'Inan al-Bayan fi Nisf Sha'ban
By Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti

“Fulan has a shaykh in tassawuf whom he greatly loves and respects (he has already taken bayaʿ with him). this 15th of sha'aban, the teacher has told fulan that he should try to perform salatul-khayr (100 rakats with 10 ikhlas in each rakat). however, fulan knows from fiqhi sources that according to top authorities in the shafiʿi school and in the hanafi school, this is to be considered a baseless and blameworthy innovation.

it is clear that a teacher who lacks the knowledge of the shariah is a poor teacher indeed, but this applies surely to obligatory knowledge (the fardu ʿayn) and the like. such indepth knowledge, such as the above question, is known only to an ʿalim or to an aspiring ʿalim usually, which not all shyukh are pursuing to be.

what is the correct ʿadab on the student in this case? i have advised him to first seek out if the salat-ul-khayr in another madhhab (such as the hanbali one, as i believe shaykh abd-al-qadir jilani, may allah have mercy on him and sanctify his secret, advised this practise, and he was of the hanbali school) is valid. if it is, then there should be no objection at all.

he is doing that now. if when he is done with his research, he still has not found the practise advised in any madhhab, i think i should advise him to take the question to his shaykh, with the utmost of respect and pose the question of reference to him so that his doubts may be alleviated for now and the future.

i think he will have to get by for the time being (the 15th is tommorow night) but if, at your convenience, you could let me know what the correct way to go about such issues is, i would be most grateful.”

Alhamdulillah alladhi salla 'ala n-nabiyyi l-mustafa wa s-salatu wa s-salamu 'ala n-nabiyyi l-awfa wa 'ala alihi wa sahbihi dhawi l-qurba.

Rabbi zidni 'ilman wa-rzuqni fahman!

Although it is true that, at first glance, the Qawl Mu'tamad of the Shafi'i school regarding the 'Salat al-Khayr' - or the 'Salat Laylat Nisf Sha'ban' - is that it has no legal status, and the hukm shar'i relating to it is Makruh (and not Haram) for the one performing it, there is tafsil and further details that the jurist must consider before relating this judgement.

There is a mas'ala khilafiyya [a genuine khilaf such that one agrees to disagree] in our school on the following point:
IF when praying during the night of the middle of Sha'ban [Nisf al-Sha'ban] the Musalli specifies the intention of the prayer as follows:

uSallI sunnata laylati niSfi sha'bAna rak'atayni li-Llahi ta'AlA
[I [intend to] pray the recommended [prayer] of the night of Sha'ban in two rak'as, for the sake of Allah the Most High]

- then, there are three qawls [positions] in the school concerning the one performing Salat Laylat Nisf Sha'ban:

1. The Asl [original ruling] is that it is Makruh according to Imam al-Nawawi (may Allah be pleased with him!) and others, because it is a "Bid'a Qabiha" [blameworthy innovation]; and under this Tafsil only one qawl says it is Haram. (This position is, for example, mentioned in the text of the Fath al-Mu'in [I'anat, 1:270]; al-Nawawi's position, for instance, is in the Majmu' [4:61]; the qawl that it is Haram is in the Irshad al-'Ibad (which is not, note, a fiqh work) [al-Mallibari, Irshad, 24] (who is also the same author of the Fath al-Mu'in)).

2. The Asl is Mandub/Sunna according to Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him!) and others. (This position is also related in the fiqh manual I'anat al-Talibin (the commentary to the Fath al-Mu'in above) [I'anat, 1:271-2]; al-Ghazali's own position is in the Ihya' (which is not, note, a fiqh work) [Ihya', 1:203-4]) and this position is not brought up in his furu' fiqhi works; the Wajiz or the Wasit.

3. The Asl is Jawaz/Mubah according to a SOLUTION provided by Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him!) in the Tuhfa and others. This solution is by making a Qiyas to Imam Ibn Hajar's own solution for the "Ishraq" prayer, which in the view of the Imam himself - like the Nisf Sha'ban prayer - has no legal status, or in other words, is Makruh to perform. (It goes without saying that although the Asl is Mubah for this qawl, and because if carried out using this method the act itself brings a reward, this can therefore be treated as a Fadila 'Amal, making it Mandub in the end - since the hukm of the Nafl Mutlaq prayer is itself Mandub). (See below for details of the solution; technically however, this solution no longer makes it a "Salat Laylat Nisf Sha'ban".)

