In addition to our 5 obligatory daily prayers, we are also legislated to do sunnah or voluntary prayers. They are also known as nafil prayers and al-subhah (named so due to its content of tasbeeh). There are many types of voluntary prayers: Some are legislated to be performed in congregation whereas others are to be prayed individually. These include the prayers of taraweeh, eid, eclipse, entering the masjid and so many more. Then there are some voluntary prayers that supplement the obligatory prayers like the sunnah and ratibah prayers. The ratibah are also sunnah prayers but not all sunnah prayers fall under the category of the ratibah. These are our focus in this article: as-Sunnan ar-Rawatib.
Rawatib (plural of ratibah) sunnah prayers are those that are connected to a wajib prayer. They are those stressed upon sunnah prayers that occur both before and after the obligatory prayers. This is where the concept of tatawwu' comes in. Tatawwu' means to offer more Nawafil (optional prayers) on one’s own after performing the faraid (obligatory prayers).
Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The prayer most excellent after the prescribed prayer; is the prayer offered in the middle of the night.” [Muslim]
Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali رحمه الله when commenting on the above hadith said: It means (the most excellent prayer) after the obligatory prayers and what followed them is the sunnah rawatib prayers. Indeed, rawatib prayer before and after the obligatory prayer is prioritized over qiyam al-layl (night prayer) according to scholars for it is bound with the obligatory prayers. [Lata'if al-Ma'arif]
The Foundational Ahadith - Narrated Abdullah Ibn 'Umar رضي الله عنه, "I memorized from the Prophet (ﷺ) ten (voluntary) rak'at - two rak'at before the Dhuhr prayer and two after it; two rak'at after Maghrib prayer in his house, and two rak'at after 'Isha' prayer in his house, and two rak'at before the Fajr prayer. [Agreed Upon].
In another similar narration, Abdullah Ibn ’Umar رضي الله عنه reported: I performed along with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ two rak'at of optional prayers before Dhuhr and two after the Dhuhr (noon prayer), and two after the Friday prayer, and two after the Maghrib (evening) prayer, and two after the ‘Isha’ (night) prayer.” [Agreed Upon]. These are the most authentic narrations in this regard.
Rawatib prayer before the obligatory prayer is known as Sunnah Qabliyah, while rawatib prayers after the obligatory prayers are known as Sunnah Ba’diyah prayers. Sunnan ar-Rawatib are divided into Sunnah Mu’akkadah (prioritized or confirmed) and Sunnah Ghair Mu’akkadah (not prioritized). These should all be performed with a taslim after every two rak'at.
Abdullah Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه reported that the Prophet ﷺ said: “The prayers of the day and night are to be offered two by two.” [Abu Dawud] Uqbah ibn Hurayth said: I asked Ibn ‘Umar: “What does two by two mean?” He said: “Saying the tasleem after each two rak'at.” [Muslim]
What Is The Number For the Sunnah Mu'akkadah Rawatib?
These are known as the Mu'akkad prayers. They are:
- Two rak'at before Fajr
- Two rak'at (from four rak'at) before Dhuhr
- Two rak'at after Dhuhr
- Two rak'at after Maghrib
- Two rak'at after Isha
The position of Sunan ar-Rawatib being 10 in number is the primary position held by the 3 Madhaib - Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi'i. Sheikh Abdus Salam al-Shuway'ir حفظه الله highlights that units other than these 10 are considered to be Sunnah and not counted amongst the Sunan ar-Rawatib.
Only the Hanafi position opines them to be 12. A secondary position of the Hanbali madhab as well as the position held by Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله, Sheikh Ibn Baz رحمه الله, and Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen رحمه الله support this. They base their position on: Anbasah ibn Abi Sufyan quoted Umm Habibah رضي الله عنها as saying "Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said,
"A house will be built in Heaven for one who prays 12 rak'at in a day and evening as follows: 4 Rak'at before and 2 after the Dhuhr prayer, 2 after the Maghrib prayer, 2 after the ‘Isha prayer and 2 before the Fajr prayer." [Tirmidhi]
This is where the key difference lies in whether we have 2 rak'at before Dhuhr or 4 rak'at before Dhuhr. We say based on the most authentic narration that the Sunnan ar-Rawatib are 10. That being said, we pray 12 to remain on the safe side and praying more to navigate this difference of opinion is something of khayr.
