PRAYERS: Nature and Number of Rak’at for witr

Friday, March 16, 2018

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-Tirmizhi 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 hadith 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 Tirmizhi, 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, atTirmizhi, 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-Tirmizhi 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 an Nasa’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, an Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and at-Tirmizhi 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.”

To be continued