The strong objections raised by some of our past fuqaha' - a famous one is in the Majmu' and an extreme one is in the Irshad - concerning the prayer of the night of Nisf Sha'ban must be understood in their proper fiqhi context. The reason for their objections is to counter the opinion of those who stipulate that an intention be specified for this prayer (which can be derived from the Qawl of Imam al-Ghazali). It is important for the teacher to point out to the student - and for the ordinary person to note - that these objections were made, not because there is a specific objection to performing 'ibada on this night or to doing qiyam al-layl this night, but for an academic reason. And that is in order to draw the legal point that the prayer of Nisf Sha'ban is not a specially legislated prayer, unlike the Tarawih for example, because there is just not enough primary evidence (whether from the Qur'an or the Hadiths) to make it so, and that is all. Going beyond quoting and relying solely on a dead reference from one of our "yellow books", this reason is how our living scholars today understand the objections made by some of our past fuqaha'. So, when a student reading with a teacher reaches the passage in the Fath al-Mu'in which says that the Ragha'ib of Rajab and the Nisf Sha'ban prayers are a blameworthy innovation, the wise teacher in fiqh will then have qualified these objections based on what is in the Fath al-Mu'in's own glosses, the I'anat al-Talibin.

The khilaf over the issue is with the format of the prayer, and the route to that khilaf is explained by the Muhaqqiq of our school, Imam al-Kurdi (may Allah be pleased with him!), as revolving around the Hadiths connected with this special prayer. As a result, the khilaf is a genuine one:

"The scholars differ concerning it [the Nisf Sha'ban prayer, for example]. There are those who say that it has a chain of transmitters [turuq; although problematic], and if they are brought together the Hadith [evidence concerning it] will reach the [legal] extent of allowing one to act upon it on the basis of the Fada'il al-A'mal [the extra acts of devotion performed (or refrained) beyond one's call of duty to please the Lawmaker]. There are those who judge that its Hadith [evidence] is fabricated, and among them are [Imam] al-Nawawi, and following him, the commentator in the latter's books - Imam Ibn Hajar - [i.e. the fiqhi point understood by jurists is that the Qawl of Imam al-Nawawi does not recognize the legal status of the Nisf Sha'ban prayer, and that is all]." [al-Kurdi, Hawashi, 1:331-332; I'anat 1:271].

So those following the qawl that it is Mandub, like Imam al-Ghazali (and those who defended this position, such as Imam Ibn al-Salah (may Allah be pleased with him!) - who was perhaps alone among the Muhaddith of our school in doing so), who ruled that this prayer is among the Fada'il of A'mal, are of the opinion that the many Hadiths regarding this prayer are Da'if instead of Mawdu' (and vice versa for the opposite qawl). This is their legal basis for the qawl that the prayer in question is special and therefore the Asl is Mandub, since it is well known in our school that one can act upon weak Hadiths (as long as they are not Mawdu' [fabricated Hadiths]) in matters of the Fada'il, as Imam al-Nawawi himself stated when summarizing the standard rule on using weak Hadiths in the Majmu':

"A weak Hadith cannot be used as primary evidence [Ihtijaj] in matters of what is 'lawful and unlawful' [Ahkam] and faith [meaning that it cannot, on its own, lead to an injunctive legal ruling [Hukm Shar'i Taklifi] that may involve a sin in matters of what is lawful [Halal] and unlawful [Haram] and what is obligatory [Wajib]; or indicate a stipulatory legal ruling [Hukm Shar'i Wad'i] determining the soundness of a particular act, such as its valid condition [Shart] and its prevention [Mani']]. However [as long as it is not a fabricated Hadith], it can be narrated, and it can be used in matters other than what is 'lawful and unlawful' [i.e., in the legal rulings that are not related to sin or what makes an act sound, involving either the Ihtiyat [the more precautionary ruling] or what is recommended [Mandub/Sunna] and what is disliked [Makruh]], such as in Qisas [telling moral stories] and in Fada'il al-A'mal and in Targhib wa al-Tarhib [arousing one's desire to do good and inspiring one's fear from doing evil]." [al-Nawawi, Majmu', 1:93].