The Hanbali Stance
Imam al-Ba’li رحمه الله in Bidayat al-Abid states, “There are 10 emphasized routine prayers: 2 rakʿat before Dhuhr; 2 rakʿat after it; 2 rakʿat after Maghrib; 2 rakʿat after Ishaʾ; and 2 rakʿat before Fajr. The most emphasized of them is Fajr, followed by Maghrib and then the others.”
Why Fajr? Aisha رضي الله عنها narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said : “The two rak'at before dawn (fajr) prayer are better than the world and all that it contains.” [Muslim]
Aisha رضي الله عنها narrated that the Prophet ﷺ was never more regular and strict in offering any Nawafil more than the two rak'at (before) dawn (fajr) prayer. [Agreed Upon]. He ﷺ would not leave these two raka'at even while he was travelling.
Imam al-Hajjawi رحمه الله in Zaad al-Mustaqni' states, “Then (following Witr Prayer in superiority) are the voluntary prayers associated with the obligatory prayers (rawatib): 2 rak'at before Dhuhr, 2 after it, 2 after Maghrib, 2 after Isha, and two before Fajr (they are the most emphasized).”
Imam Abu Bakr b. Muhammad Khuqeer al-Makki al-Hanbali رحمه الله said, "Then the rawatib. (They are): two units before Dhuhr, two units after it, two units after Maghrib, two units after Isha, and two units before Fajr and that is the most stressed one." [Mukhtasar Fiqh al-Imam Ahmad]
Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan حفظه الله also highlights 10 in his Sharh of Zaad al-Mustaqni’ but mentions that 12 is also an opinion held within the madhab. The position of 10 being the primary position of the madhab has been narrated in multiple other books.
The Sunnah Ghayr Mu'akkadah Rawatib
These prayers are apart from the 10 Sunan al-Rawatib mentioned above. They are an addition and hold a level lower than them in terms of reward. The Prophet (ﷺ) did these sometimes or encouraged others to do..
- Two last rak'at (from the four rak'at) before Dhuhr
- Two last rak'at (from four rak'at) after Dhuhr
- Four rak'at before Asr
- Two rak'at before Maghrib
- Two rak'at before Isha
As mentioned before, Sheikh Abdus Salam al-Shuway'ir حفظه الله highlights that, "The additional two rak'at before Dhuhr and the additional 2 rak'at after it are considered to be Sunnah and not counted amongst the Sunan ar-Rawatib." This applies to all the prayers in this category.
2 Rak'at Before Dhuhr
Aisha رضي الله عنها reported: The Prophet ﷺ never omitted four rak'at nafil prayer before Dhuhr prayers. [Bukhari].
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever observes the practice of performing four rak'at before Dhuhr Prayer and four after it, Allah will shield him against the Hellfire.” [Ahmad]
4 Rak'at Before Asr
Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ said, “May Allah have mercy on a man who performs four rak'at before the Asr prayer.” [Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi].
Ali bin Abu Talib رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ used to perform four rak'at before the Asr prayer, separating them with Taslim (i.e., offering blessings) on the favourite angels who are near Allah’s proximity and the Muslims and the believers who come after them. [Tirmidhi].
2 Rak'at Before Maghrib
Anas bin Malik رضي الله عنه reported: "When the Muaddhin pronounced the Adhan, some of the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) would proceed to the pillars of the mosque (for the prayer) till the Prophet (ﷺ) arrived and in this way they used to pray two rak'at before the Maghrib prayer. There used to be a little time between the Adhan and the Iqama." Imam Shu'ba said, "There used to be a very short interval between the two (Adhan and Iqama). [Muslim].
2 Rak'at Before Isha
Abdullah bin Mughaffal رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ said thrice, "There is a prayer between the two Adhans (Adhan and Iqama)," and added, "For the one who wants to pray." [Bukhari]
1. It is disliked to continuously leave off the Rawatib. Imam Ahmad رحمه الله said, “Indeed the one who leaves the Sunan ar-Rawatib is an evil person”.
Sheikh Ahmad b. Nasir al-Qu'aymi حفظه الله explained this point by saying that it is makruh (despised) to leave them, there is no adālah (probity) for the one who leaves them, and it is mustahab to make them up if missed.
As for the other Sunnah prayers like Salat al-Duha or the additional 2 rak’at before Dhuhr, then it is not disliked if they are left off.
2. Whoever misses the Sunan ar-Rawatib, it is legislated for him to make it up after its time except during the forbidden times of prayer. Imam al-Hajjawi رحمه الله said in Zaad al-Mustaqni‘: If a person misses any of them (the regular Sunnah prayers), it is Sunnah for him to make them up.
