The Significance of the Lunar Month of Rajab

The lunar month of Rajab, is the seventh month in the Muslim hijri calendar. In this article I would like to briefly reflect on the significance of the blessed lunar month of Rajab. The lunar month of Rajab derives its importance from the Glorious Qur’an which refers to it as one of the four sacred months of the lunar year (al-ash-hurulhurum). In Surah al-Taubah, Chapter 9, verse 36, Allah, the Sublime, declares the following:

The number of months with Allah is twelve (in a year), so ordained and decreed by Allah the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these (twelve months) four of them are sacred; that is the upright ever-true religion. So do not wrong your souls by fighting during these (months), but only fight against the idolaters collectively if they first fight against you collectively. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves and remain conscious and mindful of Him.

The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) identified the four sacred months referred to in the above verse to be: the 11th month of Dhu al-Qa’ida, the 12th month of Dhu al-Hijja, the 1st month of Muharram and the 7th month of Rajab. In one prophet tradition (hadith) narrated by the companion, Abu Bakrah (may Allah be pleased with him) and recorded in the hadith compilations of Imams Bukhari (4662) and Muslim (1679) the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said the following during a sermon he delivered while performing his farewell pilgrimage:

Three (of the sacred months) are in succession;

Dhul-Qa`dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram,

and (the fourth is) Rajab of (the tribe of) Mudar

which comes between Jumada (Al-Thani) and Sha`ban).

According to the ancient customs and traditions of the pre-Islamic Arabs all fighting was deemed utterly wrong and warfare was considered blasphemous during the four lunar months of Muharram, Rajab, DhulQaìda and DhulHijja.

Because Islam is al-din al-qayyim – the upright religion of peace that eschews fighting and warfare and because Islam is al-din al-waqi` – a contextually relevant and culturally responsive religion – the Qur’an naturally adopted this ancient Arab custom and confirmed these months as revered.

Some scholars speculate that these four months may have been made sanctified at the time of the establishment of the hajj (pilgrimage) by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismaìl (peace be upon both of them) to allow for a peaceful passage for pilgrims to the ka`bah – the ancient house of worship in Makkah. According to this view by recognizing these four months as sacred the pre-Islamic Arabs were thus merely following an ancient Abrahamic tradition. This argument clearly makes sense with respect to the three consecutive months of DhulQaìda, DhulHijja and Muharram since they coincide with the hajj season.

This line of reasoning, however, does not hold for the seventh lunar month of Rajab, which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself described as standing alone (i.e. outside of the months of hajj) and being a distinctive custom and tradition of the tribe of madar. In my view one logical explanation as to why the pre-Islamic tribal tradition of regarding the lunar month of Rajab as hallowed was adopted by the Qur’an is because Islam is a culturally friendly religion that affirms cultural norms and traditions which resonates with its spirit and ethos. In this case the goal was to promote and spread peace – the quintessence of Islam.    Such a view is furthermore supported by an authentic prophetic tradition recorded in the hadith compilation of Imam Bukhari (babwafdbaniHanifa) on the authority of the companion Abu Raja’ al-`Utaridi (may Allah be pleased with him) who describes his tribes cultural traditions and customs before embracing Islam as follows:

‘We used to worship stones, and when we discovered a more attractive stone we would abandon the first one and worship then new one. If we could not find a stone we would collect some soil from the earth and after milking our sheep over it, we would perform the tawaf around it. When the month of Rajab arrived, we used to stop all military actions. We used to call the month of Rajab ‘the iron remover’ for we used to remove and throw away the iron parts of every spear and arrow in the month of Rajab.’

Such a view is also consistent with the Qur’an position that if the pre-Islamic Arabs violate their own indigenous customs and traditions by attacking and oppressing the Muslims first, then Muslims are obliged to defend themselves (see also Quràn 2:217).   The lesson is clear.

The lunar month of Rajab was regarded as sacred by the early Muslims because fighting and warfare was prohibited during this month. Islam’s adoption of this tribal custom and tradition teaches us that Islam is quintessentially a religion of peace that eschews fighting and warfare. Moreover, it teaches us that Islam is a contextually relevant and culturally friendly religion that adopts and affirms cultural norms and traditions which resonates with its spirit and ethos

The month of Rajab is also significant in that most historians concur that the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey and ascension known as al-isra’ walm`iraj took place on the 27th night of the month of Rajab. The month of Rajab is also a prelude and gateway to the blessed month of Ramadan, because Ramadan follows it after the intervening month of Sha’ban. The month of Rajab thus comes as a timely reminder of the imminence of the blessed month of Ramadan.  The mystical scholar Abu Bakr Warraq, use to say:

Rajab is a month of cultivation,

Shaban is month of irrigating the fields, and the month

of Ramadan is a month of reaping and harvesting.

The twentieth century Azhari jurist, Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman al-JuzayriIn his Kitab al-fiqh `ala al-madhahib al-arba`a (Islamic law according to the Four Schools), informs us that according to the Shafi`is, the Hanafis and the Malikis it is recommended (mandub) to fast during the months of Rajab as a nafila or supererogatory act of worship.

Moreover, fasting or the performance of any other extra acts of worship with the intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah and improving oneself is virtuous in and of itself. Fasting during Rajab and Sha`ban is also a useful way of preparing oneself for the onset of the blessed month of Ramadan and benefitting more fully from its unique merits. I advise myself first and then you to dedicate a few of the days of this blessed month of Rajab in fasting.  The companion Anas ibn Malik informs us that the Prophet (pbuh) who used to make the following (du`a) supplication, during the month of Rajab:

“AllahummaBariklana fi Rajab wa Sha`ban waballighna Ramadan” –

‘O Allah bless us in months of Rajab and Sha`ban and let us reach the month of Ramadan’

(i.e. prolong our life up to Ramadan, so that we may benefit from its great merits and spiritual blessings).”

Insha-Allah, we pray that Allah, the Sublime, will once again afford us with the wonderful opportunity of this year witnessing the great spiritual blessings of the blessed month of Ramadan.

Dr. A. Rashied Omar is the Imam of the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town and Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame in the United States of America.

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