What are the hadiths related to sunnah/nafilah prayers and their virtues?

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What are the hadiths related to sunnah/nafilah prayers and their virtues?
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Author: Hamdi Döndüren (Prof.Dr.), 12-6-2009

Sunnah lexically means grant, donation, booty, something done voluntarily. As a term, it means prayers other than fard and wajib prayers that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is reported to have performed. They are divided into two as nafilahs that are sunnah and nafilahs that are mandub (recommended). Nafilahs that are sunnah are deeds or prayers that the Messenger of Allah generally performed but rarely abandoned. The reason why he sometimes abandoned them is to show people that they are not fard. Nafilahs that are mandub are deeds or prayers that Hazrat Prophet sometimes did and sometimes abandoned; they are sunnahs that are not so strong. Mustahab is also used instead of the word mandub.  

In the methodology of fiqh, the terms nafilah, sunnah, tatawwu, mustahab and ihsan are used synonymously with mandub. Nafilah worshipping can be classified as follows:  

A. Sunahs that are muakkadah: Parts of the five daily prayers and Friday prayer are sunnah al-muakkadah. Those kinds of sunnahs are determined as follows in a hadith: "Allah will build a house in Paradise for a person who performs twelve rak’ah of prayers other than fard prayers during the day and night. They are the following prayers: two rak’ahs before the morning prayer, four rak’ahs before the noon prayer, two rak’ahs after the noon prayer, two rak’ahs after the evening prayer and two rak’ahs after the night prayer." (Tirmidhi; Salat, 189; Nasai, Qiyamul-Layl, 66; Ibn Majah, Iqama, 100).

The sunnahs that are muakkadah and that are parts of five daily prayers are as follows:

1. The sunnah of two rak’ahs performed before the morning prayer: It is the strongest sunnah. Hazrat Prophet stated the following about it: "Do not abandon the two-rak’ah sunah of the morning prayer even if horses run after you." (Ahmad b. Hanbal, II, 405). "The two-rak’ah sunah of the morning prayer is better than the world and everything that is in the world." (Muslim, Musafirin, 96, 97; Tirmidhi, Salat, 190). Hazrat Aisha stated the following: "Hazrat Prophet did not perform any nafilah prayer more regularly than the two-rak’ah sunah of the morning prayer." (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 27; Muslim, Musafirin, 94; Abu Dawud, Tatawwu', 2; Ahmad b. Hanbal, VI, 43, 54, 170).

No sunnah prayer is performed as qada when it is missed except for the sunnah of the morning prayer until due to the hadith mentioned above; a person who misses the morning prayer, has to perform it as qada together with its sunnah if he performs it on the same day until noon. On the other hand, if a person realizes that he can catch up with the imam even in the second rak’ah, he performs the sunnah first and follows the imam later.

2. The four-rak’ah prayer performed before the noon or Friday prayer. Hazrat Aisha said, "The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did not abandon performing the four rak’ah of sunnah before the noon prayer and the two rak’ah sunnah before the morning prayer." (Nasai, Qiyamu'l-Layl, 56).

3. The two rak’ah prayer performed after the noon prayer. That two rak’ahs of sunnah is sunnah al-muakkadah; it is mandub to perform it as a four-rak’ah prayer. The four rak’ah nafilah prayer performed after the Friday prayer is sunnah al-muakkadah. The following is stated in a hadith:

"Hazrat Prophet would perform two rak’ahs before Friday prayer and four rak’ahs after it; he would not divide those prayers by salutation." (Zaylai, Nasbur-Rayah, II, 206).

4. The two rak’ah prayer performed after the evening prayer. It is also one of the sunnahs that the Messenger of Allah regularly performed.

5. The two rak’ah prayer performed after the night prayer. Its evidence is the hadith stating that Allah will build a mansion for a person who regularly perform the twelve rak’ah of nafila prayers during the day and night. (Tirmidhi; Salat, 189; Nasai, Qiyamul-Layl, 66; Ibn Majah, Iqama,100).

