Tahajjud is primarily a nafl prayer that is offered at night before Fajar. It is also called ‘Qiyaam al-Layl’ or ‘night prayer’.
However, this is not an ordinary nafl prayer like others that one prays during day time. Offering this prayer at night is superior with respect to the blessings associated with it.
Evidence & Status of Tahajjud Prayer in the Light of Qur’an and Hadith
Tahajjud is a Nafl prayer for Ummah. However, it was a compulsory prayer for the Prophet PBUH. In his life, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has offered Tahajjud prayer regularly. As our Prophet PBUH used to offer this prayer, it also becomes Sunnah prayer.
At multiple places in the Holy Quran, Allah has commanded the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to offer Tahajjud prayer at night.
For example, Surah Al Muzammil begins as;
O you who wraps himself [in clothing] (Saheeh International)
Stand all night (in prayer) except a little — Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran
(pray) half the night, or a little less, — Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran
Furthermore, in Surah Al Insan, Ayat 26, Allah SWT has mentioned.
And during part of a night, prostrate yourself to Him and glorify Him for the longest during a night. (translated by Imam Iskender Ali Mihr)
These verses clearly enunciate that it was made compulsory for the Prophet (PBUH).
Similarly, in Surah Israa, chapter 17, verse 79, Allah SWT has mentioned that;
During a part of the night, wake up and keep up Tahajjud (the night prayer) with It (the Qur’an) as an additional prayer for you! It is very near that your Lord will get (deliver) you to Makaam e Mahmûd.
Likewise, in Surah Ash-Shu’ara, verse 218, Allah says,
He sees you when you stand up (to pray Tahajjud).
Ahadith on Tahajjud:
Apart from Qur’an, numerous Ahadith have also mentioned of Tahajjud prayer that propounds its status.
As mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, Hadees 1130,
Narrated Al-Mughira R.A: The Prophet (PBUH) used to stand (in the prayer) or pray till both his feet or legs swelled. He was asked why (he offered such an unbearable prayer) and he said, should I not be a thankful slave.
Similarly, according to Sahih Bukhari, Hadees 1123,
Narrated `Aisha R.A: Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) used to offer eleven rak`at and that was his prayer. He used to prolong the prostration to such an extent that one could recite fifty verses (of the Qur’an) before he would lift his head. He used to pray two rak`at (Sunna) before the Fajr prayer and then used to lie down on his right side till the call-maker came and informed him about the prayer.
According to Sahib Bukhari, 1131,
Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Al-`As: Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) told me, “The most beloved prayer to Allah is that of David and the most beloved fasts to Allah are those of David. He used to sleep for half of the night and then pray for one third of the night and again sleep for its sixth part and used to fast on alternate days.”
Tahajjud prayer is significant because it is performed during the time when Allah descends to the lowest sky to listen to us more closely.
As mentioned in the Sahih Bukhari, Hadees 1145,
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) said, Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?
(Note: Allah is omnipresent and always there to listen to our calls. However, the last part of the night is when Allah Himself calls us to ask what we want from Him)
There is another Hadees that highlights the significance of night prayer.
Hazrat Amr ibn Absah R.A claimed that he heard Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as saying:
The closest that a servant 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.— At-Tirmidhi
The above Hadees also highlights the fact that Tahajjud is not a mandatory prayer for Ummah.
Moreover, this part of the night is the most peaceful time. As Tahajjud is performed during this time when everyone is asleep; it gives us a true sense of ‘I & Allah’ feeling. There is no one or nothing that can distract us from Allah. We are more focused while praying and talking to Allah.
Allah SWT has mentioned in Surah Al Muzammil, Verse 6:
Surely the rising by night is (difficult but) stronger in effectiveness and more secure in recitation. (translated by Imam Iskender Ali Mihr)
When to Perform it?
Tahajjud can be performed in the early, middle, or later part of the night. However, it must be after performing the obligatory Isha prayer and before the time for Fajar begins. Another necessary condition is; one must get some sleep and then wake up again for Tahajjud.
However, the best time to offer it is the third part of the night. It is because Allah descends to the nearest heaven to us during this part of the night as mentioned in the above hadith.
But, there was usually no specific time at night when Prophet PBUH used to perform Tahajjud.
As Ibn Hajar R.A says:
There was no specific time in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would perform his late night Prayer; but he used to do whatever was easiest for him.
How to Perform Tahajjud?
Tahajjud prayer is performed just like other Nafl prayers. One can offer as many Rakats as one wants during Tahajjud.
However, it is recommended and usually followed method to perform this Namaz in 2 Rakats separately.
Two Rakats are a minimum requirement for Tahajjud prayer. One can repeat the Rakats as many times as one wants.
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