These verses describe the Night Prayer to be an act of worship performed by the pious and address it to be a great means of gaining closeness to Allah.
“The honor and greatness of a believer lies in his praying at night,” said Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq.
Remembering Allah is one of the greatest deeds that can be performed by mankind. It is a deed that has an unlimited number of blessings, bringing peace and happiness into our own lives, because we have then truly understood our purpose in this life. One of the many ways in which we can remember the Almighty Allah is waking up when the world rests to offer the night prayer, also known as Salat al-Layl or Namaz-e-Shab.
There are several verses in the Qur’an that give great credit to the night prayer. These verses describe the Night Prayer to be an act of worship performed by the pious and address it to be a great means of gaining closeness to Allah. In striving to be one of those who will stand proudly on the Day of Judgment, a person gives up his sleep and seeks forgiveness from his Creator, attesting that He truly is One who covers faults and none but He knows our innermost self.
In Sura Insaan, verse 26, Allah says, “And during part of the night, adore Him and give glory to Him (for a) long (part of the) night.” This verse of the Holy Qur’an, along with others, clearly tells us to remember Allah at such a time when nobody else is aware of your wakening. It is a reference for us to know that, no matter when we call upon Allah, He will always be there to listen to us. The beauty of asking for forgiveness in the middle of the night is like holding a conversation with your Beloved, a whispered prayer where no other party can hear.
In Sura Sajdah, verse 16-17, says “Their sides draw away from (their) beds, and they call upon their Lord in fear and in hope, and they spend (benevolently) out of what We have given them. So no soul knows what is hidden for them of that which will refresh the eyes, a reward for what they did.”
The reward for waking up for the Night Prayer is so great that none can describe it, and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) says, “There is no good deed except that its reward has been outlined in the Qur’an, except the Night Prayer. Almighty Allah has not specified its reward due to its greatness with Him.”
So such is the reward that we cannot comprehend, but it will surely be a great benefit for us both in this world and in the Hereafter.
Allah promises a place of glory for those who wake up for the early prayer. A person’s status is elevated so high to a position that only such few can attain: a position near Allah. The Night Prayer is known to be the most effective way to reach closer to Allah as expressed in Sura Muzammil, verse 6, where He says, “Surely the rising by the night is the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech.”
The time for the Night Prayer begins after midnight and is till the time of the Morning (Fajr) prayers; however, it is strongly recommended to offer it just before the time for Fajr. The prayer consists of 11 rak’at divided into three parts:
- Nafilah al-Layl – 8 rak’ats, four sets of twos
- Salat ash-Shaf’a – 2 rak’ats
- Salat al-Witr – 1 rak’at
Though the first 10 rak’ats are prayed in the same way we do Fajr, there are certain surahs that have been highly recommended to recite in these rak’ats.
In this part, the prayers have been distributed into four sets of two rak’ats each. After Sura Fatiha in the first rak’at, it is highly recommended to recite Sura Tawheed, and in the second rak’at after Sura Fatiha, it is highly recommended to recite Sura Kafirun. This is for the first set of two rak’ats. In the remaining six, any small surahs can be recited.
This part consists of two rak’ats, without the Qunoot. In the first rak’at, it is highly recommended to recite Sura Naas after Sura Fatiha, and in the second rak’at, it’s recommended to recite Sura Falaq.
In the final rak’at of the Night Prayer, a believer turns his heart and soul to the highest proximity to Allah. We begin the prayer with Sura Fatiha, followed by the recitation of Sura Tawheed three times, Sura Falaq once, and Sura Naas once. We then raise our hands in Qunoot, humbling ourselves before our Creator and trying to truly understand Him. We raise our left hand in dire plea for forgiveness, while using the right hand to hold the tasbih.
First we recite a short du’a, followed by seeking repentance, reciting Astaghfirullaha rabbi wa atubu ilaih (I seek forgiveness of Allah, my Lord, and I turn to Him) 70 times.
Having stood in the early hours of the morning, we pray for all the believers who are sharing our struggle in this world. We ask for forgiveness for forty believers, men and women, who have died or living, by saying Allahummaghfirli (Oh Allah, forgive…), and then we take the name of forty believers. As well as family members and friends, it is recommended to remember the scholars who have represented the message of Islam and propagated it with their every limb.
Then we say, Astaghfirullahal ladhi laa ilaaha illa huwal hayyul qayyumu li jami’i dhulmi wa jurmi wa israafi alaa nafsi wa atubu ilaih. (I seek forgiveness of Allah, besides whom there are no gods, the Ever-living, the Subsisting, from all my oppressions and my sins and my excess on my soul, and I turn [repentant] to Him.)
Then repeat seven times: Haadha maqamul a’idhi bika minan naar. (Here stands one who seeks Your refuge from the fire.)
We then end the Qunoot with saying Al-Afw (Forgiveness!) three hundred times and saying Rabbighfirli warhamni watub alayya innaka anta tawwabur raheem. (My Lord, forgive me, and have mercy on me, and turn to me. Surely You are the Oft-returning, the Merciful.)
The prayer is concluded with the tasbih of Lady Fatima (peace be upon her), as well as numerous supplications that are recommended to recite after the Night Prayer.
Such is our humility before Allah, and such is the greatness of this prayer, which brings us before Allah in a state that none other than our soul knows of. The benefits and rewards for this prayer are undoubtedly great. Indeed, in addition to increase our spiritual strength and our worldly sustenance, the Holy Prophet said, “Whoever has been granted the chance to recite the Night Prayer, a male servant or a female one, and he (or she) rises for Allah sincerely, does proper ablution, prays for Allah with a true intention, a sound heart, a humble body and a tearful eye, Allah will place behind him nine rows of angels. The number of angels in each row cannot be counted except by Allah. One side of each row is in the East, and the other is in the West. Then when he completes his prayer, he gets the reward of all of the angels in the rows.” And in his parting words to Imam Ali (peace be upon him) before he returned to his Lord, the Prophet is narrated to have said, “Oh Ali, I enjoin upon you the Night Prayer, I enjoin upon you the Night Prayer, I enjoin upon you the Night Prayer!”
More information and duas that are recommended to recite before, during, and after the Night Prayer are available online. Please consult your respective Marja Taqleed for jurisprudential inquiries.