Ramadan may have come to an end, but fasting is an act of worship that can be observed at almost any time of the year.
Fasting is a virtuous act of worship and since it is obligatory in Ramadan, Muslims observe it with due attention. But fasting is not something that is bound to just Ramadan. The verse that is commonly recited about fasting in the Qur'an doesn't even mention Ramadan. Ramadan is only mentioned in the verse which states when the Qur'an was revealed.
When we study the life of the Messenger of Allah (saw) and his Companions (ra), we will find that they all fasted throughout the year, not just in Ramadan. Sometimes, it was voluntary, sometimes it was obligatory (like in Ramadan), and sometimes it was because the Messenger of Allah (saw) used to practice it regularly.
One great emphasised Sunnah when it comes to fasting is the fasting in Shawwal. Shawwal is the month that follows Ramadan. It is a blessed month, just like Sha'ban (the month before Ramadan). You can almost consider Sha'ban to be the warm-up and Shawwal to be the warm-down for Ramadan!
The six fasts of Shawwal
The Messenger of Allah (saw) was the best of examples for us, and whatever he did, it no doubt made Allah (swt) pleased more than anyone else can make Him. The Messenger of Allah (saw) instructed us to fast for six days in Shawwal as mentioned in this Hadeeth:
“Whoever fasts Ramadan then follows it with six days of Shawwal, it is as if he fasted for a lifetime.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
In another Hadeeth, the Messenger of Allah (saw) said:
"He who observes As-Saum (the fasts) in the month of Ramadan, and also observes As-Saum for six days in the month of Shawwal, it is as if he has observed As-Saum for the whole year." (Sahih Al-Muslim)
These Ahadeeth are clear in that following Ramadan, fasting six days in Shawwal holds a great reward, a reward that is not comparable to any other month. Just like the fasts of Ramadan need to be observed in that month, the six fasts of Shawwal must be observed in that month.
Here are a few answers to some common questions regarding fasting in Shawwal:
Do the fasts of Shawwal have to be done consecutively?
The good answer is that no they don't need to be done consecutively. You can space them out, such as fasting two days a week for three weeks, or you can do four in the first week and two in the last. It is entirely up to you. The recommended way is to do them as quickly as possible. This is because our bodies have adjusted to fasting in Ramadan, so it is best to continue straight after Eid. Delaying until the end part of Shawwal can result in difficulty, as well as the common mistake to run out of days.
What if I started to fast but didn't complete six fasts in total?
The key to every act of worship is that we have the right intention. It is human nature to fall short sometimes. We cannot, and never will be, perfect. Sometimes, thinking that we may only be able to fast some of the days and not the complete amount of days, we decide that there is no point in doing it at all. This is the wrong approach to worship. In the Qur'an, Allah (swt) even mentions in numerous places the weakness of Humans. He (swt) understands that we are weak in many things, and so He (swt) expects us to do our best. This is a very important aspect that many overlook.
So by fasting four days, for example, or even two days only in the month of Shawwal, and falling short of the full six, we won't get the same reward as six, but we will still achieve reward from Allah (swt). Consider this Hadeeth.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said that Allah (swt) said: "The Fast is for Me and I will give the reward for it, as he (the one who observes the fast) leaves his sexual desire, food, and drink for My Sake. Fasting is a screen (from Hell) and there are two pleasures for a fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord. And the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better in Allah's Sight than the smell of musk." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
So, having the correct intentions and performing the fasts with excellence, will no doubt help to achieve a great reward from Allah (swt).
Do I have to pray Taraweeh?
The Taraweeh prayer is exclusive to Ramadan and it is not performed outside of Ramadan. However, the Messenger of Allah (saw) used to perform the Tahajjud prayer every night. This takes place before Fajr. It is a virtuous act of worship that many of us, unfortunately, miss out on. We could use fasting as an opportunity to pray Tahajjud before we close our fast at Suhoor time. The virtues of praying Tahajjud are immense, so reading up about them is important.
Breaking the fast prematurely, Fidya, Kaffarah
Since fasting in Shawwal is not obligatory, you can break any fast and there is no sin in it. Likewise, there is no Fidya or Kaffarah due if you do intentionally or unintentionally break a fast. So let's say you were fasting, and then you were in a situation where you felt that you want to break your fast, you can do so. But that fast won't class as a complete fast and would need to be observed in its entirety again. Reasons for breaking the fast don't necessarily need to be health-related, they could also be socially related such as a meal with someone, or generally if you decided you weren't feeling up to it. But the key is to see a fast through since the intention has been made. Keeping and breaking a fast without correct preparation and good decision-making is not a good idea. Always remember, that for a fast to be valid, it must be observed from the beginning of Fajr to the beginning of Maghrib.
Getting ready for Shawwal
Most people have a bad start to Shawwal when it comes to fasting. This is mostly because Eid-Ul-Fitr falls on the first of Shawwal, in which there are many celebrations - celebrations which involve lots of food! One piece of advice is not to eat lots of food on Eid, but to be responsible, since our bodies have adjusted after 29/30 days of consecutive fasting. This will allow momentum to be kept and make it easier to complete the fasts of Shawwal in the earlier days. Allah (swt) loves those who push for excellence, and although you don't have to do them as soon as possible, the winners are always those who are keen to earn the reward of Allah (swt) and do more.
Before you go...
The month of Ramadan may have come to an end, but the duty of helping others doesn't finish. People still see difficulty throughout the rest of the remaining 11 months of the year. They are in desperate need. Why not consider spreading your Zakat out throughout the year instead of Ramadan? You can set up monthly Zakat donations to ILM of almost any amount and deduct the total amount you have given in Zakat when Ramadan comes next year.