The phrase shab e barat is Persian, used also in the South Asian Urdu and Bengali languages, meaning Mid-Shaban Forgiveness. It specifically refers to the night between the first and second halves of the eighth lunar month of Islam’s 12-month hijri calendar, Shaban.
It derives from the Arabic words bara’ah (freedom) and shab (people), from which the Islamic month ultimately takes its ancient name.
In Arabic, Mid-Shaban Night is variously called Laylat Al-Bara’ah (the Night of Freedom, meaning freeing the believer of sins) and Nisf Shaban, Mid-Shaban or Half Shaban.
Some Muslims believe that on this night, Allah — Majestic and Resplendent — descends to the nearest heaven and looks upon His creation. And from there, He forgives all His servants except idolaters, murderers, and/or those who hold rancor in their hearts toward others. Consequently, they mark the night with special devotions, including offering extra salah, ritual prayer in Islam.
Other Muslims dispute the claim that Mid-Shaban Night holds any singular virtues over any other night in the Islamic calendar — in each of which, as authentically established by Revelation, Allah does descend in the night to the lowest heaven, offering His servants forgiveness.
The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, said:
Our Lord, blessed be He and most high, descends each night to the heaven of the world when the last third of the night remains and says: “Who calls Me, that I may answer him? Who asks of Me, that I may give him? Who seeks forgiveness of Me, that I may forgive him?” (Bukhari and Muslim).
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The scholars have legitimate and defensible differences regarding Mid-Shaban’s divine distinction and therefore about the benefit of extra devotions in its night seeking Allah’s forgiveness.
But neither the ones who accept its merit nor those who deny it condone the claims that Muslims must come together in special or particular rituals and devotions. These claims that such rituals are necessary for forgiveness are without proof or authority.
There is, for example, a baseless form of salah, or ritual prayer, called Salat Al-Alfiyyah, the Prayer of a Thousand, or Prayer of One Thousand Quls, that has become popularly but thoroughly falsely associated with Mid-Shaban Night.
Its name comes from the totally fabricated idea that if people gather together in a mosque in the middle night of Shaban and offer a prayer that consists of one-hundred rakahs (cycles of salah) in which they recite the first verse of Surat Al-Ikhlas (112) – Qul huw’Allahu ahad, Say: He is God. One — 10 times in each rakah, or totaling a thousand repetitions, Allah will forgive the sins of these congregants.
This is sheer nonsense, a whole-cloth innovation in religion (some say originating in Fourth Islamic Century Jerusalem) without any foundation in Revelation. Countless prominent Muslim scholars through the ages have vociferously rejected the Salat Al-Alfiyyah as an arduous and religiously worthless invention.
Numerous scholars, in fact, reject the notion of any kind of collective observance of worship in Mid-Shaban Night.
First, Muslim scholars have legitimately disputed about the authenticity of the Texts (s. nass, pl. nusus) of Revelation cited as authoritatively establishing the virtues (fada’il) of Mid-Shaban as the Night of Freedom from sin (Laylat Al-Bara’ah).
No verses of the Quran explicitly mention Shab e Barat, or the Mid-Shaban Night.
There is a scholarly report attributed to Ikrimah, the North African servant of Ibn Abbas (the nephew of the Prophet, on him be peace, who is among the most knowledgeable of all the Companions). Ikrimah, trained by Ibn Abbas, is from the Successors, or Tabiin, generation. They are called this because they came after the Companions. Two contradictory reports are attributed to him regarding the these ayat (verses) of the Quran:
By [the Quran,] the clear Book! Indeed, it is We alone who have sent it down in a blessed night. For, indeed, it is We alone who are giving humanity forewarning of a nearing Judgment. In that blessed night, every wise affair is determined by a divine command from Our providence. For, indeed, it is We alone who have been sending messengers to humanity (Surat Al-Dukhan, 44:2-5).
In one case, Ikrimah reportedly said the “blessed night” mentioned here refers to Mid-Shaban. In the other, he is cited as saying the “blessed night” means Laylat Al-Qadr, the Night of Empowering Decree in Ramadan.
The vast majority of scholars agree that this verse speaks about Laylat Al-Qadr, in Ramadan.
The celebrated Andalusian judge Ibn Al-Arabi (d. 1148), from Seville in Spain, stated in his Precepts of the Quran that “the opinion of those who hold the [Quran’s] mention of this night as that of Mid-Shaban is feckless.” He himself notes that in this conclusion he speaks “for the great majority of scholars.”
Laylat Al-Qadr — The Night of Empowering Decree
A Simple Prayer for Laylat Al-Qadr
Scholars who uphold the Mid-Shaban Night as a special time of forgiveness cite several statements attributed to the Prophet, on him be peace, including the following narrations:
When it is the night of the middle of Shaban, Allah looks from above upon His creation: He forgives the believer. He gives respite to the disbelievers [for a time]. And He forsakes the people of rancor in their rancor until they forsake it” (The Branches of Faith).
Indeed, Allah most surely looks from above in the night of the middle of Shaban, and He forgives all His creation, save one who associates gods with Him or one who holds onto resentment [for others] (Ibn Majah).
Allah looks from above upon His creation in the Night of the middle of Shaban. He forgives all His creatures save a person who associates gods with Him and one who holds onto resentment [for others]” (Ibn Hibban).
