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Night Prayer (Arabic: صلاة اللّیل) is the most important mustahab (or recommended) prayer with 11 rak'as. The period of time in which it should be performed is after the religious midnight until dawn (tulu' al-fajr). According to the Quranic verse, "as for the night there is a voluntary deed for you to keep vigil in part it" (17:79), performing the night prayer is obligatory for the Prophet Muhammad (s) and is mustahab for the rest of believers. Many hadiths have emphasized its importance, taking it to be an honor for believers, kaffara for one's sins committed during the day, preventing the horrors of the grave, and guaranteeing one's livelihood. It is recommended in hadiths that its qada' be performed if its valid time is passed.
It is not obligatory to say all its 11 rak'as. One may as well say fewer than that, in which case it is more rewarding to say its last three rak'as (that is, two rak'as of shaf' prayer and one rak'a of watr prayer).
In the Holy Qur'an
According to the Holy Qur'an, 17:79, the night prayer is obligatory for the Holy Prophet (s) as a means for him to reach the praised position (al-maqam al-mahmud). Although the word "tahajjud" (vigilance), which means saying prayers and worships at night, has occurred in the Holy Qur'an only once, there are many other verses of the Holy Qur'an that explicitly talk about vigilance and asking for God's forgiveness at nights and in the dawn. Asking for God's mercy and forgiveness in the dawn is considered in those verses to be a character of the pious people, and vigilance is taken to be a habit of true believers in God. The divine rewards for the night prayer and vigilance is so great that it is taken to be incalculable with human measures.
According to the Holy Qur'an, 73:2 (rise [to pray] the night except a little), the Prophet (s) and all the believers are called to rise at nights to pray.
Many hadiths have emphasized the importance of the night prayer. In his will to Imam 'Ali (a), the Holy Prophet (s) emphasized the importance of the night prayer three times. And in a different saying, the Prophet (s) addressed all Muslims by: "I recommend you to say the night prayer, even one rak'a, since it prevents one from committing sins, quenches God's anger and extinguishes the fire on the Dooms Day".
It is so important that it is recommended to perform its qada' if one fails to perform it in its valid time and the person who fails to perform it is considered as a loser. It is recommended that the night prayer be performed even when one is tired or on a travel. Some hadiths from Sunni sources imply that the night prayer used to be obligatory in the early days of Islam, but it became mustahab later.
According to the words of the Infallibles (a), committing sins and overeating cause one to lose his or her occasion to say the night prayers.
- Two rak'as of the night prayer is better than the whole world.
- It is one's ornament in the afterlife.
- It makes one friends with God.
- It is the most important mustahab prayer.
- It is an honor for the believer.
- It is a believer's honor in the Dooms Day.
- God is proud of a person who says the night prayer.
- It is a sign of a true Shiite.
- It removes sickness.
- It is the manner of righteous people in all times.
- It prevents one from committing sins.
- It makes one's sins forgiven.
- It brings divine mercy.
- It makes one's face pretty.
- It makes one well-tempered.
- It increases one's livelihood.
- It helps with the payment of one's debts.
- It removes sadness and remorse.
- It brings light to one's eyes.
- It guarantees one's livelihood.
- It protects one from the tortures of the grave.
- It brings longevity.
- It brings light to one's house.
- It brings God's satisfaction.
- It makes one friends with angels.
- It brings knowledge.
- It is a weapon against the enemies.
- It makes one's praying to be heard.
- It makes other actions be accepted by God.
- It intercedes with 'Izra'il.
- It enlightens one's grave.
- It is one's companion in the grave.
- It removes catastrophes from the earth.
How to Perform Night Prayer
Night prayer consists of 11 rak'as that should be performed as followed:
- Eight rak'as: 4 prayers each with two rak'as with the intention of performing the night nafila.
- Two rak'as with the intention of the shaf' prayer. It is recommended to recite Sura al-Hamd and Sura al-Nas in the first rak'a, and Sura al-Hamd and Sura al-Falaq in the second rak'a.
- One rak'a with the intention of watr prayer. It is recommended to recite Sura al-Hamd once and then Sura al-Tawhid three times, Sura al-Falaq and Sura al-Nas each once. It is highly recommended to lengthen the qunut (supplication) of this prayer.
It is recommended (mustahab) to ask God to forgive, or to prayer for, 40 believers in the qunut of the watr prayer. It is also recommended to recite istighfar (اَسْتَغْفِرُاللّهَ رَبّی وَ اَتُوبُ اِلَیهِ) 70 times, the sentence "هذا مَقامُ الْعائِذِ بِک مِنَ النّارِ" (This is the place of one who refuges to you from the Hell) 7 times, and "اَلعَفو" (forgive me) 300 times in the qunut (there is no problem if one recites them fewer times), and then one should recite "رَبِّ اغْفِرْلی وَارْحَمْنی وَ تُبْ عَلی اِنَّک اَنْتَ التَّوّابُ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحیمُ" (O' Lord! Forgive me and have your mercy on me and return to me. Verily you are the returner, the forgiver, and the merciful!).
The most important part of the night prayer are watr and shaf' prayers, and the latter is more important than the former.
The valid period for performing the night prayer is from midnight until the rising of dawn (fajr). The best time to perform is in the dawn (sahar) that includes the last third of the night (before the morning prayer). That is, the best time for performing the night prayer is before the rising of the dawn.
- For the night prayer, one can only perform the shaf' and watr prayers. And when there is not enough time, one can only say the watr prayer.
- The time period for performing the night prayer is from the religious midnight until the dawn. The most virtuous time to perform it is the time near the dawn (sahar) that includes the last third of the night (before the morning prayer). That is, the best time for performing the night prayer is before the rising of the dawn.
- It is permissible to say the night prayer while sitting. However, in this case, it is better to count any two rak'as performed while sitting as one rak'a.
- A traveler, and anyone for whom it is difficult to say the night prayer after the midnight, can say it early at night.
- It is not obligatory to recite a chapter of the Quran after reciting Sura al-Hamd in the rak'as of the night prayer (though it is more rewarding to be said with another chapter of the Quran). Moreover, one can recite his night prayers without qunut, though it is recommended to perform qunut.
- The watr prayer is one rak'a, and one can perform it without qunut.
- It is not obligatory to perform all the 11 rak'as of the night prayer continuously. Indeed, it is better to perform it with intervals.
- To unintentionally add something to, or forget to do something in, the night prayer does not lead to the obligation of sajdat al-sahw (prostration for unintentional mistakes).
- If one is in the middle of the night prayer and he or she finds that the time for the morning prayer has come, then if one has performed 4 rak'as of the night prayer, he or she can perform the rest faster, and if one has not performed 4 rak'as of it yet, then one should finish the first two rak'as that he or she has started, and then one should perform the two rak'as of the morning nafila followed by the two rak'as of the obligatory morning prayer, and then one can perform the qada' of the rest of the night prayer.
- Performing the qada' of the night prayer is better than performing it ahead, that is, performing it before the midnight. Thus if one knows that he or she will perform the qada' of the night prayer, he or she had better perform the qada', rather than performing it ahead.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from نماز شب in Farsi Wikishia.