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Fiqh
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August 2, 2021

Understanding The Witr Prayer

The phrase witr or pronounced as وَتْر / وِتْر - watru and witru literally means single (odd numbers) which is the opposite of the phrase shafa’ (even numbers). While technically, it means: “A specific prayer performed in a specific time as the closing of the night prayers, whether it is done in the beginning, middle or end of the night”. The numbers of its rak'ah is odd numbers and that is why it is named as witr.

Summary

  • Witr linguistically means odd. As per the Shariah it is defined as a specific prayer performed in a specific time as the closing of the night prayers, whether it is done in the beginning, middle or end of the night.
  • The ruling on the Witr prayer is that it is Sunnah Mu'akkadah (highly stressed Sunnah).
  • The time of the Witr prayer is between the Isha and the appearance of the Fajr prayer.
  • Whoever oversleeps and misses the Witr, or forgets it, should pray (when he awakens) in the morning or when he remembers.
  • The witr prayer is at least 1 rak'ah and at most 11 rak'ah.
  • Do not liken the Witr prayer to the Maghrib prayer.
  • The best form of witr is three rak'ahs with two salams; one after the tashahhud of the first 2 rak'ah and then another after the final single rak'ah. One taslim is permitted when all the rak'ahs are prayed continuously with a sitting for tashahhud after every 2 rakahs.
  • The Sunnah recitation in Witr prayer is: Surah al-A'la (1st unit), Surah al-Kafirun (2nd unit), and Surah al-Ikhlaṣ (3rd unit).
  • Reciting the dua for Qunoot is not a condition or an obligation for the witr to be sound. It can be recited either before rukuh or even after it, both are permissible.
  • It is permissible to wipe over the face after making dua and it can also be left out - it does not have any impact on the status of the dua.


What Is Witr?

The phrase witr or pronounced as وَتْر / وِتْر  - watru and witru linguistically means single (odd numbers) which is the opposite of the phrase shafa’ (even numbers). While technically, it means: “A specific prayer performed in a specific time as the closing of the night prayers, whether it is done in the beginning, middle or end of the night”. The numbers of its rak'ah is odd numbers and that is why it is named as witr.

Narrated Abu Darda: “My beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ instructed me in three (acts), and I would never abandon them for as long as I live: Three days of fasting every month, the Dhuha (forenoon) prayer, and that I should not sleep till I have observed the witr prayer.” [Muslim]

It was narrated from Abu Hurairah who said: “My Khalil (close friend) advised me with three (affairs and) I will not leave them until I die: “To fast three days every month. To offer the Dhuha prayer and to pray the Witr prayer before sleeping”. [Bukhari]

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said: "It was the practice of the Prophet 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.” [Zaad Al-Ma'ad]

Imam Ahmad said: "The one who leaves out the Witr prayer intentionally is a person of wrongdoing, and his testimony should not be accepted." [Masa'il Imam Ahmad]

Our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu advised, "You will regret if you miss the Sunan. The Prophet never missed the Witr and 2 rak'ah before Fajr. The best Sunnah is the Witr which is part of the night prayer. How much time does it take to pray those 2 rak'ah? Allah rewards the person with that which is greater than what is in the Heavens and the earth as a reward for praying those 2 rak'ah. Only a loser, a real loser will miss out on this."

Ibn Abi Al-Hawari once told Abu Sulayman: “I didn’t pray witr yesterday, nor the sunnah of Fajr and I also didn’t pray Fajr in a congregation” Abu Sulayman said: “It’s what your hands have earned...This is the result of a desire you have fulfilled” [Hilyat Al-Awliya’]

It is narrated that Ali Ibn Abi Talib said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “O people of the Quran, pray Witr, for Allah is One and loves that which is odd-numbered.” [Abu Dawud]

Imam An-Nawawi said in his explanation, “The meaning of Allah The Almighty Loves what is Witr (i.e. odd-numbered) is the preference of what is Witr in many deeds and acts of worship. Allah The Almighty Made prayer five times, repeating ablution actions three times, and circumambulation seven, Sa‘y seven, throwing the Pebbles seven, Days of Tashreeq three, Istinjaa’ three, shrouding in three layers, in Zakah five Wasaqs and five Uqiyyahs of silver and the Nisaab of camels and other things. Moreover, Allah The Almighty Created many of His great Creations in odd-numbers such as the heavens, earths, seas days of the week and other things. It is also said that its meaning refers to those who sincerely worship Allah The Almighty Alone and believe in His Oneness.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Abu Ayyub reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The Witr prayer is a duty upon every Muslim. Whoever likes to pray it with five cycles, let him do so. Whoever likes to pray it with three cycles, let him do so. Whoever likes to pray it with one cycle, let him do so.” [Abu Dawud]

The Prophet ﷺ said: “Allah has blessed you with a prayer that is better for you than red camels.” We said: O Messenger of Allah, what is it? He said: “Witr, between ‘Isha’ prayer and the break of dawn.” This has been narrated by Imams Ahmad, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi and was classed as sahih by al-Hakim

It needs to be understood that witr is not a part of the Isha prayer. This is a major misconception that witr is a part of the Isha prayer. It is an extra prayer, the time of which starts after the Isha prayer.

Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “Allah increased you a Salah and it is Witr so pray it after Salat-ul-Isha up until Salat-ul-Fajr.” [As-Silsilat-us-Sahihah]

Summary: Witr linguistically means odd. As per the Shariah it is defined as a specific prayer performed in a specific time as the closing of the night prayers, whether it is done in the beginning, middle or end of the night.


