Lecture 23 in the Ramadaan series:
07 May 2021 (25 Ramadaan 1442)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

I now wish to delve into the deeply moving verses of Surah Israa’, from verse 78 onwards:

أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِدُلُوكِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَىٰ غَسَقِ اللَّيْلِ وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ إِنَّ قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ كَانَ مَشْهُودًا
“Keep up prayer from the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night and the morning recitation; surely the morning recitation is witnessed.”

So, after the earlier verses described to Rasulullah (SAWA) all the tricks used by the enemies to infiltrate, deceive, expel and even kill him, this verse is the culmination of the ultimate hope after the earlier adversity, requesting him to establish his hope with Almighty Allah (SWT).

This verse ordains us to establish salaah and also elaborates on the timings for salaah in general. “Dulooq” in this verse refers to Zawaal ie. when the sun is at its highest point, which is true midday. Almighty Allah (SWT) is saying that we should establish prayer when the sun starts its decline, until the night becomes dark.

It is indirectly referring to the Salaah of Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha’ and the recital of Fajr when dawn breaks. These are the five obligatory daily prayers.

We find this discussion about the timings of Salaah in a few places in the Holy Quran. The important point to remember from this is that I do not believe there is any other topic which is emphasized greater in the Holy Quran than Salaah.

Amazingly, the details of Salaah are not mentioned in the Holy Quran! Not even the units of Salaah, such as Fajr two, Maghrib three and Dhuhr, Asr and Isha’ are four each. Similarly, how to perform Salaah is also not mentioned. We know all these details through the help of Hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).

This is another very important point to learn here, while the Holy Quran is of course the most important source for us and the criteria or yardstick, as the Ahlul Bait (a.s) have taught us. If we want to validate a Hadith or any subject, the Holy Quran remains our authority for validation.

Having said this, it certainly does not mean that the Holy Quran makes you sufficient to not depend on Hadith. Hadith is indeed crucial, and therefore, those people who hold the view that we do not need Hadith as a source of reference do not present a valid logic.

The truth and reality is that there is nothing in the Holy Quran which can be practiced properly, without the support of Hadith.

Salaah, Zakah, Hajj, Jihad are examples of issues commanded in the Holy Quran, but the details are elaborated in Hadith narrations.
Hadith operates in the shadow of the Holy Quran and supports it. So then, it is clearly problematic if Hadith contradicts the Holy Quran.

“Quranal Fajri kaan mash-huda” referred to at the end of this verse means “the dawn recital is witnessed”. We learn from the commentaries of this verse of the Holy Quran that Fajr is the most important amongst all the prayers.

However, we learn from our 5th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) about this verse that the first Salaah to become compulsory was in fact Dhuhr. This is interpreted from the reference in this verse to “Aqimis salaata lidulooqish shams”, which means establish Salaah after the declining of the sun, as discussed at the beginning.

Having said that, no Salaah has been given the status in the Holy Quran the way that Fajr has. The question we would have from this verse referring to “the dawn recital is witnessed” is, who is the witness? Hadith narrated from both Sunni and Shia resources indicate that the witness here would be the angels (Mala’ika).

So then, what is special about Fajr, because the Mala’ika are witness to all five of our daily prayers? We learn from Hadith narrations that the shift of Mala’ika changes at the time of Fajr Adhaan, meaning that the Fajr Adhaan triggers the end of the night shift and the start of the morning shift.

This means that the period of Fajr still has both the night shift and day shift Mala’ika present to witness the time of this special dawn recital. This also tells us indirectly to pray the salaah of Fajr as early as possible in the prescribed period, and not five minutes before sunrise, so that it can be witnessed by both shifts of Mala’ika ie. the incoming day shift and the outgoing night shift!

Dear reader, we have now arrived at a sweet point in our discussion. Previously we had discussed verse 78, which had detailed the different salaah timings, as well as the witnessing of the angels at the dawn recitations. Verse 79 then moves into discussing the value of the night prayer, also referred to as Salaatul Layl or Tahajjud.

وَمِنَ الَّيْلِ فَتَهَجَّدْ بِهِ نَافِلَةً لَّكَ عَسَي أَن يَبْعَثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَاماً مَّحمُود

“And some part of the night keep vigil for it as an additional prayer for you; maybe that your Lord will raise you up to a praised position.”

When examining the actual content of the verse itself, we see that it does not directly or explicitly refer to salaatul layl. However, the majority of the exegetes who have interpreted this verse in light of the ahadith have said this is in relation to the tahajjud prayer.

This prayer is referred to as a ‘nafila’ or an additional salaah. In the case of the Prophet (SAW) it was compulsory throughout his entire life. Another understanding is that it was originally compulsory on the Prophet (SAW), but after this verse was revealed, the obligation was removed. This understanding of the holy verse has only been derived by a minority of scholars.

This salaah has also been mentioned in different parts of the Quran, including in chapter 73, known as Surah Muzzammil:

يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ
قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
نِّصْفَهُ أَوِ انقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا
أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

“O you wrapped in garment!

Stand [in prayer] all night, except a little.

