People were taught by the early prophets, probably, Ibrahim and Isma’il, to respect the months by not harassing one another or doing any harmful activities that may cause outbreak of war. Apparently, these were the only instructions. But some people in Arabia deemed it right to add some activities in the month with the thought that it would please God and draw more rewards for them.
The Prophet (pbuh) was reported to have talked about the sacred months and requested Muslims to observe fasting in them. He said: “Fast during the inviolable/sacred month and then stop. He indicated with his three fingers, joined them and then opened them.” (Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah). The hadith was disputed over its authenticity and meaning. The majority of traditionists were of the view that it should be rejected outright for lacking a good chain.
The early generation of this Ummah disliked isolating Rajab for fasting, because there is no such permission from the Prophet (pbuh). This is one. Second, performing whatever specific Ibadat during the month would resemble the veneration that the Jahiliyyah conferred on the month. This, of course, is evident in the pronouncements and acts of the Sahabah. Ibn ‘Umar was reported to refrain from fasting in Rajab, and when asked about that he replied, saying: “How about the one who observes continued fasting?” (Muslim). This means that one should not fast in Rajab unless he is familiar to fasting during the month or who fasts it along with other months. Abdullah bn ‘Abbas also “used to stop people from fasting it, for fear of regarding it as a festival” (Musannaf Abdurrazaq).
Above all, ‘Umar bn Khattab was authentically reported to have taken measures to stop those who fasted in the month. He usually ordered lunch for the people and when they refused to eat because they are fasting he punished them. Kharashah bn al-Harr said: “I saw Umar smacking the hands of those who fasted in Rajab until they reached out for food, and he was saying: ‘This is a month which was venerated in the Jahiliyyah’” (Musannaf Abdurrazaq). Had Umar (R.A) being destined to witness our people, he would have severely punished those who claimed being octogenarians!
This is how the first generation viewed fasting in Rajab. There have been false narratives on the virtues of fasting even a single day.
People, more especially the elderly, have been encouraged to spend in fasting more days of the month, if not fasting it all through! But all these are in vain because they have no basis from the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions. Ibn Rajab al Hanbali said: “As for the fast in Rajab, there is no sound hadith with regard to its merit, neither from the Prophet (pbuh) nor from any of his companions”. Hafidh Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani has also, in strong terms, criticized all that has been reported. He made a thorough study about it in a single book entitled “Tabyin al ‘Ajab Fi Ma Ja’a Fi Fadhli Shahr Rajab”. He says: “There is no single sound narration about the excellences of Rajab or fasting in it or performing any special prayer in some of its days and nights. Imam Abu Ism’ail al Harawi al Hafidh among others has already said this before me”. He further said: “All the hadith reported regarding the excellences of Rajab or fasting some days are either weak or fabricated”. This, of course, does not mean stopping people from observing fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, or three days of a month or any Sunnah fasting they have been observing. It is all about isolating Rajab and regarding fasting in it a praiseworthy act.
To also clarify the matter, Imam Al Turtushy categorized people to those the prohibition of fasting during Rajab is confined. One, those who fast it with the assumption that it is obligatory like fasting of Ramadan. Two, those who presume that fasting in it is among supererogatory acts. Three, those who fast Rajab days with the intention that it is especially bestowed with extra excellences and rewards than other months. Had any of these three categories been corrected, the Prophet (pbuh) would have explained it and performed even one in his life. It is clear that neglecting it indicates its irregularity and being void of any reward.
In the same vein, some people proudly fast all the time, unlike what many others do, fast twice or more a week. They fast three months uninterrupted – starting with Rajab through Ramadan, about 90 days! They think they are doing something special, while it actually goes against the prophetic Sunnah. For the Prophet never fasted a single complete month save Ramadan. ‘A’isha (R.A) 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’aban” (Bukhari). The same was also reported by Ibn ‘Abbas. He said: “I never saw the Prophet (pbuh) seeking to fast on a day more preferable to him than this day, the day of ‘Ashura’, or this month, i.e the month of Ramadan” (Bukhari). Firstly, both Hadiths are a clear indication that the Prophet had paid no attention to Rajab with regards to fasting. Secondly, fasting three consecutive months is evidently an innovation!
The people of Hausaland among others have conferred on the month other excellences, which, in fact, were not known before. They innovated a special gathering in honour of the Night of the Journey to Heavens (Lailat al Isra’). The 27th was allegedly marked as the date in which the Prophet (pbuh) was taken alive to the Heavens. But, according to the hadith scholars, the actuality of the Night of that journey was not ultimately known. For this reason, the great Islamic scholars like Ibn Dihya, Ibn Taimiyyah, Ibn Rajab al Hanbali, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalany and a host of others refuted such allegation. The Prophet has said: “Whoever innovates something in this matter of ours which is not part of it, will have it rejected.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Similarly, some people still take time to observe a special prayer reciting specific verses and chapters of the Qur’an in the first Wednesday of Rajab. They, at times, proclaim hadiths in which the Prophet (pbuh) praised such prayer, popularly known as Salat al Raga’ib, latching to it some virtues, and urging the ‘Ummah not to miss it in whatever circumstances they are for gaining endless rewards. Such prayer, according to the most learned hadith scholars, was, undoubtedly, not taught by the Prophet (pbuh). The prayer has been channeled, according to Imam al-Nawawi, “through a filthy chain of narration, and it contains various enormities, which would guide one to abandon it and turn away from.” Imam Turtushy explained that such prayer was invented in 448 after Hijra. This means that it was not in existence for about five centuries.
The prayer, according to Ibn Tamiyyah, is not totally recommended for individuals or a congregation to perform it.
Also, the well-to-do people usually like to perform ‘Umrah (Lesser Hajj) in the month with the hope that it would absolve them of some great sins, if not all! It was even narrated falsely from some of the companions including ‘Umar bn Kattab, ‘Abdullahi bn ‘Umar and A’isha (r.a) that they purposely used to perform ‘Umrah during Rajab. This, without doubt, is baseless. All what is there is that Ibn ‘Umar was of the opinion that the Prophet (pbuh) performed one of his ‘Umrah in Rajab. When ‘Aisha was asked about that she corrected him saying that none of the Prophet’s Umrah were made during Rajab.
People must be careful of what they do for none would get any reward unless he is sincere in what he does and it meets the Sunnah! Imam Yahya bn Yahya al-Laythy, the narrator of Muwatta of Imam Malik, was apt in saying: “When the Sunnah is not followed, there would be no prospect for God’s reward!”
Ahmad (PhD, Islamic Studies) wrote from BUK, Kano