What Is The Ruling of Witr Prayer

The ruling of Witr can be divided into:

  • First Opinion: The Majority of scholars are of the opinion that the Witr Prayer is not compulsory but a stressed upon Sunnah (Sunnah Mu'akkadah).
  • Second Opinion: The Ahnaf are of the opinion that the Witr Prayer is obligatory.
  • Third Opinion: The Witr Prayer is especially emphasised for the people of the Quran (those who recite the Quran frequently or those that memorized the Quran). That is the opinion of Imams Ishaq Ibn Rahawayh, Ibn Taymiyyah and others. This ties back to the first opinion eventually.

It is reported on the authority of Ali ibn Abi Talib, "Al-Witr is not incumbent like your obligatory prayers, but it is a Sunnah of Allah's Messenger who said: "Indeed Allah is Witr (One), and He loves Al-Witr, so perform Al-Witr, O people of the Quran." [Tirmidhi]

Narrated Ibn Umar: While travelling the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would pray voluntary prayers on his riding beast in whatever direction it turned; and he would observe witr prayer, but he did not offer the obligatory prayers upon it. [Abu Dawud] This hadith shows a clear cur distinction being made by Ibn Umar with regards to obligatory prayers and voluntary prayers. Witr was treated as a voluntary prayer as per the actions of the Prophet ﷺ.

Narrated Abu Hurairah: A Bedouin came to the Prophet ﷺ and said, “Tell me of such a deed as will make me enter Paradise, if I do it.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Worship Allah, and worship none along with Him, offer the (five) prescribed compulsory prayers perfectly, pay the compulsory Zakat, and fast the month of Ramadan.”

The Bedouin said, “By Him, in Whose Hands my life is, I will not do more than this.” When he (the Bedouin) left, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever likes to see a man of Paradise, then he may look at this man.” [Bukhari]

It is narrated on the authority of Talhah ibn ‘Ubaydullaah who said: A man came to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and said: “O Messenger of Allah, what prayers has Allah enjoined on me?” He said: “The five prayers, unless you do anything voluntarily.” The version narrated by Muslim says: “Five prayers every day and night.” He said: “Do I have to do anything else?’ He said, “No, unless you do it voluntarily.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Commenting on this, Imam al-Nawawi said: "This indicates that Witr prayer is not obligatory."  

Imam Ibn Hajr said in al-Fath: "This indicates that no prayers during the day and night are obligatory apart from the five prayers; this is contrary to the view of those who say that Witr or the two Sunnah rak’ahs of Fajr are obligatory."

Imam Ibn al-Mundhir says: "I don't know anyone who agrees with Abu Hanifah on this point."

The Hanabila say that there is not a single individual obligation except for the 5 daily prayers. This means that Witr is not wajib as the Hanafis say. This means that the Tahyatul Masjid is not wajib as the Zahiris say. 

Even with regards to the Ahnaf, it needs to be understood that their madhab distinguishes between the fardh and wajib, while according to the majority of the scholars they basically mean the same thing. 'Fardh' refers to rulings made incumbent by the Quran, whereas 'wajib' refers to rulings made incumbent with the Prophetic Sunnah. Here is an interesting breakdown on the ruling from them.

According to Imam Badruddin al-'Aini, the madhab of Imam Abu Hanifah has 3 opinions on the issue of the ruling of witr prayer:

  1. First : The ruling is wajib, and this is his Imam Abu Hanifa's last view , and this is the most authentic view according to me (Imam al-'Aini) and Qadhi Khan.
  2. Second : The ruling is fardh, and this is the view of Zufar, Ibn al-Arabi, and the two scholars of the Maliki school, namely Sahnun and al-Asbagh.
  3. Third : The ruling is that it is Sunnah Mu'akkadah, and this is also the view of the two main disciples of Imam Abu Hanifah, namely Qadhi Abu Yusuf and Muhammad bin al-Hasan al-Shaibani. They both have this view because the characteristics of the sunnah prayer are apparent in the witr prayer, that is, those who do not make it obligatory are not disbelieved, and there is no call to prayer for the witr prayer. [Al-Binayah Sharh al-Hidayah]

So from this also we see that the 2 primary students of Imam Abu Hanifa who narrate his madhab opine that witr is not an obligation.

Summary: Imam Ibn Qudamah said: Witr is not obligatory. This is the view of Malik and al-Shafi’i. Abu Hanifah said: It is obligatory. Then he said: Ahmad said: Whoever omits to pray Witr deliberately is a bad man, whose testimony should not be accepted. He wanted to emphasize that it is confirmed because of the ahadith which say that it is enjoined and encouraged. [al-Mughni]


Timing of Witr Prayer

Imam Ibn Mundhir in his al-Ijma said: "They (the scholars have) agreed (ijma) that the time for the Witr Prayer is between the Isha and the appearance of the Fajr Prayer."

Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri reported: The Prophet ﷺ said, “Perform witr prayer before the morning.” [Muslim]

Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ would perform Witr prayer every night, sometimes at the beginning, middle, or end of the night, finishing his Witr prayer until an hour before dawn. [Agreed Upon]

Abdullah bin Umar said, "While the Prophet (ﷺ) was on the pulpit, a man asked him how to offer the night prayers. He replied, 'Pray two rakat at a time and then two and then two and so on, and if you are afraid of the dawn (the approach of the time of the Fajr prayer) pray one rak'ah and that will be the witr for all the rak'ah which you have offered.'" Ibn Umar said, "The last rak'ah of the night prayer should be odd, for the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered it to be so." [Bukhari]

Imam An-Nawawi explained, "The words of the Prophet, "then if one of you fears that dawn may come, he should pray one rak‘ah, which will make what he has prayed odd-numbered” – and according to another hadith, he said, “Pray Witr before dawn” – indicates that the Sunnah is to make Witr the last of the prayers offered at night, and that the time for it ends with the break of dawn. This is the well-known view in our madhhab (Shafi'i), and it is the view of the majority of scholars. It was also said that the time lasts after dawn has broken, until the obligatory prayer is offered. [Sharh Saheeh Muslim]

As per the Hanabilah, the time of Witr is from the prayer of Isha till the time of Fajr. Even if the time of Isha hasn’t entered and if the person has combined his salah (for a permissible reason), then Witr can be prayed. Any witr prayed after that time period is considered qada’. 

