Six days of voluntary fasting during Shawwal entitles a believer for the reward of a whole year of fasting
Mu’athah quotes Ayesha, the Prophet’s wife, as saying: “Allah’s messenger (Pbuh) used to fast three days of every month.” I asked: “Which days these were?” She answered “He did not care which days.” (Related by Ahmad, At-Tirmithi, Ibn Majah and others).
Commentary by Adil Salahi
I was once visiting some people on the second day of Eid-ul-Fitr when one of the guests started criticizing people who fast on the second and third days of the Eid accusing many of them of showing off. The main point in his argument was that if people wanted to do voluntary fasting, they should not go around visiting people to congratulate them on the occasion of Eid and telling them that they are fasting. They should either stay at home or at least delay fasting until the Eid is over.
It is well known that we are strongly recommended by the Prophet to fast six days of the month of Shawwal, which immediately follows Ramadan. While the considered opinion of the overwhelming majority of scholars is that there is no restriction on which days of the month one chooses for fasting, or whether they are made consecutive or separate, there are one or two reports which advise that it is better to begin them on the second day of the month, that is, allowing only one day of non-fasting and resuming the fast the second day, making the six days consecutive. These reports do not carry any great measure of authenticity. The weightier opinion is any six days of the month are equally good to fast, with the exception of the first day, i.e. the Eid day, when fasting is forbidden.
There are Hadith which suggest that the Prophet used to fast on three days of each lunar month and mostly these days were “the white days” when the moon appears in its fullness
Our friend’s criticism is sound on the point of combining the fast on the two latter days of Eid with visiting many people to congratulate them on that occasion. People are bound to offer some hospitality, a cool drink, coffee or sweets, if nothing more. A fasting person will have to apologize to his hosts time after time, until they realize, even if he does not say it explicitly, that he is fasting. Thus he publicizes an act of worship he is better advised to keep secret. As it is the case with all voluntary worship, voluntary fasting is better kept private, an affair between the person concerned and Allah.
On the other hand, our friend’s criticism is not valid at all if it relates to fasting six days of the month of Shawwal. For this is a definite Sunnah, recommended to us by the Prophet. It is authentically reported on the authority of Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari that the Prophet has said: “He who fasts Ramadan and six days of Shawwal is like one who fasts all his life.” (Related by Muslim, Ahmad, At-Tirmithi and others). This is further explained by a Hadith reported by Thawban, the Prophet’s servant, which quotes the Prophet as saying: “He who fasts Ramadan has fasted one month which is equivalent to ten months, and the fasting of six days after the (obligatory) fast has ended completes the fasting of the whole year.” (Related by Ahmad, An-Nassaie, Ibn Majah and others). The Prophet is explaining here that when we fast one month and six days we get a reward equivalent to the fasting of the whole year. He works on the basis which is stated very clearly in the Quran that “a good deed is rewarded 10 times its value.” Fasting the month of Ramadan earns us the reward of fasting ten months, and the reward for fasting six days of Shawwal equals the reward for fasting 60 days, or two months, which makes up for the whole year. It is well known that the reward for fasting is very great indeed. Allah allocates to fasting a special reward because it is an act of worship which admits no hypocrisy. It is purely dedicated to Allah. One cannot show off with fasting. No one can boast about it. Everyone knows that if he goes around stating that he is volunteering the fasting of a day or two or whatever, he wipes out his reward because he is making use of it to enhance his reputation in his community.
While the 10 times reward is the basic standard for any virtuous deed, the fasting can earn a reward even 700 times because it is very special to Allah for its purity
We know, however, that Allah may increase the reward for any good deed much more than ten times its value. There are indications in the Quran and in the Sunnah that Allah may multiply the reward of any particular deed by 700 times or even more. His generosity and compassion has made the ten times multiplication as the basic standard of rewarding a good deed. It is on the assumption of a reward given at this basic rate that the Prophet makes the equation that fasting Ramadan and six days of Shawwal is equivalent to fasting the whole year. It is needless to say that Allah may increase that reward to anyone who works hard at making his fast clean, pure and fully dedicated to Him.
In fact, the idea of multiple reward for good deeds was very much present in the Prophet’s mind and he was very keen to impart the same feeling to his followers. Perhaps nothing would have achieved that more than giving a Muslim the feeling that by fasting a small number of days they get the great benefits of fasting as well as a reward which is so great that it equals fasting all the year round. He has recommended us fasting three days of every month and we have several Hadiths to indicate that if we do so we achieve that particular result. We can then enjoy the relaxation of not fasting while earning the reward of fasting. To a Muslim, all this is very real.
Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet, was travelling with a group of people. They stopped to rest and prepared some food to eat. They sent someone to call him but he was praying. When he finished, the messenger asked him to come over to eat, but he said that he was fasting. When they were about to finish their meal, Abu Hurairah joined them. They asked him again to eat and he ate. Amazed, they looked at the man they sent to him thinking that he had told a lie. He said: “why do you look at me like that? By Allah he said that he was fasting.” Abu Hurairah confirmed that and said that Allah’s messenger (Pbuh) said: “The fasting of the month perseverance (i.e. Ramadan) and three days of every month is the same as fasting for life. I have fasted three days at the beginning of this month, so I am fasting because of Allah’s relaxation, yet I am fasting because of Allah’s multiplication of my reward.”
Abu Hurairah was not playing a trick on his fellow travellers. Far be it from him to do so. He simply wanted them to learn something he had heard from the Prophet and to give it a practical aspect. Having done it this way, he was certain that his fellow travellers would never forget it and would be keen to follow his example in taking the Prophet’s guidance literally.
Several Hadiths confirm that the Prophet has recommended us to fast three days of every month. Mu’athah quotes Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, as saying: “Allah’s messenger (Pbuh) used to fast three days of every month.” I asked: “Which days these were?” She answered “He did not care which days.” (Related by Ahmad, At-Tirmithi, Ibn Majah and others).
This Hadith is clear that any three days will do as long as this worship is dedicated purely to Allah. There are other Hadiths which suggest that the Prophet habitually fasted on the middle days of the month which are called “the white days” because the moon appears in its fullness, making the night very bright indeed. Abu Tharr quotes the Prophet as saying: “He of you who wants to fast three days in a month, let him fast the three white days.” (Related by Ahmad, An-Nassaie and others). Although it may be easier for one to make a habit of fasting the three middle days of the month, the Hadith attributed to Aishah makes it absolutely clear that the Prophet relaxed that whenever a relaxation was necessary.