Half of it or a little less than that,

Or a little more. And recite the Qur’an slowly and meditatively.”


While not compulsory, there is an abundance of ahadith that emphasise the importance of praying this salaah. There are several traditions that enumerate the multiple worldly and hereafter enjoyments one may experience.

The bigger question that needs to be asked is:

What makes this salaah holds such great value in the first place?

The secret is the unique opportunity in the depths of the night, further elaborated in Surah Muzzammil:

إِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ اللَّيْلِ هِيَ أَشَدُّ وَطْئًا وَأَقْوَمُ قِيلًا

“Your nightly prayers are certainly stronger and more steadfastly.

إِنَّ لَكَ فِي النَّهَارِ سَبْحًا طَوِيلًا

And you make prolonged and steadfast efforts by day”.

At night, nothing is diverting your attention away from Allah (swt). As verse 7 indicates, the daily rat race that we are surrounded in prevents us from attaining to that special connection with our Creator. Contrarily, when everything around us is asleep, we can focus our entire being towards Almighty Allah (swt) in the form of this salaah.

Two years ago in the lecture series about ‘Quran & Dua’ which Alhamdulillah has been published as a book, we discussed the importance of night in detail.

Based on these deliberations and the variety of traditions from the Ahlulbait (as), it was identified that no great station can be achieved with a heedless attitude towards the night time.


When a person wakes up at the depths of the night, leaves his deep sleep, forsakes the warmth of his bed, all for an action that is not even obligatory upon him – all to achieve what? Purely for the sake of Allah (swt). As this action is performed alone, often without others knowing, the possibility of riyaa (showing off) becomes near impossible.

This very action alone holds such great worth in the eyes of the Ahlulbait (as). The traditions go as far as saying that Allah (swt) declares his pride to the angels when a servant leave their beds in comfort out of His love. This is the spirit in which salaatul layl should be performed in.

In verse 16 of Surah Sajdah, this aspect of the Night Prayer is further elaborated:

تَتَجَافَي جُنُوبُهُمْ عَنِ الْمَضَاجِعِ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ خَوْفاً وَطَمَعاً وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

“Their sides draw away from (their) beds, they call upon their Lord in fear and in hope, and they spend (in charity) out of the sustenance that We have bestowed on them.”

If someone is truly able perform this prayer, all the goodness of the hereafter- and this world as well- is included in this prayer. This is not my mere opinion.


Allamah Tabatabaei (ra) narrates a beautiful story in relation to his great teacher, Allamah Sayed Ali Aqa Qazi (ra). Allamah Tabatabai (ra), in his early days of hawza, had relocated to Najaful-Ashraf.

He entered into the city and had requested that Allah (swt) takes his hand and makes himself successful so that he can benefit from the knowledge of Najaf. While Allamah (ra) had this great desire to learn, he had met a scholar that he would remark was his greatest teacher. This man was also from the Tabatabai family, albeit that they were distantly related.

One day in the madrassa of Najaf, Allamah Qazi (ra) had placed his hand on the shoulder of Allamah Tabatabai (ra) and had said: “Sayyid Muhammad Husayn, refine your soul. If you desire this world, pray the night prayer. If you desire the next world, pray the night prayer.”


The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said: “The best among you are those who when they speak are respectful, feed the hungry, and those who pray in the night when people are asleep.”

Ameerul Mumineen Imam Ali (as) was reported to have said: “Standing for the night prayer makes one’s body healthy, achieves the pleasure of the Lord, receives the mercy of Allah (swt), and you are connected to the character of the Prophets (as).”

Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “Whoever performs salaatul layl, during the day his face becomes beautiful, filled with light (noorani).”
Another aspect of this worship is that not everybody is lucky or privileged to be granted the ability to perform this. There are those who love to perform the prayer, but do not have the capacity to wake up.

A person had come to Imam Ali (as), and said that he wants to pray salaatul layl, but he cannot wake up. Imam Ali (as) then replied that his excessive sins have prevented him from being granted this great success.

In our history of scholarship, salaatul layl has been a main feature of their lives. On incredibly rare occasions they would miss this prayer. When they would reflect on their actions as to why they have been deprived, they would realise they had committed a single disliked (makruh) action, thus causing them to slip!

The Imams (as) have also touched on this subtle reality, as Imam Sadiq (as) has said: “A man sometimes lies. This lie deprives him of the night prayer. When he is deprived of this prayer, he will be deprived of his sustenance (rizq).”

The Prophet (SAW) had advised Imam Ali (as) by saying: “And upon you is the night prayer, and upon you is the night prayer, and upon you is the night prayer.”

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) narrates that Angel Jibraeel (as) had informed him: “O Muhammad, live as you wish, for you will surely die. Work as you wish, for you will surely be repaid. Love whomever you wish, for you will surely be separated. Know that the nobility of the believer is in prayer at night and his honour is in his independence of people.”

Imam Sadiq (as) has also stated: “For every good action, the reward has been explicitly stated. But there is one action which Allah (swt) has not designated its reward specifically.”

