Explanation of Praying Salat al-Khayr on Mid-Sha`ban According to the Shafi`i Madhhab

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].

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