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Knowing Allah


in islam we don't base our faith on hearsay. muslims believe that islam is perfect and that it is the natural religion of mankind which has existed since the beginning of time.

they believe that prophet muhammad was the seal of all the prophets who had gone before him and that the quran is the final revelation to mankind of allah himself. the message revealed in the quran is for all people and for all time.


the sources of our belief and our faith as muslims, then, are twofold. they are the quran and the sunnah of the prophet muhammad. the quran has remained the same since it was first revealed to prophet muhammad and it has never been altered, not even by one word, since that time.

there exists, too, a very precise science of hadith (or sayings of the prophet), which is able to trace the sayings of the prophet through all the people who claimed to have heard him say them. if even one person in this chain of narration is in any way to be doubted, then that particular hadith is believed to be weak and not a reliable source upon which to base our faith.


if one person claimed to have heard someone else quoting what they claimed the prophet had said, we need to be very clear about who these people are, to identify the authenticity of what they say. otherwise our faith would be based on hearsay.


all of this, then, is very important to bear in mind when we talk about the 15th of the month of shaban, the lunar month just before ramadan. there exist some very weak narrations of hadiths which claim that prophet muhammad said this or that about the 15th of shaban.


because we cannot be sure that the chain of narration is authentic, we cannot say with certainty that prophet muhammad said such things. as a result, we have very little to base our claims on, if we are going to make special claims about that day.


there are those who claim that the 15th of shaban is a very special day because prophet muhammad made it so, and they have special ways of celebrating it and have special prayers to be said on it. islam is perfect, though, and we cannot base our faith and worship on anything less than perfection.


anything less, would be innovation, or making things up and adding things to islam which are not really of islam. let me give a trivial example to explain the point. say, for example, that someone claimed prophet muhammad  to have drunk two cups of coffee every day before praying the midday prayer. imagine that they spread this abroad and copied this example, so that all muslims did the same. if there is no clear proof  that he did such a thing, then adding such practices to islam would be to make it a human thing, not a divine thing.


remember, almighty allah says in the quran:


{this day have i perfected your religion for you, completed my favor on you and chosen for you islam as your religion.}  (al-ma'idah 5:3)


the vast majority of muslim scholars, then, are of the opinion that the hadiths regarding the 15th of shaban are, at best, weak and therefore not to be relied upon. turning the 15th of shaban into a special public celebration for muslims is to be regarded as innovation.


the great muslim scholar of the science of hadith, al-bukhari, declared as weak the hadith which says,


"almighty allah descends to the lowest heaven on the 15th night of shaban and forgives such number of people that is more than the number of the hairs of the sheep of banu kalb (a tribe that has a great number of sheep)."

another hadith declared to be weak is one attributed to lady aishah, who is said to have claimed that the prophet muhammad said, "this is the 15th night of shaban. almighty allah turns towards his servants on the 15th of shaban and forgives those who ask for his forgiveness, grants mercy to those who ask for it, and delays (punishing or bringing to account) the evil people."

so is it wrong, then, to have special prayers and vigils during this night? well, in order to answer this, we need to ask ourselves why people would do such a thing. what would be their reason?


is it because they believe someone heard someone say that someone said the 15th of shaban is important? or is it because they gather to come closer to allah almighty and to purify their hearts and their intentions in preparation for the holy month of ramadan?


if it is the first, then it is to be avoided. if it is the second, then it is something that all muslims can do.


prophet muhammad did say this about the month of shaban,


"this is a month that people usually forget about between rajab and ramadan, and it is a month in which people's deeds are presented to allah, so i like that my deeds are presented while i am fasting." (an-nasa'i)


 other than that, we have no strong hadiths in which he said anything else about the month or the worship to be performed in it.

our prophet used to fast regularly on mondays and thursdays. he also used to fast on the 13th, 14th and 15th of every month. to copy his example in this regard is a good thing. let us be clear that there are, however, no special prayers to be said on this day, nor is it an obligation upon muslims to fast on this day or to attend vigil prayers in the mosque on this day.


now that we are clear on this matter, and have not turned the 15th of shaban into something which it is not, we can ask ourselves if it is permissible to fast and to do extra prayers and to perform vigils on this day. of course we can, if we choose to.


if fasting some extra days before ramadan is going to help us to fast more sincerely during that special month, then it is a commendable thing to do so. if saying extra prayers, in addition to the obligation of our five daily prayers, is going to help us to be better muslims, then of course we can do so. and if praying with our brothers and sisters in the mosque is going to bring our community closer together and closer to our creator, then of course we can do so.


what is important is not that we go through the motions of performing actions, as if they will somehow magically bring us rewards, but that we purify our hearts and bow down in prostration before the maker of the heavens and the earth and everything that is in between.


with just two weeks to go before ramadan begins, the 15th of shaban is as good a time as any to begin once more to take seriously how we live as muslims.


let us not turn it into an empty ritual, devoid of meaning, but let us long with all our hearts to become closer to allah almighty.


by doing this, insha' allah, he will reward our fasting in ramadan with the greatest of all rewards, the forgiveness of our sins and the reward of heaven itself.



idris tawfiq is a british writer who became muslim a few years ago. previously, he was head of religious education in different schools in the united kingdom. before embracing islam, he was a roman catholic priest. he now lives in egypt.

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