Imam Ilyas Sidyot

The Virtues & Manners of Night Salah

Qiyam al-layl is a provision for the believers and a gift from Allah. It is an act of devotion and sincerity towards Allah, subhanahu wa at'ala, and a way to purify the heart. It is a struggle against the self, an effort to improve will power, strenghten resolve, and defeat Satan. (al-Munajjid, 2001). Due to this intense struggle, there are many virtues and rewards for those who engage in this practice on a regular practice.

Qiyam ul-layl is one of the established practices of Prophet Muhammad, sallalahu alayhe
wassallam, and one the we should strive to emulate. It is something that he continued until the time of his death. Aisha narrated to Abdallah inb Abi Qays, "Never stop praying qiyaam ul-layl, for the Messenger of Allah never stopped it. If he was sick or felt tired, he would pray sitting down." (Ahmad). Unfortunately, in this day and age, the sunnah of qiyam ul-layl is one that is all but lost. Very few people attempt to integrate this custom into their lives, and even fewer do in on a consistent basis. This topic was chosen for this article in an attempt to revive this sunnah, to make people aware of its significance and benefits, and to highlight the method of the prophet, sallalahu alayhe was sallam, in relation to this essential component of Islam. It is hoped that people will take this to heart and enjoy one of the sweetest pleasures available to man due to the Mercy of Allah.

The Virtues & Excellence of Qiyam ul layl

There are many verses of the Qur'an and ahadeeth of the prophet, sallalahu alayhe wasallam, that signify the excellence of qiyam ul-layl and the merit of those who perform it on a consistent basis. In the Qur'an, Allah describes this as a characteristic of the pious believers: "Verily, the Muttaqoon (the pious) will be in the midst of gardens and springs, taking joy in the things which their Lord has given them. Verily, they were before this Muhsinoon (doers of good). They used to sleep but little by night (invoking their Lord and praying, with fear and hope). And in the hours before dawn, they were (found) asking (Allah) for forgiveness." [51:15-17]. Allah, subhanahu wa at'ala, also says: "Their (the believers) sides forsake their beds, to invoke their lord in fear and hope; and they spend out of what We bestowed on them, No one knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do." [32:16-17].

The true believers then are those who fill their nights with worship, sleeping little and standing until dawn. Before the dawn they are found asking Allah for forgiveness. They are awake while other are asleep, and alert when others are neglectful. This is an act of sincere devotion to Allah that raises the soul to a higher level. It also distinguishes the believers from the disbelievers as Allah, subhanahhu wa at'ala, mentions in the Qur'an: "Is one who is obedient to Allah, prostrating himself or standing (in prayer) during the hours of the night, fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the Mercy of his Lord, (like one who disbelieves)? Say: 'Are those who know equal to those who know not?' It is only men of understanding who will remember." [39:9].

The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, made the virtuous nature of qiyam ul-layl evident in several of his sayings. He said, `The best of prayers, after those prescribed, are those prayed in the depth of night.` (Muslim, Ahmad). From this saying, we know that the night prayers are the best of voluntary prayers that a believer may perform. It is also one of the most effective means of entering paradise. The Prophet, sallalahu alyhe wa sallam, said, "O people! Spread (the greetings of) Salam, provide for (to the needy), and pray at night while the people are asleep - you would then enter Jannah (paradise) with peace." (at-Tirmithi).

Qiyam ul-layl is a sign of righteousness, and a means of getting closer to Allah, subhanahu wa at'ala, and receiving His Mercy. The Messenger of Allah said, "Whoever prays qiyam reciting ten ayat, he will not be recorded among the negligent. Whoever prays qiyam reciting one hundred ayat, he will be recorded among the devout. And whoever prays qiyam reciting one thousand verses, he will be recorded among those with a multitude of good deeds." (Abu Dawud, Ibn Hibban). "The closest that a servant is to his Lord is in the last part of night. If you can be among those who remember Allah at that hour, do so." (at-Tirmithi, an-Nasa'I, amd al-Hakim). "May Allah have mercy on a man who wakes up at night, prays, and wakes his wife to pray; and if she refuses, he sprinkles water on her face. And may Allah have mercy on a woman who wakes up at night, prays, and wakes her husband to pray; and if he refuses, she sprinkles water on his face." (Abu Dawud, an-Nasa'I)."

One of the most beneficial times to make supplication is during the night, as is apparent in the following Ahadeeth:

The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Our Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven, when only one third of the night has remained. He says, "Who would invoke Me, so that I would answer him? Who would ask Me, so that I would give him? Who would seek my forgiveness, so that I would forgive him?'" (Bukhari, Muslim).