The time for the regular Sunnah prayers that come before the obligatory prayer begins when the time for the obligatory prayer begins. So when the adhan is given for Fajr, Dhuhr or ‘Asr, then the time for the regular Sunnah prayer has also begun. Then when one has finished the obligatory prayer, the time for the regular Sunnah prayer that comes after the obligatory prayer begins, and its time lasts until the time for that prayer ends.
In part of a longer narration of Umm Salamah رضي الله عنها, we find - the Prophet ﷺ was distracted from praying the two rak'at after Dhuhr, then he made them up after ‘Asr. He ﷺ was asked about them and he said: “O daughter of Abu Umayyah, you asked about the two rak'at after ‘Asr. That is because some people from ‘Abd al-Qays came to me and distracted me from the two rak'at that come after Dhuhr; these are they (i.e., I prayed them just now).” [Bukhari & Muslim].
Imam al-Buhuti رحمه الله said, "It is prescribed to make up the regular Sunnah prayers (Rawatib) if they are missed which led to one not offering them at the proper time. So there is no issue, and it is mustahab to make up the regular Sunnah prayers."
3. The most emphasized Sunan ar-Rawatib prayed at home are those connected to Maghrib, Isha and Fajr. Why? The Prophet ﷺ said, “O people! perform your (voluntary) Salat (prayers) in your homes because the best Salat of a man is the one he performs at home, except the obligatory Salat.” [Bukhari and Muslim].
Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ said, “Observe part of the (nawafil) prayers in your homes. Do not turn your homes into graves.” [Bukhari and Muslim].
The Prophet ﷺ said, "Man's voluntary prayer, where people do not see him, is twenty five times as equal as that which he performs publicly." [Musnad Abi Ya'la].
The Prophet ﷺ said, "The superiority of the prayer of a man in his house over his prayer (in a public) place where people can see him is like the superiority of the obligatory prayer over voluntary prayer". [At-Targeeb Wa At-Tarheeb]
Imam al-Tahawi رحمه الله reports that according to Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad, it is fine to pray the sunnah mu’akkadah prayers in the masjid but it is better to pray them at home. [Sharh Ma‘ani al-Athar] If a person is afraid of missing them after going home, he is to pray it in the masjid.
Sheikh Salih al-Fawzan حفظه الله mentioned, "Voluntary prayers in the house are more virtuous than in the Masjid because of the following positive outcomes that arise: Praying voluntary prayers in the house is staying away from showing-off and causing people to be impressed. It is also a way to conceal actions from the people; Praying voluntary prayers in the house is a cause for complete serenity and sincerity; Praying voluntary prayers in the house establishes the remembrance of Allah and prayer therein; this causes the descent of mercy upon the residents of the house, and this causes Shaitan to distance himself."
4. These 10 or 12 rak'at are linked to the 5 prayers. To get the mentioned rewards for them, they cannot just be prayed all in one go.
5. If a person arrives to the masjid late, they should join the congregation immediately and not break away from the congregation and complete the sunan before joining the congregation for the fardh salah. This is the established position of Imam Ahmad رحمه الله and Imam al-Shafi'i رحمه الله .
The Prophet ﷺ said: “When the iqamah for prayer is given, there is no prayer except the prescribed prayer.” [Muslim].
Imam Ibn Qudamah رحمه الله said: “When the iqamah for prayer is given, do not be distracted from it by nafil prayer, whether one fears missing the first rak’ah or not. This is the view of Abu Hurairah, Ibn ‘Umar, ‘Urwah, Ibn Sireen, Sa’eed ibn Jubayr, al-Shafi’i, Ishaq and Abu Thawr.” [al-Mughni]
6. It is mustahab to separate between the obligatory and nafil prayers by speaking or moving to another spot.
Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Is any one of you incapable, when he prays, of stepping forwards or backwards, or to his right or left?” – meaning in order to offer a nafil prayer, i.e., a nafil prayer after an obligatory prayer. [Abu Dawud]
Some of the scholars (including Imam al-Nawawi) mentioned another reason for that, which is to increase the number of places where one prostrates, so that they will testify in one’s favour on the Day of Resurrection. Imam al-Ramli said, "It is Sunnah to move in order to offer a nafil or obligatory prayer from the place where one offered an obligatory or nafil prayer, so as to increase the number of places where one prostrates, for they will testify in one’s favour, and because that means filling more spots with worship. And if one does not move to another spot, then one should separate the prayers by speaking to someone." [Nihayat al-Muhtaaj]
7. A person who is not consistent with the rawatib or is just beginning to practice, it is good to be diligent in performing the Witr and the two rak'at before Fajr.
