The Virtues of Qiyam Al-Layl
By Shahul Hamīd
In the Name of Allāh, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All praise and thanks are due to Allāh, May Allāh blessings and peace be upon His Messenger.
Qiyam and Solāt Tahajjud is indeed the same Solāt with different names. It’s time frame is after the observation of Solat ‘Isha and before Solat Fajar. When these two names are used in Ramadhān, it is also referred as Qiyam of Ramadhan or Solāt Tarāwīh including Witr; while spending the late night in worship, after having some sleep is called Tahajjud or Qimyamulail.
Both names, Tahajjud or Qimyamulail have been used in the Qur'ān. The Qur’ān uses the phrase Qum al-layl when Allāh says: "O thou wrapped up in thy raiment! Keep vigil the night long (Qum al-layl), save a little, a half thereof, or abate a little thereof, or add (a little) thereto and recite the Qur’ān in measure…" [Al-Muzzammil, 73: 1-4] The verb Fatahajjad is a derivative from the root word Hajada (to keep vigil), Allāh says: "And some part of the night awake for it (fatahajjad), a largess for thee. It may be that thy Lord will raise thee to a praised estate." [Al-Isra', 17: 79] The later verse means to get up and perform Tahajjud.
Tahajjud derives from the term night prayers or Qiyam, which means standing. Qiyam also refers to spending the night in worship in general, whether it is solāh or any other form acts of worship.
The occasion of such long prayers is known as Qiyam Al-Layl. Muslims are encouraged to perform Qiyam Al-Layl throughout the years.
Allāh Says: “And as for the night keep awake a part of it as an additional prayer for thee: soon will thy Lord raise thee to a station of praise and glory!” [Al-Isrā', 17:79]
This was a command directly addressed to the Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) but it is also meant for his followers to adopt these special prayers, as additional prayers of devotion to Allāh.
The Excellence of Tahajjud
Allāh praises the characters of the devout believers, Allāh says of such devotees:
“Say, Shall I inform you of things far better than those? For the pious ones, there are gardens (Paradise) with their Lord, underneath which rivers flow. Therein is their eternal home and purified wives. And Allāh will be pleased with them. And Allāh is All-Seer of the slaves. Those who say: Our Lord! We have indeed believed, so forgive us our sins and save us from the punishment of Fire. They are those who are the patients’ ones, those who are truthful and obedient with sincere devotion in worship to Allāh. Those who spend (in the way of Allāh) and those who pray and seek Allāh’s pardon in the last hours of the night.”
[Al-’Imran 3: 15-17]
“They do forsake their beds of sleep, the while they call on their Lord, in fear and hope....”
“They were in the habit of sleeping but little by night, and in the hours of early dawn, they [were found] praying for forgiveness…”
They engaged most of the night in worshipful remembrance of Allāh and prayers for His grace and mercy. The verses make obvious reference to Qiyam Al-Layl.
The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) has said: "Keep up Qiyam Al-Layl. It was the way of the virtuous who came before you; it draws you nearer to your Lord, atones for your sins, forbids you from evil and protects the body from sickness." [At-Tirmidzi]
Aishah, (radiallāhu`anha) reported, “The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) used to keep standing - in long night prayer - so long that the skin of his feet would crack. When asked, why he did this while all his past and future sins were forgiven, he (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: "Should I not be a grateful slave of Allāh?" [Al-Bukhāri and Muslim]
'Abdullah Ibn Salam (radiallāhu`anhu) also reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: "O people, promote the greetings, feed [the poor and needy] and perform prayers, when others are asleep, so that you will enter paradise safely." [At- Tirmidzi]
Abu Hurayrah (radiallāhu`anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) has said: “The best of prayers, after the prescribed prayers, is prayer in the depths of the night, and the best of fasting after the month of Ramadhān is fasting the month of Allāh, Muharram.” [Muslim]
‘Abdallāh Ibn ‘Amr (radiallāhu`anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: “The most beloved of solāh to Allāh is the solāh of Dawud, and the most beloved of fasts to Allāh is the fast of Dawud. He used to sleep for half of the night, then get up and pray for a third of the night, then sleep for a sixth of the night, and he used to fast every other day.” [Al-Bukhāri and Muslim]
According to `Amr ibn `Absah, (radiallāhu`anhu) the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) has said: “The time when the closest the Lord is to His slave is in the later part of the night, so if you can be one of those who remember Allāh at that time, then do so.” [At-Tirmidzi]
Yahya Ibn Mu’adz said: “Remedy of the heart consists of five things: reading the Qur’ān and pondering over its meaning, having an empty stomach, praying at night (Qiyam Al-Layl), beseeching Allāh at the time of sahar and keeping company with righteous people.”
Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) preferred to go to sleep early, after `Isha' prayer for fear of missing Fajar prayer, or Qiyam Al-Layl. Also, `Umar ibn al-Khattab (radiallāhu`anhu) used to urge people to sleep early, so that they would not miss Qiyam Al-Layl.
‘Uqbah ibn `Amir (radiallāhu`anhu) reported the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) has said: “When a man from my Ummah (nation) gets up to pray at night, striving against his own self to get up and purify himself, there are knots on him. When he washes his hands in wudu', one knot is undone. When he washes his face, another knot is undone. When he wipes his head another knot is undone. When he washes his feet, another knot is undone. Then Allāh says to those who are veiled (in the unseen): Look at this slave of Mine, he is striving against his own self and asking for Me. Whatever My slave asks of Me shall be his.” [Ahmad]
Qiyam Al-Layl is an act of worship that attaches the heart to Allāh and enables it to overcome the temptations of life and to strive against one’s own self, at the time when voices are stilled, eyes are closed in sleep, and sleepers are tossing and turning in their beds. Therefore, Qiyam Al-Layl is one of the measures of sincere determination and one of the qualities of those who have great ambitions. Allāh has praised them and distinguished them from others as He says: “Is one who is obedient to Allāh, 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.” [Az-Zumar, 39:9]
The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: “Solāh is the best matter - and let one who can pray to perform it as much as possible.” Night prayers strengthen the bond between man and his Lord. The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam said: “The best prayer after the obligatory ones is the night prayer.” [Muslim]
Abu Hurairah (radiallāhu`anhu) said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: “The best of prayers after the prescribed prayers is prayer in the depths of the night, and the best of fasting after the month of Ramadhān is fasting the month of Allāh, Muharram.” [Muslim]
Qiyam Al-Layl is a Sunnah Mu'akkadah, an established habit of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam), recommended to be followed), which he (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) urged us to do when he said: “You should pray Qiyam Al-Layl, for it is the habit of the righteous people who came before you, and it will bring you closer to your Lord, will expiate for bad deeds, prevent sin and expel disease from the body.” [At-Tirmidzi and Ahmad]
He (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) always had the habit of praying Qiyam Al-Layl, and never missed it, whether he was traveling or staying at home.
Among the pious ladies of the old times too, we read of many who were very keen to pray Qiyam Al-Layl. Anas Ibn Malik (radiallāhu`anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: “Jibreel said to me, ‘Go back to Hafsah, for she fasts a lot and prays a lot at night (Qiyam Al-Layl).’” [Al-Hakim]
Mu’adhah Al-`Adawiyyah, one of the righteous women physicians spent her wedding night; along with her husband Silah ibn Ashyam, praying until dawn. Then, when her husband and son were killed in the Jihad, she would spend the whole night in prayer, worshipping and beseeching Allāh. Then, she would sleep during the day. If she felt sleepy whilst she was praying at night, she would tell herself: “O soul, there is plenty of sleep ahead of you.”
The above verses and anecdotes of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) and his early followers clearly illustrate merits of Qiyam Al-Layl. It tells us about the boundless blessings Allāh would bestow on us, if we spend the later parts the night in prayerful worship of our All-Merciful Lord.
What should we recite at night prayers?
The Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) used to recite long surah during qiyam (standing up position in a prayer) at the night prayers. Those were the surah such as Al-Baqarah, An-Nisā’ or Al-‘Imran. And he used to keep long the rukū’ (bowing position) and (sujud) prostrations as well. He used to think about the deep meaning of the verses.
Following the solah, he often used to supplicate concisely, remembers Allah, and aplenty used to repent and ask for forgiveness.
Here, the criterion should be as follows: We should choose a recital which we can apply it any time and suitable with our time and potential. However, even if we do not it every time, when we are convenient, we can recite long chapters. For example, as one may recite a short chapter or several verses at every raka’ah, also she or he may recite a page or the chapters such as Yā-sīn, Fath, al-Rahmān, Al-Mulk or Amma.
May Allāh bless us to be His sincere devotees, to merit His rewards here and hereafter!
Allāh the Exalted Knows Best.
[Excerpted from “Overnight Striving… Night Prayers” by Shahul Hamīd, in Ask about Islam, Islam Online published on 15 Sep 2009]