As i made mention in previous posts, Qayaam-ul-Layl means ‘staying up at night’ and performing a ‘Remembrance of Allah’. It includes offering Salaat and reciting Qur’an. The Salaat associated with Qayaam-ul-Layl is called Tahajjud. This is a Nawafil Ibadah which is one of the most ignored ones by Muslims. I don't want to get into long discussions about which are nawafil prayers, whether we should perform nawafil prayers along with obligatory (farz) prayers or not. Some are staunch supporters of doing them and go to the extent of saying that if you do not pray these, your Salaat is not complete. While fighting for these, we forget that the most important Sunnah prayer for us is Tahajjud. No one talks about whether we should pray Tahajjud or not? Do we feel it is not that important? Or do we at all know about the significance of Tahajjud prayer? Let us check ourselves. 

Significance of Qayaam-ul-Layl

Qayaam-ul-Layl is one Sunnah for us which was like a farz for the Prophet (SAW), ordered directly by Allah SWT. The importance of Qayaam-ul-Layl can be understood by the fact that the third revelation among the first phase of revelations was related to Qayaam-ul-Layl.

“O you wrapped in garments (Muhammad, SAW).”

“Stand (to pray) all night, except a little

“Half of it or a little less than that,”

“Or a little more. And recite the Qur’an in a slow measured style.”

“Verily, We shall send down to you a weighty Word ( i.e. obligations, laws etc.).”

“Verily, the rising by night (for Tahajjud) is very hard and most potent & good for governing oneself and most suitable for (understanding) the Word of Allah.”

“Verily, there is for you by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties.”

“And remember the Name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with a complete devotion.”

“(He Alone is) the Lord of the east and the west; none has the right to be worshipped but He. So take Him Alone as ‘Wakil’ (Disposer of your affairs). Q 73 V1-9

The time when the above mentioned verses were revealed, the other five obligatory prayers (Fajr, Zuhri, Asri,Maghrib & Ishia) had not come into being. Later on when the five prayers were made obligatory, the Qayaam-ul-Layl became a nawafil ibadah (i.e. voluntary). However, Allah sent down a revelation to our Prophet (SAW) where it was mentioned to observe Tahajjud prayers also. The importance of Tahajjud prayer can be understood by the fact that it is the only nawafil prayer for which Allah sent down a revelation. Refer to following ayah from Holy Qur’an:

“And in some parts of the night offer the Salaat with it (i.e. with Qur’an recitation) as an additional / nawafil (Tahajjud) prayer for you (O Muhammad, SAW). It may be that your Lord will raise you to Maqam-e-Mahmud (a station of praise and glory i.e. the honour of intercession on the Day of Resurrection).” - Q17 V79

This Ayah, in my opinion, is enough to understand the importance associated with Qayaam-ul-Layl.

Qayaam-ul-Layl during the month of Ramadan

Ahadith tell us that observing Qayaam-ul-Layl during the month of Ramadan is a sign of iman.

Narrated Abu Hurairah (RA): Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “Whoever establishes nawafil prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, all his / her past sins will be forgiven.” - Hadith No. 37, Book of Faith, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1 

What a wonderful opportunity it is every year in the month of Ramadan to wash away all our sins! The nawafil prayers referred to in the above mentioned hadith are none other than the Tarawih prayers which we establish during the month of Ramadan. There is a big misconcept among us that Tarawih prayers are specifically for the month of Ramadan only. True, Tarawih prayers are special, because they are a part of Qayaam-ul-Layl; more special as they are being established during the month of Ramadan. But please understand, they are nothing but Tahajjud prayers. Yes, don’t be shocked, Tarawih are nothing else but Tahajjud prayer, a part of Qayaam-ul-Layl.

Then a logical question comes to our minds: Why is it so that they are prayed congregational during the month of Ramadan only and not during other months of the year? In order to understand the answer to this, we should learn about the Sunnah ways of establishing Tahajjud prayers (or Tarawih when it comes to the month of Ramadan). I am quoting two ahadith below, pertaining to the incidents that took place during the month of Ramadan.

