It is this element of willing obedience and compliance with an order which is in conflict with our basic needs that gives fasting its unique place among all acts of worship. To fast in the month of Ramadan is compulsory to every Muslim who has attained the age of puberty. We know, however, that we can offer voluntarily more of any type of obligatory worship. Such voluntary worship earns very high reward. In the few articles we have recently carried on fasting, references were made to voluntary fasting. This needs discussion in more detail.
Since fasting is such a great act of worship that God singles it out for a special reward which is measured only by Godâs kindness and generosity, some people may wonder that the surest way of earning admission into heaven is to fast voluntarily, as frequently as possible. What if someone is able to fast day after day and year after year. To such a question we reply that it is against the Prophetâs (peace be upon him) guidance. We have a Hadith in which the Prophet reproaches Abdullah ibn Amr for fasting continuously for long periods. In fact, the Prophet spoke against such fasting on more than one occasion. His own guidance was that he himself used to fast some days and not to fast on others. The maximum of voluntary fasting was to fast on alternate days. He described this as the best one can achieve since it was the practice of the Prophet David.
Having said that, it is important to know which days are recommended to fast. The first thing that comes to mind here is that the Prophet recommends us to fast six days after the end of Ramadan. We obviously cannot fast on the Eid day. The prohibition is for several reasons, one of which is that fasting on Eid day could be seen as an extension of Ramadan, when no one can add to Ramadan any extra days. Although most scholars agree that the six recommended days should be in the month of Shawwal, some scholars argue that this is not necessary. The reason why six days have been chosen is that the general rule for the rewarding of good actions gives every such action 10 times its worth. Hence, if one fasts the month of Ramadan, he is rewarded for fasting 10 months. Six more days of fasting earn the reward of fasting sixty days or two more months. That makes up for the whole year.
The Prophet also recommends us to fast three days of each lunar month. Again the reason for choosing only three days is the multiplicity of reward by ten times the value of the action. Thus, three days earn the reward for fasting the whole month, and if one keeps up this habit, he is rewarded for fasting the whole year. Scholars have different preferences for which days of the month to fast. Some suggest that the beginning of the month is better, some the end, while others suggest that one day in every ten is more appropriate. If one makes these three days the middle days of the month, starting with the thirteenth, he fulfils another recommendation by the Prophet who speaks favourably of fasting the three âwhiteâ days. The middle days of the month are considered to be the âwhiteâ days because the night is made light by the moon which is seen in its fullness.
The fact is that any three days in the month will earn the same reward. The only proviso that can be given in this context is that one should not choose Friday for fasting unless he joins it with fasting either the preceding Thursday or the following Saturday. Muhammad ibn Abbad reports that he asked Jabir, a companion of the Prophet, whether the Prophet spoke against fasting on Friday, and he answered in the affirmative. (Related by Al-Bukhari. Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith, one of the Prophetâs wives, reports that the Prophet once entered her home on a Friday on which she was fasting. He asked her: âWere you fasting yesterday?â She answered in the negative. He asked her then whether she intended to fast the following day and she again answered in the negative. He told her that in this case she should end her fast without completing the day.â The reason is that Friday is normally a day of rest and festivity. Hence, it should not be singled out for voluntary fasting.
There are also suggestions that fasting on Mondays and Thursdays is recommended. This view is based on some reports which quote the Prophet as recommending that. This may be the case, but the Prophet used to fast voluntarily on any day. Apart from singling out Friday in the preceding fashion, any day of voluntary fasting is a praiseworthy act of worship. The Prophet fasted on all days. One of his companions suggested that any time he wished to see the Prophet fasting, he saw him doing so. That obviously means on different occasions. Moreover, Ayesha answers a question on whether the Prophet selected any particular day for fasting, and she answered in the negative. He used to fast on any day in the week.
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 is immediately before 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 Prophetâs 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 Sunnah of the Prophet. Perhaps three days every month is the ideal, since it gives us the reward of fasting the whole year round. Alternatively six days during the year is good enough.