Performance of Witr Salaah.


I was recently told that there are several ways to perform the Witr Salaah. I have observed some brothers raising their hands high to the sky in performing the Witr. Can you explain the different ways and as such state which is the one closest to the Sunnah?


With regards to the Witr Salaah, there are differences of opinion held by the great scholars in a few areas pertaining to its ruling, amount, manner of performance etc. etc. These great scholars are from among the Sahabahs, Tabi’een, Tab’ut Tabi’een and others who based on the different sources and their understanding of them have adopted their position in these areas.
One of the main point of difference is with respect to the amount of rakaats in the Witr Salaah.

In this respect, while there are varying positions held by the pious predecessors, the main difference is regarding the (Witr) being one rakaat or three rakaats. Some of the scholars hold the opinion that Witr is one rakaat. They based their ruling on the following traditions which, according to them, clearly states that Witr is one rakaat. These traditions are:

1) The Messenger of Allah is reported to have said, ‘The salaah of the night is in twos, when you fear the morning (i.e. break of dawn) then perform one (rakaat) as Witr’. (Bukhari, Muslim)

2) Imam Muslim has recorded the statement of both Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A.) and Abdullah bin Umar (R.A.) where they have stated, ‘Witr is one rakaat at the end of the night’. (Muslim).

3) Imam Abu Dawood has recorded the statement of Abu Ayub in which he states, ‘Whoever wishes to perform Witr with one rakaat, let him do it’. (Abu Dawood).

4) In the Saheeh of Ibn Hibban, the narration of Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A.) is recorded where it states that he said that the Messenger of Allah performed Witr with one rakaat.

From among the Imams of Fiqh who have held this position of Witr being one rakaat are Imam Malik, Ahmad and Shafi (A.R.). Besides them, it is also the opinion of Ata bin Abi Rabah, Saeed bin Musayyab, Abu Thaur, Ishaq and Dawood bin Ali.

While this has been highlighted as the position adopted by these scholars, it is equally important to note that most of those who hold this position of Witr being one rakaat have stated that it is recommended that it be followed by the performance of two rakaats before it. That is, the Imams like that of Imam Malik, Shafi, Auzaa’ie, Ahmad, Ishaq have all stated that when one intends to perform the witr salaah, he should perform two rakaats and make salaams at the end. After this he must perform one rakaat and also make the taslim (salaams) at the end. Imam Malik states that the two rakaats before the ‘third’ must be performed.

With this explanation, it shows that the above mentioned scholars are of the opinion that Witr is of three rakaats, however it must be done with two sets of salaams one after the second rakaat and the other after the third rakaat.

Besides this, there is also the other famous position held by many scholars which states that the Witr is of three rakaats with one (set of) salaams made at the end in the third rakaat. This is the position adopted by the following great Imams of Fiqh and Hadith like Sufyan Thawri, Abdullah bin Mubarak, Umar bin Abdul Azeez, Imam Abu Hanifa, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad bin Hassan. It is also the practice of many great sahabahs like Umar bin Khatab (R.A.), Ali bin Abi Talib (R.A.), Abdullah bin Masood (R.A.), Ubai bin Kaab (R.A.), Zaid bin Thabit (R.A.), Abu Umamah (R.A.), Anas bin Malik (R.A.), Huzaifa (R.A.), and the seven great Fuqaha (Jurists) of Madina (Al Tawheed, Nukbatul Afkar Vol. 3 Pg. 202)

The above named scholars have used a number of authentic traditions as their proofs. From among them are:

1) Abu Salma bin Abdur Rahman says that he asked Aisha (R.A.), ‘How was the salaah of the Prophet (S.A.S.) in Ramadhan?’ she said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (S.A.S.) did not exceed eleven rakaats in Ramadhan and out of Ramadhan. He performed four rakaats, so ask not about its length and beauty. He then performed another four, do not ask about its length and beauty. Then he performed three rakaats’. (Bukhari).

2) Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbass reports from Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A.) that he spent the night with the Messenger of Allah (S.A.S.). Ibn Abbass States that the Messenger of Allah got up, and did Miswak, (rub his teeth with the twig) he then performed Wuzu and recited the verses of Sura Al Imran, ‘Verily in the creation of the heavens and the earth’ until the end of the Sura. He then stood up and performed two rakaats. In these he lengthened his standing, ruku and sajda. He then left and took a rest until he started to snore. Then he got up and did the same thing again. He did this for three times, where he performed six rakaats. On each occasion he did miswak, performed wuzu and recited the verses of Sura Al Imran. He then performed the Witr with three rakaats. (Recorded by Muslim).

3) Saeed bin Jubair (A.R.) narrates from Abdullah bin Abbass (R.A.) that he said the Messenger of Allah (S.A.S.) used to perform Witr reciting Sura Al Ala, Sura Kafiroon and Sura Ikhlas (recorded by the five Saheeh compilers of Ahadiths besides Abu Dawood). The same has been narrated from Ubai bin Kaab (R.A.) with a Saheeh (sound) Sanad by the above mentioned compilers.

4) Imam Nasai has narrated with a good sanad from Ubai bin Kaab (R.A.) that he said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (S.A.S.) used to recite in the Witr Salaah Sabihisma rabbikal a’la (sura Al Ala), then in the second rakaat he recited Qul Ya ayyuhal kaafiroon (Sura Kaafiroon) and in the third rakaat he recited Qul huwallahu Ahad (sura Ikhlas). He would not make salaams except in the last rakaat and after making salaams he would say ‘Subhaanal Malikil Qudus’ three times. (Nasai).

The same tradition has been narrated from Abdur Rahman bin Abza and has been recorded by Tahawi, Ahmad, Abd bin Humaid and Nasai with a saheeh (sound) sanad.

5) Saad bin Hisham has narrated from Aisha (R.A.) that she said, ‘The Messenger of Allah did not make salaams during the rakaats of witr salaah’ (that is, he made salaams only at the end).

(Recorded by Imam Nasai with a sound sanad, Darut Qutni in his Sunan, Baihaqi in his sunan. Hafiz Aini has quoted the above tradition in his famous work Nukbatul Afkaar and has stated that it is established with two sound sanad which are upon the conditions of Muslim. Nukbatul Aftaar Vol. 3 Pg. 314).

6) Moosa bin Uqba has narrated from Abu Ishaq Amr bin Abdullah from Aamir Ash Sha’bi that he Aamir asked Abdullah bin Umar and Abdullah bin Abbass (R.A.) regarding the prophet’s salaah at night. Both of them replied, ‘He used to perform thirteen (13) rakaats. Eight rakaats, then three Witr and then two rakaats of Fajr salaah’. (Tahaawi, Ibn Majah). Hafiz Aini has stated that the sanad of this is sound and in accordance to the conditions of Imam Bukhari and Muslim. (Nukhbatul Aftaar Vol. 3 Pg. 211).

7) Amrah narrates from Aisha (R.A.) that the Messenger of Allah (S.A.S.) used to perform the Witr salaah as three rakaats. He would recite Sabihisma Rabikal Aa’la in the first rakaat, Qul Ya Ayyuhal Kaafiroon in the second rakaat and in the third rakaat he would recite suras Ikhlas, Falaq and An Nas. (Darut Qutni, Tahaawi with a sound sanad).

8) Miswar bin Makhrama said, ‘We buried Abu Bakr (R.A.) at night and Umar said, ‘I did not perform Witr (as yet)’. Miswar says, ‘Umar then stood up and we formed lines behind him. He performed three rakaats with us and did not make salaams except at the end’. (Tahaawi with a sound sanad).

9) Abdullah bin Masood (R.A.) said, ‘Witr is of three rakaats, just like the Witr of the day salaatul Magrib’. (Tahaawi with a sound sanad).

10) Thabit says, ‘Anas performed witr salaah with us and I was on his right side and his freed female slave was behind us. He performed three rakaats and he did not make salaams except at the end. I think he wanted to teach us (about the witr prayer)’. (Tahaawi with a sound sanad).

11) Abu Khalidah states that he asked Abul Aaliyah about the witr salaah. Abul Aaliyah said, ‘The companions of (the Prophet) Muhammad (S.A.S.) have taught us that witr is just like the Magrib salaah except that we recite Quran in the third rakaat (i.e. of witr). So this is the witr of the night and that is the witr of the day’. (Tahaawi with a sound sanad).

