The Witr Prayer: A Prayer with Many Forms
  • Sun, 06/19/2011
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It is authenticated in the Sunnah that the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered the Witr prayer in various ways. On occasion, he offered it as a single unit of prayer. At other times, he prayed three, five, seven, or nine units.

There were two different ways that he would offer the three-unit Witr prayer. At times, he would offer all three units of prayer together and then sit for one tashahhud at the end. At other times, he would offer two units of prayer, then sit for tashahud. After that he would complete the two unit prayer with a taslîm. Then he would stand and pray one more unit on its own with another tashahhud and taslîm.

He did not offer the Witr prayer in the same manner that the Maghrib prayer is to be prayed – a single three-unit prayer with two sittings for tashahhud and a single taslîm at the end. In fact, he forbade offering the Witr prayer in this manner, saying: “Do not pray Witr in three units in the same manner as Maghrib.” [Mustadrak al-Hâkim (1/304) and Sunan al-Bayhaqî (3/31)]

Ibn Hajr al-`Asqalânî says about this hadîth: “Its line of transmission meets the conditions of authenticity imposed by al-Bukhârî and Muslim.” [Fath al-Bârî (4/301)]

There is flexibility as to the number of units that can be offered for the Witr prayer, though it must be an odd number. Whoever prays one, three, five, seven or nine units of prayer will be following the Sunnah.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Witr prayer is essential for every Muslim. Whoever wants to offer it in five may do so, whoever wants to offer it in three may do so, and whoever wants to offer it in one may do so.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (1422), Sunan al-Nasâ’î (1710) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (1190)]

There is no objection in this issue. This is a flexible matter and no limitation has been imposed.

The supplication of qunût is Sunnah in Witr prayer at all times. It consists of the supplication that the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught his grandson al-Hasan:
Allâhummahdinî fîman hadayt.

Wa `Afinî fîman `âfayt.

Wa tawallanî fîman tawallayt.

Wa bârik lî fîmâ a`tayt.

Wa qinî sharra mâ qadayt.

Fa-innaka taqdî walâ yuqdâ `alayk.

Wa-innahu lâ yadhillu man wâlayt.

Tabârakta rabbanâ wa ta`âlayt.
[Sunan al-Tirmidhî (464), Sunan Abî Dâwûd (1725), and Sunan al-Nasâ’î (1725, 1746)] Al-Tirmidhî declares it to be a good (hasan) hadîth.

You may add anything you prefer for your worldly life and the Hereafter, and thereafter send salutations upon the Prophet (peace be upon him).

It is permissible to offer the supplication of qunût after rising from rukû`. The worshiper says “Allah Akbar” after reading the Qur’ân and bows down; then when he stands up, he starts with the qunût supplication, then prostrates.

Alternatively, the worshipper may offer this supplication before bowing, after completing the recitation of the Qur’ân. In this case, the worshiper recites the qunût supplication without preceding it with takbîr. After finishing the qunût, he says “Allah Akbar”, bows, and completes his prayer.

The evidence for offering qunût after bowing is found in Sahîh Muslim. The evidence for doing so before bowing it is found in Sunan al-Nasâ’î, Sunan Ibn Mâjah, and other hadîth compilations.

However, offering qunût after bowing is preferable, because the hadîth in that regard are more authentic. Also the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered it this way more often, as did the Rightly Guided Caliphs.

It is permissible to raise one’s hands in qunût, because it was narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did so in the qunût he offered during times of calamity. It is also authentically established that the Rightly Guided Caliph `Umar did so.

The issue of the qunût is something flexible. No one should object if others offer it differently. If some people choose to offer it one way or another, it is alright as long as it is in accordance with the Sunnah.

The same thing can be said about the issue of offering the supplication of qunût audibly or quietly. People of knowledge have disagreed on this issue. Scholars of the Hanafî and Mâlikî schools of thought prefer a quiet qunût, arguing that this is what is appropriate for a supplication. They say that the Sunnah is to offer the supplication quietly. Allah says: “Call on your Lord with humility and in private.” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 55]

Scholars of the Shâfi`î and Hanbalî schools of thought believe that offering it audibly is permissible, because the Prophet (peace be upon him) did so.

Whoever does either will be following the Sunnah.

Ibn al-Qayyim says: “The opinion in this issue that should satisfy an objective scholar is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered qunût both audibly and quietly, and that he offered the qunût supplication sometimes and left it out at other times.”

Muslims should be concerned to avoid unnecessary disagreement and to maintain good relations with each other, particularly when it comes to flexible matters such as these. This is why, when someone prays with other people who differ with him, he should follow them in their manner of praying.

For example, if someone holds the view that qunût should be offered after bowing but prays with an imâm who offers the qunût before bowing, then he should follow the imâm. The same would apply to the number of units offered and other issues that are open to more than one point of view.

May Allah guide us all.