It was narrated that Jabir said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whoever fears that he will not get up at the end of the night, let him pray Witr at the beginning. Whoever is sure that he will get up at the end of the night, let him pray Witr at the end, for prayer at the end of the night is witnessed (by the angels), and that is better.” [Muslim]

Narrated Abdullah bin Umar: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Make witr as your last prayer at night." [Bukhari] As per this hadith, we learn that the best time to pray witr is towards the end of the night.

Imam Malik narrates in his Muwatta, “Abu Bakr as-Siddiq used to pray witr when he wished to go to bed, and Umar ibn al-Khattab used to pray witr at the end of the night. As for me, I pray witr when I go to bed.”

This is based on the hadith narrated by Abu Qatadah where - The Prophet (ﷺ) asked AbuBakr: When do you observe the witr? He replied: I observe the witr prayer in the early hours of the night.

The Prophet (ﷺ) asked Umar: When do you observe the witr? He replied: At the end of the night. He then said to AbuBakr: This has followed it with care; and he said to Umar: He has followed it with strength. [Abu Dawud]

If the time for Fajr prayers is approaching, it is advisable to perform one rak'ah of the witr prayer. The witr prayer is made as a closing prayer for all sunnah (supererogatory) prayers performed at night, done with at least one rak'ah.

On the other hand, if a person prays Witr and then wants to pray qiyaam al-layl after that, he should pray them two by two, and he does not have to repeat Witr. The narration of Ibn Umar regarding witr to be the last prayer is that of it being mustahabb, not obligatory. Why? Because the Prophet ﷺ said: “There cannot be no two Witrs in one night.” [Tirmidhi]

It was narrated from Aisha that the Prophet ﷺ used to pray two rak’ahs after Witr sitting down as is recorded by Imam Abu Dawud. The reason for this as some scholars point out was to show to the people that it is permissible to pray after Witr. This wasn't the norm but it was done just to show its permissibility.

In another version of the narration, Abu Bakr and Umar spoke about Witr in the presence of the Prophet ﷺ. Abu Bakr said: “As to me, I sleep after having prayed the Witr prayer. Then if I wake up, I pray an even number of rak‘ahs until the Fajr prayer." Umar said: “I only sleep after having prayed an even number of rak‘ahs, and then I pray the Witr prayer just before dawn (i.e. just before the time of the Fajr prayer starts)." Thereupon, the Prophet ﷺ said to Abu Bakr: “You are cautious,” and he said to ‘Umar: “You are strong.” [Musannaf Abdur-Razzaq]

Summary: The time for the Witr Prayer is between the Isha and the appearance of the Fajr Prayer.


What To Do If Witr Is Missed?

Narrated Abu Saeed al-Khudri: Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said: "Whoever oversleeps and misses the Witr, or forgets it, should pray (when he awakens) in the morning or when he remembers." [Reported by al-Khamsah]

It was narrated from a number of the sahabah like Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud, Abdullah Ibn Abbas, and Ubadah ibn al-Samit and others that there is nothing wrong with praying witr after the adhan of Fajr until the iqamah is given. Abdullah ibn Mas'ud said, "I do not mind if the iqama for the subh prayer is called while I am still praying witr." [Muwatta]

Yahya ibn Said said, ''Ubadah ibn al-Samit used to lead the people in prayer. One day he came out for subh and the muaddhin began to give the iqamah for the subh prayer. Ubadah silenced him, prayed witr and then led them in subh." [Muwatta]

Secondly, if even this was missed, it was narrated that Aisha said: If sleep or sickness kept him from praying at night, the Prophet ﷺ would pray twelve rak'ahs during the day.  [Muslim]

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was asked about a person who sleeps and misses Witr prayer. He replied: "He may pray between dawn and Fajr prayer, as Abdullah ibn Umar, Aisha and others did. Abu Dawud narrated in his Sunan that Abu Sa’eed said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whoever sleeps and misses Witr or forgets it, let him pray it when morning comes or he remembers.” There are different reports from Ahmad as to whether he should make up the even-numbered rak’ahs too. The correct view is that he should make up even-numbered rak’ahs too. It is narrated in a sahih report that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever sleeps and misses a prayer or forgets it, let him offer it when he remembers it, for that is the time for it.” This includes obligatory prayers, qiyaam al-layl, Witr and regular Sunnah prayers.” [al-Fataawa al-Kubra]

Witr is a specific night prayer. But when it is prayed in the morning it is slightly different. This means, if a person misses Witr, it is prescribed for him to pray what he usually prays during the night as witr, but he should make it even-numbered by adding one rak’ah. If he usually prays three rak'ah witr, he should make it four in the morning, and likewise if he usually prays five rak'ah witr in the night, he should make it six in the morning, and so on, saying the tasleem after each two rak’ahs.

Summary: Whoever oversleeps and misses the Witr, or forgets it, should pray (when he awakens) in the morning or when he remembers in an even number format.