The Prophet said, "There is an hour of the night which, no Muslim person encounters it and asks for a good thing in this life or the hereafter, but Allah grants it to him. This happens every night." (Muslim, Ahmad).

The Prophet said, "Whenever a Muslim goes to bed in a pure state (with wudhu'), falls asleep while mentioning Allah, and then wakes up during the night, and asks Allah for anything good, He grants it to him." (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Ib Majah).

Satan attempts to keep us away from the remembrance of Allah and puts a spell upon each person's head when he goes to sleep. Getting up for qiyam ul-layl destroys Satan's spell. The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "When one of you goes to sleep, Satan ties three knots over the rear of his head, blowing into each knot, ' You have a long night, so sleep on.' If one wakes up and mentions Allah, one knot loosens. If he makes wudhu', another knot loosens. And if he prays, the third knot loosens, so that he becomes lively and good-natured; otherwise, he gets up ill-mannered and lazy." (Bukhari, Muslim).

It is evident from these Qur'anic verses and Ahadeeth of the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, that there are many virtues and rewards for those who consistently and earnestly pray qiyam ul-layl. Understanding this should lead us to strive for its perfection and seek the blessings of Allah, subhanahu wa at'ala.

The Etiquette & Manner of Performing Qiyam ul-Layl

This section details the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, as it applies to qiyam ul-layl. It is important to follow this practice closely and avoid any innovations that may have entered into the deen. This is not an exhaustive coverage of the topic, but it does highlight some of the essential elements.

The time of Qiyam ul-layl

The time of qiyam is from after isha' prayer up until fajr prayer. The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Indeed Allah added a prayer for you: it is witr; so pray it between isha' and fajr." (Ahmad). So the prayer may be performed in the early part of the night, the middle part of the night, or the later part of the night, but it must be done after isha' prayer. (Fiqh as-Sunnah). It is best, however, to pray the qiyam during the last third of the night. The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Whoever fears that he will not wake up in the later part of the night, let him perform witr in the first part of it. And whoever expects to wake up in the later part of the night, let him pray it then. Indeed the prayer in the later part of the night is witnessed (by the angels), and this is better." (Muslim).He also said, "Our Lord descends to the lowest heaven during the last third of the night, inquiring: 'Who will call on Me so that I may give it to him? Who is asking for My forgiveness so I may forgive him?" (Muslim). Amr Inb Abasah reports that he heard the Prophet say, "The closest that the slave comes to his lord is during the middle of the latter portion of the night. If you can be among those who remember Allah, the Exalted One, at that time then do so." (al-Hakim, at-Tirmithi).

If there is an option between praying in the first part of the night with a congregation or praying alone in the later part of the night, then it is preferred to pray in congregation. This is due to the rewards of praying in congregation as noted by the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam: "Whoever stands in prayer with the imam until (the imam) concludes the prayer, it is recorded for him that he prayed the whole night." (al-Masa'il). This was also the practice of the companions during the time of Umar. (al-Jibali)

Making the intention

Upon going to sleep, one should make the intention to perform the night prayers. The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe was sallam, said, "Whoever goes to his bed with the intention of getting up and praying during the night, and sleep overcomes him until the morning comes, he will have recorded for him what he had intended, and his sleep will be a charity for him from his Lord." (an-Nasa'I, ibn Majag). (Figh as-sunnah). The intention is important because it will help the person to actually wake up and perform the prayer; and even if he does not, he will still be rewarded for such a righteous intention.

Making supplication upon awakening

The first thing to do upon awakening is to mention Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, with supplication. There are several ahadeeth that report what the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, and several supplications that may be used. The following are a few of those.

The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Whoever wakes up at night and says: 'There is no god except Allah, alone without any partners. To Him belongs the sovereignty; and to Him belongs all praise. He gives life and death, in His Hand is all good, and He is capable of everything. Exalted is Allah; all praise be to Allah; there is no god except Allah; Allah is the greatest; there is no power or might except from Allah. My Lord! Forgive me.' Anyone who says this then supplicates, his supplication will be answered; and if he performs wudu then prays, his prayer will be accepted." (Bukhari, Ahmad).

Another supplication is reported by Ibn Abbas, who said, "Whenever the Prophet got up at night to offer the Tahajjud prayer he used to say, 'O Allah! All the praises are for You; You are the Holder of the heavens and the earth, and whatever is in them. All the praises are for You; You are the Light of the heavens and the earth; and whatever is in them, and all the praises are for You: You are the Truth and Your promise is the truth; and the meeting with You is the truth; Your words are the truth; and Paradise is the truth; and Hell is the truth and all the Prophets are the truth. And Muhammad is the truth; and the Hour is the truth. O Allah! I surrender to You, I believe in You and depend on You, and repent to You, and with Your Help I argue (with the disbelievers), and I take You as a judge. Please forgive my past and future sins; and whatever I concealed and whatever I revealed; and You are the One who makes (some people_ forward and (some) backward; there is none who has the right to be worshipped but You." (Bukhari).

Recitation of the last ten verses of surah Ali Imran would also be appropriate. Ibn Abbas reported that one night he slept in his aunt Maymuna's house when the Prophet was there. The Prophet chatted with his wife for a while, and then slept. When it was the last one-third of the night or shortly thereafter, the Prophet sat up, looked at the sky, and recited the following ayat to the end of the surah: 'Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding…'" [190-200]. (Bukhari, Muslim).

Using the siwak and performing wudu

It was the practice of the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, to use miswak upon awakening. The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "When one of you gets up to pray at night, let him use siwak (to clean his teeth), because when he recites during the prayer, an angel puts his mouth over his, so that nothing leaving his mouth but will enter into the angel's mouth." (al-Bayhaqi, ad-Diya). Continuing from the previous hadeeth pertaining to supplications, Ibn Abbas then reported that the Prophet "reached for the waterskin, untied its cap, poured water in a vessel and performed a good and complete wudu' without being excessive (in using water). The Prophet then stood for prayer, and I got up, performed wudhu, and stood on his left side. He held me with my ear and moved me to his right side…" (Bukhari, Muslim). It is obvious that wudhu' should be completed before the pray since this is a prerequisite for any pray.

Performing the prayer

It is established that the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, would begin his night prayer with two short rak'at. Aisha reported, "When Allah's Messenger got up at night, he would start his prayer with two short rak'at. He would then pray eight rak'at, then witr." (Muslim). There is no specific number of rak'at which must be performed for Tahajjud, nor is there a maximum limit. (Fiqh as-Sunnah). Samurah Ibn Jundub says: "The Messenger of Allah ordered us to pray during the night, a little or a lot, and to make the last of the prayer the witr prayer." (at-Tabarani, al-Bazzar). Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet said, "You should perform salatul layl even if it is just one rak'ah." (at-Tabarani).

It is preferable to pray 11 rak'at of qiyam since this was the practice of the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam. Aisha, radiallahu anha, reported, "The Messenger of Allah never prayed more than eleven rak'at, during Ramadan or otherwise. He would pray four rak'at, and don't ask about how excellent they were or how lengthy they were. Then he would pray four rak'at, and don't ask about how excellent they were or how lengthy they were. Then he would pray three rak'at." (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmithi, an-Nasai, al-Bayhaqi, Ahamd, Malik). Aisha, also said, "Allah's Messenger, prayed at night, in Ramadan and other months, thirteen rak'at, of which were the two rak'at of fajr." (Muslim, Ibn Abi Shaybah).

Recitation of Qur'an during qiyam

The Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, did not have a fixed length of recitation of Qur'an during qiyam. His recitation would vary in length, sometimes being short, often long, and occasionally, very long. (al-Jibali, 1999). Ibn Mas'ud said, "I prayed with the Prophet one night. He stood (in recitation) for so long that I was inclined to do something wrong." He was asked, "What were you inclined to do?" He replied, "I was inclined to sit down and let him pray alone." (al-Bukhari, Muslim).

Huthayfah bin al-yaman reported, "I prayed with the Prophet on night; he started reciting surat al-Baqarah. I said to myself, 'He will make ruku' after one hundred ayat.' But he carried on; so I thought, 'He will make ruku' when he has finished it.' But he started surat an-Nisa' and recited it all; then he started surat Ali Imran and recited it all. He was reciting slowly; when he read an ayah in which there was glorification of Allah, he glorified Him; when an ayah called for asking (of Allah), he asked; when an ayah called for seeking refuge (with Allah), he sought refuge. Then he made ruku'…" (Muslim, an-Nasai).

It is best to make the qiyam prayer long, especially if one is praying alone. If one is leading the prayer as the imam, then he should only lengthen the recitation such that it does not burden the others who are praying. (Night Prayer, al-jibali). The prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Whoever prays reciting one-hundred ayat in one night, he will not be recorded among the heedless." (ad-Darimi, al-Hakim). He is also reported to have said, "Whoever prays reciting two hundred ayat, he will be recorded among the devoted and sincere." (ad-Darimi, al-Hakim).

