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The significance of of Shawwal

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The following Jumuah khutbah was delivered by Imam Rashied Omar at the Town Centre masjid on Friday 24 July.  The sermon focuses on the The Significance of the Lunar Month of Shawwal.

The month of Shawwal is the tenth month in the hijri lunar calendar and has great significance for Muslims. During pre-Islamic times the lunar month of Shawwal was regarded as a cursed month and a month of ill-omen. Some people of that time even avoided getting married during the month of Shawwal believing that marriages during this month would not be blessed.

As with most of the negative and pessimistic aspects of pre-Islamic society the Divine message of Islam came to change these wrongheaded beliefs and negative perceptions of human existence, including that of the month of Shawwal. Islam transformed these superstitious ideas and beliefs into positive life-affirming philosophies. This life-affirming message of Islam is eloquently illustrated in the following verse of the Glorious Qur’an in Surah al-Anfal, Chapter 8 verse 24, where Allah the Sublime, exhorts Muslims in the following manner:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا

اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ

إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ

O Believers,
Respond to the call of Allah, and the Messenger,
Whenever He calls you unto that which will give you LIFE (Q8:24)

As a result of this transformation the month of Shawwal, which had a negative image in pre-Islamic society, began to take on a positive image, which Muslims have since embraced and celebrated.

Four Ways in which Shawwal is Significant

In this khutbah I would like to reflect on this positive significance of the lunar month of Shawwal. I shall provide at least four ways in which the month of Shawwal is significant for Muslims.

First, in order to signify the incorrectness of the pre-Islamic belief that marriages contracted in the month of Shawwal was cursed the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) chose to marry Sayyidatina `Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) during the month of Shawwal. The wrong belief of the pre-Islamic people that Shawwal was a cursed month of ill – omen was clearly disproved by this marriage since the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) marriage to Lady `Aisha became a great beacon of love and affection for all married couples to emulate.

Second, one of the most meritorious aspects of the month of Shawwal, is that `Id-al-Fitr, is celebrated on the first day of Shawwal. This joyous and festive day, celebrated by the Muslim ummah is a day on which we give thanks to Allah, and celebrate our accomplishments of the blessed month of Ramadan. As Allah, the Sublime exhorts us in the Glorious Qur’an, in Surah al-Baqara, Chapter 2, verse 185:
وَ لِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ

وَ لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللّٰهَ عَلٰى مَا هَدٰ كُمْ

وَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُوْنَ

He (Allah) desires that you complete
the prescribed number of fasting days
And that you extol and glorify Allah for having guided you,
That perhaps you may render thanks and gratitude unto Him (Q2:185)

Third, the month of Shawwal is also significant because it marks the onset of the hajj season. Allah, the Sublime, declares in the Glorious Qur’an in Surah-al-Baqarah, Chapter 2, verse 197:

الْحَجُّ أَشْهُرٌ مَعْلُومَاتٌ

The Hajj/Pilgrimage shall take place
during the well-known months (Q2:197)

In a prophet tradition (hadith) recorded in the authentic collection of Imam al-Bukhari the companion, `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) informs us that the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) declared that the well-known months referred to in this Qur’anic verse (ayah) are the lunar months of Shawwal, Dhul Qa’idah and the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah.

Some early Muslim scholars, such as `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud and `Abdullah ibn `Umar, Mujahid and az-Zuhri, however, held that the months of hajj are the tenth month of Shawwal, the eleventh month of Dhul Qa`ida and the entire twelfth month of Dhul-Hijjah.

These three lunar months were well-known to the pre-Islamic Arabs as the months during which the hajj took place. This was known since the days of Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il (peace be upon both of them) and the Glorious Qur’an reaffirms their significance. The month of Shawwal is thus the first of the three months named as “Ash-hur al-Hajj” (i.e. the months of hajj).

Fourth, the month of Shawwal is the only other month in the Muslim lunar calendar in which fasting is recommended. According to a well-known prophetic tradition (hadith) recorded in the collection of Imam Muslim, related by the companion, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (may Allah be please with him) the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) advises us as follows:
عن أبي أيوب – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ

– أن رَسُول اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيهِ وَسَلَّمَ – قال:

(( من صام رمضان ثم أتبعه ستًا من شوال كان كصيام الدهر ))
رَوَاهُ مُسلِمٌ.

“Whosoever fasts during the month of Ramadan
and then follows it up with six days of fasting of Shawwal
will be rewarded as if he or she had fasted the entire year”
(Narrated by Imam Muslim)

According to the Shafi’i and Hanafi schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madh-habs) it is preferred that these days be fasted consecutively, i.e. the six days immediately following the celebration of ‘Id-al-Fitr.

According to Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal however one may choose to fast on any six days of the blessed month of Shawwal, as neither practice is preferred over the other. This is also the prevailing view (jamhur) of many contemporary Muslim scholars on the basis of the evidence.

In response to the above prophetic tradition I encourage those of us who have not already adopted this prophetic recommendation (sunnah) to consider doing so in the remaining days of this month of Shawwal. Fasting in the lunar month of Shawwal provides us with a wonderful opportunity of following up on our great spiritual accomplishments of the month of Ramadan and cultivates in us the discipline of voluntary fasting (siyam al-tatawwu’).