12) Qasim, the grandson of Abu Bakr who was a Tabiee and also one of the seven grand Jurists of Madina says, ‘We have seen people, (the Sahabahs and Tabi’een) since we have met them, performing witr with three rakaats’. (Recorded by Imam Bukhari).

These are some of the traditions which make it clear to us that witr is of three rakaats and that only one (set of ) salaams are made at the end of the third rakaat.

With respect to the traditions which have been quoted from Ibn Abbas and Ibn Umar stating that witr is one rakaat, the scholars have mentioned that these convey the meaning (i.e. to make it an odd number so that it becomes a witr). That one is required to add one rakaat in order to make it ‘witr’.

This understanding is clearly established from the following traditions:

1) Nafi and Abdullah bin Dinar have narrated by Abdullah bin Umar (R.A.) said, that the Prophet (S.A.S.) said, ‘The salaah of the night is in twos. When any of you fears the morning (may dawn upon him) let him perform one rakaat. This will make a witr for him for what he has read. (Recorded by Imam Bukhari in his saheeh).

It is clear that the Prophet (S.A.S.) connected the performance of one rakaat to that which was read before. This is so since all the others which were read before were in even numbers (i.e. in twos) and as long as one continues to perform these rakaats in twos he would not arrive at an ‘odd number’ of rakaats which will be known as witr. Hence, in order to bring a completion to ones salaah of the night with an odd number, the Prophet (S.A.S.) ordered that one should add one rakaat to the two which he has already read and in this manner the performance of the witr salaah would have been achieved. (Note: The word ‘Witr’ literally means ‘odd’ and the salaah of witr is called by this name since it comprises of an odd amount of rakaats).

The above mentioned hadith has been recorded by Ibn Abi Shaiba in his Musannaf with the words ‘The salaah of the night is in twos. When you fear that morning (will arrive) perform one rakaat. This will make your salaah for you as witr. (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaiba).

With this explanation, it can be stated that Abdullah bin Umar (R.A.) who had reported that witr is one rakaat was also of the opinion that witr is of three rakaats, however his manner of performing it was that he would perform two rakaats with salaams and would then stand for the third rakaat. At the end he would again make salaams. This is clearly established from the following tradition which has been recorded by Tahawi with a sound sanad. The tradition states Uqba bin Muslim said, ‘I asked Abdullah bin Umar about the witr salaah and he said to me, ‘Do you know the witr of the day?’ I said yes, the Magrib salaah’. He said, ‘You have spoken the truth’. Having said this, Abdullah bin Umar (R.A.) said, ‘Once while we were in the Mosque, a man stood and ask the Messenger of Allah about the Witr salaah or about the night prayer. (In response) the Messenger of Allah said, ‘The salaah of the night is in twos, when you fear the morning (entering) then perform witr with one’. (Tahawi).

The above tradition shows that although Abdullah bin Umar (R.A.) narrated the statement of the Prophet (S.A.S.) where the Prophet instructed the man to perform one rakaat, he understood it to mean that the one rakaat should be added to the previous two rakaats to become three. It is for this reason he informed Uqba bin Muslim that the witr salaah is just like the witr of the day which is Magrib salaah since this consist of three rakaats.

This is further established in the hadith recorded by Imam Bukhari in which it states that ‘Nafi reports that Abdullah bin Umar (R.A.) used to make salaams between the one rakaat and two rakaats of witr salaah’. (Bukhari).

It is therefore clearly evident that witr is three rakaats and not one. In fact, Ibn Umar (R.A.) whose narration is taken as a proof for saying that it is one rakaat, has himself stated that it is three rakaats as we have explained. The difference between Abdullah bin Umar’s action from the other sahabahs was that he performed three rakaats with two sets of salaams, while the other Sahabahs like Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali, Abdullah bin Masood, Ibn Abbas, Huzaifa, Anas, Ubai bin Kaab (R.A.), all performed three rakaats with one salaams at the end. This is evident as the practice of the Prophet (S.A.S.) as seen from the traditions which have been quoted before.