The upshot is that there is khilaf among our jurists on the legal status of the Nisf Sha'ban prayer; so what are we left with? How can we reconcile the two qawls? And how do we remove ourselves from the divisive discussions of evidence [ta'arud adilla] amongst scholars to what concerns us as an 'abid?

We know that it has been established - and there is no khilaf in this matter even by the same fuqaha', such as Imam al-Nawawi, who objected to the specific prayer of Nisf Sha'ban - that the night of Nisf Sha'ban is at least special (the foremost Muhaddith of our school, Imam al-Bayhaqi, for example, devoted a whole chapter just on the virtues of the night of Nisf Sha'ban in his Fada'il al-Awqat), which means that as Muslims, one should try one's best to benefit from this special night. We also know that there is no objection whatsoever (especially not by Imam al-Nawawi, for example) if someone wanted to pray all night long on that specific night. Finally, we also know that this khilaf is over the legal status of the specific prayer itself.

Therefore, the solution to avoid this khilaf for the Shafi'is is a simple one, and that is, instead of specifying the intention that the prayer is the Nisf Sha'ban prayer, perform instead the Nafl Mutlaq [wholly supererogatory] prayer on that special night; and by this, we and our teachers follow the advice of Imam Ibn Hajar and the solution provided by him with regards to another prayer, which, as it turns out, is also in legal limbo, because its status is not established: the "Ishraq" prayer and other 'special prayers' like it (such as the "Days-of-the-Week-prayer" [Salat Ayyam al-Usbu']) mentioned in works filled with benefits and baraka like the Qut al-Qulub of Abu Talib al-Makki, the Ihya' of al-Ghazali and the Ghunya of 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, as well as other works of this kind authored by masters in Tasawwuf (may Allah sanctify their secrets!), which can all be considered among the Fada'il al-A'mal:

"These kinds of prayers are not valid [if they are done] by [specifying: ta'yin] the intentions [as such] which the Sufis have made it a recommendation without there being any basis for it in the Hadiths [Ar. Sunna]. Certainly if one intended to pray an unspecified prayer [i.e. the Nafl Mutlaq, meaning: if one did not specify the prayer] and then [for instance] making a supplication after it which may include some kind of Isti'adha [seeking protection] or Istikhara [seeking guidance] in a general way [i.e. the Isti'adha or the Istikhara in this case are, for example, the specific reason or the 'intention' for doing that special prayer in the first place, following the kayfiyya or instruction recommended by the Sufi master], then there is no harm in that." [Ibn Hajar, Tuhfa, 2:544].

*Tabsira for students of fiqh* This mas'ala is a subtle one, and as our wise teachers have explained in the solution to it, the "academic" difference is in fact between an Idafa and a Zaraf: Salat Laylat Nisf Sha'ban vs. al-Salat fi Laylat Nisf Sha'ban; hA ilay-humA tahtadI! So don't be quick to be among those who object if you do not know the legal background behind the original objection in the first place! Because it is subtle, thus one might easily overlook this, so watch out!

Our advice to you is to not stop someone from wanting to perform 'ibada on this auspicious night, even if in your eyes he is performing an "ugly innovation". Remember that the prayer is after all something good, and as our beloved Prophet (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!) famously said, as narrated by Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him!):

al-SalAtu khayrun mawDU'un istakthara aw aqalla
[The prayer is [always] a good thing; whether [done] a little or a lot]
(Related by al-Tayalisi, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, al-Bazzar, Ibn Hibban, al-Tabarani (in his Kabir and Awsat), al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi (in his Shu'ab), with variants).

