The Fifteenth night of mid-Sha‘bān
For centuries, Muslims have spent the fifteenth night of the Holy month of Sha‘bān in worship, both individually and collectively. Unfortunately a small group of Muslims have recently condemned such practices and have – in essence – tried to prevent Muslims from engaging in the remembrance of Allāh on this holy night. In their view, the collective worship on this night is a reprehensible innovation (Bid‘a) in Islam and should therefore be avoided at all costs. The aim of this short paper is to show the superiority of this night and the validity of worship on this occasion, both individually and collectively.
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 al-Barā’a or Shabe Barā’at, (Shabe is Persian for night), 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.
2.0 Layla Nisf Sha‘bān in the Qur’ān.
Allāh Almighty states in the Qur’ān:
Indeed we revealed the Qur’ān on a blessed night, verily We are ever-warning. On this night, every matter of wisdom is ordained (44:3-4).
In Tafsīr Rūh al-Ma‘ānī, Imām Ālūsī writes that according to Ikrama and a group of scholars, the night being referred to in these verses is Layla Nisf Sha‘bān, which is also called Layla al-Rahma, Layla al-Mubāraka and Layla al-Barā’a. This is the night when all decisions are decreed for the following year.
Imām Qurtubī writes that the ‘blessed night’ being referred to is actually Layla al-Qadr, though he mentions that it is also said that it is referring to Layla Nisf Sha‘bān.
3.0 Layla Nisf Sha‘bān in the Sunna.
i. Abū Mūsā al-Asharī (may Allāh be pleased with him) reports that the Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:
Allāh Almighty descends on His creation on the middle night of Sha‘bān and forgives His creation, except for the polytheist and the one who shows animosity.
ii. Sayyida Ā’isha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reports that the Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him) spent the middle night of Sha‘bān in extensive prayer to the extent she thought he had died.
iii. In his Sunan (Book of Fasts), Imām al-Tirmidhī reports that Sayyida Ā’isha (may Allāh be pleased with her) narrated that:
‘I missed Allāh’s Messenger (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him) during the night and found him in al-Baqī. He said: ‘Were you afraid that Allāh and His Messenger would deal unjustly with you?’ I said: ‘Allāh’s Messenger, I thought that you had gone to some of your other wives.’ He (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 more abundantly than the hairs of the goats of Banū Kalb.’
This hadīth has also been recorded by Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad and Imām Ibn Māja in his Sunan . 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 (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him).
iv. 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.
4.0 Layla Nisf Sha‘bān from the famous scholars.
i. Imām al-Shāfi‘ī, one of the four great Imāms, said:
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 Eid al-Adhā, the night of Eid 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 Sayyida 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 Eid al-Adhā, the night of Eid al-Fitr, the night of Arafa (9th Dhul al-Hajj) and Layla Nisf Sha‘bān.
ii. Shaykh Abd al-Qādir al-Jilāni wrote in Ghunya al-Tālibīn:
As for the ritual prayer traditional for the night of mid-Sha‘bān, it consists of one hundred cycles, including one thousand repetitions of Sūrah al-Ikhlās. This prayer is called Salāh al-Khayr, and its blessings are many and varied. Our righteous predecessors used to gather to perform it in congregation. It contains much merit and rich reward. It is reported of al-Hasan al-Basrī, may Allāh be pleased with him, that he said, ‘Thirty of the Companions of the Messenger of Allāh related to me that Allāh will look seventy times upon who performs this prayer on this night, and with each glance He will fulfil seventy of that person’s needs, the least of them being forgiveness.’
iii. Regarding the night of mid-Sha‘bān, Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya wrote:
[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…
iv. 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 fadīla (excellence). To stay awake at night and to spend it in worship is a means of reward…
v. 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 [also] Mustahabb.’
5.0 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. 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 is explicitly clear. He encouraged Muslims to keep voluntary fasts as a whole and pinpointed the days when fasting is prohibited, such as Eid. 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).
6.0 Individual or collective worship?
The above section has clearly shown that Layla Nisf Sha‘bān is a night of prayer and vigil. The question remains as to whether worship should be conducted individually or collectively.
Overall, there is no harm in commemorating this night collectively, and this includes the collective and congregational optional (Nafl) prayers. Ibn Abbās (may Allāh be pleased with him) performed Tahajjud prayer behind the Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him) and he also led the mid-morning prayer with Anas, Umm Sulaym and Umm Harām (may Allah be pleased with them).
Moreover, by performing such prayers collectively, the Muslims subject themselves to added mercy and blessings. Abū Hurayra reports that the Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:
Verily for Allāh are appointed angels who circulate the streets seeking the people of Zikr. When they find a community remembering Allāh…they spread their wings to the earthly sky. Their Lord ask, though He knows better: ‘What are My servants saying?’ They reply: ‘they are doing Your Tasbīh, Your Takbīr, Your Hamd and Your Majd…
This hadīth is clear indication that collective Zikr is reported to Allāh and therefore not an act that contravenes Sharī‘ah.
In the famous hadīth qudsī, Allāh says:
And if My servant remembers Me in a gathering, I will remember him in a gathering much better than his.
• In Majmū‘a al-Fatāwa (vol. XXIII), Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya showed no objection to collective worship on this night. He was asked about prayers on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān. He replied:
When he reads on Layla Nisf Sha‘bān alone or in congregation – like our pious ancestors have done – then it is good (Ahsan).
4.0 Is commemorating this night collectively Bid‘a?
Literally, Bid‘a means to initiate or create something upon an unprecedented example. Imām al-Harawī defines Bid‘a in Sharī‘ah when he writes:
وشرعا المحدث الذي لم ينص عليه القران و لا الحديث
In Islamic Sharī‘ah, Bid‘a is a new matter for which there is no textual proof from the Qur’ān or hadīth.
From this definition, we can clearly see that commemorating Layla Nisf Sha‘bān is not Bid‘a, because evidence is to be found for it in the Qur’ān and Sunna.
Some Muslims believe that unless a worship resembles the exact form of the Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him), it is deemed as Bid‘a.
The Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Legal Opinions (in Saudi Arabia) declared that:
All innovations are deviations [from Islam], and there is no such thing as a good innovation.
Such an opinion does not explain why Sayyiduna Umar – when he innovated the practice of performing Salāh al-Tarāwīh collectively in the month of Ramadān – called the act as ‘good innovation’. He called it an ‘innovation’ because there was no example of regular, congregational Salāh al-Tarāwīh in the time of the Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him). He called it ‘good’ because this act fell within the laws of Sharī‘ah.
(i) The Prophet (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him) attached significance to this night, in his sayings and practice. Therefore Muslims are encouraged to do the same, individually and collectively.
(ii) Commemorating this night can only be labelled as a reprehensible innovation if it does not comply with the Qur’ān and Sunna. To the contrary, worship on the mid-month night of Sha‘bān is in compliance with the teachings of Allāh and His Messenger (peace & blessings of Allāh be upon him).
(iii) Owing to the numerous ahadīth on the issue, it is 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.
Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari
BA Principles of Theology, al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt.
MA Arabic and Islamic Studies, Dar al-Ulum Muhammadia Ghawsia, Bhera, Pakistan.
BA Political Science, MPhil Theology & PhD Theology, University of Birmingham.