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What is the Witr prayer?

The Witr prayer is the last prayer of the night. The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said:

"The Witr prayer is offered in units of 2 raka'at. If you fear that dawn is near, conclude with a single rak'ah so the night prayer will be of an odd number."
Al-Bukhari, vol. 2, book 16, #105

It can be offered at any time after the Isha' prayer and before the Fajr prayer.

Why is it important?

The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, strongly emphasised the importance of this prayer, and he, himself, did not leave this prayer even if he was on a journey or on his mount. Due to the very firm nature of the Prophet's emphasis some scholars have classed this prayer as wajib (compulsory) but, in reality, it is a strongly encouraged action of the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam.

How is it prayed?

The Witr prayer is commonly 3, 5, 7 or 9 raka'at but can also be just the single rak'ah. It is authentically related that the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, prayed it in a number of different ways, so the worshipper can choose to pray it in any of the following ways:

  1. By praying two raka'at at a time (i.e. completely with the salam at the end of each pair) to the desired number and then a single complete rak'ah;
  2. By praying all the raka'at together but without sitting in any rak'ah (i.e. without the julus in which the tashahhud is recited) except for in the final ra'kah; or
  3. By praying all the raka'at together and sitting only in the unit before the final rak'ah and then in the final rak'ah again. So, for example, a worshipper praying 5 raka'at would only sit and recite tashahhud in the 4th rak'ah and then complete the prayer with a single complete unit (including another recitation of the tashahhud).

When praying 3 raka'at it is preferable to use method 1 or 2 above as the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said:

"Do not pray Witr with three raka'at that resemble Maghrib."
Al-Hakim (1/304), Al-Bayhaqi (3/31) and Ad-Daraqutni (p. 172)

Help, my mosque prays it like Maghrib!

The position of the majority of schools is to pray the Witr prayer as one the methods described above. However, the Hanafi school holds the opinion that it can be prayed in the same manner as Maghrib, i.e. 3 raka'at with a sitting in the 2nd and 3rd raka'at.  There will still normally be a du'a in qunut in the final ra'kah (as described below).  This position holds that the differing of Witr from Maghrib referred to by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, in the hadith above is by the praying of the nafl raka'at before Witr's performance. [Mohammed Tosir Miah, Darul Ifta Birmingham]

This position is from the legitimate differing of the mujtahid scholars and "so there is no justification for refusing to pray behind them or causing division amongst them" [Shaykh Salih al-Munajjid, Islam-QA #66613].

The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, would recite the following chapters when praying Witr in 3 raka'at: after reciting Al-Fatihah, he would recite Al-A'la (87) in the first rak'ah, Al-Kafirun (109) in the second and Al-Ikhlas (112) in the third. [An-Nasa'i & Al-Hakim] Sometimes, he would additionally recite Al-Falaq (113) and An-Nas (114) in the final rak'ah also. [Tirmidhi, Abu'l-'Abbas al-Asam in Al-Hadith (vol. 2 no. 117) & Al-Hakim]

Whilst this is what the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, performed on occasion it is acceptable to recite any part of the Qur'an in the Witr prayer.

What about reciting du'a in the qunut (standing)?

It is a sunnah action of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, to recite the du'a of qunut in the final (odd) rak'ah of the Witr prayer either before going into ruku' (having recited Al-Fatihah and some other verses) or after ruku' during i'tidal. A worshipper may raise his hands in supplication to his Lord whilst making this du'a.

It is reported that the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, prayed the following du'a at this time:

The Du'a for the Witr Prayer

"O Allah! guide me among those whom You have guided; and pardon me among those who You have pardoned; and turn on me in friendship among those on whom You have turned in friendship; and bless me in what You have bestowed; and save me from the evil of what You have decreed; [for] indeed You decree, and none can influence You; [and] he is not humiliated whom You have befriended; [nor is he honoured who is Your enemy.] Blessed are You, O Lord, and Exalted. [There is no place of safety from You except towards You.]"

Whilst it is preferred to use this supplication, you are free to make or add any supplication in the qunut including reciting verses of the Qur'an that are supplications. [Al-Adhkar an-Nawawiyyah, p. 50]

And Allah knows best.

Sources

A Guide to Prayer in Islam by M. A. K. Saqib
The Path to Prayer by Umm Muhammad
The Prophet's Prayer Described by Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albani
Islam-QA.com

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