Questions and Answers
As a follower of the Quran & Sunnah, in accordance to the Hanafi methodology, I have always performed witr three raka'ahs with one salam. During Ramadan, someone told me this method is wrong. Can you please clarify the Hanafi position?
Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Badat
May Almighty Allah reward you greatly for your eagerness to learn.
In response to your concern, kindly note that there are several understandings derived from the hadiths that describe the method of the witr prayer by various scholars of the Islamic sciences.
The Hanafi understanding regarding the method of performing the witr in three raka'ahs with two sittings and one salam is the prefered way to perform the witr prayer. This method of witr has been adopted from the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) found in various authentic hadiths. Please refer below:
Witr in 3 Raka'ahs
Ai'sha (ra) states, "... (after Tahajjud prayers), the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would perform the prayer (witr) in three raka'ahs." (Bukhari)
Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra) narrates, "... and thereafter he (pbuh) would perform the witr three raka'ahs." (Muslim)
Witr in 3 Raka'ahs With Only One Salam
Saeed Ibn Jubair (ra) reports, "The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would recite in the witr prayer 'Sabbihis ma rabbikal A'alaa' and in the second rakaah 'Qul yaa ayyuh al kafiroon' and in the third raka'ah 'Qul hu wa Allahu ahad' and he would not make salam except at the end of them (three raka'ahs)" (Nasai)
Zurarah Ibn Auwfa (ra) narrates from Sa'ad Ibn Hishaam (ra) that Aisha (ra) informed him that the Prophet (pbuh) would not make salam after two raka'ahs of the witr prayer." (Nasai, Dar Qutni, Mu'atta, Tabrani & Haakim - Imam Haakim stated that this hadith is Saheeh based on the conditions of Bukhari & Muslim. Imam Dhahabi also concurred to this in his Talkhees.)
Sa'ad Ibn Hishaam (ra) narrates from Aisha (ra), "When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would have performed Esha, he would enter the house and there after perform two raka'ahs and another two after them that were longer than the previous. There after, the Prophet (pbuh) would offer the witr prayer in three raka'ahs with no separation in the three raka'ahs." (Musnad Ahmed)
Anas Ibn Maalik (ra) performed the witr prayer in three raka'ahs and only made salam at the completion of the three raka'ahs. He than declared, "I learnt this from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh)". (Tahaawi, I'laa Al Sunan)
Anas Ibn Maalik (ra) said, "O Abu Muhammad, take from me (the understanding of the deen), for indeed I have taken from the Prophet (pbuh) and the Prophet (pbuh) has taken from Allah. You will never find anyone more realiable than me". The narrator mentions, "After saying this, Anas (ra) performed six raka'ahs making the salam at the end of every two raka'ahs. Thereafter he performed the witr prayer in three raka'ahs making salam at the end of the three raka'ahs". (Ruyaani, Ibn Asaakir, I'laa Al Sunan, Kanz Al Ummal - This hadith reaches the status of Marfoo)
Miswar Ibn Makhramah (ra) says, "We were with Abu Bakr (ra) one evening when Omar (ra) exclaimed, "I have not performed the witr prayer". He stood up and we assembled in the lines of prayer behind him. He lead the witr prayer for us in three raka'ahs and he did not make salam in between them (the three raka'ahs) apart from the very last rakah". (Tahaawi)
Abdullah Ibn Masood (ra) says, "The witr prayer is three raka'ahs like the witr of the day; maghrib prayer". (Tahaawi)
Abu Zinaad (ra) narrates from the seven personalities; Saeed ibn Al Musayyib, Urwah Ibn Al Zubair, Qasim Ibn Muhammad, Abu Bakr Ibn Abd Al Rahman, Khaarijah Ibn Zaid, Ubaid Allah Ibn Abdullah, and Sulaiman Ibn Yasaar (may Allah be pleased with all of them) amongst many leaders of jurisprudence, righteousness, and rectification. When ever this group would have a difference amongst them, in a matter, they would take the opinion of the majority and the most upright. From amongst that which I had carefully preserved from all of them, according to this description, was that the witr prayer is three raka'ahs and one is not to make salam except at the end of the three raka'ahs. (Tahaawi)
Umar Ibn Abd Al Aziz (ra) had established the witr prayer in Madina according to the opinion of the learned jurists as three raka'ahs with no salam except at the completion of the three raka'ahs. (Tahaawi, Aathaar Al Sunan)
Answer to Narrations that Apparently Oppose the Above Understanding
In narrations that apparently contradict the above understanding for the appropriate method of witr can be clarified as follows:
The narrations (particularly that of Ibn Umar) are describing the ruling if someone, due to a valid reason breaks the witr prayer after two raka'ah, they are permitted to make binaa'(continue) by simply offering one raka'ah without the first two being invalid. Hafiz Ibn Hajar writes in 'Fath Al Baari, "Apparently, Ibn Umar (ra) offered the witr prayer together (with only one salam), however if a need arose, he would perform the witr prayer and make binaa' upon what was already performed. This is substantiated by a narration where it is mentioned that Ibn Umar (ra) performed two raka'ahs and there after stated,"O servant, prepare the logistics of the journey for us!". There after Ibn Umar stood up and offered one raka'ah (to complete the witr)" (I'laa Al Sunan)
The narrations practically demonstrating the method of the witr prayer in three raka'as with one salam are more numerous, authentic (diraayatan & riwaayatan) and also narrated by a larger group of the companions. (I'laa Al Sunan)
The Prophet (pbuh) always performed his witr at home. Hense the narrations of the method of witr narrated by Ai'sha (ra) - the beloved wife of the Prophet (pbuh) - would be more appropriate for clarification. The same is said about Anas Ibn Malik (ra) since he was the personal attendant of the Prophet (pbuh) and would be constantly in and out of the household of the Prophet (pbuh).
Urwah's (ra) narrations from Aisha (ra) are dissarrayed and conflicting. Hence his narrations will be explained by the narrations of the numerous companions who report very clearly from Aisha (ra) the three raka'ahs with one salam. (Imam Al Tahaawi)
There is no such seperation (breaking the prayer in between and then continuing by adding one raka'ah) in any other prayer, be it fardh, sunnah or nafl.
The practice of breaking the witr prayer after two and there after adding one seperate raka'ah was an initial practice which was later abrogated. Very similar to speech being permitted in salah in the early stages but later being abrogated. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have stated, "There is no such thing as two witrs in one night". Scholars of the sciences of Islam have suggested that this was the hadith that possibly abrogated the separation in witr. (I'laa Al Sunan)
Where ever the one raka'ah is specified, it means "one raka'ah after tashahhud without salam". (Al Nayl)
The meaning of the statement, "Do not make the witr resembling the maghrib prayer" is that one should offer some nafl prayers prior to the witr prayer. Also that there is 'qunoot' in the witr prayer unlike the maghrib prayer. The hadith reported by Abu Hurairah (ra) supports this view wherein the Prophet (pbuh) stated, "Do not offer only 3 raka'ahs of witr but rather perform the witr as five (2 nafl plus 3 witr) or seven (4 nafl plus 3 witr). Do not make the witr to resemble the maghrib prayer". (I'laa Al Sunan)
The salam in the narrations refer to "sending greetings of salam to the Prophet (pbuh) while reciting the al tahiyyaat". Refer to the hadith: Umm Salamah (ra) reports the Prophet (pbuh) saying, "In every two raka'ahs, there is tashahhud, tasleem (greetings of salam) upon the messengers and those who follow them from the righteous servants". (Tabraani in Kabeer & Majma' Al Zawaaid)
There is no concept of a single raka'ah. Refer to the following: Ikramah (ra) states, I was with the Ibn Abbas (ra) by Muawiyah (ra) who discussed matters until a portion of the night passed. Muawiyah (ra) then stood up and offered one rakaah. Ibn Abbas (ra) exclaimed, "Where did you adopt this from?" (Tahaawi)