What are the sunna prayers (the prayers performed by our Prophet Muhammad -pbuh-, and performing of which are recommended but not obligatory)?

The Sunna Prayers
Praying two rakats before the dawn prayer was highly recommended and stressed by Gods Messenger. They are performed just as in the dawn prayer, except that one recites shorter Quranic passages after al-Fatiha.
Praying four rakats before the zuhr (noon) prayer was highly advised and stressed by Gods Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. They are performed just as in the noon prayer, except that one recites Quranic passages after al-Fatiha in all rakats. He also prayed another two or four rakats after the prescribed prayer, and Muslims are urged to follow his example.
Praying four rakats before the afternoon prayer is also recommended. They are performed just as in the noon prayer, except that one recites the calls of Gods blessings, peace, and gifts upon our master Muhammad and his Family after the tashahhud during the first sitting, and the supplication before al-Fatiha in the third rakat, which one recites while beginning the prayer after the opening takbir.
Praying two rakats after the evening and late evening prayer is highly recommended, while praying four rakats before the late evening prayer, just as in the afternoon prayer, is an unstressed sunna prayer.

Tahajjud and Witr

The tahajjud prayer has an extremely important place among the highly advisable, stressed sunna prayers. It was obligatory for the Messenger from the very beginning of his mission. Interrupting sleep for Gods sake and turning to Him with devotion and pure feelings during the night is a great support and source of feeding for human spirit. While ordering the Messenger to pray it, the Almighty declared:
O you, folded in garments! Rise to pray by night, but not all night – half of it, or a little less, or a little more, and recite the Quran in measured rhythmic tones and with great care and attention. We are about to cast upon you a weighty Word. Indeed, rising by night is most potent and good for governing the soul, and most suitable for reciting and understanding the Word. There is for you by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties. So, keep in remembrance of Gods Name and mention It, dedicating yourself devoutly to Him. He is the Lord of the east and the west. There is no deity save Him. Take Him for your Guardian and Disposer of Affairs (73:1-9).
Since every Muslim is a devoted servant of God and dedicated to His cause, the tahajjud prayers importance is clear. According to most acceptable reports from the Messenger, together with the Witr prayer, it consists of eleven rakats and is performed in cycles of two, just like the morning prayer (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 10). Although the witr prayer can be performed after the late evening prayer before going to bed, so that one will not miss it because of sleep, its preferable time is after tahajjud. It consists of three rakats and is performed like the evening prayer, but with the following exceptions:
In the third rakat, a Quranic passage and the qunut prayers are recited after al-Fatiha. Before praying qunut, say takbir (Allahu akbar) by raising the hands as is done when beginning the prayer. The Messengers reported qunut prayers are: Allahumma inna nastainuka wa nastaghfiruka wa nastahdika wa numinu bika wa natubu ilayk; wa natawwakkalu alayka wa nuthni alaykal-khayra kullahu nashkuruka wa la nakfuruk. Wa nakhlau wa natruku man yaf-juruk. Allahumma iyyaka nabudu wa laka nusalli wa nasjudu wa ilayka nasa wa nahfidu; narju rahmataka wa nakhsa adhabaka inna adhabaka bil-kuffari mulhiq (O God! We ask You for help, forgiveness, and guidance. We believe in You and turn to You in repentance for our sins, and place our trust in You. We praise You by attributing all good to You, and thank You, and never feel ingratitude to You. We reject and cut our relations with those who are in constant rebellion against You. O God, You alone do we worship, and we pray and prostrate for You alone. We endeavor in Your way to obtain Your good pleasure and approval. We hope and expect Your Mercy and fear Your chastisement, for Your chastisement is to surround the unbelievers.).

