The Excellence of Prayer at Night, Qiyam al-Layl

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Establish regular prayers at the sun’s decline until the darkness of the night, and the morning prayer and reading: for the prayer and reading in the morning carry their testimony.  And pray in the small watches of the morning: (it would be) an additional prayer (or spiritual profit) for thee: soon will thy Lord Raise thee to a station of Praise and Glory! (Surah al-Isra’:78-79)

It is recorded in Swahih Muslim that Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) reported that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the night prayer.”

It was also recorded by Imam Muslim (r.a.), Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.), Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.), and Imam ibn Majah (r.a.) that Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) reported that the Prophet (s.a.w.) was asked, “What prayer is most virtuous, after the obligatory prayers?”

He replied, “Prayer in the depths of the night.”

It was recorded by Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) and Imam Hakim (r.a.) that ‘Abdullah ibn Salam (r.a.) reported that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “O people!  Spread the salam, feed others, maintain family ties, and pray at night when others sleep and you will enter Heaven safely.”

It was recorded by Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) and others that Abu Umamah al-Bahili (r.a.) reported that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Hold fast to night prayer, for it is the way of the righteous before you, a way of drawing closer to your Lord, an expiation for wrong deeds, and a shield from sin.”  In some narrations, there is an addition, “And it repels sickness from the body.”

Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.) recorded that ibn Mas’ud (r.a.) said, “The virtue of night prayer over day prayer is like the virtue of secret charity over open charity.”  The scholars explain that this refers to voluntary prayers.

Imam Saffarini (r.a.), the Hanbali faqih and Sufi, explained in his Ghidza al-Albab Sharh Manzhumat al-Adab, “Night prayer is superior to day prayer because it is more concealed and closer to sincerity.  The salaf used to strive hard to hide their secrets,” meaning the actions between them and Allah (s.w.t.).

Sulthan al-‘Ariffin, Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.) said, “It used to be that a person would have guests staying over and he would pray at night without his guests knowing.”

The night prayer is harder on the lower self, because night is a time of rest from the tire of day, so leaving sleep despite the lower self being desirous of it is a tremendous struggle, mujahada.  Some have said, “The best of works are those the lower self is forced to perform.”  Recitation in night prayer is closer to contemplation because things that busy the heart are mostly absent at night, so the heart is attention and is with the tongue in understanding, as Allah (s.w.t.) Said:

Truly the rising by night is most potent for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (framing) the Word (of Prayer and Praise).  True, there is for thee by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties: But keep in remembrance the Name of thy Lord, and devote thyself to Him wholeheartedly. (Surah al-Muzzammil:6-8)

It is because of this that we have been Commanded to recite the Qur’an in night prayer in a steady recital, tartil.  And it is because of this that night prayer is a shield from sin.  The night vigil time is the best of times for voluntary worship and prayer, and the closest a servant is to his Lord.  It is a time when the doors of the heavens are Opened, supplications Answered, and the needs of those who ask Fulfilled.  Allah (s.w.t.) Praises those who wake up at night for His remembrance, supplication, and to seek Forgiveness and entreat Him, Saying thus:

Their limbs do forsake their beds of sleep, the while they call on their Lord, in Fear and Hope: and they spend (in charity) out of the sustenance which We have Bestowed on them.  Now no person knows what delights of the eye are Kept Hidden (in reserve) for them as a Reward for their (good) Deeds. (Surah as-Sajdah:16-17)

Those who show patience, firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of Allah); and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning. (Surah Ali ‘Imran:17)

And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!”  Those who spend the night in adoration of their Lord prostrate and standing; (Surah al-Furqan:63-64)

Imam Saffarini (r.a.), in Ghidha al-Albab Sharh Mandhumat al-Adab, and Imam Abu Sa’id al-Khadimi (r.a.), in al-Bariqah al-Mahmudiyyah Sharh ath-Thariqa’ al-Muhammadiyyah, have concurred and said there is scholarly consensus, ijma’, that among the best of virtuous acts is the night vigil prayer.

