Question # 209: What is the correct manner of offering Witr Salah?

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: Witr is one of the confirmed Sunnahs (Sunnah mu’akkadah) which the Muslim should regularly observe and not neglect. As for its timing, it starts after Isha and lasts until dawn begins. If one fears that he/she will not get up at the end of the night, it should be prayed at the beginning of the night, but whoever thinks that he/she will be able to get up at the end of the night, he/she should pray Witr at the end of the night.

The minimum number of rak’ahs for Witr is one rak’ah, it may also be prayed in units of three or five or seven or nine. Praying Witr with three rak’ahs may be done in two ways, both of which are acceptable:

  1. Praying the three rak’ahs one after another, with one tashahhud and one tasleem.
  2. Praying two rak’ahs then saying the salaam, then praying one rak’ah on its own.  

As for praying three rak’ahs with two tashahhuds and one salaam, this was forbade by Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) as it resemble Maghrib prayer and therefore, is considered makrooh by scholars. 

But if one prays Witr with five or seven rak’ahs, then it should be continuous, with only one tashahhud in the last rak’ah and then tasleem. And If one prays Witr with nine rak’ahs, then it should be continuous, but with tashahhud in the eighth rak’ah (without tasleem), and again tashahhud in the ninth rak’ah with tasleem. 

It is Sunnah to recite Soorah al-A’la (87) in the first rak’ah, Soorah al-Kaafiroon (109) in the second, and Soorah al-Ikhlaas (112) in the third.

It is better to recite Du’a’ al-Qunoot in the last rak’ah of Witr prayer after bowing; however, if someone recites it before bowing, it does not matter. However, it is better not to always recite qunoot in witr as there is no evidence that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did it all the time. (Refer to the Long Answer for the wordings of Du’a’ al-Qunoot)

Long Answer: Witr prayer is one of the greatest acts of worship that draw one closer to Allah. Some of the scholars – the Hanafis – even thought that it is one of the obligatory prayers, but the correct view is that it is one of the confirmed Sunnahs (Sunnah mu’akkadah) which the Muslim should observe regularly and not neglect.

Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) said: Whoever neglects Witr is a bad man whose testimony should not be accepted. This indicates that Witr prayer is something that is confirmed.

Timing for Witr

It starts when a person has prayed ‘Isha’, even if it is joined to Maghrib at the time of Maghrib, and lasts until dawn begins, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Allah has prescribed for you a prayer (by which He may increase your reward), which is Witr; Allah has enjoined it for you during the time between ‘Isha’ prayer until dawn begins.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi; classed as sahih by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi)

The Sunnah indicates that if a person thinks he will be able to get up at the end of the night, it is better to delay it, because prayer at the end of the night is better and is witnessed (by the angels). But whoever fears that he will not get up at the end of the night should pray Witr before he goes to sleep, because of the hadith of Jabir (رضي الله عنه) who said: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever fears that he will not get up at the end of the night, let him pray Witr at the beginning of the night, but whoever thinks that he will be able to get up at the end of the night, let him pray Witr at the end of the night, for prayer at the end of the night is witnessed (by the angels) and that is better.” (Narrated by Muslim)

Number of rak’ahs

The minimum number of rak’ahs for Witr is one rak’ah, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Witr is one rak’ah at the end of the night.” (Narrated by Muslim) And he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The night prayers are two (rak’ahs) by two, but if one of you fears that dawn is about to break, let him pray one rak’ah to make what he has prayed odd-numbered.”  (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim) If a person limits himself to praying one rak’ah, then he has performed the Sunnah. But Witr may also be three or five or seven or nine.

If a person prays three rak’ahs of Witr this may be done in two ways, both of which are prescribed in shari’ah:

  1. To pray them one after another, with one tashahhud, because of the hadith of ‘Aa’ishah (رضي الله عنها) who said: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used not to say the tasleem in the (first) two rak’ahs of Witr. According to another version: “He used to pray Witr with three rak’ahs and he did not sit except in the last of them.” (Narrated by al-Nasa’i and al-Bayhaqi. al-Nawawi said in al-Majmoo’: it was narrated by al-Nasa’i with a hasan isnad, and by al-Bayhaqi with a sahih isnad)
  1. Saying the tasleem after two rak’ahs, then praying one rak’ah on its own, because of the report narrated from Ibn ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) that he used to separate the two rak’ahs from the single rak’ah with a tasleem, and he said that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to do that. Narrated by Ibn Hibbaan; Ibn Hajar said in al-Fath: its isnad is qawiy (strong).

But if he prays Witr with five or seven rak’ahs, then they should be continuous, and he should only recite one tashahhud in the last of them and say the tasleem, because of the report narrated by ‘Aa’ishah (رضي الله عنها) who said: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to pray thirteen rak’ahs at night, praying five rak’ahs of Witr, in which he would not sit except in the last rak’ah. (Narrated by Muslim)

And it was narrated that Umm Salamah (رضي الله عنها) said: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to pray Witr with five or seven (rak’ahs) and he did not separate between them with any salaam or words. (Narrated by Ahmad and al-Nasa’i. al-Nawawi said: Its isnad is jayyid – Al-Fath al-Rabbaani; and it was classed as sahih by al-Albani in Saheeh al-Nasa’i)

If he prays Witr with nine rak’ahs, then they should be continuous and he should sit to recite the tashahhud in the eighth rak’ah, then stand up and not say the tasleem, then he should recite the tashahhud in the ninth rak’ah and then say the tasleem. It was narrated in Muslim from ‘Aa’ishah (رضي الله عنها) that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to pray nine rak’ahs in which he did not sit except in the eighth, when he would remember Allah, praise Him and call upon Him, then he would get up and not say the tasleem, and he would stand up and pray the ninth (rak’ah), then he would sit and remember Allah and praise Him and call upon Him, then he would say a tasleem that we could hear.

