The Night of Destiny (Laylat al-Qadr) is known to Muslims as the most spiritually significant…
One of the hardest experiences for Lady Zaynab (p) was watching the brutal killing of her brothers, nephews, and relatives by the army of Yazid on the Day of Ashura. After the battle, children were crying; some were out looking for their fathers, while others were holding on to their mothers in fear. The family was scattered. Lady Zaynab (p) was the one who had to stand tall and take charge of keeping the family together and making them feel protected. Lady Zaynab (p) was emotionally exhausted after the battle of Karbala, but she did not let that get in the way of her relationship with the Almighty, as she was constantly praying. Her actions demonstrated the significance of this prayer and its value in the eyes of God, for He loves those who “recite [His] the words in prostration at night.”1
Merits of the Night Prayer
Salat al-layl is one of the most recommended prayers in Islam. It is a prayer that is to be offered during the late hours of the night, when everyone is asleep. The believer who performs this special prayer will be able to have intimate moments with the Almighty that transcend their relationship with Him. The words of the Ahl al-Bayt (p) illustrate the benefit of this prayer for those who wake up in the middle of the night to remember Him. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) states, “God says; ‘Wealth and children are an ornament of the life of this world’ [18:46], but the eight rakahs (units of prayer) recited by a servant at the end of the night are an ornament of the Hereafter.2
Imam al-Sadiq (p) further shows the benefit of the night prayer. He states, “The night prayer brightens the faces, beautifies the aroma [of one’s self], and attracts sustenance.”3 Not only will this prayer benefit us on the Day of Judgment, but in this world it will give our faces the glow of the righteous. Through it, God will also bless us by increasing our sustenance.
How to Perform the Night Prayer
With such great rewards, one might think that the night prayer would be a lengthy one. However, it is rather simple. According to Mafatih al-jinan, the prayer consists of eleven rakahs. The first rakahs are to be offered in sets of two (just like the morning prayers). The recommendation is to recite (after the first chapter) chapter 112 (Surat al-Ikhlas) in the first rakah and chapter 109 (Surat al-Kafirun) in the second, but one can recite any chapters they want.
The next two cycles are known as the “prayer of Shafa.” For this prayer, the recommendation is to recite chapter 114 (Surat al-Nas) in the first cycle and chapter 113 (Surat al-Falaq) in the second (also after the first chapter). Finally, the last cycle is offered on its own, known as the “prayer of Witr.” After the first chapter, we should recite chapter 112 (Surat al-Ikhlas) three times, then chapters 113 (Surat al-Falaq) and 114 (Surat al-Nas) once. When the recitation of these chapters is complete, one would raise their hands in the state of qunut and recite the following:
1. “Astaghfirullaha rabbi wa atubu ilayh” (I seek forgiveness from my Lord and turn to him in repentance) seventy times.
2. Then, one should ask for the forgiveness of forty people. For example, one can say, “Oh God, forgive so and so” and continue for forty names.
3. Mafatih al-jinan recommends that one should then recite seven times: “Hatha maqam al-aith bika min al-nar.” (This is the position of one who seeks refuge in You from the fire).
4. Then, recite three hundred times: Al-afu ([I seek Your pardon]).
5. Finally, recite “Rab ighfirli warhamni wa tub alay inaka antal tawab al-rahim” (My Lord, forgive me and have mercy on me, and accept my repentance. Surely You are the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful).4
The above is the official method of praying the night prayer. However, there is a simplified method as well. With the intention of praying the night prayer, one can offer the “prayer of Shafa” and “prayer of Witr” only. It is also permissible to pray the “prayer of Witr” alone with the same intention.5
How to Benefit from the Night Prayers
1. Try to pray the night prayer: To be consistent in performing any action, and specifically a recommended act, it requires that we take small steps. The performance of salat al-layl can seem difficult for some, so we can look at it as something we need to build up to. We should make a sincere intention that we want to wake up and perform the prayers. Even if we accidentally miss the time, God still rewards us for trying. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) states, [When] the servant [of God] intends to perform a good deed, and does not do it [because he did not get a chance to], God will record it as a good deed for his good intention.”6 Thus, there is even a benefit for trying to perform this incredible deed due to how beloved it is in God’s eyes.
2. Make the night prayer a familial effort: As much as the night prayer is a personal means to seek closeness to God, it is also vital that we encourage those closest to us to share the pleasure of finding God in the darkness of the night. A strong means of building a spiritually inclined household is to wake up ones’ family members and perform the night prayer. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) states, “If a person awakens his wife, and then both of them perform ablution and say (the night) prayers, they are included amongst those who remember God abundantly.”7 The Prophet and his immaculate household (pbut) offer great incentive to families that together make the effort to get closer to the Almighty.
3. Sincerely forgive others: The main theme of the night prayer is seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness. One major component of the prayer (as mentioned above) is to ask God to forgive others. For us to maximize the benefit of this extraordinary prayer and receive compassion and sympathy from our Lord, we should also forgive those around us with true sincerity. In advice offered to his companion Nawf, Imam Ali (p) said, “Be good, and you will receive good…be merciful, and you will receive mercy.”8
Thus, during our prayers, we should forgive others for their wrongdoings and pray that God overlooks our lapses.
1. Quran 3:113.
2. Shaykh al-Saduq, Thawab al-amal, p. 41.
3. Shaykh al-Saduq, Thawab al-amal, p. 41.
4. Mafatih al-jinan.
5. “Night Prayer – Question & Answer”, The Official Website of the Office of His Eminence Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani, www.sistani.org/english/qa/01274/.
6. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 429.
7. Mizan al-hikma, vol. 2, p.1653.
8. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 74, p. 383.