Islam has imposed certain obligations on its followers and recommended some sunnan (plural of Sunnah). Obligations are the things that must be done. Those who observe them are rewarded, and those who abstain from them without any legitimate excuse have sinned. Sunnan are the things that the Lawgiver recommends but doesn’t strictly require. They are rewarding for those who do them out of obedience to Allah, but not for those who abstain.
Salah: The Prayer of a Muslim
Among all of the obligatory acts of worship in Islam, prayer is of the utmost importance.
Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam, second only to Tawheed.
Allah, The Most High says,
“I created the jinn and man only that they might worship Me.”
Salaah represents unmediated communication with Allah and is therefore, among many other things, a source of solace from troubles and purification of hearts.
A Muslim is always in search of any means to draw closer to Allah and there is no better way to do this than through voluntary prayer.
Allah the Almighty says in a hadith Qudsi,
“… My servant continues to draw close to me through voluntary deeds until I love him, so I become his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his legs with which He walks. Were he to ask of Me, I would surely give him and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant it.” [Bukhari].
The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] once told Rabi’ah to ask him anything.
“I ask to be your companion in Paradise.” The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] replied, “Then help me by making many prostrations (i.e. supererogatory prayers)” [Muslim].
Nawafil: Sunnah Mu’akkadah. The “Confirmed” Sunnah
Among the nawafil actions in Islam are the confirmed or emphasized sunnahs of prayer i.e. non-obligatory prayers, which the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] did not omit.
The emphasized sunnah is based upon a regular activity of the blessed Messenger, Allah, or the guided Caliphs. Although the Sunnah is not mandatory or necessary, it is highly recommended. This action is deemed acceptable and good by the Shari’ah. It is a sin to miss the Sunnah habitually, as it gives the impression that you are abandoning the practice of the Prophet (pbuh).
Along with the five prescribed prayers that comprise 17 rak’as, the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] used to offer various number of rak’as as nawafil. He prayed 2 rak’as with the Fajr prayer, 2 or 4 rak’as before and after the Dhuhr prayer, 4 rak’as before the ‘Asr prayer, two rak’as after the Maghrib prayer, and 2 rak’as before the ‘Isha prayer and 3 after it. In this manner, he offered the same number of voluntary prayers as the obligatory prayers.
The Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] instructed us on the merit of observing Qiyam ul-Layl.
Allah the Almighty says,
“And from [part of] the night, pray with it as additional [worship] for you; it is expected that your Lord will resurrect you to a praised station” [17: 79]
“Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little – Half of it – or subtract from it a little, Or add to it, and recite the Quran with measured recitation” [73: 1-4].
Although Qiyam ul-Layl is an optional prayer, the above verses indicate that it was ordained for the Messenger of Allah as Allah Himself commanded him to observe night vigil in prayer.
Carrying out Allah’s command, the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] would stand in prayer until his legs swelled. When Aisha once asked him why he prayed so much to the point that his feet became swollen,
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) replied,
“Should I not be a grateful servant of Allah?”
This is the essence of supererogatory worship —to express gratitude to Allah and therefore draw closer to Him.
Despite its meritoriousness, Qiyam ul-Layl is optional;
the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] said,
“Two cycles of prayer performed in the late hours of the night are more valuable than all the riches of this world. But for fear of overburdening my followers, I would have made these obligatory.”
[Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Marwazi in the chapter of “Night Vigil”]
Like the morning prayer, Qiyam ul-Layl is performed in pairs. Aisha [may Allah be pleased with her] said that the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] never offered more than 11 rak’as during Qiyam ul-Layl including the witr.
The excellence of the Duha prayer is demonstrated in the hadith of the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] in which he says,
“Charity is required for every part of your body daily. Every utterance of ‘subhan Allah’ is charity, every utterance of ‘al-hamdullah’ is charity, every utterance of ‘la ilah illa Allah’ is charity, and every utterance of ‘Allahu Akbar’ is charity. Enjoining good is charity and forbidding vice is charity. And what suffices for this (as charity) are two rak’as of Duha” [Muslim].
Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) said,
“My friend (the Messenger of Allah) advised me to do three things — fast three days of every month, pray the Duha prayer, and pray the Witr prayer before I sleep” [Bukhari and Muslim].
The time for Duha prayer is after the sun is well up in the sky until just before noon. The prayer minimally consists of two rak’as, is optimally eight rak’as, and maximally twelve. It is prayed in pairs and one finishes each prayer with salams.
The Istikhara prayer is a non-obligatory prayer and consists of two rak’as followed by a supplication asking Allah the Almighty for guidance.
Jabir [may Allah be pleased with him] said,
“The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] used to teach us the istikhara prayer for all matters, as he would teach us a chapter of the Quran, saying, ‘When a matter concerns one of you, pray two non-obligatory rak’as and say: ‘O Allah! I ask You to show me what is best through Your knowledge, and bring it to pass through Your power, and I ask You of Your immense favor; for You are all-powerful and I am not, You know and I do not, and You are the Knower of the Unseen. O Allah, if You know this matter to be better for me in my religion, livelihood, and final outcome, then bring it about and facilitate it for me, and bless me with abundance therein. And if You know this matter to be worse for me in my religion, livelihood, and final outcome, then keep it from me and keep me from it, and bring about the good for me whatever it may be, and make me pleased with it,’ and then one should mention the matter at hand.’”
A person who performs the Istikhara prayer is instructed to work toward the matter for which he or she asked Allah for guidance; if the matter is facilitated then this means that is a sign of permission to go ahead with the matter. But if met with impediments, it is a sign to forsake the matter for it does not contain good.