Tarawih

The specific prayers during Ramadan, which are known as tarawih, are sunna for both men and women and are to be performed after the prescribed late evening prayer and before witr. As generally accepted, it consists of 20 rakats and is performed preferably in cycles of two rakats.
Tarawih prayers can be performed in congregation or alone. The majority of scholars, however, prefer to pray them in congregation. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, prayed it in congregation but then stopped doing so, fearing that it would be made obligatory. Umar established the practice of praying tarawih behind one imam.

The Prayer of the Sick (Salat al-Marid)

Whoever cannot stand due to illness or another valid reason can pray sitting. If this is not possible, one can pray while lying on ones right side by making gestures. In such a case, the gestures for sajda should be lower than those for ruku.

The Prayer during Times of Fear or Danger (Salat al-Khawf)

All scholars agree about the legality of such prayers:
(O Messenger!) When you are among the believers (who are on an expedition and fear that the unbelievers might harm them) and rise to lead the prayer for them, let a party of them stand in prayer with you and retain their arms (while letting the other party take their positions against the enemy). When the first party has prostrated (and finished the rakat), let them go behind you (to take their positions against the enemy), and let the other party, which has not prayed, come forward and pray with you, being fully prepared against danger and retaining their arms. Those who disbelieve wish that you should be heedless of your weapons and your equipment, so that they might swoop upon you in a surprise attack. But there shall be no blame on you if you lay aside your arms (during prayer) if you are troubled by rain (and the ground impedes your movement), or if you are ill. However, (always) be fully prepared against danger. Surely God has prepared for the unbelievers a shameful, humiliating chastisement. (4:102)

The Prayer of a Traveler (Salat al-Musafir)

If one begins a journey of at least 3 days, one shortens the prescribed prayers of four rakats (the noon, afternoon, and night prayers) and offers them as two rakats, just like the dawn prayer. Since at that time travel was generally by foot and a days travel was counted as 6 hours, the distance of 3 days on foot was regarded as 90 kilometers (54 miles). However, many contemporary scholars maintain that since many people now travel by bus or train, the above-mentioned prayers can be shortened only if the distance is around 1,200 kilometers (720 miles).
Travelers are defined as people who have left their home and their town. So long as they are traveling, the above-mentioned prayers can be shortened. If they reach a place and intend to stay there for less than 15 days, they are considered as travelers and are therefore allowed to shorten their prayers as outlined above. If they are still there on the fifteenth day for reasons beyond their control, although they originally intended to stay for less than 15 days, they are still considered travelers and can shorten the appropriate prayers. Most scholars opine that travelers may offer the sunna and supererogatory prayers without shortening them.
The main reason for shortening the above-mentioned prayers is traveling, not the hardships of travel. Thus, these prayers are shortened even if no difficulty is encountered while traveling. The cause for establishing a rule differs from its expected wisdom and benefit. Wisdom or benefit is the reason for its preference, while the cause requires its existence. So, traveling Muslims shorten their prayers. The cause for this Divine dispensation is traveling, and the underlying wisdom is the hardship of traveling. Thus prayers are shortened even if no hardship is encountered, for the cause exists. Muslims who encounter hardships while at home cannot shorten their prayers, for the wisdom or benefit cannot be the cause for this dispensation.
Those who are traveling must pray whether they are on a ship or a train or a plane, if the prayer will be missed before reaching a place where one can offer it.

Specific Sunna Prayers

Asking for What Is Good (Salat al-Istikhara). The Messenger advised all Muslims to follow his practice when confronted with having to make a choice between permissible alternatives: pray two non-obligatory rakats and then ask God to enable one to choose what is good or better.

