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Aspects Of Islamic Faith - 64: Prayer In The Depth Of The Night

29 June 2010

By Adil Salahi

AYESHA, the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), reports: “God’s messenger used to offer 11 rak’ahs. Such was his (night) prayer, during which he would make a prostration, i.e. sujood, as long as any of you would need to read 50 verses of the Qur’an, before he lifted his head. He would then offer two rak’ahs before the Fajr prayer. He would then recline on his right side until the muaddhin called him for the Fajr prayer.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

We explained last week the importance of the Witr prayer, which is ranked as the most strongly recommended voluntary prayer. The Prophet never missed it, under any circumstances. The Hadith gives us some information about the length of the Witr prayer. Eleven rak’ahs is the pattern the Prophet used most frequently. However, he did not conform to it all the time. We have different authentic reports that make clear that he offered the Witr, which is the minimum night worship, in 7, 9, 11, 13 and even 17 rak’ahs. People may go even higher than that, to any number. In fact at one stage in the early period of Islam, the people of Madinah used to offer the night worship in Ramadan in 39 rak’ahs. So the number is left to choice and how one feels on a particular night. The minimum is one rak’ah in Witr to be offered after Isha prayer. Most scholars, however, would prefer that this one rak’ah is preceded by two more to make a minimum of three rak’ahs. These could be long or short.

How did the Prophet pray the Witr? In most cases, he would offer two rak’ahs at a time, finish them as usual with salam. He might have a short break or resume immediately with two fresh rak’ahs. When he had prayed 10 rak’ahs, he would finish with one rak’ah on its own. He might sometimes pray eight rak’ahs in four lots of two rak’ahs each and finish with three, uninterrupted by salam. At times, instead of praying two rak’ahs at a time, he would offer two lots of four rak’ahs each and finish with three. Occasionally, he prayed eight consecutive rak’ahs in one go, without interruption, and sat down for tashahhud. He then stood up for the ninth rak’ah, and followed it with the second tashahhud, then finished his prayer.

As we see, the Prophet varied the way he prayed the night worship, or the Witr. By doing so, he indicated that all such forms are acceptable. Most frequently, the Prophet would sleep shortly after Isha prayer, and then wake up during the night to offer night worship which is concluded with the Witr prayer. He did this because the last third of the night is a time when God bestows His grace on mankind and looks favorably at those standing up in night worship. Moreover, it is a time when other people would not know what we are doing. Therefore, if one is alone offering night worship, he is sincere in his devotion. Hence, it stands a better chance of being accepted.

Sometimes the Prophet offered his night worship at the beginning of the night, and at other times he did so later, but without waiting to the last third of the night. We may choose what is more convenient for ourselves. We have a good model to emulate. The Prophet offered his Witr at every time during the night.

What we need to bear in mind in all this is that the Witr prayer is part of voluntary night worship, i.e. tahajjud. It is not merely the three rak’ahs most people think it to be. It simply concludes the night worship with either one or three rak’ahs, because witr means an odd number.

Sometimes, the Prophet reclined to take some rest after he had finished his Witr and before the Dawn or Fajr prayer, to separate the two. At times, he reclined between the sunnah of Fajr and the obligatory prayer.

It was the Prophet’s habit to make his night worship long: He would read a long passage of the Qur’an as he stood up and he would stay long in every position, glorifying God, praising Him, supplicating and appealing to Him. However, short rak’ahs are also good enough.



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