Abu Ayyub al-Ansaaree relates that Allaahs Messenger (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and then follows it with six days in Shawwaal, it wll be as if he had fasted the year through." (Muslim) A Muslim has days of the previous Ramadan fast to make up. Maybe he had been sick for a few days or maybe he had to travel. A woman almost always has days to make up, since she cannot fast when she is on her monthly period. A Muslims who has days like these to make up, is he allowed to observe voluntary fasts before doing so? This is a question that scholars have always disagreed about.
They have expressed three opinions on this matter:
1. It is forbidden to observe a voluntary fast before making up all the days one has missed in Ramadan. This is the ruling adopted by the Hanbalee school of law.
2. It is disliked to do so, but not prohibited. This is the ruling adopted by the Maalikee and Shaafiee schools of law.
3. It is permissible to do so. This is the view of the Hanafee school of law. It is also an alternative opinion expressed by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal that was favored by the Hanbalee jurist Ibn Qudaamah. What appears to me to be the most correct view is that it is permissible to observe the voluntary fasts that have specific time frames for their observance before making up the days of Ramadan that one has missed, as long as one has a reasonable belief that he will be able to make up those Ramadan fasts later on.
These include the fast of Arafah, the fast of Ashuraa, and fasting six days in Shawwaal. It is best to make up the Ramadan fasts first if possible, but it is not necessary to miss these valuable Sunnah fasts because one has yet had a chance to make up those missed Ramadan fasts.
The matter is a flexible one, and the following evidence supports this flexibility:
1. The basic ruling for making up the missed fasts of Ramadan is that there is no fixed time for it. Allaah says: "(Fast) for a certain number of other days." (Q2[al-Baqarah]: 184) This shows that the days for making up the missed Ramadan fasts are not specified. Moreover, this verse does not indicate that voluntary fasts are prohibited until these missed days are made up.
2. All the evidence that encourages voluntary fasting is general and does not come with such a restriction. For example, when the Prophet (sallaallahu alayhi wa sallam) instructed his Companions to observe the fast of "Ashuraa", he simply did so without qualifying it with any provisions or restrictions.
3. Aishah relates: "I used to have days from Ramadan which I never managed to make up before the following Shabaan due to my being busy with Allahs Messenger (sallaallahu alayhi wa sallam)." (Muslim) If we allege that it is absolutely necessary for a Muslim to make up the missed days of Ramadan before offering any voluntary fast, this means thatAishah (RA) must never have observed a voluntary fast! She never would have been able to fastAshuraain the month of Muharram.
She would never have been able to fast the day of "Arafah in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah. She would never have observed six days of fasting in the month of Shawwal, This is because all of these fasts take place before the following month of Sha baan. It is inconceivable that a Companion of the stature of "Aishah (RA) would neglect all of these fasts. Answering an Argument Specifically Prohibiting the Six Days of Shawwaal Some scholars have argued that as evidence that the special blessings mentioned in the hadeeth of Abu Ayyub al-Ansaaree (RA) for fasting six days in Shawwaal can only be realized by someone who has completed all of the Ramadan fasts.
They point out that the hadeeth states: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and then follows it with six days in Shawwaal, it will be as if he had fasted the year through." They argue that a person who still has days to make up from Ramadan has not truly fasted "the month or Ramadan". There are three ways to answer this argument:
1. It can be said of whoever fasts most of the month that he has "fasted the month". The proof for this is that "Aishah (RA) said: "The Prophet (sallaallahu alayhi wa sallam) never used to fast more than he did in the month of Sha baan. He used to fast all of Sha ban." (Bukhari)
We know that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not fast every single day of Sha baan, because the narration in Saheeh Muslim reads: "... He used to fast all of Sha baan, except for a little." We also have where Aishah (RA) said: "... so much so that he would observe itikaaf in the first ten days of Shawwal" She said this in spite of the fact that the Prophet (sallaallahu alayhi wa sallam) definitely did not observe itikaaf on the first of those ten days, since that is the day ofId al-Fitr.
The same can be said for the hadeeth wherein "Aishah said: "He used to fast the ten days of Dhu al-Hijjah" in spite of the fact that the Prophet (sallaallahu alayhi wa sallam) definitely did not fast on the tenth of those ten days, since that day is Id al-Adhaa. This manner of speaking is common in Arabic. It is common usage to refer to the majority of something as "all of it". Of this reason, we have two general axioms in Islamic Law: "Most of something can have the same legal status as all of it. "Most of something can stand for all of it. The Hanbalee jurist al-Bahutee asserts: "Most of something is handled in the same manner as all of it in the majority of Islamic legal rulings." A person who has fasted Ramadan and fully intends to make up whatever days he has justifiably missed, he has the same reward as the person who fasted the whole month without missing any days.
Therefore, excluding him from the generality of the statement Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan" is unjustifiable. If we are to insist that it is absolutely necessary for a Muslim to make up the missed days of Ramadan before observing the six days in Shawwaal, this will force many Muslims to lose out on this important voluntary fast and its immense benefits. This is especially the case for women who have to miss a considerable number of days in Ramadan - six, seven, or even more - on account of menstruation.
We must keep in mind that the same woman will be unable to fast in the month of Shawwaal for six or seven days for the same reason. We must also consider that she will not be able to fast the day of Id and might have to travel or engage in other activities that are customary in the days following Id. How will she be able to make up all the missed days of Ramadan and still observe an additional six days in Shawwaal? It will be very difficult for her to do so.
Therefore, we say to this woman: Make up the missed days of Ramadan first if it is easy for you to do so. However, if that is something difficult for you, then you should rather observe the six days of Shawwaal first and make up the missed days of Ramadan later on. This conforms to the flexibility and ease that is part of Islamic Law, especially with respect to voluntary worship. And Allah knows best.
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited