These are also known as Nafil, voluntary or superogatory, fasts. After performing the obligatory acts of worship, the most beloved things to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) are the voluntary acts of worship, as a means to draw closer to Him, and to gain a great reward from Him. However, with worship there are also conditions, and it is not permitted for someone to fast on the days mentioned below.
Days it is Haraam (Forbidden) to Fast
It is forbidden to fast on the following days:
- Any of the days of the 2 Eids, i.e. Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha.
- Ayaam al-Tashreeq (the three days following Eid al-Adha). Only those on Hajj who do not have a hadiy, animal sacrifice, should fast on these days.
- Deliberately singling out, by itself, a Friday, or a Saturday or a Sunday, because it has been reported that this is not allowed. However, if one combines 2 or more of these days, then it becomes permissible.
Other than the above days, a Muslim can fast on any other of the days of the year. In relation to voluntary forms of worship, of which voluntary fasting is one, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) informed us what Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) told him concerning such acts of worship: “My slave does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My slave continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I will love him, When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, he seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.” (al-Bukhari, 6502).
The Nafl, voluntary, fasts fall into two main categories:
General Voluntary Fasts
These are general voluntary fasts and are not restricted to any particular time or circumstances. The Muslim may observe a voluntary fast on any day of the year outside of Ramadan, that he wishes, except on the days that have been forbidden (see above)
One of the best forms of voluntary fasting is to fast alternate days for those who are able to do that, as it says in the hadeeth: “The most beloved prayer to Allah is the prayer of Dawood (peace be upon him), and the most beloved fasting to Allaah is the fasting of Dawood. He used to sleep half the night, stand in prayer for one-third of the night, and sleep for one-sixth, and he used to fast alternate days.” [Bukhari, 1131; Muslim, 1159]. In order for this kind of fasting to be regarded as virtuous, it should not weaken a person and make him unable to do his primary duties, as it says in the hadeeth: “he used to fast alternate days, and he never ran away from battle (because he used to break his fast at times of jihad).” [Bukhari, 1977; Muslim, 1159].
Specific voluntary fasts
These are superior to general voluntary fasts, and are of two types, those that are specific to a type of person or to a particular time:
Specific to the Type of Person
If a person is prone to the temptation of sin, for example, a young man who cannot get married, as mentioned in the hadeeth of Abdullah ibn Masood (رضي الله عنه): “We were young men with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and we did not have anything (i.e., we could not afford to get married). The Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said to us, ‘O young men, whoever among you can afford to get married, then let him do so, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity. And whoever is not able to do that, then let him fast, for that will be a shield for him.’” (al-Bukhaari, 5066; Muslim, 1400).
This kind of fasting is more emphasized so long as a person is single, and this prescription is more emphatic the more provocation there is. There is no mention of any specific number of days in this case.
Specific to a particular Time
These types of fasts are prescribed at specific times, some are weekly, some monthly and others annually.
- 2 Days a week - Monday and Thursday
The weekly fasts are on Monday and Thursday, on which days fasting is mustahabb. It was narrated that Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا) said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was keen to fast on Mondays and Thursdays.” [al-Nasaa’i, 2320; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’ al-Sagheer, 4827]. Thus it is Sunnah to fast on these days. Furthermore, when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was asked about fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, and he said: “Those are two days on which people’s deeds are shown to the Lord of the Worlds, and I want my deeds to be shown to Him when I am fasting.” [al-Nasaa’i, 2358; Ibn Maajah, 1740; Ahmad, 8161; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 1583]. He was asked about fasting on Mondays and he said, “On that day I was born and on that day revelation came to me.” [Muslim, 1162].
- 3 Monthly Fasts - Ayaam al-Beed (3 white days)
There are 3 monthly fasts upon which it is mustahab, recommended, to fast. They are also known as the ayaam al-beed, which are the days on which the moon is full, namely the 13th, 14th and 15th of each lunar month. It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه) said: “My close friend [i.e., the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم)] advised me to do three things which I will never give up until I die: fasting three days each month, praying Duha, and sleeping after praying Witr.” [Bukhari, 1178; Muslim, 721]. It was narrated that Abu Dharr (رضي الله عنه) said: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said to me, ‘If you fast any part of the month then fast on the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth [lunar month].’” [al-Nasaa’i, 2424; Ibn Maajah, 1707; Ahmad, 210; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’ al-Sagheer, 673].
- Annual Fasts
The annual fasts are observed on specific days, or during periods of days, when it is Sunnah to fast.
Annual Single Days:
- The day of Ashoora: This is on the tenth day of the Muslim lunar month of Muharram. It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas (رضي الله عنه) was asked about fasting on the day of Ashoora. He said, “I do not know of any day on the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) fasted that was better than this day and any month that was better than this month, meaning Ramadan.” [Bukhari, 2006; Muslim, 1132]. It is Sunnah to fast the day before or the day after along with the day of Ashoora, in order to be different from the Jews who also fast on this day.
- The day of Arafat: the day of Arafat is on the ninth day of Muslim lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah, it is also known as the day of Hajj. It is mustahab, recommended, for anyone who is not doing Hajj, i.e. those not standing in Arafat itself.
The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said concerning the virtue of fasting 3 days of the lunar month, the day of Ashoora and the day of Arafat: “The observance of three days' fast every month and that of Ramadan every year is equivalent to fasting for the entire year. I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of Arafah may atone for the sins of the preceding and the coming years, and I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of Ashoora may atone for the sins of the preceding year.” [Muslim, 1162].
Annual Period of Days:
The periods during which it is Sunnah to fast include the following:
- The 6 days of the month of Shawwaal: It is Sunnah to fast six days of Shawwaal, because the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever fasts Ramadaan then fasts six days of Shawwaal, it is as if he fasted for a lifetime.” [Muslim, 1164].
- The first 9 days of Dhu’l-Hijjah: It is Mustahab, recommended, to fast on the first nine days before Eid al Adha which include the day of Arafat, mentioned above. The evidence for this is the hadeeth narrated from Hunaydah ibn Khalid from his wife that one of the wives of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to fast nine days of Dhu’l-Hijjah and the day of ‘Ashoora’ and three days of each month – the first Monday and two Thursdays.” [Ahmad, 21829; Abu Dawood, 2437; classed as da’eef in Nasab al-Raayah, 2/180, but classed as saheeh by al-Albani].
Concerning these days it is narrated in the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Abbaas (رضي الله عنه): “There are no days on which righteous deeds are more beloved to Allah then these ten days (i.e. the first ten days of Dhu’l-Hijjah).” They said: “O Messenger of Allah, not even jihad for the sake of Allah?” He said: “Not even jihad for the sake of Allah, unless a man goes out himself with his wealth and does not come back with anything (i.e., he expends all his wealth and is martyred).” [Bukhari, 969].
- The month of Muharram: it is Sunnah to fast whatever one can of this month, because of the hadeeth: “The best of fasting after Ramadan is the month of Allaah Muharram, and the best of prayer after the obligatory prayers is prayer at night (qiyam al-layl).” [Muslim, 1163].
- The month of Shaban: as it was narrated that Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا) said: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to fast until we thought that he would never break his fast, and he would not fast until we thought that he would never fast. I never saw the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) fast an entire month apart from Ramadan, and the month in which I saw him fast the most was Shaban. He used to fast all of Shaban or all of it apart from a few days.” [Bukhari, 1969; Muslim, 1156].
The Muslim who is keen to do good must realize the great virtue of performing voluntary fasts for the sake of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), as it says in the hadeeth of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): “Whoever fasts one day for the sake of Allah, Allah will keep his face seventy years’ distance from Hell,” [al-Nasaa’i, 2247; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Sunan al-Nasaa’i, 2121].