Question # 185: Salam aleikoem; I want to know how the Prophet peace be upon him performs qiyam al layl; Jazak Allahu Khayran

Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: The following acts are sunnah for one who wishes to perform the tahajjud prayers:

  • Upon going to sleep, one should make the intention to perform the tahajjud prayers;
  • Upon waking, one should wipe one’s face, use a toothstick, and look to the sky and make the supplication;
  • The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) began Qiyam al-Layl with two quick rak’at;
  • One should wake up one’s family for tahajjud;
  • One should stop praying tahajjud and sleep if one becomes very sleepy and should not overburden one’s self and pray only to a reasonable extent, and try performing it regularly;
  • Although it is preferable to pray eleven or thirteen rak’at for tahajjud, there is no specific number of minimum or maximum number of rak’at which must be performed; and
  • Whoever sleeps past his full portion of the late-night prayers due to pain or anything else, he/she can pray between the dawn and noon prayers, thereby making qada’ for the missed tahajjud.

Long Answer: The following acts are sunnah for one who wishes to perform the tahajjud prayers:

  • Upon going to sleep, one should make the intention to perform the tahajjud Abu ad-Darda’ (رضي الله عنه) relates that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever goes to his bed with the intention of getting up and praying during the night, and sleep overcomes him until the morning comes, he will have recorded for him what he had intended, and his sleep will be a charity for him from his Lord.” (This is related by an-Nasa’i and ibn Majah with a sahih chain)
  • Upon waking, one should wipe one’s face, use a toothstick, and look to the sky and make the supplication which has been reported from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): “There is no God but Thee, Glory be to Thee, I seek forgiveness from You for my sins, and I ask for your mercy. O Allah, increase my knowledge and let my heart not swerve after You have guided me, and bestow mercy upon me from Thyself. All praise be to Allah who has given us back life after our death and unto Him is the resurrection.” Then, one should recite the last ten ‘ayat of al-‘Imran.
  • One should begin Qiyam al-Layl with two quick rak’at and then one may pray whatever one wishes after that. ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) says: “When the Prophet prayed during the late-night, he would begin his prayers with two quick rak’at.” (Both of these reports are related by Muslim)
  • One should wake up one’s family for tahajjud: Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “May Allah bless the man who gets up during the night to pray and wakes up his wife and who, if she refuses to get up, sprinkles water on her face. And may Allah bless the woman who gets up during the night to pray and wakes up her husband and who, if he refuses sprinkles water on his face.” The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) also said: “If a man wakes his wife and prays during the night or they pray two rak’at together, they will be recorded among those (men and women) who (constantly) make remembrance of Allah.” (This is related by Abu Dawud and others with a sahih chain) Umm Salamah (رضي الله عنها) narrates that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) got up during the night and said: “Glory be to Allah. What trials are descended with the night. And what has descended of treasures. Who will waken the lady occupants of the rooms (i.e., his wives) for prayers; how many a well dressed in this world will be naked in the hereafter.” (This is related by al-Bukhari) Al-Bukhari and Muslim record that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) asked ‘Ali and Fatimah (رضي الله عنهما): “Do you not pray [during the night]?” ‘Ali said: “O Messenger of Allah, we are in Allah’s hands. If He wishes to make us get up, we get up.” The Prophet turned away when he said that. Then, they could hear him striking his thigh and saying: “Verily, man disputes a lot.” (This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  • One should stop praying tahajjud and sleep if one becomes very sleepy: ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) reports that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “When one of you gets up during the night for prayer and his Qur’anic recital becomes confused to the extent that he does not know what he says, he should lie down.” (This is related by Muslim) Anas narrates that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) entered the mosque and saw a rope stretching between two posts. He asked: “What is this?” The people told him that it was for Zainab [bint Jahsh] who, when she became tired or weary, held it (to keep standing for the prayer). The Prophet said: “Remove the rope. You should pray as long as you feel active, and when you get tired or weary, you should lie down to rest.” (This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  • One should not overburden one’s self with the night prayer and should only pray it to the extent that is reasonable, and not leave that practice unless there is some great need to do so. ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) reports that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Do (good) deeds according to your capacity, for by Allah, Allah does not weary from giving rewards unless you get tired of doing good deeds.” (This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim) Al-Bukhari and Muslim also relate from ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was asked: “What is the most loved deed to Allah?” He answered: “One that is performed constantly even if it is a small deed.” And Muslim recorded that ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) said: “The Messenger of Allah was constant in his deeds, and if he did something, he would do it consistently.” ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar reports that the Messenger of Allah said: “O ‘Abdullah, do not become like so-and-so who used to make the tahajjud prayers and then he stopped praying it.” (This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim) Al-Bukhari and Muslim also record, on the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, that it was mentioned to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) that a man slept until the morning. [Thereupon] he said: “Satan has urinated into the ears of that person.” They also record from Salim ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, from his father that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said to his father, “Abdullah would be a good man if he would pray the tahajjud” Salim said: “After that, ‘Abdullah would not sleep during the night save for a small amount at a time.”
  • It is preferable to pray eleven or thirteen rak’at for tahajjud: One may choose between praying them all together or to separate them. ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) says: “The Messenger of Allah never prayed more than eleven rak’at, during Ramadan or otherwise. He would pray four rak’at, and don’t ask about how excellent they were or how lengthy they were. Then, he would pray four rak’at, and don’t ask about how excellent they were or how lengthy they were. Then, he would pray three rak’at. I asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah, do you sleep before praying witr?’ he replied: ‘O ‘Aishah, my eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep.”’ This is recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim who also record that al-Qasim ibn Muhammad said that he heard ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) say: “The Messenger of Allah’s prayer during the night would be ten rak’at and then he would make witr with one rak’ah.” However, the tahajjud prayer does not entail a specific number of rak’at which must be performed nor is there any maximum limit which has to be performed.

The fuqaha’ differed concerning the description of qiyam al-layl – in terms of how many rak‘ahs it is. There are two views:  According to the first view, it is mustahabb (recommended) in qiyam al-layl to say the tasleem after four rak‘ahs, not after two, but if a person prays two rak‘ahs, that is valid and there is no blame on him. This is the view of Imam Abu Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him). The second view is based on the hadith of Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): “The night prayers are two (rak‘ahs) by two.” (Agreed upon) This is the view of the Hanbalis. The reconciliation between the two views is that it is mustahabb for the night prayers to be done two (rak‘ahs) by two, but it is not obligatory. If a person says the tasleem after four (rak‘ahs), his prayer is valid and there is no blame on him, but he has done something contrary to what is preferred. This is the view of the Maalikis and Shafi‘is, although there is a slight difference between them. (Islam Q&A)

  • Making qada’ for the missed tahajjud: Muslim records that ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) said: “If the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) missed the late-night prayers due to pain or anything else, he would pray twelve rak’at during the day.” ‘Umar reports that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever sleeps past his full portion [of the late-night prayers] or part of them, he should pray between the dawn and noon prayers and it would be recorded for him as if he had prayed during the night.” (This is related by the group except for al-Bukhari) 

(The above reply is based on the book ‘Fiqh Us-Sunnah’ by As-Sayyid Sabiq, unless stated otherwise)

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam