It was reported in al-Saheehayn from ‘Imraan ibn Husayn (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to a man, “Have you fasted anything of the sirar of this month?” He said, “No.” He said: “If you have not fasted, then fast two days.” According to a report narrated by al-Bukhaari: I think he meant Ramadaan. According to a report narrated by Muslim, (the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)) said: “Have you fasted anything of the sirar of Sha’baan?” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 4/2000; Muslim, no. 1161).
There was some dispute as to the meaning of the word siraar. The most well known view is that it refers to the end of the month. The end of the month is called siraar because the moon is hidden (istisraar) at that time. Someone may raise the point that it was reported in al-Saheehayn from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not pre-empt Ramadaan by one or two days, except for those who have the habit of fasting regularly, in which case they may fast.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, no 1983; Muslim, no. 1082). How can we reconcile the hadeeth which encourages fasting at this time with the hadeeth which says not to fast at this time? The answer is: many of the scholars and most of those who commented on this hadeeth said: this man to whom the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) addressed this question was known to have the habit of fasting regularly, or else he had made a vow, so the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) commanded him to make up his fast. There are also other points of view on this issue. In brief we may say that there are three scenarios for fasting at the end of Sha’baan.
The first scenario is when a person fasts at the end of Sha’baan with the intention of being on the safe side and not missing the first day of Ramadaan. This is forbidden.
The second scenario is when a person fasts with the intention of fulfilling a vow or of making up a day of Ramadaan that he missed or as an act of expiation (kafaarah), etc. This is permissible according to the majority.
The third scenario is when this is purely a voluntary fast. This is regarded as makrooh by those who said that we should differentiate between Sha’baan and Ramadaan by not fasting for a while. Among those who said this was al-Hasan. If it happens to coincide with a day when a person habitually fasts, Maalik and those who agreed with him permitted this, but al-Shaafa’i, al-‘Oozaa’i, Ahmad and others made a distinction between cases where it is a fast which a person habitually observes or otherwise.
In conclusion, the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah quoted above is what we should follow according to the majority of scholars. It is makrooh to observe a voluntary fast one or two days before Ramadaan for those who do not habitually fast on those days and who have not previously fasted until the end of Sha’baan. It may be asked: why is it makrooh to fast just before Ramadaan (for those who do not have a prior habit of fasting)? The answer is that there are a number of reasons why this is so, such as:
Firstly: lest extra days be added to the fast of Ramadaan that are not part of it. Fasting on the day of Eid is prohibited for the same reason, lest we fall into the same trap as the People of the Book with regard to fasting, as they added to their fasts because of their own whims and desires.
For the same reason it is also forbidden to fast on the “day of doubt”. ‘Ammaar said: whoever fasts on this day has disobeyed Abu’l-Qaasim (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).
The “day of doubt” is a day when people are not sure whether it is Ramadaan or not, when news of the sighting of the crescent moon comes from one whose word cannot be accepted. As for a cloudy day, some of the ‘ulamaa’ said that this was also a ‘day of doubt’ and said that fasting was not allowed on this day. This is the view of the majority.
Secondly: to make a distinction between fard (obligatory) fasts and naafil (supererogatory) fasts, because making a clear distinction between fard actions and naafil actions is prescribed in Islam. Hence it is haraam to fast on the day of Eid, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) forbade following an obligatory prayer immediately with another prayer unless they are separated by saying salaam or speaking, especially in the case of the Sunnah prayer performed just before Fajr. It is prescribed to make a clear separation between this prayer and the obligatory prayer. Hence it is prescribed to pray it at home and to lie down afterwards.
When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) saw a man praying at the time when the iqaamah had been given for Fajr, he said to him: “Al-Subh is four rak’ahs.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 663).
Some ignorant people may think that the reason why we do not fast just before Ramadaan is so that we can make the most of eating and have our fill of our desires before we have to deny ourselves by fasting. This is an ignorant mistake on the part of those who think this. And Allaah knows best.
From the Book by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid