The Virtues of Winter


December 18, 2009 at 12:21 pm

This is our final translation from Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s, Lata’if al-Ma’arif, this year. It deals with some of the virtues and duties associated with the winter seas, which is rapidly descending upon us. This excerpt is taken from pages 557-560

Imam Ahmad relates from the narrations of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him, from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, that he said, “Winter is the springtime of the believer.” [1] This Hadith is recorded by Imam al-Bayhaqi and others. Imam Bayhaqi has another version that states, “Its nights are long so he spends them in worship, and its days are short so he fasts them.”

Rather, winter is the springtime of the believer because it is a time he grazes in the orchards of obedience, frolics in the fields of worship and frees his heart in the gardens of righteous deeds that are made easy at that time. Just as cattle graze in the lush springtime pastures. They fatten up during that time and their bodies recover [from the hardships of winter]. Similarly, the religion of the believer is reformed during the winter owing to the acts of obedience Allah has made easy for him. During the winter the believers is able to fast its days without any difficulty or any great burden –hunger, or thirst. This is because its days are short and cold. Therefore, he does not notice the difficulty of fasting. Imam Tirmidhi relates that the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, said, “Fasting in the winter is the cold spoils.”

Abu Hurayra used to say, “Shall I not direct you to the cold spoils?” They said, “Certainly.” He said, “Fasting during the winter months.” The meaning of it being the “cold spoils” is that it is like the spoils of battle taken without conflict, fatigue, or difficulty. Hence, one who takes these spoils does so casually with no exertion whatsoever.

As for standing in prayer during its nights, their length allows for the soul to take a healthy portion of sleep and then arise and pray. The praying person can recite his entire regular portion of the Qur’an and still get a healthy dose of sleep. He is thus able to complete his religious duty and to give rest to his body.

Among the saying of Yahya bin Mu’adh is the following: “The night is long; do not make it short by sleeping through it. Islam is pure; do not defile it with your sins.” This [the length of the winter nights] is the opposite of the case of the summer. Owing to the shortness of its nights and its heat, sleep is required during it and it is difficult for the soul to get the sleep it needs without sleeping its entirety. Therefore, praying during it requires exertion. For this reason, one may not complete his customary portion of the Qur’an.

Ibn Mas’ud used to say, “Welcome to winter, blessings descend during it; its nights are long and therefore conducive to praying and its days are short conducive to fasting.” It is also related that he attributed this saying to the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him. However, this attribution is not accurate. It is related from hasan [al-Basri], “What an excellent time the winter is for the believer! Its nights are long so he stands in prayer during them, and its days are short so he fasts them.” It is related that ‘Ubayd bin ‘Umair used to say when winter came, “O people of the Qur’an! The nights are long for you to recite so recite! The days are short for your fast so fast!”

Staying for prayer during the nights of winter is equivalent to fasting the days of summer. For this reason, Mu’adh wept as his death approached and he said, “Rather I am crying because I will miss the thirst of fasting during the midday summer sun, and the standing in prayer during the winter nights and crowding around the scholars at the gathering of knowledge.” Ma’dad mentioned, “Were it not for three things I would not mind if I were an insect: The thirst while fasting in the midday summer sun; standing for prayer during the winter nights; and the sweetness of reciting the Book of Allah during night vigils.”

The night prayer during the winter does involve difficulty from two perspectives:

The first is from the perspective of the pain the soul experiences in getting out of the [warm] bed during times of intense cold. Dawud bin Rushayd mentioned, “One of my brothers got up for his portion of worship during an bitterly cold night. He was wearing ragged clothes which the cold penetrated causing him to cry. He heard a voice cry out: ‘We have roused you from sleep, while we have left others slumbering. Are you crying for what we have done?’ ” This is related by Abu Nu’aym [2]

The second is from the perspective of the pain that results from performing ablutions during the bitter cold. Performing ablutions under such conditions is one of the most virtuous acts of worship. It is related in Sahih Muslim, among the narrations of Abu Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with him, on the authority of the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, that he said: “Shall I not direct you to something with which Allah will efface your sins and raise your ranks? They responded, “Certainly O Messenger of Allah!” He said, “Performing an expansive ablution during difficult times; taking many steps to reach the mosque; and remaining in the mosque for the next prayer –doing so a form of guard duty.” [3]

In a similar Hadith, Mu’adh ibn al-Jabal, may Allah be pleased with him, mentioned:

The Prophet, peace upon him, saw his Lord in his dream. He said to him: “O Muhammad! What are the members of the highest hosts discussing?” He answered: “The ranks and the expiations.” He said: “The expiations are extending ablution during difficult times; walking to the Friday [or congregational] prayers; and waiting for the next prayer. Whoever does that will live and die in a good state and will be free of sin like the day his mother gave birth to him. The ranks are providing food [to the hungry]; greeting people; and praying at night while people are asleep.” [4]

Imams Ahmad and Tirmidhi related this Hadith. In one version of the Hadith [we read]’ “Extending ablutions during Sabarat.” Sabra means bitter cold. Extending ablutions during bitter cold is one of the highest characteristics of faith. Ibn Sa’d relates via his own chain of transmission that ‘Umar advised his son ‘Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with them both, as he lay on his death bed, “O My son! It is incumbent upon you that you adhere to the characteristics of faith.” He asked, “What are they?” ‘Umar relied, “Fasting during the intense heat of the summer months; fighting the transgressing enemies of the faith; being patient in the face of calamities; extending your ablution during the cold winter days; hastening to prayer during inclement weather; and never drinking alcohol.”

(to be continued)

[1] Bayhaqi, al-Sunan, 4:294
[2] Abu Nu’aym, Hilya al-Awliya, 8:335
[3] Muslim, 251
[4] Ahmad, al-Musnad, 5:243; Tirmidhi, 3235