6. Tarawih prayer: This prayer is sunnah al-muakkadah for both men and women because Hazrat Prophet, caliphs that came after him and the Companions performed it regularly in Ramadan. Afterwards, the Prophet did not perform it in congregation in the mosque for fear that it would be fard for believers (Zaylai, ibid, II, 152; ash-Shawkani, Naylul-Awtar, III, 50 ff.; az-Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami wa Adillatuh, Damascus 1405/1985, II, 43).

Tarawih prayer is performed only in Ramadan; it is performed after the night prayer and before the witr prayer. It is mustahab to delay this prayer after midnight of after the one third of the night passes. Tarawih prayer can be performed individually but it is more virtuous to perform it in congregation.

According to Hanafis, tarawih prayer is performed as twenty rak’ahs; it is based on the application of Hazrat Umar because Hazrat Umar led this prayer as twenty rak’ahs in Masjid an-Nabawi as the head of the state toward the end of his caliphate. None of the Companions opposed to twenty rak’ahs. Hazrat Prophet said, "Do not leave my sunnah and the way of my rightly guided caliphs after me." (Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 5; Tirmidhi, Ilm, 16; Ibn Majah, Muqaddima, 6; Darimi, Muqaddima, 16). When Abu Hanifa was asked about the application of Hazrat Umar, he said:

"Tarawih is a strong sunnah. Hazrat Umar did not invent something new. He did it based on some evidence that he knew. He did it as something based on the Messenger of Allah (pbuh)." (az-Zuhayli, ibid, II, 44).

Some hadith scholars determined that the Messenger of Allah performed tarawih prayer as eight rak’ahs in Ramadan. Their evidence is the following hadith reported by Bukhari and other hadith scholars from Hazrat Aisha:

"Hazrat Prophet did not perform any nafilah prayers more than eleven rak’ahs in Ramadan or outside Ramadan." (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 16; Tarawih, 1; Muslim, Musafirin, 125; Tirmidhi, Mawaqit, 208). Ibn Hibban reported the following hadith from Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) in his book Sahih: "Hazrat Prophet lead us eight rak’ahs of tarawih and then the witr prayer" (ash-Shawkani, ibid, III, 53). Then, there is no doubt that the eight rak’ahs of tarawih prayer is sunnah al-muakkadah. Some scholars like Ibnul-Humam said the rak’ahs after the first eight rak’ahs are mustahab. It is like praying four rak’ahs of sunnah instead of two after the fard of night prayer; in this case, the first two rak’ahs are sunnah al-muakkadah and the last two rak’ahs are mustahab. (Ibnul-Humam, Fathul-Qadir, Egypt 1316/1898, I, 333, 334).

B. Sunnahs that are ghayr al-muakkadah: They are the sunnahs that Hazrat Prophet did not perform regularly and that sometimes abandoned; they are also called mandub. They are the following prayers:

1. The four-rak’ah prayer performed before the afternoon prayer with one salutation. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said the following about this prayer: "May Allah have mercy on a person who performs four rek’ahs before the afternoon prayer." (Tirmidhi, Salat, 301).

2. The four-rak’ah prayer performed before the night prayer. The following is reported form Hazrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her):

"Hazrat Prophet would perform four rak’ahs before the night prayer." (Zaylai, ibid, II, 145 ff.; ash-Shawkani, ibid, III, 18).

3. Awwabin prayer: The word awwabin is the plural form of awwab, which means a person who turns toward Allah a lot. It can be performed as two, four or six rak’ahs. It can be performed with one salutation, or two or three salutations. Hazrat Prophet said that a person who performed six rak’ahs after the evening prayer would be regarded among awwabin and recited the following verse: " if ye do deeds of righteousness, verily He is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true penitence)" (al-Isra,17/25; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir; İstanbul 1985, V, 64, 65; ash-Shurunbulali, Maraqil-Falah, İstanbul 1984, p. 74).

They are nafilah prayers performed before or after fard prayers.

