All Praise be to Allah Almighty, peace and blessings be upon our beloved Messenger of Allah, and his companions and those who followed him.
Respected brothers and sisters, I won’t take long, but just want to mention three points which may help to make clear the methodology with which to deal correctly with this issue (the number of raka’ahs/units) in this blessed month of Ramadan as well as afterwards In Shaa Allah.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not pray more than eleven raka‘ahs (units), not in Ramadan nor in any other month. It is narrated by Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, that:
“Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) did not pray more than eleven units (raka‘ahs), not in Ramadan nor in any other month.” [Muslim]
“The Prophet (Peace be upon him) used to offer thirteen units (raka‘ahs) of the night prayer and that included the Witr and two raka‘ahs (Sunnah) of the Fajr prayer.” [Bukhari]
That’s why we notice that many people offer Tarawih with short Surahs and finish eleven raka’ahs (units) within fifteen minutes! Is this truly the Sunnah of Tarawih to finish it with such speed? Of course NO!
The Prophet’s Sunnah in Night prayer (Qiyamul-lail) is both in ‘quantity’ and ‘quality’ together and not in quantity only! We get that Allah Almighty describes His Prophet’s prayer (Salah), as well as that of the companions (Sahabah) saying:
“Indeed, your Lord knows, [O Messenger], that you stand [in prayer] almost two thirds of the night or half of it or one third of it, and [so do] a group of those with you.” [Surah Al-Muzzammil, 20]
That means if the night consists of nine hours then almost two thirds of it is nearly six hours, half of it is 4.5 hours and one third of it is three hours.
Allah Almighty said ordering:
“O you who wraps himself [in clothing], 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 Qur’an with measured recitation.” [Surah Al-Muzzammil, 1-4]
It has been narrated by the Mother of the believers Aisha (RA), who said describing the Prophet’s prayer:
“He observed four raka‘ahs (units), ask not about their excellence and their length (i.e. these were incomparable in perfection and length); then he again observed four raka‘ahs (units), and ask not about their excellence and their length (i.e. these were incomparable in perfection and length); then he would observe three raka‘ahs (units).” [Muslim]
Imam An-Nawawi (rahimahullah) said:
“And in this Hadith with the other Hadiths mentioned after it – regarding elongating recitation (Qira’at) and standing (Qiyam) – is the evidence of Imam Ash-Shafi‘i’s school and others who said: elongating standing is better than doing more Ruku‘ (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating). Another group of Scholars said: “Increasing the number if Ruku‘ (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating) is better.” While others stated: “Elongating standing at night is better, and increasing the number of Ruku‘ (bowing) and Sujud (prostrating) at day time is better.” This topic has been discussed in details with its evidences in chapters of ‘Sifatus-Salat.’” [See Explanation of Sahih Muslim of Imam An-Nawawi, vol. 3, page 18-19]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) read Surah Al-Baqarah, An-Nisa’ and Ali-Imran in one raka‘ah (unit)! And he used to elongate the Ruku’ (bowing) nearly the same length of time as his standing, and stood for a long time after Ruku‘ (bowing) nearly the same length of time as he had spent in Ruku’ (bowing) and his Sujud (prostration) lasted nearly the same length of time as his standing.” [Muslim]
It has been narrated by Huzaifah (RA) that he said:
“I performed prayer (Salah) with the Prophet (Peace be upon him) one night, and he started reciting Surah Al-Baqarah. I thought that he would go in Ruku‘ (bowing) at the end of one hundred verses, but he continued (reciting); then I thought that he would perhaps recite in the whole raka‘ah, but he continued (the recitation); I thought he would perhaps make Ruku‘ (bowing) on completing this (Surah); then he (Peace be upon him) started reciting Surah An-Nisa’, then he started to recite Ali-Imran (the whole Surah). He recited leisurely. When he recited a verse which mentioned the Tasbih, he made Tasbih and when he recited a verse on supplication he made supplication and when he recited a verse on seeking protection from Allah, he sought protection from Allah. Then he made Ruku‘ (bowing) and said, “Subhana Rabbiyal Azim” (My Rabb, the Great is free from imperfection); his Ruku‘ (bowing) lasted about the same length of time as his standing, (and then on returning to the standing posture after Ruku‘) he said: “Sami Allahu liman hamidah (Allah listens to him who praises Him),” and he stood nearly the same length of time as he had spent in Ruku‘ (bowing). Then he prostrated saying “Subhana Rabbiyal A‘la (My Rabb, the Supreme is free from imperfection),” and his prostration lasted nearly the same length of time as his standing.” [Muslim]
• His Noble feet would have cracks due to his long standing
Aisha (RA) reported that:
“The Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon him) used to offer prayer (Salah) at night (for such a long time) that his feet used to get cracked. Aisha said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Why do you do it since Allah has forgiven you your past and future sins?” He said, “Shouldn’t I love to be a thankful servant (of Allah)?” And when he grew old and put on weight, he prayed sitting, but when he wanted to perform Ruku‘ (bowing), he would get up, then recite and then perform Ruku‘ (bowing).” [Bukhari and Muslim]
Even the Companion Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud (RA) at one point intended to leave prayer (Salah) with the Prophet (Peace be upon him) due to prolonged standing. By Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud (RA) that he said:
“(One night) I prayed with the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) Qiyamul-lail (Night prayer). He prolonged the standing so much that I thought of doing something evil. He said he was asked, “What did you intend to do?” He replied: “I intended to sit down and leave him.” [Muslim]
• The Prophet (Peace be upon him) gave glad tidings to those who do Qiyamul-lail (Night prayer)