How Many Rak'ah In Witr?

This section is only meant to showcase the varying narrations that we have on the topic and InshaAllah, all forms of it are considered correct.

The Prophet ﷺ also said: “Witr prayer is one's due; so whoever likes to perform five rak'ahs of witr, let him do so; whoever likes to perform three rak'ahs of witr, let him do so; whoever likes to perform one rak'ah of witr, let him do so. And whoever faces hardship to perform it, he may perform it only by making gestures.” [Abu Dawud]

The minimum number of rakats for Witr is one. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Witr is one rak'ah at the end of the night.” [Muslim]

The Prophet (ﷺ): “Whoever loves to make Witr with one rak’ah, let him do so.” [Abu Dawud and Nasai].

Narrated Ibn Abu Mulaikah: Muawiyah offered one rak'ah witr prayer after the Isha prayer, and at that time a freed slave of Ibn Abbas was present. He (i.e. the slave) went to Ibn Abbas (and told him that Muawiyah offered one rak'ah witr prayer). Ibn Abbas said, "Leave him, for he was in the company of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)." [Bukhari] In another version, Ibn Abbas said, "“He is right; he is a Faqih (jurist).” [Mishkat al-Masabih]

Abdullaah Al-Makhzoomi said: Ibn Umar used to perform the Witr prayer with one rak'ah only, then a man came and asked him about the manner of praying the Witr prayer. Therefore, Ibn Umar ordered him to separate the witr single rak'ah prayer from other prayers. Then the man said: "I fear that this would be the prohibited manner of performing it." Thereupon, Ibn Umar told him: ''If you want to know what Allah and His Prophet ﷺ legislated then this is it.' [Ibn Khuzaymah]

Narrated Abdullah bin Tha'laba bin Su'air: whose eye Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) had touched, that he had seen Saad ibn Abi Waqqas offering one rak'ah only for the witr prayer. [Bukhari] In Hidayah al-Raghib we see that praying 1 rak'ah has been established from Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Aisha, Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, Hudhayfah etc.

Saad ibn Abi Waqqas would pray the Isha prayer in the Prophet's mosque and then would pray one rak'ah of witr without making any addition to it. The people said to him: "Abu Ishaq, do you make the witr with just one rak'ah without adding any (other rak'ah) to it?" He said: "Yes, for I heard the Messenger of Allah say: 'The one who does not sleep until he makes the witr prayer is prudent.'" [Ahmad]

Anas bin Sirin narrated that: he asked Ibn Umar about the length of the two rak'ah (before) Al-Fajr. He said: "The Prophet ﷺ would pray two and two during the night, and he would perform Al-Witr with one rak'ah. And he would pray two rak'ah while he was hearing the adhan (meaning that they were light)." [Tirmidhi]

The few narrations that talk about the impermissibility of praying one rak'ah are either extremely weak or are in relation to the nawafil mutlaq prayers, they are not with regards to the witr prayer. Also just because the reports mention that the Prophet ﷺ prayed 3 rak'ah then it doesn't necessarily mean that 1 rak'ah was not prayed. These narrations are extremely strong proof and and people should not look down upon those that pray one rak'ah for witr as it is an established practice from over 10 sahaba.

The Prophet ﷺ also said: “The night prayers are two (rak’ahs) by two, but if one of you fears that dawn is about to break, let him pray one rak’ah to make what he has prayed odd-numbered” [Bukhari]. If a person limits himself to praying one rak’ah, then he has performed the Sunnah. But Witr may also be three or five or seven or nine.  

Ali said that Allah’s Messenger used to pray three rak'ahs when observing the witr, reciting nine surahs from al-Mufassal in the course of them, three in each rak'ah, the last of them being “Say, He is Allah, One” (Surah al-Ikhlas). [Tirmidhi]

Abdullah ibn Abbas reported: He spent (one night) in the house of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). He (the Holy Prophet) got up, brushed his teeth and performed ablution and said: "In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, there are indeed signs for people of understanding" (al-Qur'an, iii. 190), to the end of the Surah. He then stood up and prayed two rak'ahs, standing, bowing and prostrating himself at length in them. Then he finished, went to sleep and snored. He did that three times, six rak'ahs altogether, each time cleaning his teeth, performing ablution, and reciting these verses. Then he observed three rak'ahs of Witr...." [Muslim]

Aisha said: The Prophet ﷺ used not to say the tasleem in the (first) two rakahs of Witr. According to another version: “He used to pray Witr with three rak'ahs and he did not sit except in the last of them.” [Nasai]

It was narrated that ‘Abdul-‘Aziz bin Juraij said: “We asked Aisha what the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to recite in Witr. She said: ‘He used to recite: “Glorify the Name of your Lord the Most High,” [Al-A’la (87)] in the first rak’ah, ‘Say: “O disbelievers!’” [Al- Kafirun (109)] in the second Rak’ah, and ‘Say: Allah is One’ in the third and the Mu’awwidhatain (Chapter 113, 114).’” [Ibn Majah] This is to signify three rak'ahs were prayed for witr.

Ibrahim al-Nakhai said that Umar ibn al-Khattab said: I would not readily give up praying Witr with “Three raka'hs” not even in exchange for the red hided cattle. [Muwatta Imam Muhammad]

On the authority of Aisha:  The Prophet ﷺ used to pray Witr with five rak'ah, he would not sit for tashahhud except for the last one.