C. Independent Nafilah (Mandub) Prayers:

There are some more nafilah prayers apart from the sunnahs of five daily prayers; they are nafilahs that are called mustahab, mandub or tatawwu:

1. Duha prayer

It is at least two rak’ahs; according to the sound view, it can be performed as four or up to eight rak’ahs. It is mandub. Its time starts when the sun rises about a spear's length above the horizon and it continues until twenty or thirty minutes before the sun reaches its zenith (zawal). The following is reported from Hazrat Aisha: "The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) performed the duha prayer in twos as four rak’ahs and did not speak about worldly issues after the first salutation." (as-San'ani, Subulu's-Salam, Cairo 1950, II, 16). Muslim's narration about the issue as follows: "Hazrat Prophet performed the duha prayer as four rak’ahs and added as many rak’ahs as Allah wished."

2. Tahajjud prayer

The nafilah prayer that is performed after the night prayer without going to sleep or after a short sleep is called salat al-layl. The nafilah prayer that is performed after sleeping for a while and waking up beginning from after midnight to the time of imsak is called tahajjud prayer. Tahajjud prayer can be prayed as two rak’ahs up to eight rak’ahs. It is more virtuous to give salutation after each two rak’ahs.

Tahajjud prayer is fard for the Prophet. The following is stated in the Quran: "(O Muhammad!) And pray in the small watches of the morning: (it would be) an additional prayer (or spiritual profit) for thee: soon will thy Lord raise thee to a station of Praise and Glory!“ (al-Isra,17/79). This prayer is sunnah or mustahab for other Muslims.

There are verses (see al-Muzzammil, 73/20; as-Sajda, 32/16; al-Furqan, 25/63, 64; adh-Dhariyat, 51/17, 18; Aal-i Imran, 3/16, 17) and hadtihs that encourage other believers to perform tahajjud prayers. When Abdullah b. Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) saw himself in Hell in his dream and an angel approached him and say, “do not fear”, and told the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) about his dream, the Messenger of Allah said,:" Abdullah is a very good man. However, it would be better if he practiced performing tahajjud prayer." Abdullah b. Umar lessened his sleep at night after that. It is understood from the hadith that a person who regularly performs tahajjud prayer is worth being mentioned as a good person. (az-Zabidi, Sahih-i Buhârî Muhtasarı Tecrid-i Sarih Tercemesi, Ankara 1982, IV, 29, 30, H. No: 576). The following is stated in another hadith:

"Perform tahajjud prayer regularly because tahajjud prayer is the practice of the righteous slaves before you. It means worshipping your Lord; it covers the evil deeds and prevents one from committing sins." (Tirmidhi, Daawat, 101).

3. Wudu prayer

It is mandub to perform two rak’ahs after wudu or ghusl if the time is convenient before the wetness dries. The following is stated in a hadith:" If a person makes a nice wudu and then performs two rak’ahs and turns toward this prayer with his heart, Paradise becomes wajib for him." (Bukhari, Wudu, 24; Muslim, Taharah, 5, 6,17; Abu Dawud, Taharah, 65).

4. Tahiyyah al-Masjid prayer Tahiyyah means to greet, to salute. Tahiyyah al-Masjid means to salute the mosque. It is mandub for a person who enters a mosque to perform two rak’ahs of prayer in order to salute and elevate the Lord of the mosque. For people who enter a mosque several times during the day for reasons like teaching, learning, etc, it is enough to perform it the first time they enter the mosque.  

The following is stated in a hadith: "If you enter a mosque, do not sit down before praying two rak’ahs." (Bukhari, Salat, 60, Tahajjud, 35; Muslim, Musafirin, 69, 70; Tirmidhi, Salat, 118).

If a person enters a mosque but cannot perform tahiyyah al-masjid prayer due to his occupation or lack of time or karaha, it is enough and mustahab for him to say the following prayer:  

Subhanallah wal-hamdulillah wa la ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar"

It means: "Glory be to Allah; praise be to Allah, there is no god but Allah; Allah is the greatest." On the other hand, to perform any prayer in a mosque, or to enter a mosque in order to perform a fard prayer with the intention of following the imam is regarded to have replaced tahiyyah al-masjid.

5. İstikhara prayer

Istikhara means to ask for the good aspects of something. Istikhara prayer is a two-rak’ah prayer that is performed in order to receive a spiritual sign that will guide somebody for a permissible issue about which a person cannot decide what to do. Jabir b. Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "Hazrat Prophet would teach us how to make istikhara for each issue as if he was teaching us a verse from the Quran; he would say: "When you want to do something, pray two rak’ahs apart from the fard prayer and read the prayer of istikhara." (see Bukhari, Tahajjud, 25; Daawat, 49; Tawhid,10; Tirmidhi, Witr, 18; Ibn Majah, Iqama, I, 18; Ahmad b. Hanbal, III, 344).

After reading the prayer of istikhara, it is necessary to lie down by turning to the qiblah. (For the prayer (dua), see "istihare" item; Hamdi Döndüren, Delilleriyle İslâm İlmihali, İstanbul 1991, 350, 351).

6. Tasbih (glorification) prayer

It is a four-rak’ah prayer; al-Fatiha and a surah are read in each rak’ah. It is completed with one or two salutations. The following tasbih is read three hundred times in it. " Subhanallahi wal-hamdulillahi wa la ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar wa !a hawla wala quwwata illa billahil-aliyyil-azim "

It means: “Glory be to Allah; praise be to Allah, there is no god but Allah; Allah is the greatest. There is no power other than Allah, who is lofty and great."

Hazrat Prophet taught Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), his uncle, the tasbih prayer to inform him about a deed that will make him approach to Allah; he said Allah would forgive his sins even if his sins were as much as sand piles if he performed that prayer. The Prophet advised us to perform that prayer every day, or every Friday, if we cannot do it, once a month or once a year, and in another narration, at least once a year. (Tirmidhi, Witr,19; Ibn Majah, Iqama,190; Abu Dawud, Tatawwu', 14 and "Namaz" item)

7. Prayer of Haja (Need)

A person who has a worldly or otherworldly wish makes wudu and performs two or four rak’ahs, or according to another view, twelve rak’ahs after the night prayer; then, he praises Allah and sends salawat to Hazrat Prophet; after that, he says the prayer of need and asks Allah to realize his wish. 

According to what is reported from Abdullah b. Abi Awfa (may Allah be pleased with him), the Messenger of Allah said, “If a person has a wish from Allah or a request from people, let him make wudu and perform two rak’ahs first, and praise Allah and send salawat to Prophet after that. Then, let him say the following prayer: "La ilaha illallahul-halimul-karim. Subhanallahi Rabbil-arshil-azim. Al-Hamdu lillahi Rabbil-alamin, nas'aluka mujibati rahmatika wa azaima maghfiratika wal-ghanimata min külli birrin wa's-salamata min kulli ithmin. La tada'li dahnban illa ghafartahu wa la hamman illa mazahtahu wa la hajata hiya laka rizan illa qadaytaha ya arhamarrahimin ".

It means: "There is no god but Allah, the Forbearing (al-Halim), the Generous (al-Karim). Glory be to Allah, Lord of the Tremendous Throne. All praise is to Allah, Lord of the worlds. O Allah! I ask from you everything that leads to your mercy, and your tremendous forgiveness, enrichment in all good, and freedom from all sins. Do not leave a sin of mine, except that you forgive it, nor any concern except that you create for it an opening, nor any need in which there is your good pleasure except that you fulfill it, O the Most Merciful! " (Tirmidhi, Witr,17; Ibn Majah, 189; Hamdi Döndüren, ibid, p. 352, 353).

8. Journey (Safar) Prayer

It is mandub for a Muslim to perform two rak’ahs when he sets off for a journey or returns from a journey. The Prophet usually returned from a journey in the late morning, before noon; he would go to Masjid an-Nabawi, perform two rak’ahs and sit there for a while.” (see Bukhari, Salat, 59; Jihad, 198).

9. Istithqa (Asking for rain) prayer

When there is a severe drought, istithqa prayer is said because the prayers said by Noah, Moses and Hud for rain for their nations are mentioned in the Quran (see Nuh, 71/10-12;. al Baqara, 2/60).

