Waqar Akbar Cheema
A hadith some people think contradicts known facts has come down to us as:
عن عبد الرحمن بن أبي بكرة، عن أبيه رضي الله عنه، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، قال: ” شهران لا ينقصان، شهرا عيد: رمضان، وذو الحجة
It is related from Abu Bakra that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Two months are never deficient: the two months of ‘Ȋd: Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah.”
It is known that in the lunar calendar a month is either twenty-nine days or thirty days depending upon the sighting of the moon.
عن ابن عمر رضي الله عنهما، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، أنه قال: «إنا أمة أمية، لا نكتب ولا نحسب، الشهر هكذا وهكذا» يعني مرة تسعة وعشرين، ومرة ثلاثين
It is related from Ibn ‘Umar that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “We are an unlettered nation. We do not write nor calculate. The month is like this and this, i.e. sometimes twenty-nine and sometimes thirty.”
Sighting itself depends upon multiple factors, the possibility of sighting of the moon at a given place, weather on a particular day, and also human judgment. It is this aspect that underscores the relevance of the subject hadith.
2. Various interpretations
Since the early days scholars have differed about the meanings of this hadith. Ordinarily, it would be read as a claim that Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah are never twenty-nine day long rather they are always thirty-day months. This, however, is not true.
When Abū Dāwūd (d. 275/889) asked Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 241/855) about this he replied, “I do not know what it is. We surely see them deficient.” In another perhaps later report Ahmad bin Hanbal interpreted this hadith saying, “Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah will not both be decreased in the same year, if one of them is decreased, then the other one will be complete.” Some said it mentioned the general happening, others said it was meant for the particular year in which the Prophet (ﷺ) made this statement. Still other scholars, however, interpreted it at variance with the superficial reading. Ahmad bin Hanbal’s contemporary and associate Isḥāq bin Rahawayh (d. 238/853) said, “Even if it was deficient (through a mistaken judgment regarding number of days), it was still complete (in terms of reward).”
3. Establishing the meanings: No deficiency in reward
It is Isḥāq bin Rahawayh’s view that is more sound and in line with the wider significance of the hadith. In showing the strength of this opinion we shall build the case on a number of points.
3.1 Relation to the Purposes of Prophethood
It was not for the Prophet (ﷺ) to describe issues on meteorology and other such calculations. Even if there is some reference to such phenomenon it is to bring out some point(s) on beliefs, jurisprudence, etiquette, or softening of the hearts. Undoubtedly, something the Prophet (ﷺ) alluded to even by one of these ways must be true; however, understanding this point helps avoid taking meaning that could not have been intended by the Prophet (ﷺ).
3.2 The Prophet himself fasted for twenty-nine days
It is evident that the Prophet (ﷺ) did not mean these two months cannot be of twenty-nine days because in another report the Prophet (ﷺ) is himself reported to have said regarding Ramaḍān – the month of fasting;
صوموا لرؤيته وأفطروا لرؤيته، فإن غمي عليكم فأكملوا العدد
Observe fast on sighting the new moon and break (fast) on sighting the new moon, but if the sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of thirty).
Whereas there were nine months of Ramaḍān in the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) when fasting was obligatory (i.e. 2-10 AH) in most of these nine years it was of twenty-nine days. This has been reported by a number of companions.
عن ابن مسعود، قال: لما صمنا مع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم تسعا وعشرين أكثر مما صمنا معه ثلاثين
Ibn Mas’ud said: “We fasted with the Prophet for twenty-nine days, more often than we fasted with him for thirty days.”
It is, therefore, clear that the Prophet (ﷺ) could not have meant that Ramaḍān was never twenty nine when he and his people had repeatedly experienced otherwise. It may be pertinent to note that the narrator of the hadith Abu Bakra embraced Islam during the siege of Taif in the year 9 AH and there is no way Muslims had not encountered a numerically deficient (i.e. twenty-nine day) Ramaḍān by then.