It was narrated that Umm Salamah said: The Prophet ﷺ used to pray Witr with five or seven (rak’ahs) and he did not separate between them with any salam or words. [Ahmad]

It is narrated on the authority of ibn Jurayj who said: 'Atta informed me that he saw 'Urwah ibn az-Zubayr pray Witr with five or seven [rak'at] without sitting for each pair.

On the authority of Aisha; That the Prophet ﷺ used to pray Witr with nine rak'ah, he would sit (for tashahhud) in the eighth one, then get up and pray one rak'ah.

Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) did not observe more than eleven rak'ah (of tahajjud prayers), be in Ramadan or any other month. First of all he would perform four rak'ah. Ask not about their excellence and their length. He (ﷺ) would then perform four more rak'ah; and do not ask about their excellence and their length. Then he would perform three rak'ah (Witr prayer). (Aisha added) I submitted: "O Messenger of Allah! Do you sleep before performing the Witr prayer?" He (ﷺ) said, "O 'Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep." [Bukhari and Muslim]

Imam Muhammad Ibn Hassan al-Shaybani made a whole chapter on “Saying as-Salamu Alaykum in Witr and brought under it these ahadith. Abu Ubaydah said: Abdullah Ibn Masud said: Witr is “Three” like the “Three” of Maghrib [Muwatta Imam Muhammad]

It was narrated from Aisha that: The Prophet (ﷺ) used to pray eleven rak'ahs at night, of which one was witr, then he would lie down on his right side. [Nasai]

Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to observe thirteen rak'ahs of the night prayer. Five out of them consisted of Witr, and he did not sit, but at the end (for salutation). [Muslim]

Narrated Aisha: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to pray ten rak'ahs during the night, and would observe the witr with one rak'ah, he then prayed two rak'ahs of the dawn prayer. Thus he prayed thirteen rak'ahs in all. [Abu Dawud]

Umm Salamah narrated: "The Prophet (ﷺ) would perform Witr with thirteen (rak'ah). When he was older and became weak he performed Witr with seven." [Tirmidhi]

Summary: As we mentioned before, this plethora of narrations was collected just to show that there is no one correct number of witr. Based on all these ahadith and many more ahadith not collected here, we learn that the Prophet ﷺ prayed witr in varying numbers. As per Imam al-Ba'li in Bidayat al-Abid - The witr prayer is at least one rak'ah and at most 11 as per the strongest opinion. The least complete form of witr is three rak'ahs with two salams; one after the tashahhud of the first 2 rak'ah and then another after the final single rak'ah. One taslim is permitted when all the rak'ahs are prayed continuously with a sitting for tashahhud after every 2 rakahs.

Sheikh Salih al-Munajjid advises, "All these ways of offering Witr prayer have been mentioned in the Sunnah, but the best way is not to stick to one particular way; rather one should do it one way one time and another way another time, so that one will have done all the Sunnahs."


Method of Praying Witr

Imam Ibn Uthaymeen explained: "Know that there are several formats for the Witr prayer:

  1. The First Format: The Witr prayer is prayed as a single Rak'ah. This is acceptable and not disliked in any way.
  2. The Second Format: The Witr is prayed as three Rak'ahs. The person has the option to break it apart into two Rak'ahs, do the Tasleem, and then pray one Rak'ah separately, or the person praying has the option to pray all three Rak'ahs together with one Tashahhud at the end.
  3. The Third Format: To pray five consecutive Rak'ahs, saying the Tashahhud only in the final Rak'ah.
  4. The Fourth Format: To pray seven consecutive Rak'ahs, saying the Tashahhud only in the final Rak'ah.
  5. The Fifth Format: To pray nine consecutive Rak'ahs, also without a break, saying the Tashahhud only in the eighth Rak'ah, then praying the ninth and do Tashahud and Tasleem.
  6. The Sixth Format: To pray eleven Rak'ahs, doing the Tasleem after every two Rak'ahs, then praying the final one Rak'ah separately.

This is the way to pray Witr. [Sharh Riyadh al-Saliheen]

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Do not pray Witr with three rak’ahs like Maghrib.”  [al-Hakim] Imam Ibn Hajar said in Fath al-Baari: "Its isnad fulfils the conditions of the two Shaykhs (al-Bukhaari and Muslim)." What is this referring to? Scholars explain that this refers to - not sit to recite the first tashahhud in a manner that resembles Maghrib. There seems to be no authentic hadith from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ that shows him or the sahaba praying a 3 rak'ah witr prayer with 2 tashahhud, likening it to the Maghrib prayer.

Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar said: “To reconcile between this hadith and the previously cited hadith that forbids imitating the Maghrib prayer is that it is forbidden to pray a three rak'ah witr with two tashahhuds (in the second and third units of prayer), and this was also practiced by the righteous predecessors. It was narrated on the authority of Muhammad ibn Nasr from Al-Hasan that Umar used to rise for the third rakʻah of the witr with takbeer. It was also reported from Al-Miswar ibn Makhramah that Umar performed the witr as three rak‘ahs with one tasleem at the end of the third rakʻah.

It was narrated from Taawus from his father that he (Umar) used to perform the witr as three rak‘ahs without sitting between the second and third rak‘ahs. The same was narrated from Qays ibn Saʻd from ʻAtaa' and Hammad ibn Zayd from Ayyub. Muhammad ibn Nasr narrated from Ibn Masʻud, Anas, and Abu Al-ʻAaliyah that they prayed the Witr as three rak‘ahs like the Maghrib prayer; it is as if the mentioned forbiddance in this regard had not reached them. We shall address the statement of Al-Qaasim ibn Muhammad about the permissibility to perform the Witr prayer as three Rak‘ahs; however, the difference of opinion in this regard is in making this (praying Witr as three rak‘ahs) obligatory, as this is not supported by the authentic ahadith.

