General / Motivational

The Salaf and the Winter…

Lessons from the Weather…How the Salaf Viewed the Winter

Oscar Wilde once quipped “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative”. In what follows I must thus be accused of being a perpetrator of unimaginativeness. Before I readily accept this characterisation, I must also remind the dear reader that the winter period brings out the best in the British time-honoured art of ‘weather-moaning’ – reaching its zenith in the cold snap during the Christmas holiday and the slow drag that brings the New Year. After all, we do have four seasons in these isles: Autumn, Winter, Spring and yes … Winter. With lame humour aside, however, there is a serious point to consider for the discerning Muslim and it is not just that many will suffer terribly during this extensive cold period such as the elderly who cannot afford the rising fuel costs such as gas to keep them warm; nor the economically less sufficient who will be sucked into an unwanted debt that results from the chaotic commercialism of the festive fervour nor even the deplorable breakdown of the public transport services that the commuter so indifferently embraces because it is something so normal…the point for the discerning Muslim to heed from the winter is Jahannam (‘Hellfire’).[1]

          That is right, Hellfire; the fiery, burning, scorching and searing other-life destination for those who had wilfully reconciled to a worldly life of denial and distance from the love and commandments of Allah (swt). But what connection does this most terrifying destination have with the winter cold? In a hadith (‘narration’) of our beloved Prophet (saw) the connection is made clear:

إذا اشتد الحر فأبردوا بالصلاة، فإن شدة الحر من فيح جهنم، واشتكت النار إلى ربها، فقالت : يا رب أكل بعضي بعضا، فأذن لها بنفسين، نفس في الشتاء ونفس في الصيف، فهو أشد ما تجدون من الحر، وأشد ما تجدون من الزمهرير

“When it gets extremely hot, delay the prayer at a cooler time because the intense heat is one of the rage (fayh) of Hellfire. The Hellfire complained to its Lord saying: ‘My Lord! My parts are consuming each other’. So it was permitted two breaths (nafasayn): one breath in the winter and one breath in the summer. Therefore, whatever you find of intense heat in the summer is the breath of Hellfire and whatever you find of Zamharir (‘extreme and bitter cold’)[2] is also one of the breaths of Hellfire…”[3]

          From this hadith we are given a stark description that the polar opposites in weather – extreme heat and extreme cold – are actually Hellfire’s respite from consumption of its inhabitants. Weather is therefore a reminder of the akhira – what inevitably awaits us as an outcome and what our cosmic destination could finally be. Unimaginative? Hardly.

A Muslim’s physical existence in this life is a means to the everlasting afterlife and thus preparation in it is the goal of the believer. Fortunately even with regards to the way to view the weather, our Prophet, his noble Companions and indeed the early generations of pious predecessors who followed them have offered advice and counsel. Below are just snippets from their statements in order to serve as a reminder to us all the next time we feel that extended and chilling cold (like now) or that scorching heat wave that rarely arrives here:

[1.] Outlines:

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in Lata’if al-Ma`arif writes the following in the section Fi Dhikr Fadl al-Shita’ (‘A Mention on the Excellence of Winter’):

خرج الإمام أحمد من حديث أبي سعيد الخدري رضي الله عنه عن النبي قال: (الشتاء ربيع المؤمن) وخرجه البيهقي وغيره وزاد فيه: (طال ليله فقامه وقصر نهاره فصامه). إنما كان الشتاء ربيع المؤمن لأنه يرتع فيه في بساتين الطاعات، ويسرح في ميادين العبادات، وينزه قلبه في رياض الأعمال الميسرة فيه، كما ترتع البهائم في مرعى الربيع، فتسمن وتصلح أجسادها، فكذلك يصلح دين المؤمن في الشتاء، بما يسر الله فيه من الطاعات، فإن المؤمن يقدر في الشتاء على صيام نهاره من غير مشقة، ولا كلفة تحصل له من جوع ولا عطش، فإن نهاره قصير بارد، فلا يحس فيه بمشقة الصيام

