This article discusses the subject of the six fasts of Shawwāl and its related Fiqh issues which would be of interest to those engaging in this virtuous deed.
There are a number of different routes to the ḥadīth with two different wordings with regards to the analogy of time mentioned in the text. The first of them and the most popular compares it to al-Dahr (more on that later) whilst the other compares it more specifically to one complete year:
From Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu) that he narrated that the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated: “Whoever fasts Ramaḍān and then follows it up with six from Shawwāl, it is like fasting al-Dahr.” Narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawood, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah
Ibn Mājah (no. 1715) reports a more specific wording for the timing from Thawbān (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu) the client of the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), from the Messenger of Allāh (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that he said:
“Whoever fasts six days after al-Fiṭr, it is [like] a complete year. Whoever performs a good deed has ten times its like.”
Grading of the Ḥadīth
The aḥādīth mentioned above are sound according to the masters amongst the muḥaddithūn. The first version for instance is mentioned in none other than Imām Muslim’s Ṣaḥiḥ.
Fiqh of the Ḥadīth
It is the 10th month of the Islāmic lunar calendar year following the blessed month of Ramaḍān and is also the first month of the Months of Ḥajj. It is said that it is called Shawwāl because “it coincided with the season when the she-camels raised their tails or because of their milk becoming then withdrawn” due to the scorching heat and the scarcity of sufficient fresh herbage. The plural is Shawwālāt.
This term is applied to varied lengths of abundant time. The intent here however is a lunar year based on the second ḥadīth mentioned amongst the proof-texts which specifically limits the time to a complete year.
The ḥadīth indicates that it is mustaḥabb or highly recommended to voluntarily fast six days of Shawwāl after having fasted the whole month of Ramaḍān.
There is an aberrant view held by Imām Mālik and also ascribed to Abū Ḥanīfah that it is disliked to perform these fasts. Imām Mālik’s fear was that to do so every year would give the impression that it is obligatory due to its close proximity to Ramaḍān. This is based on weak reasoning and thus incorrect for the following reasons:
- If we were to take this position it would mean that praying the optional prayers connected with the obligatory ones (rawātib) every single day is disliked. This necessary conclusion is false and the falsity of this necessary conclusion indicates the falsity of the premise which necessitated it. 
- Furthermore, the thing that they fear can easily be removed via teaching and explanation.
- Aside from the above, the simple fact that the ḥadīth mentions the practise unrestrictedly is enough as an evidence for its permissibility. For this reason, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr seeks to exonerate Imām Mālik by mentioning a number of reasons why he adopted this untenable position:
- This ḥadīth did not reach Mālik and if it had he would have adopted it
i. This is despite the fact that one route of the ḥadīth reached us via an inhabitant of Madīnah, the very place in which Imām Mālik resided. This is why later on in his explanation of the Muwaṭṭa’ he states that he does not believe that Imām Mālik was ignorant of the ḥadīth
- He was extremely cautious about preserving the dīn for the general masses and for this reason he adopted the position of it being disliked to fast the six days of Shawwāl
- He considered the ḥadīth to be inauthentic and not practically applicable due to it not having reached him via sound routes
We learn from the above ḥadīths that the reward for following up the fasting of the month of Ramaḍān with six days from Shawwāl is equivalent to fasting a complete year. This is because each good deed is worth ten in Allāh’s account. Thus, 30 fasts of Ramaḍān multiplied by 10 is equivalent to 300 fasts. Add six days from Shawwal which is equivalent to 6 multiplied by 10 which is of course 60 and add that 60 fasts to the 300 fasts of Ramaḍān and you have a grand total of 360 fasts for the year – or a fast for every day of the year.
Or more simply, 1 month of fasting in Ramaḍān is equivalent to 10 months of fasting. Fasting another 6 days in Shawwāl is equivalent to 2 months of fasting. Add 10 and 2 and you get 12 months of fasting in total. This is how some of the scholars have explained the meaning of the ḥadīth, thus if a person does that every year it is like as if he has fasted nonstop every year of his life!