3.3 The Mention of ‘Ȋd as the Common Special Feature of the Two Months
The hadith mentions only two of the twelve months which calls for seeking out an element common to them. The fact that hadith does not merely say Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah rather two months of ‘Ȋd – Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah brings the point home. These two months have been singled out for their relevance in terms of worship and related religious festivals. Al-Ṭībī (d. 743/1342) notes;
ظاهر سياق الحديث في بيان اختصاص الشهرين بمزية ليست في سائرها، وليس المراد أن ثواب الطاعة في سائرهما قد ينقص دونهما. فينبغي أن يحمل علي الحكم، ورفع الجناح والحرج. عما عسى أن يقع فيه خطأ في الحكم؛ لاختصاصهما بالعيدين، وجواز احتمال الخطأ فيهما، ومن ثم لم يقل: شهر رمضان وذي الحجة، والله أعلم.
The hadith mentions two months specifically for an attribute exclusive to them. It does not, however, mean that reward for devotional acts is less in other months. It is befitting to understand it about removal of sin and difficulty from the one who might err in his ruling as the two months are of ‘Ȋd and one may err regarding them.. According, the hadith does not simply say, “Months of Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah” [but mentions them with reference to ‘Ȋd.]
Though ‘Ȋd al-Fitr falls on the first day of the month Shawal, Ramadan has been referred to as the month of ‘Ȋd because ‘Ȋd follows and marks the end of Ramadan. This is similar to the designation of Maghrib (post sunset) prayers as “witr of the day.”
3.4 Consolation for those who may err in sighting of the new moon
In his annotations to Faiḍ al-Bārī of al-Kashmiri (d. 1353/1934), Badar ‘Alam Miruthi (d. 1385/1965) writes:
ظهر من مراد الطيبي أن لهذين الشهرين خصيصة ليست لغيرهما من الشهور، وهي العيدية، فإنها في هذين فقط، وإذا لا بد أن يكون الحديث راجعا إلى معنى المختص بهما، وهو أن أوهام الناس إنما تتوجه إلى نقصان في هذين، لمكان العيدين فيهما، فيزعمون: لعلهم غلطوا في عيدهم، لمكان اختلاف الأهلة، فهداهم الشرع أن لا نقص في هذين الشهرين، وليس هذا النقص راجعا إلى عدد الأيام، بمعنى أن تسعا وعشرين منهما يساوي ثلاثين في الأجر، بل إلى نقصان في عيدهم
From al-Tibi’s argument it is evident that it is for peculiarity of these months is in terms of ‘Ȋd. It is for the ‘Ȋd factors that people fall into the impression of deficiency due to the possibility of difference regarding sighting of the new moon. The Shari’ah, therefore, tells them there is no deficiency in these months. This deficiency does not relate to the number of days in the sense that twenty-nine are equal to thirty in reward rather to the impression of deficiency or mistake regarding ‘Ȋd.
He goes on to add that it thus goes with the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ) reported from Abu Huraira:
عن أبي هريرة، أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: الصوم يوم تصومون، والفطر يوم تفطرون، والأضحى يوم تضحون
“The fast is the day the people fast, the breaking of the fast is the day the people break their fast, and the sacrifice is the day the people sacrifice.”
According to a mursal report related by ‘Abdullah bin Khalid bin Usaid the Prophet (ﷺ) further said;
يوم عرفة اليوم الذي يعرف فيه الناس
The day of ‘Arafah is the day people gather at ‘Arafat.
Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1448) sums up;
وفائدة الحديث رفع ما يقع في القلوب من شك لمن صام تسعا وعشرين أو وقف في غير يوم عرفة
The implication of the hadith is removal of doubt from the heart of those who [mistakenly] fast [only] for twenty-nine days or stay at ‘Arafah on a day other than the ninth.
A number of prominent jurists including al-Sarakhsi (d. 483/1090), al-Ru’aini (d. 954/1497), al-Nawawi (d. 676/1278), and Shah Wali Ullah al-Dehlawi (d. 1176/1762) have understood the hadith likewise.
