Fasting in general and voluntary fasting in particular is a great worship of all time. Fasting is not restricted to Ramadhan, it is an act of worship that can be [and should be in some cases] performed at any time and at any place except when not recommended. Indeed, it is a worship that draws the believer closer to Allaah and closer to perfection.
In prayer most of us pray Sunna [supererogatory/optional/voluntary] prayer before or after mandatory prayer, called Rawatib, such as four Rak`at before and two after, two after Maghrib and `Isha and the two rak`at of Fajr. These are prayers we pray before or after a mandatory prayer.
Similarly, there is a mandatory fasting and that is in Ramadhan. Just as the one performs the Rawatib before and after the Fardh prayer one should fast before and after Ramadhan, and just as the Rawatib were set by the Prophet the in some specific manner and amount, the Nafl [optional] Fasting was also set by the Prophet . In this short article we shall review the fasting of some days that were recommended by the Prophet .
1- Six days of the month of Shawwal:
Abu Ayyoub reported that the Messenger of Allaah, said "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadhan and then follows it by fasting six days during the month of Shawwal will be rewarded as if he had fasted the entire year. [Muslim, at-Tirmithi, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawood and Ahmad by way of Jabir].
These days can be anytime during the month of Shawwal except the first day because it is unlawful to fast the day of Eid. These days do not have to be at beginning of the month nor do they have to be consecutive. Hence, Muslims should seize this opportunity and fast these six days to get Allaah's reward.
Why the fasting of six days of Shawal after Ramadhan equates that of the whole year? Some `Ulamaa' say that the good deed is rewarded ten times. Thus fasting six days is like fasting 60 days, added to 30 days of Ramadhan times 10 (i.e. 300) it makes it a year.
2- The day of `Arafah: This is for those who are
not performing the Hajj (pilgrimage)
Abu Qatadah said : the Messenger of Allaah, , said: "Fasting on the day of `Arafah is an expiation [of sins] for two years, the year preceding it and the year following it and the fasting the day of `Aashuraa' is an expiation for the year preceding it. [Muslim, an-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawood].
3- Fasting three days of every month:
`Amr Ibn Sharhabeel said : A man came to the Messenger of Allaah, and said : O Messenger of Allah! what do you say in a man who fasts the whole year [time], on this the Messenger of Allaah, said : I wish he would not eat anything during the year, he said what about two thirds of the year, he replied "more", he said what about half of it, he said more and then said : Shall I not inform you of what takes away the whispers of the chest, they said yes tell us, he said " fasting three days from every month. [an-Nasaa'i; Sahih]
Abu Tharr Al-Ghefari said: "The Messenger of Allaah , said "Whoever fasts from every month three days, it is like fasting the whole year, then Allaah revealed what backs this in His book "Whoever comes with a good deed, he is rewarded ten folds", one day for ten. [Ibn Majah and at-Tirmithi].
Abu Tharr Al-Ghefari said: "The Messenger of Allaah , said "O Abu Tharr! if you fast three days of every month, then fast the 13th, the 14th and the 15th [these are call the al-ayaam al-beedh, the white days]". [Ahmad, an-Nasaa'i and at-Tirmithi; Sahih]
4- Fasting Mondays and Thursdays:
`Aa'ishah said : The Messenger of Allaah , used to fast Mondays and Thursdays". [an-Nasaa'i; Sahih]
Abu Hurairah reported that the most the Prophet , would fast would be Monday and Thursday. He was asked about that and he said: "The deeds of people are presented to Allaah on every Monday and Thursday. Allaah forgives every Muslim except for those who are deserting each other. He says: "leave them for later." [Ahmad; Hasan]
5- Fasting Tasu'a and `Aashuraa':
Tasu`aa' and `Aashuraa' are respectively the ninth and the tenth day of the month of Muharram.
Ibn Abbas reported: "The Prophet came to Madinah and found the Jews fasting the day of Ashura. He asked them: "Why are you fasting this day?" They said: "This is a great day. Allaah saved Mousa (Moses) and the tribes of Israel from their enemies on this day and therefore Mousa fasted on it. "The Prophet said: "We have more of a right to Mousa than you." So he fasted on that day also and ordered the people to fast on that day." [al-Bukhari and Muslim].
When the Prophet , fasted the day of Ashura, the people told him that this day is a day that Jews and Christians honor. The Prophet said: "When the following year comes, Allaah willing, we shall fast both the ninth and the tenth day of Muharram (that is to be different from the Jews and the Christians.)" The Prophet , died before the following year." [Muslim].
6- Fasting during the month of Muharram:
Muharram is the first month of the Islaamic year
The month of Muharram is the first month of the lunar year. Abu Hurairah reported: "I asked the Prophet : "Which prayer is best after the obligatory prayers?" He said: "Prayer during the middle of the night." I asked: "Which fast is best after the fast of Ramadhan?" He said: "Fasting during the month of Muharram." [Muslim].
7-Fasting during the month of Sha`baan
Sha`baan is the month before Ramadan Sha`baan `Aa'isha said: "I have never seen the Messenger of Allaah , completing the fast of a month as he did for Ramadhan, and I have never seen him fasting so much as he would in Sha`baan." [al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Fasting of a woman in her husband's presence.
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet , said : "A woman is not to fast [even] for one day while her husband is present except with his permission, unless it is during Ramadhaan." [al-Bukhari, Muslim and Ahmad]
Intention for voluntary fasting
As opposed to Ramadan, the intention does not have to be made before dawn. The person can intend fasting [and start fasting] after dawn any time [even after noon] given that he did not eat anything. `Aa'ishah said : The Prophet , came to us one day and said, "Do you have any [food]?" We said "No". He said: Therefore, I am Fasting". [Muslim and Abu Dawood]
Breaking the fast when fasting voluntarily and making up voluntary fasting
Ummu Hani reported that the Prophet , entered her room during the day of the conquest of Makkah. He was offered something to drink and he drank from it. Then he offered it to me [Ummu Hani] and I said :" I am fasting". The Prophet , said : The one who is fasting voluntarily is in charge of himself. If you wish you may fast and if you wish you may break your fast". [Ahmad, ad-Daraqutni, al-Baihaqi, al-Hakim and at-Tirmithi]. In another narration, Ummu Hani said I am fasting but I dislike to return your leftover. He said: If it [the day you are fasting] is a making up for a day of Ramadhan then make up another day for it, and if it is a voluntary fasting day, then if you wish make it up and if you wish not don't" [Ahmad and Abu Dawood]
`Aishah said : The Prophet , came to us one day and said, "Do you have any [food]?" We said "No". He said: Therefore, I am Fasting and then he came to me after that day and I was gifted some Hais [a kind of food], so I left it for him , and he used to like al-Hais. She said :" O Messenger of Allaah ! we were gifted some Hais and I left some for you . He said "Bring it closer to me, though I woke up with the intention of fasting, I will eat from it. Then he said: The example of the voluntary fasting is like the man who takes out money [to give] for charity, if he likes he give it and if he likes he keep it. [Ibn Majah; Hasan]
It is clear that voluntary fasting was something very common among the Sahaba and in the previous nations of believers and the Prophets Dawood and Mousa alaihim as-salaam are good examples. Indeed it is the way of the Believers that we should strive to follow.