While pondering over the texts of the Qur'ân and Sunnah, I discovered a door which has been flung wide open upon an abundance of rewards and opportunities. It is the door to voluntary worship. I found that Allah has made voluntary worship a broad field of activity, an opportunity for people to compete with each other in performing righteous deeds. In this, voluntary worship is very different from obligatory worship.
The religion of Islam is, without doubt, an easy religion. It is accommodating and tolerant. We read in the Qur'ân: "Allah wants ease for you. He does not to put you to hardship." [Sûrah al-Baqarah
We also read: "Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear." [Sûrah al-Baqarah
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "If I command you to do something, then do it to the extent that you are able." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî
and Sahîh Muslim
For this reason, we see that Islam is very conscientious about keeping religious obligations precise in their modes of performance, though limited to what all people can handle. Voluntary worship, in contrast, is far more flexible. It is not governed by the conditions that define for us our religious obligations.
We can see this if we contrast our obligatory prayers with our voluntary ones. When we offer our obligatory prayers, we must stand fir them, unless we are unable to do so. This is not the case with our voluntary prayers. We can offer those seated even if we are fully capable of standing; however, we will receive half the reward.
Likewise, if we are traveling, we do not have to face the qiblah
when we offer our voluntary prayers.
Some scholars hold that a voluntary prayer can be offered with tayammum
if one fears that taking the time to make wudû' will lead to missing the prayer.
We can also compare `Umrah to Hajj. Since `Umrah is more common as a form of voluntary worship, we see that it can be offered at any time of the year. According to many scholars – including Ibn Bâz – there is no need to offer a farewell tawâf
) after performing `Umrah.
Unlike the obligatory Zakâh, voluntary charity has no limits set to it. It can be given in any amount at any time to any needy recipient or worthy cause.
The same can be said for fasting. The rulings governing our voluntary fasts differ from those that govern our obligatory fasts. For instance, we can resolve to offer a voluntary fast at any time in the day as long as we have not done anything like eating or drinking that would break our fast. By contrast, we must have the intention the night before – at least before dawn – in order to observe an obligatory fast.
Likewise, we have the option to break our voluntary fasts whenever we want to. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "A person observing a voluntary fast is in charge of himself. If he wishes to fast, he may do so. If he wishes to break his fast, he may do so." [Sunan al-Tirmidhî
(732)] As for our obligatory fasts, we are not allowed to break them, even if it is a day of Ramadan that we are making up later. Once we start making up a missed Ramadan fast, we are obliged to see it through to the end.
Now we shall turn our attentions to the six days of Shawwâl. Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) says: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and then follows it with six days of fasting in the month of Shawwâl, it will be as if he had fasted the year through." [Sahîh Muslim
When we look at the six days of fasting in Shawwâl, we must acknowledge that they are voluntary fasts. Therefore, in the absence of any direct scriptural evidence to the contrary, these fasts should be approached with the same flexibility as any other voluntary fast.
Consequently, the following are among the flexible rulings that apply to fasting the six days of Shawwâl:
1. It is not obligatory to embark upon the fast immediately after the day of `Id, as some people suppose. In fact, we cannot assume that it is even preferable to do so, except possibly on the basis of the general ruling that it is good to hasten in performing righteous deeds. One might also argue that it is good to hasten it in case something comes up later in the month that prevents one from fasting. Otherwise, the statement in the hadîth "… and then follows it with six days of fasting
", does not give any clear indication that the six days should immediately follow the end of Ramadan.
2. These six days do not have to be observed in immediate succession. If we fast the six fasts on various days throughout the month of Shawwâl, we will attain the full blessing of the six days. We cannot assume that offering these days in succession is preferable in the absence of any scriptural evidence indicating that it is.
3. We can formulate our intentions to observe these fasts at any time during the day as long as we have not yet done anything on that day – like eating or drinking – that would violate our fast.
Admittedly, there is some disagreement among Islamic scholars regarding these three points. However, the opinions above are the strongest in my opinion, since they are in conformity with the rulings in Islamic Law that govern voluntary fasts. There is no distinction in Islamic Law between a general voluntary fast and a specific one.
4. We do not have to offer these fasts every year. These are voluntary fasts that we offer by choice. When we observe them, we receive the blessings for doing so. If we refrain from offering these fasts, there is no sin upon us.
5. It is not a condition to fast all six of the fasts. If we observe one of these six fasts, we get the reward of that fast. If we observe all six fasts, we get the full reward of the six.. I point this out to show the error of those who think that since they cannot offer all six days, they might as well not bother offering any of them.
This means that if we find ourselves at the end of the month of Shawwâl, with two or three days left, and we have not fasted, we can still fast these two or three days with the intention of observing what we can of the six fasts of Shawwâl. All the evidence in the scripture points to the idea that a Muslim is rewarded for every virtuous act he carries out.
Allah says: "Whoever does an atom's weight of good shall see it." [Sûrah al-Zalzalah
Indeed, in some of the hadîth about the six days of Shawwâl, we find that the reason why observing this fast is like fasting the year through is because each good deed is given a tenfold reward. It is related from Thawbân that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The fast of Ramadan is like observing ten months of fasting. Fasting six days of Shawwâl is like observing two months of fasting. This together is like fasting throughout the year." [Sahîh Ibn Khuzaymah
(2115) and Sunan al-Nasâ'î al-Kubrâ
(2860) – and authenticated by al-Albânî]
Al-Nawawî says [Sharh Sahîh Muslim
Scholars have explained that it is like observing a year of fasting because the reward of one's good deeds are multiplied tenfold. Therefore fasting the month of Ramadan is like fasting for ten months and fasting six days in the month of Shawwâl is like fasting for two months.
Therefore, whoever fasts one of these six days gets the full tenfold reward for doing so. Whoever fasts more, receives more, up to the full six days.
And Allah knows best.