Imam Ibn Uthaymeen said:  "It is permissible to pray Witr with three rak’ahs, or with five, or with seven, or with nine. If a person prays Witr with three, it may be done in one of two ways, both of which are prescribed in Shariah:

  1. Praying the three rak'ah continually with one tashahhud. (3 in one go)
  2. Saying salam after two rak'ah, then praying one rak'ah on its own. (2+1)

Both of these are narrated in the Sunnah, so if a person does it one way sometimes and the other way sometimes, that is good. It is permissible to say it with one salaam, but it should be with only one tashahhud and not two, because if he does it with two tashahhuds, it will be like Maghrib prayer, and the Prophet forbade making it like Maghrib prayer. [Al-Sharh al-Mumti’]

The Hanafi madhab add another way to pray witr in the format of 3 rak'ahs and this is something unique only to them and something that is not preferred because of its high resemblance to the Maghrib salah. This method is to pray three rak‘ahs by sitting for tashahhud after the second rak‘ah without tasleem, then standing up to perform the third rak‘ah, and then recite tasleem after the third rak‘ah. Their reasoning is the despite the similarity, unlike the Maghrib prayer, the person recites a Surah after the Fatihah in the third rak‘ah of the witr.

As per the Hanabilah, the Witr can be prayed in pairs of two, two till the end where the last one is a single rakah. A person can pray all 11 rak'ahs together also as per the madhab. The person prays 10 rakats in one go, sits for the tashahhud and then stands up for the last rakah. For 7 and 5 and 3 rak'ahs a person should pray all of them together. al-Iqna and al-Ghayyah mention that it is permissible to perform the Witr making it resemble Maghrib just like the Hanafi madhab. It is not a recommended method, but it is allowed. 

Summary: As per Imam al-Ba'li in Bidayat al-Abid - The witr prayer is at least one rak'ah and at most 11 as per the strongest opinion. The least complete form of witr is three rak'ahs with two salams; one after the tashahud of the first 2 rak'ah and then another after the final single rak'ah. One taslim is permitted when all the rak'ahs are prayed continuously with a sitting for tashahud after every 2 rakahs.

What To Recite?

On the authority of Abdul Aziz ibn Jurayj who said: We asked Aisha about what Allah’s Messenger ﷺ used to recite in Witr? She said: He used to recite: ﴾Glorify the Name of your Lord the Most High﴿ in the first rakat, Say: O you who disbelieve in the second and Say: He Allah is One and the Mu’awidhdhatayn (Al-Falaq and an-Nas) in the third. [Tirmidhi]

So, the Sunnah recitation in Witr prayer is: Surah al-A'la (1st unit), Surah al-Kafirun (2nd unit), and Surah al-Ikhlaṣ (3rd unit).

Qunoot

Reciting the dua for Qunoot is not a condition or an obligation for the witr to be sound. It is not even necessarily connected to the witr prayer. Imam Ibn Abi Shaybah reported from Ayyub from Nafi' from Ibn Umar that he would not make Qunoot in Ramadan except in the last half of it. Imam Abu Dawud and others report that Ubayy bin Ka’b used to recite the Qunoot of the Witr in the second half of Ramadan. All these narrations show that if reciting the qunoot was an obligation, then the sahaba would not have left it out. Add to that, the two sahaba mentioned here are known for their strict adherence to the Sunnah and the knowledge of the Quran.

The sahaba used to raise their hands in supplication. It is reported from Abu Uthman who said: Umar used to read the Qunoot with us after ruk'uh and he would raise his hands so much so that the side of his body would be seen, and his voice could be heard from the back of the Masjid.’ [Ibn Abi Shaybah]

It is reported from Ibn Abbas that he prayed the Qunoot with the people at Fajr in Basrah, and he raised his hands so much so that the side of his body was raised up.’ [Ibn Abi Shaybah]

It is reported from Ibn Mas’ud that he used to raise his hands in the Witr then after that he would lower them.’ [Abdur Razzaq]

Imam al-Hajjawi stated: "Qunoot performed in other than the witr prayer is disliked except when the Muslims have been afflicted with a calamity except plague.  The Imam can make qunut in all obligatory prayers. [Zaad al-Mustaqni']

Imam al-Nawawi said: “Qunut is sanctioned for every obligatory prayer due to nazilah (an incident that happens) not an absolution (means without any reason).” [Minhaj Al-Talibin]

It is recommended to make the dua of qunoot after the rukuh. It is permissible to make the qunoot before the rukuh also as per the Hanabilah. In al-Muntaha al-Iradat they state that it is permissible to recite the qunoot after the Surah and before going into rukuh, just like the Hanafi madhab. Both instances are permissible InshaAllah.

Ar-Rawdh al-Murbi' combined with its Haashiyah reads: “And he recites the Qunoot in the third rak‘ah after bowing as a recommended Sunnah, because it was authentically narrated that the Prophet used to do that, as narrated on the authority of Abu Hurairah, Anas, and Ibn Abbas  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  them except that this (the Qunoot after bowing) was relevant to the obligatory prayer. It was authentically reported with regards to the Witr on the authority of Umar and Ali. It was also narrated that the rightly-guided Caliphs and other Companions used to recite the Qunoot after bowing. Al-Khateeb said that this was the practice of most of the Companions. If the Qunoot is recited before bowing, after reciting the Quran, this is also permissible. Abu Daawood narrated on the authority of Ubay ibn Kaʻb that the Prophet used to recite the Qunoot in the Witr prayer before bowing. This practice was authentically reported from a group of the Companions. Al-Khateeb said, ‘The ahadith reporting that the Qunoot is recited before bowing all have ʻIllah (hidden defects).’”