It would be especially unwise for you to be the cause of a mukhalafa qulub between your friend and the "shaykh in tasawwuf" from whom he or she clearly benefits. In practice, to stay up during this night by filling one's time with 'ibada and dhikr, seeking His presence and devoting oneself to Him, is a well known 'amal that the Shafi'is from Hadramawt, South East Asia to East Africa do (as well as Hanafis, Malikis, and Hanbalis), whether in mosques, zawiyas, or in the corner of one's houses. The Fiqh is easy to study and the Adab is what takes a lifetime to understand. If someone wanted to perform this Fadila and also wants to avoid the Bid'a, then it is recommended that he or she adopts the solution sanctioned by our school (and the hukm of adopting the solution is itself Mandub/Sunna following the general fiqhi principle of "al-khurUju mina l-khilAfi mustaHabbun" [to avoid the controversy is desirable]). This is among the benefits of following the same path of Fiqh and Tasawwuf. Indeed, this is the meaning of the words of the Mujtahid Imam, the teacher to our Mujtahid, al-Malik (may Allah be well pleased with both of them!), when he said:

man taSawwafa wa lam yatafaqqah fa-qad tazandaqa
wa man tafaqqaha wa lam yataSawwaf fa-qad tafassaqa
wa man jama'a bayna-humA fa-qad taHaqqaqa

[Whoever studies Tasawwuf and does not study Fiqh will be a heretic. Whoever studies Fiqh and does not study Tasawwuf will be corrupted. Whoever combines the two will have the truth.]

And from that, we have the following verse (in Tawil) composed by his most famous student; and behold truly it is true advice:

faqIhan wa SUfiyyan fakun laysa wAHidan #
fa-innI wa Haqqi LlAhi iyyAka anSaHu

[Be (both) a jurist and a Sufi but never (either) one! Indeed it is by God's Right that I am advising you!]

#Fa'ida# Some useful philological notes on the Fadila of the month of Sha'ban from the Shafi'i lexicographer, Imam Ibn Manzur (may Allah be pleased with him!) in his Lisan al-'Arab [1:502]:

innamA summiya sha'bAnu sha'bAna li annahu sha'aba ay Zahara bayna shahray ramaDAna wa rajabin
[Sha'ban is called "Sha'ban" because it 'branches out', that is, it stands out between the two months of Rajab and Ramadan!]. This perplexing statement is immediately made clear by the following Hadith of Anas (may Allah be well pleased with him!):

atadrUna li-mA summiya sha'bAna
qAlU allAhu wa rasUluhu a'lamu qAla
li-annahu yatasha''abu fIhi khayrun kathIrun
[Do you all know why it is called Sha'ban?
They said: "Only Allah and his Messenger know best!" He said:
"Because there are many benefits branching out in this month."]
(Related by Abu al-Shaykh al-Hibbani, al-Daylami, al-Rafi'i (in his Tarikh), al-Suyuti, with variants). So take from it what one can!

We should restrict our explanation to what has been said here, and this is sufficient for those who understand. May this risala be beneficial, for what pertains specifically to your question with regards to its fiqh and furu', I have answered no more, no less. ja'ala-ha Allahu nafi'atan mubarakatan ila yawmi l-qiyama!

Only Allah and His Messenger know the best and right ruling!

al-raji min Rabbihi 'afwa ma janahu,

Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti ©
in Oxford
4 Muharram 1425
25 II 2004

Select Bibliography:

al-Bakri. Hashiyat I'anat al-Talibin. 4 vols. Bulaq, 1300 H.

Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. Tuhfa al-Muhtaj bi-Sharh al-Minhaj al-Nawawi in Hawashi al-Shirwani wa-Ibn 'Qasim 'ala Tuhfa al-Muhtaj. Edited by Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Khalidi. 13 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub 'Ilmiyya, 1996.

al-Ghazali. Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din. 4 vols. Bulaq, 1306 H.

Ibn Manzur. Lisan al-'Arab. 15 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Sadir, 1955-1956.

al-Kurdi. al-Hawashi al-Madaniya 'ala Sharh Ibn Hajar 'ala Mukhtasar Bafadl al-Hadrami. 2 vols. Surabaya: al-Hidaya, 1397 H.

al-Mallibari. Irshad al-'Ibad ila Sabil al-Rashad. Bulaq, 1302 H.

al-Nawawi. al-Majmu' Sharh al-Muhadhdhab. Edited by Mahmud Matraji. 22 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996.

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