Abdullah Ibn Amr (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“The one who prays at night reciting ten verses, he will not be recorded among the negligent; and the one who prays at night reciting a hundred verses, he will be recorded among the Qanitun (those who are obedient to Allah); and the one who prays at night reciting one thousand verses, he will be recorded among the Muqantirun (those who receive huge rewards).” [Abu Dawud, Ibn Hibban, and Al-Albani classified it Sahih]
So if anyone recites short Surahs in Tarawih, it’s better for him to increase the number of raka‘ahs (units) whether it is thirty or forty or fifty raka‘ahs, as much as he is able to; and if anyone recites long Surahs it’s better for him to maintain the number of raka‘ah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) so that the Sunnah in terms of quality is not missed out. This is because the prayer of Tarawih has no specific number of raka‘ah according to the following Hadith:
It has been narrated by Abdullah Ibn Umar (RA), he said that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“Night Prayer is two by two, so if one of you fears that dawn will break, then he should pray one raka‘ah to make the total number that he prayed odd (Witr).” [Bukhari and Muslim]
Umar (RA) gathered the Muslims on this. It has been narrated by Abdul Aziz Ibn Rafi that:
“Ubay Ibn Ka’ab used to pray with the people in Ramadan at Madinah by twenty Raka’ahs and used to pray Witr by three raka‘ahs.” [Ibn Abi Shaibah in Al-Musannaf, vol. 2, page 163, no. 7684]
Imam Ibn Qudamah said:
“Abu Abdillah’s (i.e. Imam Ahmad’s) chosen opinion (in Ramadan night prayer) is twenty Raka‘ahs, this is also what Ath-Thaury, Abu Hanifah and Ash-Shafi’i said, and Malik said: thirty-six raka‘ahs.” [See Al-Mughni, vol. 1, page 123]
3. The Sunnah of Qiyamul-lail (Night prayer) in Terms of Timing
The Night prayer (Qiyamul-lail) of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was not only restricted in Ramadan, but was also his habit during the rest of the days of the year. As has been reported by Mother of the believers Aisha (RA), that:
“The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) didn’t pray more than eleven raka’ahs (units), not in Ramadan nor in any other month.” [Muslim]
Even if the Prophet (Peace be upon him) missed out the Night prayer (Qiyamul-lail), he used to make it up in an even number of raka‘ah during the daytime. It’s been narrated by Aisha (RA):
“When the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon him) observed prayer, he liked to keep on observing it, and when sleep or pain overpowered him (and made it impossible (for him) to observe Night prayer, he prayed twelve raka’ahs during the daytime..” [Muslim]
This is why we should maintain Qiyamul-lail (Night prayer) – in terms of quantity, quality and timing – even after Ramadan. If not possible, then we can at least increase the number of raka‘ahs we pray.
This means, if one used to pray one raka‘ah of Witr, he will increase it and make it three; and if one used to pray three raka‘ahs of Witr, he will add two more raka’ahs and make it five; and if one used to pray five raka‘ahs of Witr, he will make it seven and so forth. And all of this is in order to be elevated higher from good to better and from better to best..
“[That] you will surely experience state after state.” [Surah Al-Inshiqaq, 19]
It has reported by Al-Husain Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib that:
“Indeed Allah – the Most High – loves the noble and honourable of the affairs and dislikes the worthless ones.” [Al-Albani classified it as Sahih in Sahih Al-Jami’]
A poet once said:
“I have never seen any imperfection/shortcoming like the able one who doesn’t look for completion.”
It is noteworthy to mention that the continuation of righteous deeds even after Ramadan is an evidence of the acceptance of deeds done in Ramadan…
Respected servants of Allah, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) has said:
“Verily, there is one hour during the (entire) night when any Muslim (submitting to the Will of Allah the Almighty) may call upon Allah and request anything of Him, regardless of whether the matter be worldly or of the hereafter. Allah, the Almighty, will grant and fulfill the request. This is the case every night.” [Muslim]
The Prophet has also mentioned that:
“The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the night prayer.” [Muslim]
The Prophet’s wife Aisha (RA) narrated that:
“Do not ever stop praying Qiyamul-lail (Night prayer). The Prophet (Peace be upon him) never ceased praying it. When he was sick or weak, he prayed sitting.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“You should pray Qiyamul-lail (Night prayer), for it is the habit of the righteous people who came before you, and it will bring you closer to your Lord, expiate for bad deeds, prevent sin, and expel disease from the body.” [At-Tirmidhi and Ahmad]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“If you get up for night prayer, start with two short rakats.” [Muslim]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says: ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?” [Bukhari and Muslim]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“O Abdullah! Do not be like so-and-so. He used to pray at night and then left it.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
And it is good to reflect on the words of Ibn Mas’ud (RA) when he was told:
“I cannot pray at night.” and he said, “Your sins have prevented you.”
And the scholars have informed us that performing Nawafil/Nafilah prayers in the night has more blessings than in the day because it is more concealed, closer to sincerity, and harder on your souls. This is due to nighttime being when you are most tired and in a state of a deep sleep, and to leave your slumber despite your desire to sleep is a tremendous struggle.
I pray to Allah Almighty that He teaches us what is beneficial and benefits us through what He teaches us and increases our knowledge and Taqwah.
And May Allah send His Salah and Salam upon our noble Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
All praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for, delivery today, Friday, Ramadan 04, 1442 AH (April 16, 2021).