“Imam Ahmad mentions a hadith from Abu Sa`id al-Khudri (ra) from the Prophet (saw) who said: ‘The Winter is the believer’s best season’.[4] al-Bayhaqi and others mentioned the addition: ‘the nights are long for him to stand in them and its days are short for him to fast in them’. The reason why winter is the ‘best season for the believer’ is because in it is the opportunity for him to graze in the orchards of obedience to Allah, to roam in the pastures of worship of Allah and to allow his heart to be lifted in the gardens of easy and righteous deeds in the same way as animals graze in the pastures during spring so that they become fuller and strengthened. In the same manner, the religion of a person could be improved and reformed during the winter in what Allah makes easy for him of obedience. During the winter days the believer is able to fast with little difficulty without feeling hungry or thirsty because the days are cool and short and hence he does not feel the difficulty in doing it…”[5]

  • Notes: How perhaps many us would recoil at the suggestion of winter being our favourite season! The rain slashes the face, the winds batter the shore line, the beaches are deserts and the chill makes us shrink and groan inwards.
  • However, the believer sees these as of little consequence when he weighs the opportunities to attain immense reward, mercy and blessing from Allah (swt) in the hereafter. Thus, the winter is seen as meadows of opportunity, pastures for a favourable spiritual advantage and gardens that are a juncture for engaging in a loving, worshipping and meaningful relationship with his Lord.

Ibn Rajab continues in the section with another hadith from the Prophet (saw):

وفي المسند والترمذي عن النبي قال: (الصيام في الشتاء الغنيمة الباردة) وكان أبوهريرة رضي الله عنه يقول: أدلكم على الغنيمة الباردة ؟ قالوا: بلى! فيقول: الصيام في الشتاء.

“In the Musnad of al-Tirmidhi from the Prophet (saw) it has: ‘Fasting in the winter is the cool easy booty.[6] And Abu Hurayra (ra) reported: ‘Shall I show you an easy booty?’ They replied: ‘yes, of course!’ Abu Hurayra replied: ‘fasting in the winter time’…”[7]

Ibn Rajab also explains the hadith cited above as follows:

ومعنى كونها غنيمة باردة، أنها غنيمة حصلت بغير قتال ولا تعب ولا مشقة، فصاحبها يحوز هذه الغنيمة عفوا صفوا بغير كلفة، هذا بالنسبة للصيام، أمَّا فيما يخص القيام في ليال الشتاء فإنه لطول لياليه يستطيع المرء أن يأخذ حظه الكافي من النوم ثم يقوم بعد ذلك إلى الصلاة فيقرأ ورده كله من القرآن، يقرأه بوعي وإدراك، لأنَّ نفسه مرتاحة، فقد أخذت قسطها الكافي من النوم فيجتمع له فيه نومه المحتاج إليه مع إدراك ورده من القرآن، فيكمل له مصلحة دينه، وراحة بدنه

“The reason why they have been described as an ‘easy prise or booty’ is because they are acquired without having to neither fight nor undergo any hardship. So, the owner is granted it out of beneficence and favour without difficulty. This is with respect to fasting. As for specifically doing the night prayers during winter, this is because the nights are longer that allow for a person to get sufficient sleep to then later stand up for night prayers or recite litanies from the Qur’an with awareness and comprehension because he is settled from getting enough sleep. Therefore, he would combine enough sleep that he needs to understand and read the Qur’anic litanies properly so that he can complete the benefit he requires for his religion and body…”[8]

  • Notes: the opportunity is to be relished. The reward of struggling in the path of Allah (swt) is unparalleled but its equivalent reward can be earned through fasting in the winter. This indicates a number of points such as:


  1. The utter Mercy of Allah (swt) for offering such a gift and reward.
  2. Worship can be made at the balanced leisure of the believer.

