Significance of voluntary fasting in Shawwal

TO fast in the month of Ramadan is mandatory for every Muslim who has attained the age of puberty.

By Abid Ishaq

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Published: Fri 18 Nov 2005, 11:35 AM

Last updated: Wed 18 Jan 2023, 9:35 AM

We know, however, that we can offer voluntarily more of any type of obligatory worship. Such voluntary worship earns very high reward. "Whoever fasts in Ramadan and follows it with six days of Shawwal, it will be as if he fasted for a lifetime." (Narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawood, Al-Tirmidhi, al-Nisaai and Ibn Maajah).

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), explained this when he said: "Whoever fasts for six days after Eid Al-Fitr has completed the year: (whoever does a good deed (hasanah) will have ten hasanah like it)." It is also narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah who reported the Prophet as saying: "Fasting for the month of Ramadan brings the reward of ten like it, and fasting for six days brings the reward of two months, and that is the fasting of the whole year."

Another important benefit of fasting six days of Shawwal is that it makes up for any shortfall in a person's obligatory Ramadan fasts, because no one is free of shortcomings or sins that have a negative effect on his fasting.

On the Day of Resurrection, some of his nafil (voluntary) deeds will be taken to make up the shortcomings in his obligatory deeds, as the Prophet said: "The first thing for which people will be brought to account on the Day of Resurrection will be their salah (prayer). Our Lord, may He be glorified and exalted, will say to His angels although He knows best "Look at the salah of My slave, whether it is complete or incomplete. If it is perfect, it will be recorded as perfect, and if something is lacking, He will say, 'Look and see whether My slave did any voluntary (nafil) prayers.' If he did offer some voluntary prayers, [Allah] will say, 'Complete the obligatory actions of My slave from his voluntary actions.' Then all his actions will be dealt with in a similar manner." (Narrated by Abu Dawood).

Dear readers, although the fasting of Shawwal is not obligatory it is highly recommended as the above Prophetic sayings point out. They represent a unique opportunity for all Muslims to prepare for the rest of the year. Let us see how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), treated voluntary fasts. At no time did the Prophet fast a whole month voluntarily. The only month he fasted from beginning to end was Ramadan. This was to make certain that no one could ever suggest that fasting any particular month could be recommended by the Prophet. Yet, the Prophet used to increase the number of days he fasted voluntarily in the month of Shaaban, which immediately precedes Ramadan. Perhaps this was to prepare himself for the approaching fasting month.

There are certain reports which suggest that the Prophet fasted the whole month of Shaaban, but these are not authentic. It may be that the Prophet fasted many days in Shaaban which could have been interpreted by one or two of his Companions as fasting the whole month. Indeed, that was not the case. There are special occasions on which we are recommended to fast. One such occasion is fasting on the tenth of Muharram.

This was the day when the Muslims were required to fast before God made fasting in Ramadan obligatory to all Muslims. Fasting on that particular day is thus made a matter of choice. Similarly, fasting on the day of Arafat, which immediately precedes the day of the Eid of Sacrifice, is also recommended, except for those who are doing the pilgrimage.

It was on that day during his pilgrimage that the Prophet made certain that all his Companions saw that he was not fasting. Apart from these two, no special occasions are recommended for fasting. That includes fasting on the 27th of Rajab, the 15th of Shaaban and on the Prophet's birthday. None of these days is recommended to fast. Voluntary fasting earns reward and we should encourage each other to fast voluntarily, in accordance with the Prophet's traditions. From the various voluntary fasts mentioned, this month of Shawwal should find us ready to increase in spirituality.

Abid Ishaq can be reached at

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