(n.b. This article was originally written 21 years ago. It is reposted with minor corrections.)
Rajab, one of the four sacrosanct months in the Islamic year, began only a matter of days ago. We tend to use Rajab and Sha`ban after it to prepare for the holy month of Ramadan. For those who have prayers or makeup fasts from the previous year, now is an excellent time to begin fulfilling those duties; in sha Allah, husbands will be especially considerate when it comes to wives making up missed days. And for everyone, it’s an excellent time to return to Allah, and ask Him for an increase in obedience and acts of worship.
Given that this is the beginning of the month of Rajab and that this group is for Hanbali fiqh, it seems appropriate to give a small summary from a book by the great Hanbali scholar and hadith master, Ibn Rajab (may Allah have mercy upon him). The book is LatLata’if al-ma`arif fi ma li-mausim al-`am min al-watha’if, and its subject is informing what sorts of good acts are recommended for the various months and seasons of the Islamic year.
What follows is a very brief summary of the chapter’s contents. People familiar with the works of Ibn Rajab (may Allah have mercy upon him) in general, or this one in particular, will quickly realize how much of an injustice I have done. Whereas the works of Ibn Rajab (may Allah have mercy upon him) are full of citations from the Qur’an, hadith, poetry, accounts on the righteous Salaf and Khalaf; criticism and explanations of the various citations; and many other gems from the knowledge and wisdom that Allah bestowed him with — what I have done is simply summarize the things that would not be readily available to someone with a copy of Riyad al-salihin or the major canon of hadith literature. So, with the exception of a few explicit quotations from Lata’if al-ma`arif, these are my words and not Ibn Rajab’s (may Allah be merciful upon him). I ask that anyone who reads this makes a short supplication for Ibn Rajab, the early Muslims, all other scholars, and finally for the Muslim umma — past, present, and future; this is the least we can do for our predecessors and for each other.
Ibn Rajab (Allah have mercy with him) opens the chapter concerning Rajab with the following:
In Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the two [Imams] have related from the hadith of Abu Bakrata (Allah be well pleased with him) that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) gave a speech during the Farewell Pilgrimage; during it he said:
Verily! Truly time has revolved like the day on which Allah created the heavens and the earth: the year is twelve months, including four [that are] sacrosanct; three consecutive [months]: Dhu al-qa`da, Dhu al-hijja, and al-Muharram; and Mudhar’s Rajab which is between Jumada and Shu`ban.
and he mentioned the [rest of the] hadith.
Allah Mighty and Majestic says:
Lo! the number of months with Allah is twelve months by Allah’s ordinance in the day that He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred: that is the right religion. So wrong not yourselves in them.Qur’an, Al-Tauba, 9:36
So, He Most Sublime declared that ever since He created the heavens and the earth, [and ever since] He created the night and day revolving in the horizon, [and ever since] He created the things in the heaven, including the sun, moon, and stars; [and ever since] He made the sun and the moon in orbit in the cosmos and the dark of night and white of day were produced from [the day and the night] — ever since then He made the year twelve months in accordance to the crescent moon.
And so the year, with respect to the Legislation, is portioned by the traveling of the moon and its rising [n.b. meaning the phrases of the moon], not by the traveling of the sun and its moving from place to place as is the practice of Ahl al-kitab.
Ibn Rajab (Allah have mercy on him) then begins his explanation of the verse from the Qur’an and the hadith, the important points being:
- Allah Most High has made four of these months sacrosanct.
- There is some difference of opinion between the scholars regarding which of those months comes first.
- The scholars differ over which of the sacrosanct months is superior. Ibn Rajab writes: “One opinion is that it is Rajab, and it is the opinion of some Shafi`is; Imam al-Nawawi and others considered this opinion weak. Another opinion is that it is al-Muharram; it is the opinion of Hasan al-Basri, and Imam al-Nawawi considered it preponderant. Another opinion is that it is Dhu al-Hijja; it is related from Sa`id bin Jubayr and others, and it is the most obvious. And Allah knows best.”
- The meaning of the statement of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace): “Verily, truly time has revolved like the day on which Allah created the heavens and the earth! The year is twelve months”, is declaring void the nasi’ that the pre-Islamic Arabs used to do. There is a difference of opinion regarding the meaning of nasi’. An opinion is that the pre-Islamic Arabs would exchange one sacrosanct month with a non-sacrosanct month, and there are many examples of how they would do this. Another opinion is that they would change the length of the year, such as making it thirteen months, or twelve months and fifteen days. And another opinion is that the month for pilgrimage cycled through the months and that during the year of the Farewell Pilgrimage the designated month agreed with the month decreed by Allah Might and Majestic: Dhu al-Hijja.