It is permissible to ask a righteous person, one’s parents, or even friends to perform Istikhara prayer for one. The reason for this is Istikhara is essentially a supplication to Allah and this can be performed by oneself or by others since it is permissible for a person to supplicate Allah for the sake of a fellow brother. Whenever the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] saw ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, he would tell him,
“O brother! Include us in your supplications.”
This demonstrates the permissibility of supplicating for oneself as well as the permissibility of asking others to supplicate for oneself.
The Salah after Wudu`
The Prophet’s Companion, Bilal, established the voluntary prayer after wudu`. Whenever he performed wudu`, Bilal would offer a two rak’a prayer that came to be known as the two rak’as of wudu`.
The prayer’s meritoriousness is evident from the hadith narrated by Abu Huraira who said that the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] once asked Bilal,
“O Bilal! Tell me what deed have you done in Islam through which you hope to receive Allah’s mercy for I heard the sound of your footfall in Paradise!”
“Every time I performed wudu` by day or night, I would pray with that purification as much as Allah has destined for me.”
Whenever the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] suffered distress, he would resort to prayer and he instructed his followers to do the same. The prayer that the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] offered at such times came to be called salat ul-haja [the prayer of need].
The hadith scholar Ahamad Ibn al-Siddiq collected and compiled numerous hadiths on salat ul-haja in a book which he called Misbah al-Zugaga fi ma Warad ‘an Salat ul-Haja.
The prayer consists of two rak’as followed by supplications asking Allah the Almighty to fulfill one’s need. So pray two non-obligatory rak’as and say
“There is no god but Allah the Clement and Wise. There is no god but Allah the High and Mighty. Glory be to Allah, Lord of the Tremendous Throne. All praise is to Allah, Lord of the worlds. I ask you (O Allah) everything that leads to your mercy, and your tremendous forgiveness, enrichment in all good and freedom from all sin. Do not leave a sin of mine (O Allah), except that you forgive it, nor any concern except that you create for it an opening, nor any need in which there is your good pleasure except that you fulfill it, O Most Merciful!” – [Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah]
This prayer has been tried and tested and anyone who offers it will have his or her need fulfilled by the will of Allah.
Salat ul-Awabeen, the prayer of those who repent in abundance, consists of six rak’as performed between Maghrib and ‘Isha prayers. Whoever observes the prayer regularly will find its blessings in his heart.
The Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] advised his uncle Al-Abbas to observe salat ul-tasabeeh; he told him,
“O uncle! Should I not offer you a gift?!”
He then told him about the Tasabeeh prayer that consists of four rak’as with each rak’ah comprising 75 glorifications of Allah.
According to the Prophet’s advice, the Tasabeeh prayer should be performed at least once a week, once a month, once a year or at least once in lifetime. Ibn Nasir al-Deen al-Dimishqi declared the hadith on the Tasabeeh prayer authentic.
The Tasabeeh prayer is performed by saying takbeerat al-ihram and following it up with “subhan Allah, al-hamdullah, la ilah illa Allah, Allahu Akbar”.
They are repeated 15 times immediately after takbeerat al-ihram followed by a recitation of surat al-Fatiha.
One then bows and utters the same invocations 10 times and then rises from bowing and utters them 10 more times.
One then prostrates and utters them 10 times. This is followed by raising one’s head from prostration and uttering them 10 times and then making the second prostration and uttering them 10 more times.
One then sits for a moment in rest after the second prostration and utters the invocations 10 times. Totaling 75 times.
This is repeated in each of the four rak’as. The merit of the Tasabeeh prayer lies in that it is a prayer of forgiveness from all sins even if they are numerous like the waves of the sea.
Other voluntary prayers are not associated with a particular time of day or night. Examples include the salat ul-‘Eid, salat ul- Istisqa`, and salat ul-Khusuf and salat ul-Kusuf. During these prayers, Muslims ask Allah the Almighty to grant them His blessing, save them from punishment and not to deprive them from His favors.
The time of the prayer of the two ‘Eids starts 20 minutes after sunrise until noon. The prayer consists of two rak’as. In addition to the opening Allahu Akbar, one says Allahu Akbar seven times in the first rak’a and five times in the second, not counting the Allahu Akbar for rising from prostration. The ‘Eid prayer is a sunnah and is recommended to be prayed in congregation. However, whoever misses to pray it in congregation may offer it at home.
The Istisqa’ prayer is a state-organized prayer. The leader calls upon the people to fast for three days and then to assemble for the prayer and beseech Allah for rain and forgiveness. Like the prayer of the two ‘Eids, the Istisqa` prayer consists of two rak’as followed by one or more sermons.
Salat ul-Khusuf and salat ul-Kusuf
The Khusuf and Kusuf prayer are not performed except when there is a partial or total eclipse of the moon or sun. Solar and lunar eclipses are natural phenomena and do not occur because of the death or birth of any person.
When a solar eclipse coincided with the death of Ibrahim, the Messenger’s son, he said,
“The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of anyone’s death or birth but they are two of the signs of Allah which He reveals to His servants. So, when you see them, resort to prayer.”
The eclipse prayer is a two-rak’a prayer that is observed either individually or in a group. Each rak’a comprises standing twice, reciting surat al-Fatiha and another sura or some other verses twice, bowing twice, and prostrating twice. After the prayer, the imam delivers a sermon urging the people to repent and do good deeds.
Prayer is pivotal and essential and is one of the keys to Allah’s door. It purges us of sin, earns us Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure, and increases our spiritual strength, allowing us to fill our consciousness with Allah. Voluntary prayers, whether in gratitude for Allah’s numerous bounties or for guidance, or a need help us find direction in life, supplement our spiritual efforts, and enter us into the infinite grace and mercy of Allah.
Allah the Almighty says,
“Recite what is sent of the Book, by inspiration to thee, and establish regular prayer: for prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that you do”[Quran 29: 45].
Salah is indeed the Ultimate and Most Excellent gift.