The scholars have derived from the Qur’an and hadits, that the minimal night vigil prayer is 2 raka’at.   Its optimal recommended amount is 8 raka’at because this was the general practice of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  All this is mentioned in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyyah, quoting Fath al-Qadir

Lengthier recitation is superior to a larger number of raka’at prayed.  If one divides the night in thirds, then the final middle third is most virtuous.  If one divides the night in half, then the second half is more virtuous.  All this is found in Radd al-Mukhtar ‘ala ad-Durr al-Mukhtar.
Voluntary, nafl, prayer at night is more virtuous than voluntary prayer during the day.  However, the full Reward Mentioned in the Qur’anic verses and hadits refers to worship that was preceded by sleep.  This is also understood from the very linguistic meaning of tahajjud, which is to struggle to rid oneself of sleep.  This is found in Radd al-Mukhtar ‘ala ad-Durr al-Mukhtar, quoting the Halbah ibn ‘Amir Hajj.

Imam ibn Nujaym (r.a.) and Imam al-Haswkafi (r.a.) both affirmed that night prayer is recommended, as mentioned in Bahr ar-Ra’iq Sharh Kanz ad-Daqa’iq fi Furu’ al-Hanafiyyah and Radd al-Mukhtar ‘ala ad-Durr al-Mukhtar; chosen in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyyah.  Imam Kamal ibn al-Humam (r.a.), the brilliant mujtahid who was the greatest Hanafi faqih of the latter half of Islamic history, however, wavered between it being recommended or a confirmed sunnah.  This is because while the spoken hadits indicate recommendation, the continued practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) would seem to indicate it being a confirmed sunnah.  This was also chosen by Imam ibn al-Humam’s (r.a.) student, Imam ibn Amir Hajj (r.a.) in his Halbah.

It is disliked to leave the night vigil prayer for one who has made it their habit, unless there is an excuse, because the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said to ibn ‘Umar (r.a.), “O ‘Abdullah!  Do not be like so-and-so.  He used to pray at night and then left it.”  This is in both Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim.  Therefore, one should take on an amount of works one can sustain, for the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said, “The most Beloved of actions to Allah are the most constant, even if little.”  This is also in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim.

It is recommended to start the night vigil with two short raka’at, because of the hadits of Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said, “It you get up for night prayer, start with two short raka’at.”  This is recorded in Swahih Muslim, Sunan Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and Sunan Abu Dawud.

Supplications in the depths of the night are answered, as the hadits have mentioned.  ibn Mas`ud (r.a.) was told, “I cannot pray at night.”

He replied, “Your sins have prevented you.”  And Allah (s.w.t.) Alone Gives success.

Qiyam al-Layl, the night vigil is a source of great spiritual energy.  The Qur’an also Commends the one who utilises the early hours of each day to engage in remembrance of Allah (s.w.t.):

Is one who worships devoutly during the hours of the night prostrating himself or standing (in adoration), who takes heed of the Hereafter, and who places his hope in the Mercy of his Lord ― (like one who does not)?  Say: “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?  It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.” (Surah az-Zumar:9)

They were in the habit of sleeping but little by night, (Surah adz-Dzariyat:17)

It was recorded by Imam at-Timirdzi (r.a.) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) has said, “Keep up qiyam al-layl.  It was the way of the virtuous who came before you; it draws you nearer to your Lord, atones for your sins, forbids you from evil and protects the body from sickness.”

It was recorded in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim that ’Aishah (r.a.) reported, “The Prophet (s.a.w.) kept standing (in prayer) so long that the skin of his feet would crack.  I asked him, ‘Why do you do this, while you have been Forgiven of your former and latter sins?’

He replied, ‘Should I not be a grateful slave of Allah?’”

This hadits is reproduced here to illustrate the practice of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in respect of qiyam al-layl.  It tells us that the nafl swalat should be performed with full concentration and peace of mind.  The more one is Endowed with Gifts from Allah (s.w.t.), the greater gratitude and worship one should express for them to Allah (s.w.t.).  The best time for showing one's humility before Allah (s.w.t.) and for worship is the later period of night.

It is recorded in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim that ‘Ali (k.w.) reported, “The Prophet (s.a.w.) visited Fathimah and I one night and asked, ‘Do you not observe prayer?’”  He was referring to the night prayer.  This hadits tells us that one should also awaken others at night for prayer so that they also avail the benefits of performing prayer at this particular time

It is recorded in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim that Shaykh Salim ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) reported, on the authority of his father, that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “What an excellent man ‘Abdullah is!  If only he could perform optional prayers at night.’”  Shaykh Salim (r.a.) said that after this, his father, ‘Abdullah (r.a.) slept very little at night.  This hadits points out the excellence of `Abdullah ibn `Umar (r.a.) as well as the merits of qiyam al-layl.


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