- At the beginning of Islam, it was unconditionally unlawful to kill during the sacrosanct months. The scholars differ whether it is still unlawful or was abrogated. The majority of scholars are of the opinion that it is abrogated; Imam Ahmad and other imams held this opinion. A group of the Salaf, among them `Ata, were of the opinion that it is still unlawful; a group of later scholars considered this opinion preponderant, citing the second verse of al-Ma`ida (5:2) as evidence since al-Ma`ida is among the last of the revelation.
- The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said “Mudar’s Rajab”: Rajab is named Rajab because they would glorify it. As for adjoining it to the tribe Mudar, it is because they were excessive in glorifying and honoring it; or: because the tribe of Rabi` considered Ramadan sacrosanct and Mudar considered Rajab sacrosanct.
- Some of the scholars mentioned that Rajab has fourteen names: shahr Allah, rajab, rajab mudar, munzil al-asinna, al-asamm, al-asabb, munaffis, mutahhir, mu’alla, muqim, harim, muqashqish, mubarri`, and fard. Others said that it has seventeen names, adding: rajam, munzil al-`aala, and munzil al-asinna.
And then Ibn Rajab began discussing the rulings associated with the month of Rajab itself. Some of those rulings are from the times of the pre-Islamic Arabs, and there is a difference of opinion on whether they continue. These rulings include:
- The unconditional unlawfulness of killing during this sacrosanct month.
- During the pre-Islamic times, they would slaughter during Rajab, calling it al-‘atira. The majority of scholars are of the opinion that Islam has voided al-‘atira. Others are of the opinion that it is recommended, among them Ibn Sirin (Allah be well pleased with him); Imam Ahmad related it from the people of Basra, and a later group of Ahl al-Hadith considered it preponderant.
The rulings associated with Rajab include: praying, giving charity, fasting, and making `Umra:
- Prayer: There is nothing rigorously authenticated concerning a prayer specific to the month of Rajab. The hadiths related concerning Salat al-ragha’ib during the night before the first Friday of Rajab are lies; according to the majority of scholars, this prayer is an innovation. Some later scholars mentioned it; the early scholars did not because it was innovated after them.
- Fasting: There is nothing rigorously authenticated from the Prophet (may Allah biess him and give him peace) pertaining to fasting the month of Rajab specifically. However, there are hadiths regarding fasting the sacrosanct months. Some of the Companions and imams considered it offensive to fast Rajab in its entirety, that instead one should omit fasting one or two days of Rajab. The Hanbalis are of the opinion that the offensiveness of fasting Rajab in its entirety is removed by voluntarily fasting a month in addition to Rajab. Imam Ahmad’s opinion is that Rajab is not fasted in its entirety except by someone who fasts every day that is legal to fast; there is something related from `Abd Allah bin `Omar (Allah be well pleased with them both) that indicates this.
- Charity: It is the custom of peoples in various lands to pay their obligatory charity [zakat] during Rajab, but this is something that has no basis in the sunna, and is not known from one of the Salaf (may Allah be pleased with them). Instead, obligatory charity is paid when its particular duration is fulfilled, regardless of the month. According to the majority of scholars, it suffices if someone to pays his obligatory charity before it comes due, regardless of the reason for paying it in advance. Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy upon him) is of the opinion that it is valid to delay paying obligatory charity if there is no one else in need like they are.
- Making ‘Umra during Rajab: There is disagreement whether or not the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) made `Umra during Rajab, however several of the Companions and Salaf (may Allah be pleased with them all and grant them His mercy) would do so. The majority of Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) are of the opinion that the most complete Hajj and `Umra is to initiate each one as part of a journey: one journeys to make Hajj and one makes another journey to make `Umra.
Many amazing things are related to have occurred during the month of Rajab — but not a single one of them is rigorously authentic. These things include:
- The birth of the Prophet on the night of the 1st [meaning the night before the day of the 1st]
- Prophethood being assigned to him on the 27th or the 25th
- The Night Journey and Ascension being on the night of the 27th [meaning: the night before the day of the 27th] or the 10th
Also, the pre-Islamic Arabs used to make supplications against oppressors and tyrants during Rajab, and their supplications were answered. There are many well known accounts of this.
[end of summary from Lata’if Al-Ma`arif]
In closing: even though there is nothing specific to the month of Rajab that has reached us that is rigorously or well authenticated, there are other accounts indicating the merits of fasting and other acts of obedience during the sacrosanct months. In sha Allah, we will all take advantage of Rajab and Sha`ban to prepare for the coming of the holy month of Ramadan with an increase in obedience and acts of worship. And success is only through Allah.
Summarized from Ibn Rajab’s Lata’if al-ma`arif fi ma li-mausim al-`am min al-watha’if (Dar Ibn Kathir, Damascus, 1420AH/1999CE), pages 217-235. Originally posted to the Hanbali group on Yahoo! Translation