The Prayer of Glorification (Salat al-Tasbih)

Ibn Abbas reports that Gods Messenger said to Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib:
O Abbas, O Uncle, shall I not give you, present to you, donate to you, tell you of ten things which, if you do them, God will forgive your first and last sins, past and present sins, intentional and unintentional sins, private and public sins? The ten actions are: pray four rakats, reciting in every rakat al-Fatiha and a sura. When you finish the Quranic recitation of the first rakat, say, while standing: Subhanallah, al-hamdu lillah, wa la ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar (Glory be to God, all praise be to God, there is no deity save God, and God is the greatest) 15 times. Then make ruku, and while in ruku, say the same phrases 10 times. Then stand and say the same 10 times. Then go down and make sajda, and while you are in sajda, say the same phrases 10 times. Then sit after sajda and say the same phrases 10 times. Then make sajda and say the same phrases 10 times. Then sit after the second sajda, and say the same phrases another 10 times. That is 75 (repetitions of the phrases) in each rakat. Do that in each of the four rakats. If you can pray it once a day, do so. If you cannot, then once every Friday. If you cannot do that, then once a year. And if you cannot do that, then once during your life. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 303; Tirmidhi, Salat, 350.)
After saying the phrases 10 times following the second sajda in the second rakat, recite the tashahhud and calls of Gods blessings and peace upon the Messenger and his Family, and then end the first two rakats by giving salutation. Pray the second two rakats in the same way.

The Prayer for Need (Salat al-Haja)

Make the proper ablution, pray two rakats, and say the prayer reported from the Messenger concerning it (Tirmidhi, Witr, 345). If Gods overall Wisdom requires it to be met, God will grant whatever is asked, either sooner or later.
The Prayer of Repentance (Salat al-Tawba). Make the appropriate minor or major ablution, offer a prayer of two rakats, and ask for His forgiveness. Hopefully, God will grant it.

The Prayer during a Solar or Lunar Eclipse (Salat al-Kusuf and al-Khusuf)

Scholars agree that this is a sunna muakkada, a stressed or confirmed one, which is to be performed by both men and women. It is best, but not absolutely necessary, to pray it in congregation. Its time is from the eclipses beginning until its end. It is preferred to say takbir, supplicate, give charity, and ask God for forgiveness during the eclipse. It should be noted that this has nothing to do with asking for the eclipse to end, for its beginning and end are clear. An eclipse is only an occasion for such a prayer.
The Prayer for Rain (Salat al-Istisqa). This prayer is performed to entreat to God for rain during a drought.

Supererogatory Prayers

Supererogatory prayers are important in that they make up for any deficiencies in performing the prescribed prayers and to bring us closer to God, Who declares:
My servant cannot get near to Me through anything else more lovable to Me than doing the obligatory religious duties. However, by doing supererogatory duties he gets nearer to Me, and when he becomes near to Me, I shall be his eyes to see with, his ears to hear with, his hands to grasp with, and his legs to walk on. (Bukhari, Riqaq, 38)
Supererogatory prayers are offered in cycles of two rakats. Praying two rakats when around three quarters have passed after sunrise (ishraq), two to eight rakats in broad daylight until the sun reaches its zenith (duha), and four rakats between the evening and late evening prayers (awwabin).
Such supererogatory prayers are important, for as recorded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Muslim, and Abu Dawud, the Messenger said the following about the duha (broad daylight) prayer:
Charity is required from every part of your body daily. Every saying of Glory be to God is charity. Every saying of All praise be to God is charity. Every saying of There is no deity but God is charity. Every saying of God is the Greatest is charity. Ordering good is charity. Eradicating evil is charity. And what suffices for that (as a charity) are the two rakats of the duha (broad daylight prayer). (Muslim, Musafirun, 84)

Offering Supererogatory Prayers at Home

Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Muslim relate from Jabir that the Messenger of God said: If one of you offers his prayers in the mosque, then he should offer a portion of his prayers at home, as God has made saying prayers in ones home a means of betterment (for him). Ahmad records from Umar that the Messenger of God said: The supererogatory prayers prayed by a person at home are a light. Whoever wishes should light up his house.

Reciting Long Passages

It is preferred to prolong ones recitation during supererogatory prayers. Gods Messenger would stand and pray until his feet or shanks swelled. When he was asked about it, he said: Should I not be a thankful servant? (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 16)

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