If he prayed Witr with eleven rak’ahs, he would say the tasleem after each two rak’ahs, then pray one rak’ah at the end.

As for praying three rak’ahs with two tashahhuds and one salaam, it is narrated that this is not allowed and at the very least it is makrooh. Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “The least perfect of Witr is to pray two rak’ahs and say the salaam, then perform one rak’ah and say the salaam. It is permissible to do it with one salaam, but with one tashahhud and not two, because if you do it with two tashahhuds it will resemble Maghrib prayer, and the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) forbade making it resemble Maghrib prayer. (al-Sharh al-Mumti’)

In the hadith narrated by al-Haakim, al-Bayhaqi and al-Daraqutni, and which was classed as sahih by al-Haakim according to the conditions of al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Do not pray Witr with three rak’ahs that resemble Maghrib.”

Shaykh al-Albani (may Allah have mercy on him) said in his essay on Taraweeh prayer, after describing the various characteristics of Witr prayer that are narrated in the Sunnah:  “…Praying three rak’ahs with two tashahhuds like Maghrib prayer is not mentioned in any sahih hadith, rather it is makrooh. Hence our view is that one should not sit between the two rak’ahs and the one rak’ah; if a person sits he should say the salaam. This is better.”

Al-Nasa’i narrated that Ubayy ibn Ka’b (رضي الله عنه) said: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to recite in Witr, Sabbih isma rabbika al-‘a’la (“Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High” – Soorah al-A’la, 87), Qul yaa ayyuha’l-kaafiroon (“Say: O disbeliever…” – Soorah al-Kaafiroon, 109) and Qul Huwa Allahu ahad (“Say: He is Allah, the One” – Soorah al-Ikhlaas, 112) (Classed as sahih by al-Albani in Saheeh al-Nasa’i)

Recitation of Du’a’ al-Qunoot

Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyah] said in Majmoo’ al-Fataawa: “With regard to qunoot: there are two extreme views and one middle (or moderate) view. Some say that qunoot should only be recited before bowing and some say that it should only be recited after bowing. The fuqaha’ among the scholars of hadith, such as Ahmad and others, say that both are allowed, because both are mentioned in the sahih Sunnah, but they preferred reciting qunoot after bowing because this is mentioned more often.

Raising the hands is mentioned in a sahih report from ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه), as was narrated by al-Bayhaqi in a report which he classed as sahih. The worshipper should raise his hands to chest height and no more, because this du’aa’ is not a du’aa’ of supplication in which a person needs to raise his hands high. Rather it is a du’aa’ of hope in which a person holds out his palms towards heaven… The apparent meaning of the scholar’s words is that the worshipper should hold his hands close together like a beggar who asks someone else to give him something.

It is better not to recite qunoot in witr all the time, rather it should be done sometimes, because there is no evidence that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did it all the time. But he taught al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه) the following du’aa’ to recite in qunoot al-witr.

Allahumma ihdini feeman hadayta wa ‘aafini feeman ‘aafayta wa tawallani feeman tawallayta wa baarik li feema a’tayta, wa qini sharra ma qadayta , fa innaka taqdi wa la yuqda ‘alayk, wa innahu laa yadhillu man waalayta wa laa ya’izzu man ‘aadayta, tabaarakta Rabbana wa ta’aalayta la manja minka illa ilayk” (O Allah, guide me among those whom You have guided, pardon me among those whom You have pardoned, turn to me in friendship among those on whom You have turned in friendship, and bless me in what You have bestowed, and save me from the evil of what You have decreed. For verily You decree and none can influence You; and he is not humiliated whom You have befriended, nor is he honoured who is Your enemy. Blessed are You, O Lord, and Exalted. There is no place of safety from You except with You).” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, al-Tirmidhi, and al-Nasa’i)

The last phrase – Laa manja minka illa ilayka (There is no place of safety from You except with You) – was narrated by Ibn Mandah in al-Tawheed and classed as hasan by al-Albani. (See Irwa’ al-Ghaleel)

Then he should send blessings upon the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). (See al-Sharh al-Mumti’ by Ibn ‘Uthaymeen).

Lastly, it is mustahabb to say after the tasleem: Subhaan al-Malik al-Quddoos three times, elongating the vowels the third time, as narrated by al-Nasa’i and classed as hasan by al-Albani in Saheeh Sunan al-Nasa’i. Al-Daaraqutni added the word: Rabb al-Malaa’ikah wa’l-Rooh (Lord of the angels and the Spirit), with a sahih isnad (See Zaad al-Ma’aad by Ibn al-Qayyim) 

(The above reply is based on various answers by Islamqa.info)

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