In addition, we are recommended to offer voluntary prayers, i.e. sunnah. These accompany each one of the five obligatory prayers, either before or after the obligatory part. One strongly recommended prayer is the Witr, which is offered after Isha, the last obligatory prayer of the day. The time range for Isha starts about an hour and a half after sunset and extends well into the night. The next obligatory prayer is Fajr, or Dawn, whose time range extends for about 90 minutes, starting at the break of dawn and ending at sunrise. The Witr prayer is so strongly recommended that the Prophet (peace be upon him) never missed it, and that a few scholars, including Imam Abu Haneefah, classify it as a duty, i.e. in between the Fard, or obligatory prayers, and the sunnah, or voluntary prayer. The overwhelming majority of scholars, including most Hanafi scholars, consider it less than a duty but strongly recommended.
How many rakâahs in Witr prayer? The Witr prayer is part of night worship. At the beginning of Islam, the Prophet and his companions were commanded to stand up in prayer for night worship every day, for close on half the night or even longer. They did so for a year, then the order was relaxed and the night worship continued to be recommended. The Prophet attended to this very diligently, without ordering any of his companions to do like him. This means that we are recommended to follow his example, whenever we can. The least we can do is to offer the Witr prayer.
Aishah, the Prophetâs wife, reports: âGodâs messenger used to offer 11 rakâahs. Such was his (night) prayer, during which he would make a prostration, i.e. sujood, as long as any of you would need to read 50 verses of the Qurâan, before he lifted his head. He would then offer two rakâahs before the Fajr prayer. He would then recline on his right side until the muaddhin called him for the (Fajr) prayer.â (Related by Al-Bukhari).
This report outlines the Prophetâs most common practice with regard to the Witr prayer. There are other reports which tell us that the Prophet prayed the Witr in 7, 9, 11, 13 and even 17 rakâahs. One of these rakâahs is the Witr, because the name, witr, signifies an odd number. Many scholars agree that the minimum number of rakâahs in Witr prayer is one rakâah. In other words, they consider that a person who completes the Isha prayer and follows it with a single rakâah in Witr has done well. All scholars agree that it is much better to add two rakâahs before this single one, but again this is only a recommendation.
We mentioned that the highest number given for such night worship is 17 rakâahs. We may add that going above this figure is also permissible. We will, however, need to look at how the Prophet offered the Witr prayer. We will discuss this next week, God willing. ¬