Narrated Urwa that he was informed by Aishah (RA): Allah’s Messenger (SAW) went out in the middle of the night and performed Solat in the mosque and some men performed Solat behind him. In the morning, the people spoke about it and then a large number of them gathered & performed prayer behind him (on the second night). In the next morning the people again talked about it and on the third night the mosque was full with a large number of people. Allah’s Messenger (SAW) came out & people performed prayer behind him. On the fourth night the mosque was overwhelmed with people and could not accommodate them, but the Prophet (SAW) came out only in the morning for Fajr prayer. When Fajr prayer was finished, he recited Tashah-hud & said (to the people), “Amma ba’ad; your presence was not hidden from me but I was afraid lest the night prayer should be enjoined on you (i.e. made farz for you) and you might not be able to carry it on.” So, Allah’s Messenger died and the situation remained like that i.e. people offered the night prayers individually.” - Hadith No. 2012, Book of Tarawih Prayers, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3

The narration above makes it clear that Rasullulah (SAW) encouraged to offer nawafil prayers (even Tahajjud or Tarawih) individually. The next hadith will give another information about this subject. Have a look please. 

It was narrated that Zaid bin Thabit (RA) said:, "The prophet (SAW) sectioned off an area using palm leaves or a reed mat, and the Prophet (SAW) went out and prayed in it. Some men followed him and they started to follow his prayer. Then they came one night and waited for him, but Allah’s Messenger (SAW) stayed away and did not come out to them. They raised their voices & threw pebbles at the door, and the Prophet (SAW) came out to them angrily. Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said to them: You were so persistent that I thought it would be made obligatory for you. You should pray at your homes, for the best of a man’s prayer is in his house, apart from the obligatory (farz) prayers." -  Hadith No. 731, Book of Adhan, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1

What information did we get? We get to know that the prophet (SAW) asked us to perform nawafil prayers at our homes.

Therefore, it is clear that night prayers (Tahajjud / Tarawih) are recommended to be established ‘individually’ and preferably at ‘our homes’. It is what our the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) asked us to do. Some people might find it shocking or surprising, but be assured this is the Sunnah way of performing Qayaam-ul-Layl.

Prophet Muhammed's (SAW) night prayers (including the description during the month of Ramadan)

The best way of establishing night prayers is to follow exactly what our the Prophet (SAW) used to do i.e. the Sunnah way. We have already addressed that Rasulullah (SAW) recommended us to offer all nawafil prayers at our homes, individually. Now we shall see how many raka’ats are to be prayed during Qayaam-ul-Layl.

Narrated Abu Salama bin Abd Ar-Rahman that he asked Aishah (RA), “How was Salaat of Allah’s Messenger (SAW) in Ramadan?” She replied, “He did not perform Salaat more than 11 raka’at in Ramadan or any other month. He used to perform 4 raka’at - let alone their beauty & length – and then he would perform 4 raka’at – let alone their beauty & length – and then he would perform 3 raka’at Witr.” She added, “I asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (SAW) ! Do you sleep before praying the Witr? He replied, “O Aishah! My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep?” - Hadith No. 2013, Book of Tarawih Prayers, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3

In other narrations, it has been mentioned that Rasulullah (SAW) used to offer 11 raka’at during night prayers, which included one raka’at Witr and two raka’at for Fajr Sunnah prayer. It is also said in other narrations that the Prophet (SAW) used to pray two raka’at each during night prayers. In all the narrations we come to know that he used to pray eight raka’at in Tahajjud prayers. So, minimum number of raka’at for Tahajjud prayers is eight. This is the Sunnah way. However, since it is a voluntary prayer, if someone increases the number of raka’at from eight to as much as he / she can (in moderation), it is okay to do so. But it is best to follow the Sunnah way. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we come across people offering eight raka’at for Tarawih prayers. Another thing to note is that it is up to us to either establish Tahajjud prayers in two parts of four raka’at each or in four parts of two raka’at each. Prophet Muhammed (SAW) used to pray in both ways. So, both options are correct.

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