s Messenger ﷺ why he fasted every Monday and Thursday. The correct version does not mention this, and in the correct version Usāma reports that God’s Messenger was asked about why he fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, rather than saying that he himself asked him.
- Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Muṣannaf, Kitāb al-Ṣiyām.
- Ibn Rajab, Laṭāʾif al-Maʿārif, 390.
- Ibn Rajab, Laṭāʾif al-Maʿārif, 389.
- Al-Zurqānī, Muḥammad, Sharḥ al-Zurqānī ʿalal muwaṭṭaʾ (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqāfa al-Dīniyya, 2003), 2:271; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istidhkār, Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 3:379.
- Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr attempts to claim that Mālik was somehow unaware of this hadith despite it being from Medina, which is an unfortunate way to try and defend the hadith. How could imam Mālik know of the practice and reject it without knowing where it comes from?
- Ibn Rajab, Laṭāʾif al-Maʿārif, 392-3. Ibn Rajab claimed that Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī authenticated this narration, which appears to be from a rushed reading. Abū Ḥātim was asked about a variation in the chains going back to Thawbān and he stated that both are correct, meaning that both chains are in fact in existence among the hadith narrators, not that they are authentic. This is the usual practice of Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī: he can be referring to a weak hadith but still say that one chain is more correct than the other, in reference not to the overall authenticity of the hadith but to the correctness of the chains as well-known narrations and not mistakes. See the discussion in al-Naḥḥās, Ibrāhīm, al-Jāmiʿ li-ʿulūm al-imām Aḥmad: ʿilal al-ḥadīth (al-Fayyūm, Egypt: Dār al-Falāḥ, 2009), 14:431, n. 2.
- Agreed Upon
- As Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr al-Mālikī said, imam Mālik very strongly condemned the practice – Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr did not attempt to explain away Mālik’s words (Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Kāfī fi l-fiqh ʿalā madhhab Ahl al-Madīna, 1:335).
- al-Jāmiʿ li-ʿulūm al-imām Aḥmad: al-fiqh (al-Fayyūm, Egypt: Dār al-Falāḥ, 2009), 7:472.
- Akram Nadwi, ‘Fasting Six Days of Shawwāl,’ https://alsalam.ac.uk/shawwal/
- The early books on the subject were called ʿulūm al-ḥadīth (hadith sciences), not simply ‘hadith terminology,’ and that should give us a hint to the difference between the two in terms of depth. A result of this is that the Sunna is sometimes misunderstood.
- ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī, al-Muṣannaf, section on Ṣalāt al-Ḍuḥā.
4 thoughts on “The Sunna Fasts”
Salam ‘Alaykum, Sayyidi,
Thanks for the thoroughly researched article.
Could you please share with me a source for your claim that Sunan Nasai is the third most authentic hadith collection after Bukhari and Muslim? I mean, which hadith masters have asserted that? I have never heard anyone say that before, so I was surprised by it.
Wa alaykum assalam. When you study the methodology of these books deeply, instead of just what is written about them, it becomes very clear that Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud never meant for their books to be Sahih at all, especially Tirmidhi which is more of a classification and study of the different hadiths used by the fuqaha. Abu Dawud used whatever was ‘salih’ or worthy of taking into consideration by the mujtahid. Ibn Majah, I don’t need to say, all the experts like Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar and many others noted is full of weak and fabricated hadith. As for Nasa’i, he started with his original al-Sunan al-Kubra which was also full of weak hadith, then he was asked to make an abridgement with only the stronger hadiths, so he made the al-Mujtaba, aka Sunan Sughra, aka Sunan Nasa’i. He took away most of the weak hadith content (but he also took away lots of authentic hadiths because he got rid of many non-fiqh related chapters). This left his book more authentic than the others, and that’s why that statement is true. Also, a recent survey looked at the content of all six books in relation to Bukhari and Muslim, and found that 68% of Nasa’is hadiths are in Bukhari and Muslim, compared with only 47% of Abu Dawud and 46% of Tirmidhi. And to take another indication, if you look at Albani’s classifications, even though I really disagree with his methodology, as he is way too lenient in authenticating hadith (but at least if even he spots a weakness than you know the hadith is weak), he graded 92% of Nasa’i as sahih vs 80% for Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi (which is way too lenient), but found that Tirmidhi has a much higher proportion of very very weak hadith (again because he wanted to comment on pretty much every hadith used by the fuqaha). If you go back to classical scholars, you find Ibn al-Sakan and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi classifying Nasa’i as ‘Sahih’ and claiming that his condition was more stringent than that of Muslim, whereas Abu al-Qasim al-Zinjani claimed that he had a condition which was more stringent than both Bukhari and Muslim. Really, the four books that aimed to be mostly Sahih are Bukhari, Muwatta, Muslim, and Nasa’i (i would grade their authenticity in that order). Muwatta is almost never mentioned simply because most of its content is already in Bukhari and Muslim. Still, Nasa’i, like Muslim, follows each authentic hadith was weaker versions to show which is the most authentic (except Muslim puts the authentic version on top and progressively weaker versions under it, whereas Nasa’i does the opposite and leaves the most authentic narration until last). So when we say that the content is sahih we should only count the foundational content, the main hadiths, not the weaker versions these scholars are including for comparison’s sake.
Assalamu Alaikum. Thanks for this amazing and informative article.
Anyway, Besides The Hadith in Trimidhi (which you mentioned as unreliable) about the reason why fasting on Mondays and Thursdays are recommended ,there are many Sahih hadiths (Sunan Abu dawud book 14, hadith124, book 14,Hadith 114, Sahih Muslim book 13, hadith256, Sunan Al Masai hadith2358 etc) saying that fasting are recommended to be done on those days because our deeds are presented to Allah (SWT) on those days and also because Muhammad (pbuh) was born on Monday and revelation was sent down to him on that day.
Doesn’t that mean depending on the only Hadith of Abu Dawud about “fasting is on Monday and Thursday are Only because of attaining forgiveness of Allah(SWT)” is wrong??
If I’m wrong please correct me showing reliable sources.
Dear Radiah. Please don’t just give me hadith numbers, but quote the hadith or provide a link. The hadiths in Abu Dawud and Nasa’i you quoed regarding Usama have already been discussed at length in the article. The versions you quoted are not Sahih at all (despite Albani’s classification) and I gave the reason why, and I gave the correct version of that hadith. These are just different incorrect versions of a more correct hadith. Once again I say please read my article carefully before quoting such “sahih hadith” (if you are not a hadith specialistt please dont just call a hadith sahih because someone else said so) or telling me I didnt discuss some evidence when I have. As for the hadith in Muslim (and also Abu Dawud no 114), first of all it only mentions Mondays, not thursdays. Second it doesn’t show that the Prophet (pbuh) fasted every Monday, just that this is another reason for Mondays being special. The other hadiths show that the Prophet (pbuh) didn’t in fact fast every single Monday. Finally, this hadith (about him fasting on Mondays for that reason) was considered a mistake by Imam Bukhari, who didn’t include it in his collection because he didn’t believe the narrrator Ibn Ma’bad actually met Abu Qatada so he believed it disconnected. Tirmidhi agreed with him which is why when he quoted it he called it Hasan but not Sahih, and likewiise the hadith master Ibn Adi said the same thing in his al-Kamil. So it’s not definitely Sahih just because it’s in Sahih Muslim, but even if it is Sahih, it doesn’t tshow fasting every single Monday, just another reason for fasting Mondays 3 times a month.