Narrated Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه : My friend (the Prophet ﷺ advised me to observe three things: (1) to fast three days a month; (2) to pray two rak'at of Duha prayer (forenoon prayer); and (3) to pray witr before sleeping. [Bukhari]
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim رحمه الله said, “It was the practice of the Prophet ﷺ when travelling to pray only the obligatory prayers, and it was not narrated that he used to pray the regular Sunnah prayers either before or after the fardh prayers, apart from Witr and the Sunnah of Fajr, which he never omitted whether he was travelling or not.”
And he said:
“His adherence to praying the Sunnah of Fajr was stronger than with all other nafil prayers, so he did not omit it or Witr whether he was travelling or not. When he was travelling he would still pray the Sunnah of Fajr and Witr and adhere to that more than all other nafil prayers. It is not narrated that he prayed any other regular Sunnah prayer when he was travelling.” [Zaad al-Ma’ad]
In Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat, we note that the Sunnah of Fajr is first because of the varying narrations stressing its importance. It should be short and light as stressed by other narrations. Then the Sunnah of Maghrib because of the narration of Ubaid stating that the Prophet ﷺ commanded it - and it should also be short and light, and then the rest of the rawatib are at an equal value of importance.
A person is very tired and Shaitan is pushing him to skip the rawatib. Don't miss out on the rewards completely. Even though it is not the ideal scenario, one can sit and pray the rawatib as well. It is permissible to sit during them with no excuse, according to scholarly consensus, but the reward of the one who sits in that case is half the reward of one who stands. Imam al-Nawawi further clarified and wrote, "What this means is that the prayer of one who sits brings half the reward of the prayer of one who stands, which means that it is valid but brings a lesser reward. This hadith is to be understood as referring to a nafil prayer offered sitting when one is able to stand. This brings half the reward of a prayer offered standing. But if a person offers a nafil prayer sitting down because he is unable to stand, then the reward is not reduced, rather it will be the same as one who stands." [Sharh Sahih Muslim]
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The prayer of a man who sits is half of the prayer of a man who stands.” [Muslim]
Our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله said, "When Allah mentions أَقِمِ الصَّلاَةَ, He infers 3 things:
1. Praying on time.
2. Praying according to the Sunnah of the Messenger ﷺ.
3. Praying with Ikhlas - Pray to Allah alone and have khushu.
Khushu doesn't mean to cry. Whenever the scholars write about khushu none of them mention crying. Khushu means that the heart is attentive. You know that you are standing in front of Allah, what you are reciting and your limbs don't move unnecessarily. [Tafseer Surah al-Baqarah, IIUM]
Never make it a point to pray only 5 times a day for our Iman increases and decreases from time to time.
If a person prays Fardh + Sunnah + Nafil and their Iman drops, they let go of the Nafil, but they have the Sunnah and the Fardh to fall back upon. If a person prays Fardh + Sunnah and their Iman drops, they let go of the Sunnah, but they have the Fardh to fall back upon. If a person prays Fardh only and their Iman drops, they let go of the Fardh and they have nothing to fall back upon. Our fardh salah is guarded by our voluntary prayers. Start of with the Witr and the Sunnah of Fajr for this was something the Prophet ﷺ NEVER left.
Narrated Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه, Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "The first thing about which the people will be called to account out of their actions on the Day of Judgment is prayer. Our Lord, the Exalted, will say to the angels - though He knows better: Look into the prayer of My servant and see whether he has offered it perfectly or imperfectly. If it is perfect, that will be recorded perfect. If it is defective, He will say: See there are some optional prayers offered by My servant. If there are optional prayer to his credit, He will say: Complete the (defect of) obligatory prayers by the optional prayers for My servant. Then all the actions will be considered similarly. [Abu Dawud]
Narrated Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه, Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "Allah said: 'The most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra/voluntary deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him.'" [Bukhari]
Imam Ibn Balban al-Hanbali رحمه الله would often say:
"Treat nawafil as if they're obligations
And sins as if they're kufr
And desires as if they're poison
And mixing with people as if it's fire
And food as if it's medicine" [al-Na'at al-Akmal]