As we have experienced during the month of Ramadan, fasting is one of the best forms of worship and spiritual disciplines, which purifies the individual, and nourishes our souls and draws us closer to our Creator. Voluntary fasting (siyam al-tatawwu’) has an even greater effect since it is undertaken by the free will of the believer. This is why the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) loved fasting so much.

Furthermore, it is my considered view that the practice of fasting in Shawwal could also serve as a wonderful way of assisting those of us who may have missed some fasts during Ramadan, as a result of illness, menses or traveling to make up for their lost fasts. It is highly recommended to fulfill the qada or missed fasts of Ramadan as soon as possible, since this is an obligation and debt owed to Allah and this takes precedence over voluntary (sunnah) fasting.

By encouraging the entire family to fast in solidarity with women and others who may have qada fasts to make up, it would be a wonderful gesture so that such family members do not feel alone in making up lost fast days. Moreover such a gesture would surely help in strengthening our family bonds.

Islam a Life-affirming Religion of Moderation

Some scholars have understood the hadith recommending fasting for six days in Shawwal to imply that the fasting of Ramadan is the equivalent of fasting for ten months and the fasting of the six days of Shawwal is the equivalent of two months, which equals a full year of fasting. I would like to propose yet another reading and understanding of this hadith. Such an interpretation has huge implications for the way in which we understand Islam and our responsibilities as Muslims. Why did the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) only recommend that we fast for six days, not more? What is the hikmah (wisdom) behind this advice?

It is clear that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is not exhorting us to fast the whole month of Shawwal, as was the case for Ramadan but only six days of Shawwal. And if we want to be mathematical about it and you divide 6 days by 30 days it means that you only need to fast for 20% of the month.

What lessons can we derive from this guidance from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)?

There are two key lessons we can learn from this. First, Ramadan is an especially blessed month and our fasting and other acts of worship have to be greater and intensified during this month. As such we should not expect that our levels of devotion should be the same or as intense during Shawwal or any of the other lunar months as it should be in the blessed month of Ramadan. So if we hope, as some of us sometimes do, that the whole year should be like Ramadan then this is unrealistic and against the positive vision and life-affirming message that Islam has for its followers.

Second, and more important for my purpose in this khutbah, is that this hadith teaches us something very significant about our human nature. Allah, the Sublime, who has created us understands our frail nature and does not impose on us a greater burden than that which we can bear.

The Glorious Qur’an repeatedly exhorts Muslims to follow the path of moderation (ummatan wasatan), and censures those whose disposition is towards excesses in acts of devotion. For this tendency results in unnecessary hardships for human beings. Allah’s commands in this regard are very explicit:

يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ

Allah desires ease for you, and he does not desire hardship for you

يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُخَفِّفَ عَنْكُمْ وَخُلِقَ الْإِنْسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

Allah desires to lighten your burden, for the human being was created weak (Q4:28)

وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ

It is not Allah’s desire to place a religious burden upon you

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) understood Allah’s desire for ease, and knew that it is impossible for the human being to maintain the same levels of devotion and spirituality that was attained during the month of Ramadan, and so asks us only, if you will, to live up to a modest twenty percent of the commitment we have given during the month of Ramadan. This then does not place an undue burden on us. This principle of ease and moderation is an important lesson that sometimes eludes Muslims and we ignore it at our own peril.

In conclusion, since the month of Shawwal is the start of the hajj season, it is also a time during which we bid farewell to those of our relatives and friends who have decided to respond to the invitation by their Lord to undertake the sacred journey of the pilgrimage (hajj).

Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time. We pray and make du’a that Allah, the Hearer and Acceptor of all sincere supplications, grants the pilgrims (hujjaj) a safe journey to al- Masjid al- Haram in Makkah and all the other sacred places, grants them good health and the strength to fulfill all of the rites (manasik) of the hajj, and grants them an accepted pilgrimage and forgiveness of their trespasses (hajj mabrur wa dhanb maghfur).

One of the great contemporary Indian scholars of Islam, Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (may Allah bless his soul) used to call the season of hajj as:
“Rabi’ al-Hubb wa al-Hanan”
(the season of love and affection).

Let us embrace and celebrate this season of hajj (musimul hajj), as a season of love, peace, unity and piety for all Muslims and indeed all of humanity.

Supplication for hujjaj

اَللّٰهُمَّ اجْعَلْنَا حَجًّا مَّبْرُوْرًا ،
O Allah! Grant our pilgrims an accepted hajj

وَسَعْيًا مَشْكُوْرًا ،
And let their strivings and endeavours be rewarded

وَذَنْبًا مَّغْفُوْرًا
And forgive them their sins and trespassers

وَعَمَلًا صَالِحًا مَّقْبُوْلًا ،
And accept their good deeds

وَتِجَارَةً لَّنْ تَبُوْرَ ،
And let not their assets perish

يَا نُوْرَ النُّوْرَ ،
O Light upon Light

يَا عَالِمَ مَا فِى الصُّدُوْرِ ،
O Knower of all that is in our hearts

اَخْرِجْنَا يَا اَللّٰهُ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ اِلَى النُّوْرِ ،
Lead us forth from Darkness unto Light

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