According to what Anas b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated, while the Messenger of Allah was reciting the khutbah (sermon) on a Friday, a man said there was a drought and his crops and animals were destroyed; thereupon, the Prophet prayed, “O Allah! Send us water! O Allah! Send us water!” Then, although there were no clouds in the sky, some clouds suddenly appeared and it started to rain. When the rain that continued for a week started to cause floods, the same man asked the Messenger of Allah to pray for the to stop. Then, the Messenger of Allah prayed as follows: “O Allah! Send the rain to the mountains, hills, valleys and woods around us not on us." After this prayer, the rain stopped. (Bukhari, Istithqa, 6; Muslim, Istithqa, 8)

According to Abu Hanifa, istithqa consists of saying prayers and asking for forgiveness. Therefore, it can be done without performing a special prayer or reciting a sermon. According to Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad, it is mandub to perform the istithqa prayer if there is a need whether people are resident or traveling. If rain is delayed, the prayer is repeated every day because Allah likes those who insist on saying prayers. (see al-Kasani, al-Badayi', I, 282; Ibnul-Humam, Fathul-Qadir, I, 437; Ibn Abidin, Raddul-Mukhtar, I, 790 ff.; Hamdi Döndüren, Delilleriyle İslâm İlmihali, İstanbul 1991, p. 353 ff.).

10. Solar Eclipse (Kusuf) Prayer: The solar eclipse is called "kusuf", and the lunar eclipse is called "khusuf". When there is a solar eclipse, the imam who leads the Friday prayer in a town, leads a prayer of at least two rak’ahs without adhan or iqamah. According to Abu Hanifa, in this prayer, the qiraah (reading the Quran) is silent but according to Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad, the qiraah is loud.

When there was a solar eclipse, the Prophet lead a prayer of two rak’ahs and then said, "These events are evidence that shows the magnificence of Allah. Allah wants to intimidate His slaves with it. When you observe them, perform a prayer like the last fard prayer that you performed." (Bukhari, Kusuf, 1,17; Abu Dawud, Istithqa, 4, 9, Sunnah, 9; Nasai, Kusuf, 5, 12, 14, 16, 24).

11. Lunar Eclipse (Khusuf) Prayer When there is a lunar eclipse, it is mandub for Muslims to perform a prayer of two or four rak’ahs in their houses individually, reading silently or aloud like the kusuf prayer. According to Abu Hanifa, performing this prayer in the mosque in congregation does not exist in the sunnah. According to Imam Shafii and Ahmad b. Hanbal and some hadith scholars, it is performed in congregation.

Since the lunar eclipse takes place at night, it is difficult to gather in a mosque and perform prayer in congregation. (al-Kasani, ibid, I, 282; ash-Shurunbulali, Maraq al-Falah, 92).

Ash-Shatibi explains the aims of the deeds that are regarded as nafilah or mandub as follows: 

1. Every mandub that has come from Hazrat Prophet as sunnah is helpful in the completion and protection of fard and wajib worshipping because nafilah worshipping prepares a person for the fard prayer. A person who neglects nafilah prayers happens to neglect fard prayers, too. Some mandubs have the same kinds of fards, for instance, the sunnah prayers of the five daily prayers, nafilah fasting, nafilah hajj and nafilah sadaqah. Some of them do not have fard counterparts, for instance, putting on nice clothes for the prayer, to hurry in order to break the fast (iftar) when the time is due, to delay the sahur meal. It is seen that they support the fard worshipping. For instance, to hurry in order to break the fast when the time is due and to delay the sahur meal makes fasting easier and enables a person to perform it regularly. Regular worshipping is more valuable in the presence of Allah even if it is little.

2. Mandub is a sunnah that is necessary to perform as a whole, not one by one. As a matter of fact, Hazrat Prophet occasionally abandoned the sunnahs that are muakkadah. Thus, a person can abandon them when there is a necessity or difficulty. the fact that they are not performed when they are missed proves it. However, they cannot be abandoned as a whole. For instance, it is not permissible to abandon adhan constantly. If the people of a country give up reciting adhan, it is necessary to make them recite it by force. A person cannot give up performing prayers in congregation because the Prophet said, "If a person abandons the prayer in congregation for more than three days, his heart is sealed." (Ibn Majah, Masajid, 17) Marriage is like that. Some individuals might not marry in some cases; however, the community cannot stop marrying as a whole; otherwise, the community will disappear. (ash-Shatibi, al-Muwafaqat, Tijariya impression, Cairo, n.d., I, 132, 133, 151; M. Abu Zshra, Usulul-Fiqh, n.d., 40 ff)

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