(1) Is the hadith concerning the fifteen of Shabaan “totally and absolutely weak”?
(2) Is it true that one of the narrators of this hadith was regarded as a fabricator and liar?
(3)While it has been narrated in many authentic Ahadith that Rasulullah (S.A.W.) fasted for most of the month of Shabaan, this cannot be used to prove any special significance for the specific fast of the 15th of Shabaan. He told me that those Ahadith must be explained as they are i.e. for the entire month of Shabaan – not the 15th of the month.
(4) Mufti Sahib has stated; “therefore, it is advisable to fast on the 15th of Shabaan as an optional (nafl) fast” Most people regard this fast as “Sunnah” and not nafl. Is it incorrect to regard this fast as Sunnah?
The fast of the 15th of Shabaan is based on a tradition reported by Sayiddna Ali. Its text runs as follows :
When the Middle Night of Shabaan arrives, you should stand (Praying) in the night and should fast in the day following it.
This Hadith is recorded by Ibn Majah in his Sunan, one of the famous six books of Hadith, and also by Baihaqi in his famous book Shu’ab-al-‘iman’. Both of them have reported it without any comment about its authenticity. But after a critical analysis of its chain of narrators it is found that this tradition is mainly based on the report of Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Saburah whose narrations cannot be relied upon. That is why the scholars of Hadith have declared it as a weak (da’if) tradition. However, the allegation that the narrator of this Hadith i.e. Abu Bakr ibn Abi Saburah, is a fabricator who used to coin forged traditions does not seem correct. In fact, he was The Mufti of Madinah, a well-known jurist and he was appointed as a qadi (Judge) of Iraq in the days of Mansur and was succeeded in this office by Imam Abu Yousuf. He was a colleague of Imam Malik.
Once Mansur, the Abbasi Caliph, asked Imam Malik to refer to three names, and one of them was that of Ibn Abi Saburah. Had he been a fabricator, Imam Malik would have never referred to his name in this context. But despite his high position among the jurists, his memory was not of the standard required for the authenticity of a tradition. That is why most of the critics of Hadith like Imam Bukhari etc. have held him as weak, but did not declare him a fabricator. Only Imam Ahmed is reported to have remarked about him that he fabricates Hadith. But this remark alone is not sufficient to hold him as a fabricator, for two reasons: Firstly Imam Ahmed was born long after him, and his contemporary scholars never held him as such, secondly the Arabic words used by Imam Ahmed are some times used for confusing one tradition with another, and not for deliberate fabrication.
This is the reason why the majority of the scholars of Hadith have held Abu Bakr ibn Abi Saburah as a weak reporter of Hadith, but they did not declare him as a forger or fabricator. Now, coming to his tradition about the fast of the 15th Ramadan it is held by the scholars to be weak but i have not come across an authentic scholar who has treated it as a fabricated (Mawdu) Hadith. There are a number of books indicating the fabricated Ahadith, but this tradition is not included in these books as fabricated.
It is well-known that Ibn Majah consists of about twenty ahadith held to be fabricated. The list of these fabricated ahadith is available, but the tradition in question is not included therein.
Therefore, the correct position is that this Hadith is not fabricated. However, being reported by a weak narrator, it cannot be relied upon in the matter of the injunctions of Shariah. Thus, the fast of the 15th of Shabaan cannot be termed as Sunnah or Mustahab in the strict sense of the term. Nevertheless, it may be advisable to fast in the 15th of Shabaan without taking it as Sunnah for several reasons:
Firstly it is fully established through a large number of Ahadith that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) has emphasized on the merits of fasting in Shabaan, and particularly in the first half of the month. The 15th day of Shabaan, being the last day of the first half, is included in the preferable days for fasting.
Secondly, the merit of the 15th night of Shabaan is established by more than a dozen Ahadith. It means that this night should be spent in prayers and other forms of worship. On the other hand, all the blessed nights which the Muslims are advised to spend in worship are generally followed by fasting on the coming day like in the Laylatul-Qadr, where fasting on the following day is obligatory, or like the first night Zilhijjah where fasting on the following days is optional, rather advisable. On this analogy, too, the 15th night of Shabaan may be followed by an optional fasting on the following day.
Thirdly, the tradition relating to the merits of fasting on 15th of Shabaan is, no doubt, a weak tradition, not competent to prove this practice to be a Sunnah or a formal Mustahabb, but it can be acted upon as a measure of precaution, provided that the practice is not taken as Sunnah or a formal Mustahabb. It is for these reasons that some Ulama and elders have been fasting on the 15th of Shabaan and have been taking it an advisable practice. It is in this context that I had mentioned this fast as advisable in my previous article. But when I revised the article after receiving your question, I now feel that the relevant paragraph may create misunderstanding and it needs clarification. I now amend it in accordance with what is stated above in this article.
By Mufti Taqi Usmani