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Some scholars held that the Qunoot is to be recited only before bowing, and others held that it is to be recited only after it. The jurists among the scholars of Hadith, like Ahmad and others, held that both practices are permissible because both were reported in the authentic Sunnah. However, they preferred reciting the Qunoot after bowing because it is mentioned more often and analogy supports it.”

If a person is reciting the qunoot prior to the rukuh, then there is no need to additional takbeer. A person can simply raise their hands and start the dua. If after - then the person stands up (I’tidal) after ruku’, and after saying سمع الله لمن حمده - Allah hears whoever praises Him - starts the dua.

For the dua, the person raises the hands at the level of the chest and pointing towards the sky. Imam Ahmad رحمه الله narrates that Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud used to make dua where his palm used to point towards the sky and the hands were at the level of the chest. This applies to both the Imam and the congregation. 

Dua al-Qunoot was taught by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ taught to his grandson al-Ḥasan bin Ali رضي الله عنهما. He narrated: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ taught me the words I should recite in the Qunoot of Witr:

اللَّهُمَّ اهْدِنِي فِيمَنْ هَدَيْتَ وَعَافِنِي فِيمَنْ عَافَيْتَ وَتَوَلَّنِي فِيمَنْ تَوَلَّيْتَ وَبَارِكْ لِي فِيمَا أَعْطَيْتَ وَقِنِي شَرَّ مَا قَضَيْتَ إِنَّكَ تَقْضِي وَلاَ يُقْضَى عَلَيْكَ وَإِنَّهُ لاَ يَذِلُّ مَنْ وَالَيْتَ وَلاَ يَعِزُّ مَنْ عَادَيْتَ تَبَارَكْتَ رَبَّنَا وَتَعَالَيْتَ

“O Allah, guide me among those whom you have guided, grant me wellbeing among those whom you have granted wellbeing, take me into Your charge among those whom you have taken into your charge, bless me in what you have given, guard me against the evil of what you have decreed, for you are the One who decrees, and nothing is decreed for you. He whom you befriend is not humiliated. Blessed and Exalted are you, our Lord.” [Abu Dawud]

It is interesting to note that Hassan ibn Ali narrated this when he was just 5 years of age.

Another dua is narrated as a practice from Umar, Ali, Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, Ubayy ibn Kab among others as has been recorded in the Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba, and Tahdhib al-athar, Tabari. This is also famously known as Qunut Nazila. Qunut Nazilah is a supplication for Allah’s protection from harm that is offered in prayers at times of calamity. It is not restricted to witr and can be recited in the congregation or obligatory prayers as well. It should not be made a norm to be recited everyday. It is for when there is a need.

It is narrated by Anas bin Malik where he said: (The tribes of) Ril, Dhakwan, 'Usaiya and Bani Lihyan asked Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) to provide them with some men to support them against their enemy. He therefore provided them with seventy men from the Ansar whom we used to call Al-Qurra' in their lifetime. They used to collect wood by daytime and pray at night. When they were at the well of Ma'una, the infidels killed them by betraying them. When this news reached the Prophet (ﷺ), he said Al-Qunut for one month in the morning prayer, invoking evil upon some of the 'Arab tribes, upon Ril, Dhakwan, 'Usaiya and Bani Libyan. [Bukhari]

Commenting on the above, Imam al-Nawawi states, “If the Muslims are tested with calamity such as fear, famine, epidemic, (attack) of grasshoppers and others, then qunut nazilah is recited, however, if there is no calamity, then it is unnecessary to recite qunut.” [al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhab]

Mulla Ali al-Qari records that - it is narrated that Abu Bakr recited qunut during the war with Musailamah al-Kadhab (the Liar) and the war with the people of the book. [Mirqat al-Mafatih]

Ubaid ibn Umair reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab supplicated after bowing in prayer and he said,

اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَأَلِّفْ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَأَصْلِحْ ذَاتَ بَيْنِهِمْ وَانْصُرْهُمْ عَلَى عَدُوِّكَ وَعَدُوِّهِمْ اللَّهُمَّ الْعَنْ كَفَرَةَ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ الَّذِينَ يَصُدُّونَ عَنْ سَبِيلِكَ وَيُكَذِّبُونَ رُسُلَكَ وَيُقَاتِلُونَ أَوْلِيَاءَكِ اللَّهُمَّ خَالِفْ بَيْنَ كَلِمَتِهِمْ وَزَلْزِلْ أَقْدَامَهُمْ وَأَنْزِلْ بِهِمْ بَأْسَكَ الَّذِي لا تَرُدُّهُ عَنِ الْقَوْمِ الْمُجْرِمِينَ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنَّا نَسْتَعِينُكَ وَنَسْتَغْفِرُكَ وَنُثْنِي عَلَيْكَ وَلا نَكْفُرُكَ وَنَخْلَعُ وَنَتْرُكُ مَنْ يَفْجُرُكَ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ اللَّهُمَّ إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَلَكَ نُصَلِّي وَنَسْجُدُ وَلَكَ نَسْعَى وَنَحْفِدُ وَنَخْشَى عَذَابَكَ الْجِدَّ وَنَرْجُو رَحْمَتِكَ إِنَّ عَذَابَكَ بِالْكَافِرِينَ مُلْحِقٌ

