How is intention made for sunnah prayers?

The Details of the Question

Since the Prophet (pbuh) did not say, "I intend to perform sunnah prayer", how should we make intention for sunnah prayers?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The Prophet (pbuh) did not use the term “sunnah” when he performed prayers. However, we can say we intend to perform sunnah prayer while applying his sunnah.

Niyyah (intention) is one of the pre-requisites of prayer; it means to want to perform a prayer for Allah’s sake and to know what prayer to perform.  Niyyah is fard in order to separate worshipping from customary deeds and to worship sincerely. This makes it necessary to worship only for Allah. The following is stated in a verse:

"And they have been commanded no more than this: To worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion." (al-Bayyina, 98/5)

"Deeds depend upon the intentions." (Bukhari, Badul-Wahy, 1)

The hadith above is another evidence.

Intention belongs to the heart. However, it is better to say the intention by the tongue too. This is mustahab. For, the tongue helps the heart here like saying, “I intend to perform the fard of the noon prayer today.”  It is necessary to mention the type of the prayer in the niyyah of a fard prayer, or a wajib prayer like witr, sajdah at-tilawah, vow and eid prayers.

It is necessary to determine both the time and the day for qada prayers like saying, "I intend to perform the first or last missed (qada) prayer". For instance, intention can be made as follows: "I intend to perform the fard of Friday prayer or eid prayer." It is not enough to make a general niyyah like "fard prayer". Niyyah is made as follows: for nafilah prayers: "I intend to perform the first or last sunnah of this time." However, a general niyyah is valid in nafilah prayers. It is not necessary to say sunnah muakkadah or ghayr muakkadah, or to mention the number of rak’ahs. However, it is more appropriate in terms of caution make niyyah as follows: for tarawih prayer:  "I intend to perform tarawih prayer or the sunnah of this time."

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