There is a popular inauthentic report regarding the reward of fasting six days from Shawwāl which states:
“Whoever fasts Ramaḍān and follows it up with six from Shawwāl; he leaves from his sins like the day his mother gave birth to him”
One of the narrators by the name of Abū ʿAbd Allāḥ al-Ḥimṣī is according to al-Albānī a man known by the name of Muḥammad b. Saʿīd al-Asadī the crucified liar and forger whose name has been altered around a hundred times by other less credible narrators to hide his notoriety. Consequently the ḥadīth is inauthentic and at worst forged.
The scholars have listed a number of wisdoms of this particular act of worship:
- To provide an opportunity for people to attain the reward for having fasted the whole year with little effort
- To ensure fasting is not neglected immediately after Ramaḍān since many people will have become exhausted physically from the previous month and may avoid fasting again for a while. This encourages them not to turn away from fasting so quickly.
- To allow this optional fast to cover the imperfections that may have harmed our obligatory fasts in the same way optional prayers cover the imperfections and short comings in our obligatory prayers
A person can fast them in the beginning of the month or in the middle or end since there is no evidence to state explicitly that they have to be performed in the beginning of the month etc and because the ḥadīth is absolute in its meaning without any restrictions. Whoever ends up fasting six days of Shawwāl during the month then he has successfully and correctly applied the ḥadīth and followed up Ramaḍān with six from Shawwāl – and that is sufficient.
However, as with all acts of worship, some methods are of a higher level of piety than others which is why for instance al-Tirmidhī states that the famous scholar ʿAbd Allāh b. Al-Mubārak was of the view that it is better to fast them at the beginning of the month. Before delving further into when it is best to fast these fasts we need to look at the issue of fasts that have to be made up for Ramaḍān:
Qaḍā’ Or Six Days of Shawwāl First?
If one intends to fast the six voluntary fasts of Shawwāl then the obligatory fasts must be made up before one can begin fasting for the six days of Shawwāl. This is because:
- The Qaḍā’ is a binding obligation upon the person which takes precedence over all other voluntary fasts.
- Voluntary acts of worship are not accepted until the relevant obligatory act is completed. There is an authentic athar from Abu Bakr (raḍiyAllāhu ʿanhu) in which he said that Allāh does not accept acts of worship from a person if he has obligatory ones pending.
- The ḥadīth states ‘Whoever fasts Ramaḍān…”. One who has not made up the Qaḍā’ has not fasted Ramaḍān and therefore cannot attain the reward mentioned in the ḥadīth until they have been kept.
Now returning back to when one should keep the six fasts of Shawwāl, an obvious point to note is that fasting 6 days from Shawwāl excludes the Day of ʿĪd which is the 1st of Shawwāl because of the prohibition of fasting on the Days of ʿĪd. Additionally, according to al-Albānī it also excludes Saturdays.
One should avoid fasting on Saturdays due to the prohibition of fasting on Saturdays unless it is an obligatory fast. The Prophet (ṢallAllāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated:
“Do not fast on Saturday except for what is obligatory upon you and if one of you does not find anything apart from the skin of a grape or the bark of a tree then let him chew it.”
It is best to fast them immediately after the Day of ʿĪd because:
- We should hasten to do good deeds based on the following texts:
- It indicates that a person is desirous of fasting and engaging enthusiastically in acts of worship and is not lazy or bored
- It reduces the chances of something preventing the person from completing the fasting
- One’s body is already accustomed to fasting and this allows the person to complete the fasts more effectively and continue some of the good habits acquired during the month
There are two ways the scholars have mentioned these fasts can be kept:
Although it is permissible to fast them in either form, Shaykh al-Albānī for instance takes the view that it is better to fast the six days consecutively but Friday and Saturday must be avoided because it is impermissible to fast voluntarily on Saturday except obligatory fasts. He holds the same view for the White Days (13th, 14th and 15th of each month).
Accordingly, one can fast for instance from Sunday to Thursday which would be 5 days and then fast on the Sunday after missing Friday and Saturday and that would be considered a consecutive fast according to the Shaykh’s opinion.
It is better to fast them consecutively because of the same reasons mentioned above for why we should fast them immediately the day after ʿĪd.