The Witr Prayer:
Its excellence and justification: The witr prayer is one that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam practiced and which he encouraged others to practice. As such, praying witr comes under as-sunnah al-mu'akkadah.
'Ali says: "The witr prayer is not required like your obligatory prayers, but the Prophet would perform the witr prayer and say: 'O you people [followers] of the Qur'an, perform the witr prayer, for Allah is one and He loves the witr.'" This is related by Ahmad, an-Nasa'i, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, at-Tirmidhi who calls it hasan, and al-Hakim who grades it sahih.
The opinion of Abu Hanifah that the witr prayer is obligatory is a weak opinion. Ibn al-Mundhir says: "I don't know anyone who agrees with Abu Hanifah on this point."
Ahmad, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah record that Al-Mukhdaji [a person of the Kinana tribe] heard from one of the Ansar, nicknamed Abu Muhammad, that the witr prayer is obligatory. He went to 'Ibadah ibn as-Samit and mentioned to him what Abu Muhammad had said. 'Ibadah observed: "Abu Muhammad is mistaken for I heard the Messenger of Allah say: 'Five prayers are ordained by Allah for his slaves. Whoever fulfills them properly without any shortcoming, he will have a pact with Allah that He will admit him into paradise. Whoever does not do them, he will have no pact with Allah, and if He wills He may punish him and if He wills He may forgive him.'"
Also al-Bukhari and Muslim record from Talhah ibn 'Ubaidullah that the Prophet said: "Five prayers during the day and night have been prescribed by Allah." Hearing this a bedouin asked the Prophet: "Is there anything else upon me [in the way of prayer]?" The Prophet said: "No, unless you want to do more voluntarily."
Time for witr prayer:
All the scholars agree that the time for the witr prayer does not begin until after salatul 'isha and it continues until the time of salatul fajr.
Abu Tamim al-Jishani relates that 'Amr ibn al-'Aas was addressing the people during a Friday Khutbah and he said: "Abu Basra related to me that the Prophet said: 'Verily, Allah has added a prayer for you, and it is the witr prayer. Pray it between salatul 'isha and salatul fajr.'" Abu Tamim said: "Abu Dharr took me by my hand and we went in the mosque to Abu Basra and [Abu Dharr] said: 'Did you hear what 'Amr just said from the Messenger of Allah?' He answered: 'I heard it from the Messenger of Allah!"' This is related by Ahmad with a sahih chain.
Abu Mas'ud al-Ansari relates: "The Prophet sallellahu alehi wasallam would make the witr prayer in the first part of the night or the middle of it or the latter part of it." Ahmad has reported it with a sound chain. 'Abdullah ibn Abi Qais relates that he asked 'Aishah about the witr prayer of the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam and she said: "Sometimes he would make the witr prayer in the first part of the night and sometimes he would make the witr prayer in the latter portion of the night." Then 'Abdullah asked: "How was his recitation, audible or inaudible?" She replied: "He did both. Sometimes he would be inaudible and sometimes audible. Sometimes he would make ghusl and sleep and sometimes he would make ablution and sleep [i.e., when he was sexually defiled]." This is related by Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Muslim, and at-Tirmidhi. It is preferred to pray it early if one suspects that one will not wake during the latter portion of the night. It is, on the other hand, advisable to delay it if one believes that one will be able to wake up during the latter portion of the night.
If one suspects that one will not be able to perform the prayer in the latter portion of the night, it should be prayed during the early portion of the night (before sleeping).
Jabir reports that the Messenger of Allah said: "Whoever of you fears that he will not be able to wake during the latter portion [of the night], he should make the witr prayer during the early part [of the night]. And whoever of you believes that he will be able to wake during the latter portion of the night, he should make the witr prayer during that latter portion as it is the blessed time [the angels are attentive to the prayers in the last portion of the night]." This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, atTirmidhi, and Ibn Majah.
Jabir also narrates that the Messenger of Allah inquired of Abu Bakr: "When do you perform the witr prayer?" Abu Bakr replied: "In the early portion of the night after the night prayer" Then the Prophet said: "And you, O 'Umar?" He answered: "During the latter portion of the night." The Prophet said: "As for you, O Abu Bakr, you have taken the careful way. As for you, 'Umar, you have taken the way of hardship and firm will." This is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and al-Hakim who says it is sahih according to Muslim's criterion. However, the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would pray the witr prayer near dawn time for it is the most blessed time, as mentioned previously.
'Aisha reports: "Out of the entire night, the Messenger of Allah would sometimes perform the witr prayer during the early portion; sometimes he would perform it during the middle portion; and sometimes in the latter portion of the night, just before dawn." This is related by the group.