Aisha said: ‘I missed the Prophet, on him be peace, one night [meaning he had left her bower in the middle of the night when she had laid down to sleep]. So I went out, and I found him in the cemetery of the Baqi, raising his face to heaven. He said: ‘O ‘Aisha! Did you fear that Allah and His Messenger would wrong you?’ [meaning by going to others of his wives on her established night with him]. She said: ‘I said: I thought that you had gone to one of your other wives. He said: Indeed, Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, descends on the night of the 15th of Sha’ban to the lowest heaven, and he forgives more people than the number of hairs on the sheep of Bani Kalb’” [an Arab tribe known for its abundant sheep] (Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah).
The detractors of these hadith reports
Each of these reports claims attribution to a prominent Companion of the Prophet, on him be peace, as a narrator. Scholars, however, dispute the authenticity of these narrations, citing discrepancies in their chains of narration. In the last report, attributed to Aisha, Allah be pleased with her, some add to this chain critique a dispute about the reliability of part of the content of this version of this report, which they say adds, unreliably, the last statement on Mid-Shaban.
Hadith scholars, including Bukhari, Tirmidhi, and others, class this last hadith as weak in its authenticity. The preceding hadiths are also variously graded by some scholars as weak, or having hidden defects in their chain of reporters by at least one reporter in that chain, or inclusive of unreliable narrators.
The point is the soundness of these reports have been called into question by scholars who claim there exist no sound reports that specify the 15th of Shaban as a special night of forgiveness.
Ibn Al-Arabi and other prominent scholars speak to this.
“No authentic hadith verifies the reliability of Mid-Shaban Night, not as to its virtues and not as to the decrees of Allah [for the world and people in that year] being inscribed in it. So pay it no mind.”
Other scholars look at all the hadiths about the 15th of Shaban collectively and rule that despite their individual causes of weakness or technical defects — which in a number of these hadith reports they deem minimal — taken together these reports corroborate one another. This, in their ruling, is a cause for upgrading them to levels of fair or sound authenticity.
Based on this, they conclude that “Mid-Shaban Night does, indeed, hold virtue sufficient to make it desirable (mustahabb) [for people] to individually, not collectively, perform rites of worship in it,” as the eminent Kurdish scholar Ibn al-Salah said. He literally wrote the book introducing the science of hadith.
First, where the scholars differ, the great plurality of us who are not Islamic scholars should take a position of acceptance. If one chooses to follow a qualified Muslim of revealed knowledge who recommends prayer and religious observance of the Mid-Shaban Night, we should honor this. If another adheres to the opinion of the religiously learned who do not attach any special virtue to the middle night of Shaban, we should respect this view, as well.
Having said this, it seems fasting in the days of the middle of Shaban and praying in its night are both obviously virtuous and authenticated prophetic practices that we ought to emulate.
There are trustworthy reports of the Prophet, on him be peace, encouraging Muslims to fast the “White Days” of each Islamic month. They’re given this name because the moon shines to fullness in them. These are the 13th, 14th, and 15th days of each Islamic lunar month.
In addition, the Prophet, on him be peace, fasted in Shaban more than any other month except Ramadan, calling it the neglected month. It’s called this because it falls between a sacred month, Rajab (the seventh month), and the obligatory fasting month of Ramadan (the ninth month). So people may have greater religious focus, in terms of ritual observance, in the more prominent months that sandwich Shaban (8).
So fasting in these days of Mid-Shaban is an excellent prophetic practice that we should follow.
We also know for a fact that Allah and His Prophet, on him be peace, have strongly urged us to get up from our beds and pray in the night.
We have already cited the hadith inspiring us to pray in the night, and in the Quran, Allah says:
Indeed, they alone truly believe in Our verses revealed in this Quran who, when reminded with them, fall to the ground in devotion, bowing their faces down to Allah; and who highly exalt the praise of their Lord; and who never grow arrogant concerning His worship; and whose sides forsake their beds in the night, to call upon their Lord in fear and hope; and who generously spend in charity from all that We have provided them (Surat Al-Sajdah, 32:15-16).
So prayer in Mid-Shaban Night stands out among the five superbly supported observances to which Allah urges us. These include (1) prayer’s humble expression of disposition; (2) prostration (sujud); (3) praises of remembrance (dhikr); (4) prayers for pardon and for good to come to us (dua); and (5) giving charity (sadaqah). (See How Many Types of Sadaqah (Voluntary Charity) Are There?) We should recall, as well, that repentance (tawbah) forms part of the best etiquette preceding our petitions to Allah.
The most balanced legal view of special worship offered in Shab e Barat, or the Mid-Shaban Night, may be the one articulated in the Collected Legal Opinions of the profound Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. We’ll give him the last word in recommendation:
“We have received both prophetic reports and others from the earliest generations of our pious predecessors in faith regarding this middle night [of Shaban]. We also have accounts of our pious men of old praying in this night. So individuals who pray in this night stand on this exemplary precedent of our earliest forbearers in faith as evidence for [us] doing the same, and to which there can be no objection.”
He also accepts as “excellent” on this night both individual and collective expressions of worship.
May Allah accept all our worship and grant us each forgiveness.
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