This is because its reward is so great that it cannot be fathomed. Then the Imam (as) recited verse 17 from Surah Sajdah:

فَلَا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌ مَا أُخْفِيَ لَهُمْ مِنْ قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍ جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

“And no person knows what (important reward) is hidden for them of the joy of the eyes, in recompense for what (good) they were doing.”


Moving onto the final part of verse of verse 79, Allah (swt) says:

عَسَي أَن يَبْعَثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَاماً مَّحمُوداً
“…maybe that your Lord will raise you up to a praised position.”

Maqaamul Mahmood, often translated as the ‘praiseworthy station’ has become a point of much discussion for the exegetes. The overwhelming majority of scholars from both the Sunni and Shi’ite school have interpreted this position to hold the power of intercession. The far-reaching aid that the Prophet (SAW) will provide on the day of judgement was because of this action of his.

While this is a privilege bestowed upon the Prophet (SAW), it is not restricted to him. If an individual truly performs this prayer with its due right, they will also be granted this favour from Almighty Allah (swt). Consequently, they will not only save themselves – but others as well. Naturally, this is in a much lesser capacity in comparison to the Prophet (SAW).


Salatul-Layl is made up of 11 (eleven) Rak’at.
The first 8 (eight) Rak’ats are prayed as normal (like morning prayer) in pairs of two Rak’ats each with the niyyah of Nawafilatul-Layl.

The next 2 (two) Rak’ats are prayed (like morning prayer) with the Niyyah of ‘Salatul Shif’a’

The remaining 1 (one) Rak’at is prayed (as below) with the Niyyah of ‘Salatul Witr.’ as follows:

After Niyyah and say Takbiratul Ihram Recite the following surahs:

  • Surah Al-Hamd – Once
  • Surah Ikhlas – three times
  • Surah Falaq – once
  • Surah Naas – once

Say Takbir and raise hands for Qunoot and You may recite any Dua or Rabbana or the following:

لآ اِلَهَ اِلاَّ اللّهُ الْحَلِيْمُ الْكَرِيْمُ
There is none worth worshipping but Allah Who is Forbearing and Generous

لآ اِلَهَ اِلاَّ اللّهُ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيْمُ
There is none worth worshipping but Allah Who is Most High and Great

سُبْحَانَ اللّهِ رَبِّ السَّمَاوَاتِ السَّبْعِ
Glory be to Allah, Who is the Sustainer of the seven heavens and of the seven earth

وَ رَبِّ الاَرْضِيْنَ السَّبْعِ
And Who is the Sustainer of all the things

وَ مَا فِيْهِنَّ وَ مَا بَيْنَهُنَّ وَ
in them, and between them,

رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيْمِ
And Who is the Lord of the great ‘Arsh (Divine Center of Authority & Power)

وَ الْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْنَ
And all praise for Allah, the Sustainer of the worlds.

Then, pray for forgiveness of forty [40] people who are either dead or living in the following manner:

…اَللّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ ل
O Allah, forgive (Name)…

Continuing with the Qunoot, recite the Istighfar seventy [70] times:

اَسْتَغْفِرُ اللّهَ رَبِّي وَ اَتُوْبُ اِلَيْهِ
I seek forgiveness of Allah my Lord and I turn to Him

Still continuing qunoot, recite the following Dua seven [7] times:

هذَا مَقَامُ الْعَآئِذِ بِكَ مِنَ النَّارِ
This is the position of one who seeks refuge in You from the fire [of Hell]

Continuing qunoot yet further, recite three hundred [300] times: –

(I ask for) forgiveness

Finally, the following should be said once:

رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَ ارْحَمْنِي وَ تُبْ عَلَيَّ اِنَّكَ اَنْتَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيْمُ
Lord, forgive me and have mercy on me, and turn to me, Surely You are the Oft-returning, the Merciful

Complete the Rukuh and Sujood and end the prayer with Salaam.


This prayer was so precious in the eyes of the Prophet (SAW) that he would spread each unit of prayer across the night. As a result, he would barely sleep and remain awake for most of the evening. Addressing this behaviour of the Prophet (SAW), Allah (swt) revealed the verses of Surah Muzammil as quoted earlier:

يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ
قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
نِّصْفَهُ أَوِ انقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا
أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

“O you wrapped in garment!

Stand [in prayer] all night, except a little.

Half of it or a little less than that,

Or a little more. And recite the Qur’an slowly and meditatively.”

This same spirit has truly been inherited by our pious scholars. In my own experience, in Madrassa Fayziyyah of Qom, great scholars would spend hours in this prayer in the early times of the morning. Moreover, some would recite the entire Dua Abu Hamza Thumali in the qunoot of the witr prayer!


While there are 11 rakahs and this may appear rather tiresome, this should not discourage us to perform this important amaal. If one is not capable of performing all 11 units, at least try to perform even 2 rak’as. This would not constitute a great effort, at best having to wake up a few minutes before fajr salaah.

In conclusion, this is a prayer that can be prayed just after midnight as well and has even been recommended to be prayed as a qadha. These traditions show the worth this prayer holds and cannot simply be neglected.

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