“O Allah, forgive the believing men and believing women and the Muslim men and Muslim women, bring their hearts together and reconcile between them, support them against your enemies and their enemies. O Allah, the curse is upon those who disbelieved among the people of the Scripture, who obstruct people from your path and have denied your Messenger and have fought your allies. O Allah, oppose their words and shake their foundation and send upon them your strength which cannot be repelled by the criminals. In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful, we seek your help and we seek your forgiveness. We praise you and we do not deny you and we disavow and abandon whoever is wicked to you. In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful, you alone we worship and we pray to you and we prostrate for you and we strive for you and we fear your punishment and we hope in your mercy. Verily, your punishment of the unbelievers will be carried out.” [al-Sunan al-Kubrá]

Then the person sends salam upon the Prophet ﷺ according to any wording and the one behind the Imam says Ameen. When the Imam is reciting he needs to keep in mind that he is reciting the dua not just for himself but for the congregation also so the wordings will change accordingly.The one making dua wipes his face absolutely. Whether a person is in salah or not, or wherever, a person should wipe the face after making dua as per the madhab.

It is mentioned that Umar ibn al-Khattab used to recite the dua silently and sometimes aloud to teach the people. [Maraqi' al-Falah]

On a side note, according to the Hanafi madhab, Qunut Nazilah is only recited in Fajr prayers at times of adversities and disaster and the recitation of it is also done silently as is their adopted position.

Summary: The Sunnah recitation in Witr prayer is: Surah al-A'la (1st unit), Surah al-Kafirun (2nd unit), and Surah al-Ikhlaṣ (3rd unit). Reciting the dua for Qunoot is not a condition or an obligation for the witr to be sound. It can be recited either before rukuh or even after it, both are permissible.


Wiping The Face After Dua

Imam al-Mardawi said that hands should be wiped on the face and : “This is the Madhab of Imam Ahmad, he was doing that”. The author of Majma’ Al-Bahrayn said this narration is stronger, and in Al-Kafi, it is said that it is better. [Al-Insaf]

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim mentioned that Imam Ahmad was asked about wiping hands on the face, and he answered : "I hope there is no harm, and when Al-Hassan was invoking, he was wiping then on his face, and he said : my father was asked about raising hands in Qunut and wiping them on the face, he said : There is no harm in doing this, wiping them on the face. Abdullah ibn Ahmad said that he did not see his father wiping them on the face" [Bada’I al-Fawaid] Imam Ibn al-Qayim commented this : “Abu Abdillah (Imam Ahmad) made the matter easy, and he considered this similar to the fact of wiping the face outside the prayer, and this is a small action of obedience and Abu Abdillah decided to leave it”

It was narrated from Ibn Abbas that: the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: "When you supplicate to Allah, supplicate with your palms uppermost, not with the backs of your hands uppermost, and when you finish, wipe your face with them." [Sunan Ibn Majah]

Narrated Yazid ibn Sa'id al-Kindi: When the Prophet (ﷺ) made supplication (to Allah) he would raise his hands and wipe his face with his hands. [Sunan Abu Dawood]

Umar bin Al-Khattab narrated: “Whenever the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would raise his hands in supplication, he would not lower them until he had wiped his face with them.” [Tirmidhi]

Narrated Abu Zaid bin Akhtab: "The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) wiped his hand over my face and supplicated for me." 'Azrah (one of the narrators) said: "Indeed he lived for one-hundred and twenty years, and there weren't upon his head except for a few small grey hairs." [Tirmidhi]

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Do not cover the walls. He who sees the letter of his brother without his permission, sees Hell-fire. Supplicate Allah with the palms of your hands; do not supplicate Him with their backs upwards. When you finish supplication, wipe your faces with them. [Abu Dawud]

Sheikh Abdus Salam al-Shuway'ir explained, "The chains of these Ahadith are weak when we look at them individually as stated by Abdullah b. Mubarak , that, there is no authentic Hadith reported on wiping the face after du'a, i.e - weak when we take each Hadith individually. As for all the Ahadith and the statements of the companions and their followers, when looked at collectively, it shows that wiping the face after Du'a has a basis. This is why al-Hafidh Ibn Hajr says in Fath al-Bari, that, looking at all that has been narrated under the action of wiping the face shows that this action has a basis. Indeed, this action has a basis, no doubt. However, to say that if someone doesn't wipe their face then their Du'a isn't accepted then there is no such thing reported. But wiping the face is legislated and permissible* and it has been established from the Companions and their followers and the Imams that they would wipe their faces after making Dua. Likewise, wiping the face after the Du'a of Qunut inside the salah is legislated as per the famous opinion of the (Hanbali) Madhhab, which is a Riwayah on Imam Ahmad and also outside the Salah. So no doubt wiping the face has a lot of basis and supporting evidence as stated by al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar"

Summary: It is permissible to wipe over the face after making dua and it can also be left out - it does not have any impact on the status of the dua.


Revive A Sunnah

Imam Ibn Qudamah wrote: “It is recommended to recite the following dhikr after performing the Witr prayer: سُبْحَانَ الْمَلِكِ الْقُدُّوسِ - Glorified and Perfect is the King, Most Pure - thrice, extending one's voice the third time.

Ubayy ibn Ka‘b reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to recite after tasleem in Witr prayer: سُبْحَانَ الْمَلِكِ الْقُدُّوسِ - Glorified and Perfect is the King, Most Pure [Abu Dawud]

Abd Ar-Rahman ibn Abza said, 'The Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to recite Surahs 87, 109, and 112 in the Witr prayer, and after reciting tasleem, he would say: 'سُبْحَانَ الْمَلِكِ الْقُدُّوسِ ', raising his voice with it in the third time.' (Ahmad)” [Al-Mughni]

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