Reflections on Munajat Sha'baniyyah (1)

Reflections on Munajat Sha'baniyyah (1)


Sha’ban, the eighth month of the Islamic calendar, is considered the month of Allah’s mercy and pleasure. A prayer by Imam Ali (PBUH) attributed to this month, called Munajat Sha‘baniyyah, is a well-known and unique whispered prayer highly regarded by the Infallible Imams as well as mystics and philosophers. With careful attention to its meanings and advice, a person can achieve levels of perfection to reach a high status with Allah.

The following offers a glance into some of its passages along with an explanation of the states of a person who calls to Allah, the ways to address Him and ask for His help, the effects of detachment from this world, and a response to a frequently asked question regarding the attitude and condition of a supplicant. The Month of Sha‘ban is the month of Allah’s mercy and pleasure. While addressing Allah, Imam Zayn al-Abidin said: شعبان الّذي حففته منك بالرّحمة والرضوان

Sha’ban: the month that You have encompassed with Your mercy and pleasure.

Scholars’ high regard for Munajat Sha‘baniyyah

The prayer of Munajat Sha‘baniyyah, attributed to Imam Ali, is a highly regarded whispered prayer recited by all the Imams. It has been mentioned by several great scholars in their books: Sayyid ibn Tawus in his al-Iqbal, Allamah Majlisi in Bihar al-Anwar, Samahiji in Sahifat al-Alawiyyah and Shaykh Abbas Qummi in Mafatih al- Jinan. Although the complete chain of narration of this prayer has not been noted in these works, due to its content and high regard that scholars have always had for this whispered prayer, it has not been questioned or objected to by anyone.

The late Imam Khomeini, in many places and on several occasions, had emphasised the significance of this prayer. In one of his sayings he mentions that whilst there are many important mystical poems and prayers that one can extract from the Qur’an and from the whispered prayers of the Imams, the Munajat Sha‘baniyyah is unique, and that though philosophers and mystics may be able to understand some aspects of these whispered prayers, those who truly understand them have actually achieved a high level of closeness to Allah, with a taste or experience of the prayer’s content.

Hence, a wayfarer or a traveler to Allah, who has reached at least some level of what is described in these prayers and has achieved closeness to Allah, can have some grasp of the ideas, although they certainly are not understandable by a beginner in philosophy and mysticism. Imam Khomeini also says that Munajat Sha‘baniyyah is one of the special whispered prayers to which, if someone pays attention, performs reflection, and follows its advice, that person can reach a notable position and can achieve some levels of perfection. The late Mirza Agha Maliki Tabrizi, one of the teachers of Imam Khomeini, especially in the fields of ethics and spirituality, says that Munajat Sha‘baniyyah is a well-known whispered prayer, and that ‘It contains a wealth of knowledge.’

The prayer contains the etiquettes and manners of beseeching Allah, and how one can pray and ask for forgiveness from Him. Tabrizi then refers to a scholar, without mentioning his name, who wrote a commentary on some parts of the prayer. Subsequently, the late Agha Buzurg Tehrani mentions a commentary on the passage: اِلـهي هَبْ لي كَمالَ الانْقِطاعِ اِلَيْكَ

by the late Muhammad Kadhim Husayn Rashti. Furthermore, Imam Khomeini had asked some great scholars to comment on it, and two of his students – Ayatullah Mazahiri and Ayatullah Muhammadi Gilani – have indeed produced commentaries on this prayer. Therefore, it is a very special gift from amongst the jewels and treasures of the Ahlul Bayt, and I wish now to reflect on some of its passages so that we may understand it, as well as other whispered prayers recited by the Prophet’s household.


The prayer commences with the invocation of salawat – or sending blessings – upon the Prophet and his pure and immaculate household. اَللّـهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلى مُحَمَّد وَآلِ مُحَمَّد

In Islam, it is an established etiquette that supplications and prayers should begin and end with this invocation. This is because this invocation is always accepted by Allah. When our prayers begin and end with this, then from cover to cover we have achieved His acceptance, and therefore it is unlikely that what is in between these two, i.e. our desires and wishes, will not be accepted.

وَاسْمَعْ دُعائي اِذا دَعَوْتُكَ، وَاْسمَعْ نِدائي اِذا نادَيْتُكَ، وَاَقْبِلْ عَليَّ اِذا ناجَيْتُكَ: [O Allah] listen to my plea when I plea to You, and listen to my call when I call You, and attend to me when I whisper to You.

In my view, this portion of the prayer refers to three possible states of a person who calls to Allah, and each is accompanied by a suitable type of calling:

1. The caller is at a distance from Allah: the nature of calling is nida’ (a call from a distance).

2. The caller is near to Allah: the nature of calling is du’a (a call from relatively near).

3. The caller is very close, almost able to ‘touch’ Allah: the nature of calling is munajat (a whisper, from mouth to ear).

These three states are dependent on the condition of the caller to Allah, and not on Allah. Allah is constant, He is always as He is, but His servants and creation experience different levels of closeness, and this affects the way they address Him. Prophet Musa once asked Allah: “Are You close so that I whisper to You, or far so that I call You?” Allah replied: “I am sitting next to the one who remembers Me”.

From this we understand that as He is always close and sits next to those who remember Him, there is no need even to call Him, if people remember Him. Therefore, we have different ways to address Allah depending on our own condition. Nevertheless, in all three we want His attention, His answer, and His acceptance.

This passage implores Allah to listen to us when we call Him, and to allow us to restore our connection with Him if we have lost touch with Him, whether we call Him from afar or from close by. And once we do this, then we are desperate for Him to come to us, because one that comes to us has surely heard us: فَقَدْ هَرَبْتُ اِلَيْكَ، وَوَقَفْتُ بَيْنَ يَدَيكَ : Indeed I have escaped to You and I stand in front of You.

The one who recites this is telling Allah that he has escaped from everything other than Him, despite being faced with challenges and enemies. He has managed to detach himself from everything and approach Allah. This is like a person chased by thieves or murderers and escapes, and finds a good person and appeals to their help. The expression is one of desperation and need. The good thing is that this person has at least recognized that Allah is the one he needs, and not anything else. At times, we can be tempted to run towards non-Godly things. But in this prayer we realize that other things are obstacles, and that refuge is only with Allah.

Now that we have reached Him, we ask for His help. When we go to a person who can offer refuge, then the important step is to reach that person. For an ill person it could be a hospital; for a hungry person it is to reach someone who has food. We are beseeching Allah, saying ‘Now that I am here, You help me. I have done my part by coming to You, now it is Your turn to help me; it was my job to run away and find You, now it is Your turn to fulfill my requirements.’

Sometimes, when people stand before a helper, a guide, or an alim, they stand in a very relaxed manner, almost as if they do not really need him, and in a way that suggests they have only come to him as a matter of formality. They approach with the outer appearance of need without truly meaning it. They approach a doctor, although internally believing themselves to be fine and healthy. But with Allah, when we go to Him and stand before Him, we must know and show we are absolutely desperate and in complete need. There should be no feeling of being relaxed: مُسْتَكيناً لَكَ : I am a mustakin in front of You.

In other words, I am completely needy towards You. A mustakin is a stronger term than miskin, which is a person whose need made him unable to move and completely desperate. However, a mustakin is needier than this. We say: ‘O Allah, I have exhausted everything and somehow I have managed to reach here and cannot go anywhere else, not even a step further. I have exhausted everything I have, and I have run out of power and energy to go anywhere else.

Continue in the next article: ( Reflections on Munajat Sha'baniyyah (2) )