4. Other implications of the hadith
The subject hadith along with other reports having similar import quoted above have following implications.
a) When there is an ijtihad based difference of opinion related to the determining the beginning of Ramaḍān or the ‘Ȋd day one must go with the community as the these days have the predominant communal festive aspect. Al-Tirmidhi after mentioning the abovementioned report of Abu Huraira said:
وفسر بعض أهل العلم هذا الحديث، فقال: إنما معنى هذا أن الصوم والفطر مع الجماعة وعظم الناس
“Some of the people of knowledge explained this Hadith by saying that this only means that the fast and the breaking of the fast is done with the community (jamā’ah) and the masses of the people.”
b) It also proves that the two months of Ramaḍān and Dhu al-Ḥijjah alone have the significance for the purpose of obligatory annual acts of worship.
It is, therefore, clear that hadith is meant as consolation to the Muslims that even if they make a mistake with regards to sighting of the moon they will not lose reward of ‘Ȋd or the special acts of worship the two ‘Ȋds follow. The hadith is not by the way of stating the number of days in the two months or anything along those lines.
References & Notes:
 Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Translated by Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 1912
 Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 1913
 Al-Maqdisi, Muhammad bin Muflih, al-Furu’, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publications, 2003) Vol.4, 420
 al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami’, Translated by Abu Khaliyl (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Vol.2, 141
 al-Mawardi, Abu al-Hasan, Al-Hawi al-Kabir, (Beirut: DKI, 1999) Vol.3, 408
 al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami’, Vol.2, 141
 Al-Banori, Yusuf, Ma’arif al-Sunan, (Karachi: Maktaba al-Banoria, 1991) Vol.5, 349
 Muslim bin Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 2515 (18-1081)
 Al-Sijistani, Abū Dāwūd, al-Sunan, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 2322; classified as sahih by al-Albani and sahih li-ghairihi by Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut
 Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publications, 2001) Hadith 24518; classified as sahih by Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut
 Ibn Majah, al-Sunan, Translated by Nasirrudin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 1658; classified as hasan sahih by al-Albani and sahih by Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut
 Al-Daraqutni, al-Sunan, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publications, 2004) Hadith 2352; al-Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Awst, Hadith 5445; its isnad is da’if
 Al-Ru’aini, Shams al-Din, Mawahib al-Jalil fi Sharh Mukhtasar Khalil, (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr, 1992) Vol.2, 385
 Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 2176; classified as hasan li-ghairihi by Shu’aib al-Arna’ut and sahih by Ahmad Shakir; it may be noted that the way Abu Bakra is reported to have related it from the Prophet (‘an al-nabi) is not categorical if he himself heard it from the Prophet (ﷺ) or otherwise, however, since there is no other narration of this hadith from another companion – not even with a weak isnad – it might be safe to assume that he himself heard it from the Prophet (ﷺ).
 Al-Tibi, Sharaf al-Din, al-Kashif ‘an Haqa’iq al-Sunan, (Makkah: Maktaba Nazar Mustafa al-Baz, 1997) Vol.5, 1580-1581
 Al-Tirmidhi, Abu ‘Isa, al-Jami’, Hadith 552; Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 4847; see al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.4, 126
 Al-Kashmiri, Anwar Shah, & Miruthi, Badr ‘Alam, Faid al-Bari ma’ Hashia Badr al-Sari, (Beirut: DKI, 2006) Vol.3, 332
 Al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami’, Hadith 697
 Al-Sijistani, Abū Dāwūd, al-Marasil, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publications, 1408 AH) Hadith 149
 Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1379) Vol.4, 126
 Al-Sarakhsi, Abu Sahl, al-Mabsut, (Beirut: Dar al-Mar’rifa, 1993) Vol.3, 78
 Al-Ru’aini, Shams al-Din, Mawahib al-Jalil fi Sharh Mukhtasar Khalil, Vol.2, 385
 Al-Nawawi, al-Majmu’ Sharh Muhaddhab, (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr, n.d.) Vol.6, 270
 Al-Dehlawi, Shah Wali Ullah, Hujjat Allah al-Baligha, (Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 2005) Vol.2, 79