Nevertheless, considering the possibility of losing witr, the Prophet advised some of his companions not to sleep until they had performed the witr prayer in order to be on the safe side. Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas would pray salatul 'isha in the Prophet's mosque and then would pray one rak'ah of witr without making any addition to it. The people said to him: "Abu Ishaq, do you make the witr with just one rak'ah without adding any (other rak'ah) to it?" He said: "Yes, for I heard the Messenger of Allah say: 'The one who does not sleep until he makes the witr prayer is prudent.'" This was related by Ahmad and its narrators are trustworthy.
Nature and number of rak'at for witr:
It is permissible to perform the witr by praying two rak'at [and concluding them] and then praying one rak'ah with a tashahud and taslim. Likewise, it is allowed to pray all the rak'at with two tashahuds and one taslim. One may pray a number of rak'at, one after another, without making any tashahud, save in the one before the last rak'ah in which case one makes the tashahud and then stands to perform the last rak'ah wherein one will make another tashahud and end the prayer with the taslim. One may also make only one tashahud and the taslim, in the last rak'ah of witr. All of that is permissible and can be traced to the Prophet.
Talking about the thirteen rak'at in witr, at-Tirmidhi says: "It has been related from the Prophet that he would perform the witr prayer with thirteen, nine, seven, five, three rak'at or one rak'ah."
On the other hand, Ishaq ibn Ibrahim holds: "The meaning of the statement that the Prophet prayed thirteen rak'at of witr is that during the night he would pray thirteen rak'at including the witr prayer, and so all of the night prayer came to be known as witr."
Ibn al-Qayyim's view is that "the clear, authentic sunnah is to pray the witr with five or seven connected rak'at as reported by Umm Salamah in her hadith. [She says] that the Prophet would perform the witr with five or seven rak'at without breaking them apart with taslim or any speech." This is related by Ahmad, an-Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah with a good chain.
As previously mentioned, al-Bukhari and Muslim quote 'Aishah saying that the Prophet would perform thirteen rak'at during the night and would make the witr prayer with five of them, and he would not 'sit' [during those five] except in the last rak'ah of them. In another hadith, 'Aishah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would perform nine rak'at during the night and that he would not sit during them until the eighth rak'ah in which he would make remembrance of Allah, praising Him, and would make supplication. Then, he would stand without making the taslim and pray the ninth rak'ah, after which he would sit, make the tashahud and make the taslim in such a manner that we could hear him. Then, he would pray two rak'at after the taslim while sitting, and that would make eleven rak'at. When he became older and heavier, he would make the witr with seven rak'at, performing the (last) two rak'at like the first one. In another version from her, it is stated: "When he became older and bulkier, he would make the witr with seven rak'at, and he would not sit during them, save in the sixth and seventh rak'ah and he would not make the taslim, save in the seventh rak'ah." In yet another version, it is stated: "He would pray seven rak'at and would not sit, save in the last of them." This is related by the group.
All of the preceding ahadith are authentic and clear and there is no contradiction in them. As to the Prophet's statement: "The night prayer is in sets of two [rak'at]," it is not relevant here. This is an authentic hadith, and the statement that he observed witr with seven or five rak'at is equally true. Both statements confirm each other. The seven, five, nine, and one rak'ah constitute the witr prayer, for witr is the name given to the one rak'ah offered in conclusion of whatever is offered prior to it. And the witr of the five, seven and nine rak'at are all connected like the maghrib which is described as three connected rak'at. If one breaks apart the five or seven rak'at with two taslim, like in the eleven rak'at, it will all be called witr due to the last odd rak'ah. This is supported by the Prophet's statement: 'The night prayer is sets of two rak'at. If one fears the coming of the dawn, he should perform one rak'ah, thereby making all of them odd [witr].' Therefore, the Prophet's actions and statements are in agreement, each part confirming the other." The fact is that the Prophet was responding to a question about the night prayer when he said: "it is in pairs of two." He was not speaking about witr, for the man had asked him about night prayer, and not about the witr.
Recitation in the witr:
It is permissible to recite after al-Fatihah any surah which one wishes to recite. 'Ali says: "There is not a part of the Qur'an that is obsolete, so make the witr prayer of whatever you wish from it." However, it is preferred to recite, in the first of the three rak'at of witr, al-A'la after reciting al-Fatihah. In the second rak'ah, it is preferred to recite al-Kafirun. In the third rak'ah, it is proper to recite the last three surahs of the Qur'an. This is narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi, who relate from 'Aishah, on sound authority saying: The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would recite Ala'la in the first rak'ah, Al-Kafirun in the second and the last three surahs in the third rak'ah.