[2.] Advice from the Companions and Early Predecessors:

 …ويروى عن ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه قال: مرحبا بالشتاء تنزل فيه البركة، ويطول فيه الليل للقيام، ويقصر فيه النهار للصيام. وروي عنه مرفوعا ولا يصح رفعه. وعن الحسن قال: نعم زمان المؤمن الشتاء ليله طويل يقومه، ونهاره قصير يصومه. وعن عبيد بن عمير أنه كان إذا جاء الشتاء قال: يا أهل القرآن! طال ليلكم لقراءتكم فاقرأوا، وقصر النهار لصيامكم فصوموا، قيام ليل الشتاء يعدل صيام نهار الصيف. ولهذا بكى معاذ عند موته وقال: إنما أبكي على ظمأ الهواجر، وقيام ليل الشتاء، ومزاحمة العلماء بالركب عند حلق الذكر

“And there are statements such as from Ibn Mas`ud (ra)[9] who would say: ‘Welcome winter! Blessings come down in it; the nights are long for standing in Prayer and the days are shortened for fasting…’ Hasan [al-Basri][10] said: ‘the best time for a believer is winter. The nights are long to pray in and the days are short to fast in.’ `Ubayd b. `Umayr is reported to have said when the winter would come: ‘O people of the Qur’an, your nights have become long for your recitation so recite in them and your days have shortened for your fasts so fast in them. Night prayer in the winter equals fasting during the day in the summer’. That is why Mu`adh [b. Jabal][11] wept while on his death bed saying: I weep for the thirst of the fast, standing up at night time and sitting knee to knee with the scholars in sessions of knowledge (halaq al-dhikr)…”[12]

[3.] Lessons:

  • The winter is a time to reflect on the afterlife (akhira) and hence link ourselves to the permanent abode we are heading to although many will be thinking of ways to close the year with parties and reckless merriment in the present life.
  • The winter is a time to reflect on jahannam and the consequences of that destination in order to alert us to a self-censorship and accountability in our actions.
  • The winter is a time to increase in additional acts of worship (`ibadat) because the days are short and the nights are long as opposed to just wasting time through it by simply being inactive and lazy.


And with Allah is true succour.


[1] Cf. s.v. “Jahannam” in R. P. Taylpr (ed.), Death and the Afterlife: A Cultural Encyclopaedia, pp.198-203..

[2] From the root z / m / h / r meaning ‘raging red eyes’, ‘to be red in the face’ and ‘to be bitterly cold’. See M. A. S. Abdel Haleem and Elsaid M. Badawi, Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage, s.v. p.403. Its occurrence in the Qur’an is in 76: 13 where Ibn al-Jawzi comments:

قوله تعالى: { لاَ يرَوْنَ فيها شمساً } فيُؤذيهم حَرُّها { ولا زمهريراً } وهو البرد الشديد. والمعنى: لا يجدون فيها الحَرَّ والبرد.

“The Most High saying: {they will not see the sun} its heat causing them harm {nor Zamharir} which is the intense and bitter cold. Thus they will neither suffer intense pain nor cold.” Zad al-Masir, 8:435.

[3] Bukhari, Sahih (#536)

[4] al-Suyuti, al-Jami` al-Saghir (#4929-4930); al-Busiri, Ithaf al-Khayra, 3:90; Abu Nu`aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’, 8:364 and al-Haythami, Majma` al-Zawa’id, 3:203.

[5] Ibn Rajab, Lata’if al-Ma`arif, p.276.

[6] Tirmidhi, Sunan (#797); al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, 4:297; al-Suyuti, al-Jami` al-Saghir (#5167) and al-Haythami, Majma` al-Zawa’id, 3:203.

[7] Ibn Rajab, Lata’if al-Ma`arif, p.276.

[8] Ibn Rajab, Lata’if al-Ma`arif, p.276.

[9] For whom see al-Zirikli, al-A`lam, 4:280.

[10] For a detailed account of Hasan al-Basri’s life and early career, see S. A. Mourad, Early Islam between Myth and History, pp.19-58.

[11] For whom see Ibn Sa`d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, 2:107-109 and 3:120-126.

[12] Ibn Rajab, Lata’if al-Ma`arif, p.276.


One thought on “The Salaf and the Winter…

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