The eight month of the Islamic lunar calendar is the month of Shaʿbān. The Prophet Muhammad used to fast most of this month because it immediately precedes Ramaḍān.
فَمَا رَأَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ اسْتَكْمَلَ صِيَامَ شَهْرٍ إِلاَّ رَمَضَانَ وَمَا رَأَيْتُهُ أَكْثَرَ صِيَامًا مِنْهُ فِي شَعْبَانَ
Aishah said: “I never saw Allah’s Messenger fasting for a whole month except the month of Ramadan and did not see him fasting in any month more than in the month of Sha’ban.” [Bukhārī #1969]
It is not required to do so but is a recommendation. However, if you are likely to lose energy or motivation for Ramadan then you should not fast, since required fasting in Ramadan is much more important. The Prophet advised people not to burn out before Ramadan by saying:
لاَ يَتَقَدَّمَنَّ أَحَدُكُمْ رَمَضَانَ بِصَوْمِ يَوْمٍ أَوْ يَوْمَيْنِ إِلاَّ أَنْ يَكُونَ رَجُلٌ كَانَ يَصُومُ صَوْمَهُ فَلْيَصُمْ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمَ
“None of you should fast a day or two before the month of Ramadan unless you have the habit of fasting (and it coincides with this day) then you can. ” [Bukhārī #1914]
Is the 15th of Shaʿbān Special?
The 15th night of this month is considered by some Muslims to be special and is given the name laylat ul-barā’ah [the night of salvation]. However, there is no consensus on whether this night is special or not.
One group of Muslim scholars hold that there is nothing special about this night and that it is no different than any other in the same month. Another group of scholars is convinced that the middle of Shaʿbān should be singled out for extra prayers and acts of worship at night. However, these scholars who acknowledged the 15th of Shaʿbān as having special merit also warned people to avoid the many sinful innovations done on this day which became popular in certain regions throughout history.
Evidence for the Significance of the 15th of Shaʿbān
The Prophet Muhammad was reported to have made the following statements:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَنْزِلُ لَيْلَةَ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا، فَيَغْفِرُ لِأَكْثَرَ مِنْ عَدَدِ شَعْرِ غَنَمِ كَلْبٍ
“Allah, exalted is He, descends to the nearest heaven in the middle night of Shaʿbān and forgives more [sins] than the number of hairs on a flock of sheep from the tribe of Kalb [who were known to be shepherds].”
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيَطَّلِعُ فِي لَيْلَةِ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ فَيَغْفِرُ لِجَمِيعِ خَلْقِهِ إِلَّا لِمُشْرِكٍ أَوْ مُشَاحِنٍ
“God looks at His creation during the middle night of Shaʿbān and forgives all of them, except an idolater or one who has hatred.”
إِذَا كَانَتْ لَيْلَةُ النِّصْفِ مِنْ شَعْبَانَ، فَقُومُوا لَيْلَهَا وَصُومُوا نَهَارَهَا، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَنْزِلُ فِيهَا لِغُرُوبِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَى سَمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا، فَيَقُولُ: أَلَا مِنْ مُسْتَغْفِرٍ لِي فَأَغْفِرَ لَهُ أَلَا مُسْتَرْزِقٌ فَأَرْزُقَهُ أَلَا مُبْتَلًى فَأُعَافِيَهُ أَلَا كَذَا أَلَا كَذَا، حَتَّى يَطْلُعَ الْفَجْرُ
“When it is the middle night of Shaʿbān, pray the night and fast the [following] day, because Allah descends therein, with the setting of the sun, to the nearest heaven, and says ‘Is there anyone who will repent so that I may forgive them, is there anyone who will ask for sustenance so that I may provide them, is there anyone being tested so that I might relieve them?’ This continues until dawn.”
Authenticity of the Reports
These three reports, along with others that have not been mentioned, were all individually graded to be weak by scholars of Ḥadīth. The first report was graded weak by most, if not all, scholars. The second report was deemed acceptable to some scholars who did not consider the defects in the narration to be severe. The third report was graded by most, if not all, scholars to either be weak, very weak, or classified as a known fabrication.
Are the Reports Very Weak or Slightly Weak?
There are two methods of dealing with ḥadīths whose chains of narrators are not strong. The first method is to reject the reports as unauthentic. Imam Abu Bakr ibn al-ʿArabī [d. 543 AH] said: “There is no reliable ḥadīth about the middle night of Shaʿbān being virtuous…so don’t pay any attention to it.” Other prominent scholars of Ḥadīth agreed with this view, such as Imam Ibn al-Jawzī [d. 597 AH] and Imam Zayn ad-Dīn al-ʿIrāqī [d. 806 AH]. They argued that it doesn’t matter how many weak reports exist on the subject, as long as the weakness of each of them is significant, they should be ignored.