Praying with a moderate voice-level

It is allowed to pray qiyam either silently or loudly, but it is best to raise the voice moderately. (Night Prayer, al-Jibali). Abu Qatadah reported that one night, the Prophet saw Abu Bakr praying with a low voice. He then saw Umar praying with a loud voice. Afterwards, he said to Abu Bakr, "O Abu Bakr! I Passed by you praying and lowering your voice." He replied, "I have been heard by Him whom I was privately addressing, O Allah's Messenger!" Then the Prophet said to Umar, "O Umar! I passed by you praying and raising your voice." He replied, "O Allah's Messenger! Thereby, I wake the sleep and drive away Satan!" So the Prophet said, "O Abu Bakr, raise your voice a little. And you Umar, lower your voice a little." (Abu Dawud, at-Tirmithi). Ibn Abbas also reported, "The Prophet's recitation (in qiyam) was such that one would hear him from the outer room while he is inside (in the bedroom)." (Abu Dawud, at-Tirmithi).

Not overburdening oneself during qiyam ul-layl

A person should only do as much of the prayer as he or she can and rest when becoming tired or sleepy. The Messenger said, "When one of you gets up during the night for prayer and his Qur'anic recital becomes confused to the extent that he does not know what he says, he should lie down." (Muslim). Anas narrates that the Messenger of Allah entered the mosque and saw a rope stretching between two posts. He asked, "What is this?" When the people told him that it was for Zainab bint Jahsh who held on to it when she became tired or weary, he said to her: "you should lie down to rest." (Bukhari, Muslim). It is better to do small amount, but to be constant and consistent with the prayer since this is the practice of the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam. The Messenger of Allah was asked, "What is the most lover deed to Allah?" He answered, "One that is performed constantly even if it is a small deed." (Bukhari, Muslim).

Aisha said, "The Messenger of Allah was constant in his deeds, and if he did something, he would do it consistently." (Muslim).

Abullah ibn Umar reports that the Messenger of Allah said, make the tahajjud prayers and then stopped praying it." (Bukhari, Muslim). Suggestions for effective Implementation of Qiyam ul-Layl. The following are some suggestion for increasing one's ability to pray qiyam ul-layl. It is not a complete list, but does provide some useful and effective tips (taken from an article by Shaikh Muhammad al-Munajjid).

Being sincere towards Allah

Sincerity is a very important aspect of the deen of Islam. The more sincerity that a person has, the more he or she will be guided and helped to obey Allah and get closer to Him. One should make the sincere intention to pray qiyam only for the sake of Allah.

Knowing the virtues of qiyam

If one understands the virtues and rewards of performing qiyam ul-Layl, it should lead that person to desire to be closer to his Lord and to stand before Him at that time. It is one of the best ways to come near to Allah. "The best of prayers after the prescribed prayers is prayer in the depths of the night…" (Muslim).

Sleeping on one's right side and in a state of taharah.

The Prophet said, "When any one of you goes to bed, let him clear his bed by hitting it with his garment, for he does not know what may have come into it. Then let him lie down on his right side, then let him say…" (Agreed upon). He also said, " When you go to bed, do wudhu' as if for prayer." (Agreed upon). There are obviously benefits to these practices since they were something consistently done by the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe was sallam.

Going to sleep early and reciting adhkaar before sleep

It is the advice of the Prophet to go to sleep immediately after the 'isha prayer. It is reported that the Prophet used to prefer to delay 'isha, and he did not like to sleep before it or talk after it. (Bukhari). There are various athkar that may be said before sleeping as related in the Ahadeeth. Some of these include the last three surahs of the Qur'an, verse of al-Kursi, the last two verses of surah of al-Baqarah, surah of al-Kafiroon, etc.

Avoiding eating or drinking too much

Overeating is one of the main barriers that prevent people from praying qiyam. The Prophet said, "Man fills no vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to have a few mouthfuls to give him the strength he needs. If he has to fill his stomach, then let him leave one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air." (at-Tirmithi, Ibn Majah). Avoiding food and drink too much will make a person light and increase his ability to awaken at night.

Avoiding sin

A person who is sinning will not be assisted by Allah to pray qiyam ul-layl. A man said to Ibrahim ibn Adham, "I cannot pray qiyam ul-layl, so tell me the cure for this." He said "Do not commit sin during the day, and He will help you to stand before Him at night, for your standing before Him at night is one of the greatest honors, and the sinner does not deserve that honor."


Qiyam ul-layl is one of the most beautiful gifts that have been given to us from Allah, subhanahu wa at'ala. It is specifically reserved for those who strive against their nafs and sincerely turn their faces to Allah. It is for those who weep during the darkest parts of the night, seeking Allah's Mercy and Forgiveness. The virtues and excellence of this pray are limitless. As believers, we should strive to implement this important Sunnah of the Prophet, sallalahu alayhe wa sallam, into our daily lives. The procedure and the means to do this are clearly provided for us as outlined above. Qiyam ul-Layl is one of the paths to Paradise, and a special reward for those who seek to be close to Allah in this life.

Compiled: By Imam Hafiz Ilyas
Imam Islamic centre Saskatoon