Besides the normal dispute over when Ramadan begins and ends, there is the dispute every year over whether or not the correct day of Arafat is the one being observed by those making the pilgrimage to Mecca. A considerable number of Muslims follow the assumption that Islam demands from every Muslim in the world to adjust their local calendars to make them conform to the Saudi Arabian Islamic calendar, since, naturally, there can be only one day of Arafat. Consequently, even if your local calendar reads that the day of Arafat is one day after the day it is observed in Saudi Arabia, the reward for fasting this special day for non-pilgrims-as encouraged by our beloved Messenger-may Allah grant him mercy and peace--is directly connected with when the pilgrims are in the plains of Arafat. If this is so, anyone fasting on the day after the day the pilgrims leave Arafat would be fasting on the day of ‘Id, something that has been prohibited by the Prophet-may Allah grant him mercy and peace.
Where does such an understanding come from? The Qur’an? No! The Sunnah? No! Rather, this is merely a popular understanding adopted by a large number of Muslims in both the Muslim world and in western countries where Muslims reside. This is so, in spite of the fact that no sound evidence can be found to substantiate this understanding, not in the Qur’an, not in the Sunnah, and not in the fiqh of any of the Four Schools.
Furthermore, despite the fact that the ‘Id celebration was initiated by the Prophet-may Allah grant him mercy and peace-in the second year after his migration to Medina and celebrated thereafter until he made the Hajj pilgrimage in the 10th year, there is no sign found in reports indicating that he attempted to find out when the day of ‘Arafat was in Mecca in order to make his ‘Id celebration in Medina coincide with the ‘Id celebration in Mecca. Some ignorant Muslims today have even begun to accuse other Muslims who fast according to their local established calendars that contradict Saudi Arabia’s or the practice of the Kingdom to be innovators and dissenters from the mainstream. In light of this new phenomenon, I find it necessary to make a personal statement on this matter backed by the Islamic sources and a few authoritative statements of our scholars. In doing so, I deem it necessary to first speak about the lawfulness or unlawfulness of fasting the day of Arafat for both those performing Hajj and those who are not.
Fasting the Day of Arafat
In trying to bring greater clarity to this matter, I think that it is important to first speak about fasting the day of Arafat. Umm al-Fadl bint al-Harith reports, “Some people among us disputed with one another on the Day of Arafat about whether or not the Messenger of Allah-may Allah grant him mercy and peace-was fasting. Some of them said: “He is fasting.” Others said: “He is not fasting.” So I sent to him a goblet of milk while he was stationed on his camel in Arafat and he drunk from it.”1
“The view of Shafi’i, Malik, Abu Hanifah, and the overwhelming majority of the scholars is that it is recommended for the one performing the pilgrimage (Hajj) not to fast on the Day of ‘Arafat while in ‘Arafat. Ibn Mundhir ascribes that view to Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, and Ibn ‘Umar. Thawri said: “But Ibn al-Zubayr and ‘Aisha used to fast it (i.e. the Day of Arafat while in Arafat). This [second] view has also been ascribed to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and ‘Uthman ibn Abi al-‘As. Ishaq (ibn Rahuwayh) also inclined toward it, and ‘Ata used to fast it (while in Hajj) during the winter, but not during the summer. Qatadah said: “There is no harm in it as long as one does not lose the strength to supplicate [Allah]. The overwhelming majority presented as proof the fact that the Prophet-may Allah show him
1 Sahih Muslim: Hadith #1123
mercy and peace-did not fast it, and that it is kinder to the pilgrim for maintaining the etiquettes of observing the standing [at ‘Arafat] and the more important rites [of the Hajj]. The others presented as proof the prophetic traditions that unrestrictedly mention that the fast of Arafat is expiation for two years [of sin]. The majority, however, applied those reports to those who are not there [in Arafat].”2
One of the alternate reports that Nawwawi is referring to is that the Prophet-may Allah grant him mercy and peace-said, “…For fasting the day of Arafat I anticipate from Allah to expiate [the sins of] the year before it and the year that comes after it…”3
Imam Muslim reports both hadiths in his Sahih. That being the case, we can clearly see why the scholars have differed about the ruling of fasting this day. That is, is it unlawful for only those who are on the pilgrimage to fast? Are we to give more preference to the first hadith over the second? Or are we to attempt to reconcile between the two sound narrations and conclude that the prohibition is merely indicative of mild discouragement?
Abu Dawud relates that Abu Hurayrah said, “The Messenger of Allah-may Allah grant him mercy and peace-forbade the fasting of the Day of Arafat while in Arafat.”4 Were it not for the weakness of this hadith, the matter would perhaps be resolved.
What we observe from this study is that the overwhelming majority of scholars have chosen to join between these reports and conclude that this prohibition against fasting the day of Arafat is directed against those who are performing the pilgrimage, not against those who are not.
Is It Unlawful for Pilgrims to Fast the Day of Arafat?
After becoming acquainted with the aforementioned prophetic traditions and observing the disagreement between the scholars regarding their proper interpretation, we now need to ask the question of whether or not this prohibition directed against those performing the Hajj is one that indicates that to fast this special day is a sin.
The commentator on the Sunan of Abu Dawud, Muhammad Sharaf b. Amir, relates concerning this prohibition of fasting the day of Arafat while in Arafat the following:
“Khattabi said: “This is a prohibition of recommendation, not a prohibition of obligation. The pilgrim is merely prohibited from doing that (fast) out of fear that he will become too weak to supplicate and entreat [God] while in that station. As for he who finds strength and fears no weakness, it is then more superior to fast that day, God-willing. He-may Allah grant him mercy and peace-said, “Fasting the day of Arafat expiates two years: one year before it and one year after it.” Scholars have differed about whether or not the pilgrim may fast the day of Arafat. It has been related that ‘Uthman b. Abi al-‘As and Ibn al-Zubayr used to fast it (while on Hajj). Ahmad b. Hanbal said: “If he has the strength to fast, he may fast. If he does not fast, that is a day wherein he is in need of strength.” Ishaq used to consider it recommended for pilgrims to fast it, and ‘Ata used to say: “I fast during the winter, but I do not fast during the summer.” Malik and Sufyan al-Thawri used to prefer that the pilgrim not fast, as did Shafi’i. [On the other hand] it has been related that Ibn ‘Umar-may Allah be pleased with them-said: “The Prophet-may Allah grant him mercy and peace-did not fast it, nor did Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, or ‘Uthman. And I do not fast it”…The apparent meaning of the hadith of Abu Hurayrah is that it is not permitted to fast in the plains of Arafat. However, conflict is removed from these hadiths by the fact that the fast of this day is recommended for everyone, but disliked (makruh) for the one who is a pilgrim in the plains of Arafat. The wisdom is that such a thing may perhaps lead one to become too weak to supplicate and make mention of God (dhikr) there on the day of Arafat as well as prevent him from fulfilling the [other] acts of
2 Sharh Sahih Muslim: Volume 4
3 Sahih Muslim: #1162. The hadith is also reported by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah.
4 Hadith #2440