The second method is to elevate the overall status of the ḥadīth to be authentic because the numerous reports strengthen each other, as long as they are not very weak. Shaykh Nāṣiruddīn al-Albānī [d. 1999 CE] explained it this way: “In summary, the ḥadīth, when all the chains of transmission are considered, is authentic without a doubt [ṣaḥīḥ bi lā rayb]. Its authenticity is established with even fewer than the amount of these reports, as long as it is free from major weakness, as is the case of this ḥadīth…as for what has been reported from the righteous and exacting scholars that there is no authentic ḥadīth concerning the virtue of the middle of Shaʿbān, it should not be relied upon. Anyone who claimed such a thing said that due to their hastiness and not putting in enough effort to trace all the chains of narrations as I have presented.” Shaykh ʿAbdur Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūrī [d. 1925 CE] stated something similar: “Collectively, these hadiths constitute a proof against those who allege that nothing is confirmed with respect to the merits of the middle night of Sha’bān.”
Scholars following this approach held that there is merit to the middle night of Shaʿbān. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah [d. 728 AH] said: “If someone specifically prays during the middle night of Shaʿbān, whether alone or in a small private group like some of the early Muslims [salaf] used to do, then that is good.” Imām Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ ash-Shahrāzūrī [d. 643 AH] remarked: “The middle night of Shaʿbān has merit. It is recommended to spend the night in acts of worship, but individually, not as a group [of people].”
What Not to Do on the 15th of Shaʿbān
The scholars who accepted that this night has special virtue encouraged people to pray during the night and perform other virtuous acts. However, they cautioned people to not engage in practices which have no sound basis in Islam.
Three points were emphasized by these scholars:
- People should not gather in mosques to pray on this night. It should be done privately at home.
- There is no sound basis for the ‘one-thousand prayer’ where surah al-ikhlāṣ is recited a thousand times. This prayer was invented by some people later on and is based on fabricated reports.
- There is no sound basis to specifically fast on the 15th day of Shaʿbān. The ḥadīth concerning that is very weak and is not strengthened by the other narrations.
- Cooking special meals or decorating houses or masjids should not be done.
Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah warned: “The middle night of Shaʿbān has virtue…however, gathering together to observe it in the mosques or offering the ‘one-thousand prayer’ is a sinful innovation.” Mulla ʿAli al-Qārī [d. 1014 AH] comments on the ‘one-thousand prayer’: “It is bizarre to find people who have inhaled the fragrance of knowing the Sunnah [i.e. people of knowledge] being taken in by such nonsense and praying it. This prayer was introduced into Islam after the fourth century and originated from Jerusalem.” Shaykh ʿAbdur Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūri also cautioned: “I have not found any acceptable ḥadīth concerning fasting on the 15th of Shaʿbān. As for the ḥadīth in Ibn Mājah…it is very weak…and another ḥadīth mentioned by Ibn al-Jawzī…was said to be fabricated.” Mufti Taqi Usmani writes: “Some people…regard as necessary…cooking some special type of meal, illuminating houses, mosques or improvised structures. All such activities are…baseless and innovated in the later days by ignorant people…”
There is clearly a difference of opinion among recognized Muslim scholars whether to believe that the 15th night of Shaʿbān has any special virtue or not. While it may be tempting to take the position that this night should be observed ‘just-in-case’ its virtue is established, I incline towards the view of Imams Ibn ul-ʿArabī, Ibn ul-Jawzī, and al-ʿIrāqī that these reports should be rejected. The reason is because accepting them would raise an even more difficult question: why didn’t the Companions of the Prophet unanimously act upon these reports and ensure that they are reliably passed onto the next generation of Muslims? One may argue that accepting the reports and praying on this night is the safest way to go, but I would argue the opposite: that accepting these reports results in an epistemological problem of explaining why something so significant was not acted upon or preserved properly by the Muslim community.
Nonetheless, respectable scholars have held the opinion that the night has virtue, so the average Muslim should follow the scholar(s) whom they trust to be the most qualified on this issue to decide whether to observe this night or not.
Shaykh Mustafa Umar
 The 15th night is between the 14th and 15th day, since the new day technically begins after sunset in the Islamic calendar.
 Sunan at-Tirmidhī #739, 3:107; Sunan Ibn Mājah #1389, 1:443.
 Sunan Ibn Mājah #1390, 1:443.
 Sunan Ibn Mājah #1388, 1:443.
 For a detailed discussion of all the other narrations see Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 3:364-366 and Silsilah al-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah 3:137-138.
 Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 4:117.
 Silsilah al-Aḥādīth aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥah 3:138.
 Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī, 3:367.
 al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā 2:262
 Reference needed.
 al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā 2:262
 al-Asrār al-Marfūʿah fī al-Akhbār al-Mawḍūʿah 439-440.
 Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī, 3:367.
 Taqi Usmani, Islamic Months: Merits and Precepts, p. 78.