Al-Qunut in the Witr:
It is part of sunnah to supplicate with qunut in the witr prayer during the entire year. Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa'i, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and others record that al-Hassan ibn 'Ali said: "The Messenger of Allah taught me the [following] words to say in the witr prayer: 'O Allah, guide me among those whom You have guided. Grant me safety among those whom You have granted safety. Take me into Your charge among those whom You have taken into Your charge. Bless me in what You have given me. Protect me from the evil that You have decreed, for You decree and nothing is decreed for You. And there is no humiliation for whom You take as a ward. Blessed and Exalted are You, our Lord. ' "
At-Tirmidhi grades this hadith as hasan, and says: "... nothing is known from the Prophet concerning qunut more authentic than that." Commenting on its status, an-Nawawi says that its chain is sahih. Ibn Hazm has some reservations about its soundness, but says: "This hadith, although it is not one that can be used as a proof, is all that we have from the Prophet, and a weak hadith is dearer to me than mere opinion." Ahmad says this is also the view of Abu Musa, Ibn Mas'ud, Ibn 'Abbas, al-Bara', Anas, al-Hassan al-Basri, 'Umar ibn 'Abdul'aziz, al-Thauri, Ibn al-Mubarak, and the Hanafi school. This, an-Nawawi says, gives credibility to the report.
Ash-Shaf'i and others are of the opinion that the qunut in the witr prayer should be made during the latter half of the month of Ramadan. This is based on what Abu Dawud records that, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab convoked the people in prayer, under the leadership of Ubayy ibn Ka'b, and they prayed together for twenty nights, and he did not make the qunut except for during the latter half of the month of Ramadan. It is moreover related that Muhammad ibn Nasr asked Sa'id ibn Jubair about the qunut in the witr prayer. Sa'id answered: " 'Umar sent an army that suffered serious setback, which caused 'Umar to be alarmed, so, when it was the latter half of Ramadan, he made the qunut to supplicate for them."
How to perform the qunut:
It is permissible to make the qunut before going into ruku' (bowing), or lt may be recited when one stands up straight after the ruku'. Humaid says: "I asked Anas: 'Is the qunut before or after the ruku'?' He said: 'We would do it before or after.'" This was related by Ibn Majah and Muhammad ibn Nasr. In Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar comments that its chain is faultless.
If one makes the qunut before the ruku', one should make the takbir and raise one's hands after the recital, and similarly make another takbir after the qunut, and then bow. This has been related from some companions. Some scholars hold that it is preferable to raise one's hands in supplication during the qunut, while others disagree.
As to wiping face with hands after the qunut, al-Baihaqi writes: "It is preferred not to do so and to confine one's self to what the early generations did. They raised their hands but did not wipe their faces during the prayer."
Supplications after the witr:
It is preferred for a person to say after the taslim: "Glory be to the Master, the Holy," three times aloud, saying the third time: "Lord of the angels and the souls." Abu Dawud and anNasa'i record that Ubayy ibn Ka'b said: "The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would recite al-A'la and al-Kafirun in the witr prayer. When he made the taslim, he would say: 'Glory be to the Master, the Holy ,' three times, prolonging the third repetition and saying it aloud." This is the wording in which an-Nasa'i recorded it. Ad-Daraqutni has the addition: "And he would say, 'Lord of the angels and the spirits. "' He would then make supplications and, according to what Ahmad, anNasa'i, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and at-Tirmidhi record from 'Ali, he would say at the end of his witr: "O Allah, I seek refuge in Your pleasure from your anger. And I seek refuge in Your granting well being from Your punishment. And I seek refuge in You from You. I cannot reckon Your praise: You are as You have praised Yourself."
Prohibition of two witr prayers in one night:
Whoever has performed the witr prayer and then wishes to do some more, he may do so but he is not to repeat the witr.
Abu Dawud, an-Nasa'i, and at-Tirmidhi have recorded from 'Ali that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: "There are no two witr prayers in one night." At-Tirmidhi grades it hasan.
'Aishah relates that the Prophet would make the taslim in such a manner that we could hear him and then, he would pray two rak'at while sitting. This is related by Muslim.
Umm Salamah also narrates that he prayed two rak'at while sitting, after the witr prayer. This was related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi, and others.
Making up a missed witr:
According to al-Baihaqi and al-Hakim, the majority of the scholars maintain that it is correct to make qada' for a missed witr prayer. Al-Hakim grades the following report by Abu Hurairah as sahih according to the criterion of al-Bukhari and Muslim.
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet said: "If the morning approaches, and you have yet to pray witr, you should pray the witr prayer." Abu Dawud records from Abu Sa'id al-Khudri that the Prophet said: "If one of you sleeps [past the time of] the witr prayer or he forgets it, he should pray it when he remembers it." Al-'Iraqi says that the chain of this hadith is sahih.
Ahmad and at-Tabarani record with a hasan chain that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would perform the witr prayer in the morning [if, for some reason, he had missed it during the night]. Generally speaking, there is a difference of opinion over what time it may be made up. The Hanafi school holds it should be performed during those times in which it is not forbidden to observe prayers. The followers of Shaf'i say that it may be made up during any time of the night or day, while according to Malik and Ahmad a missed witr prayer is to be made up for after the dawn.
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