With respect to the act of raising one’s hand high to the sky, this is an act which some scholars have allowed, while reciting the Qunoot in the third rakaat of witr. This practice has been adopted by Imam Ahmad which he says, should be done since it is a ‘dua’ (supplication) and the Prophet (S.A.S.) has stated, ‘When you supplicate to Allah, then supplicate with the inside of your palms and do not supplicate with the outside of the palms. When you are completed then wipe your face with the both palms’. This is the bassis for this opinion which has been adopted as Imam Ahmads’ practice and that of his followers.

It is evident from this that Imam Ahmad did not establish a direct practice of the Prophet (S.A.S.) for his opinion, instead, he acted upon that the fact that ‘Qunoot’ is a supplication (dua) and that supplications should be done in the way prescribed in the hadith (by raising the hands and then passing them upon the face). Hence, he has stated that one should raise his hands for the Qunoot in witr salaah.

As for the other Imams, Imam Shafi has stated that the Qunoot of witr salaah is only done in the second half of the month of Ramadhan. As such, throughout the other months i.e. 11.5 months the Qunoot is not read in the witr salaah. However, it is read in the second rakaat of the Fajr salaah through the year andin this the hands should be raised for the Qunoot since it is from the etiquettes of supplicating to Allah. (Al Fiqhul Islam Wa Adilatihi Vol. 2 Pg. 1005)

Imam Malik also states that Qunoot is recited only in the Fajr salaah and there is none in the witr salaah. According to him, it is allowed to raise ones hands for this qunoot which in reality is a dua (supplication).

The above references show that according to Imam Shafi (A.R.) and Imam Malik (A.R.), the act of raising the hands in Qunoot is done only in the qunoot of the Fajr salaah. Thus it is only Imam Ahmad who has allowed the stretching of the hands for dua in the qunoot of the witr salaah.

The basis which Imam Ahmad has used for the raising of the hands in Dua Qunoot is that it is a dua and hence it is from the etiquettes of dua that one should raise his hands like other duas. (Fiqhul Islam Wa Adilatihi Vol. 2 Pg. 1008)

Imam Shafi has used a tradition for the raising of the hands for Qunoot in the Fajr salaah which states, ‘The Messenger of Allah when he lifted his head from ruku in the Fajr prayer in the second rakaat, he raised his hands and made dua’. (Al Fiqhul Islam Wa Adilatihi from Hakim Vol.2 Pg. 1005)

The position that Imam Abu Hanifa Has adopted in this matter is that one should not raise his hands while reciting the dua of qunoot in the witr salaah. Instead, having lifted it (like the lifting to begin salaah) in the third rakaat to begin the Qunoot. He should fold his hands beneath his naval and then recite the qunoot.

At this time, one should not lift/ stretch his hands (as if he is in dua) while reciting the Qunoot. Imam Abu Hanifa and his students as well as many of the other great scholars from the Salafus Saliheen (pious predecessors) hold this view since it is in accordance to the action of the Prophet (S.A.S.). The traditions which describe the witr salaah of the Prophet (S.A.S.) does not indicate that he raised his hands outstretched to the sky, while he was reciting the Qunoot. Instead these traditions tell us that the Prophet (S.A.S.) read the qunoot in the third rakaat before going into the ruku position and did not strech his hands for the dua of qunoot.

The traditions mention that when the Prophet (S.A.S.) intended to read the qunoot he said the takbeer (i.e. Allahu Akbar) and lifted his hands (as he would lift them for the beginning of salaah) and would then recite the dua of qunoot before going into the ruku postion. This has been narrated from Abdullah bin Masood (R.A.) and recorded by Hafiz ibn Abdil Barr in his ‘Al Isti’aab’.

The tradition of Ubai bin Kaab (R.A.) also describes the three rakaats of witr salaah of the Prophet (S.A.S.). In it, mention is made that the Prophet (S.A.S.) did the qunoot before ruku, however Ubai does not narrate that the Prophet (S.A.S.) stetched his hands to the sky while reciting the qunoot. This tradition is recorded by Nasai and Ibn Majah with a sound sanad.

In this manner all the other traditions which describe the qunoot of the Prophet (S.A.S.) in the third rakaat of the witr salaah does not narrate that he stretched his hands towards the sky while reciting the qunoot.

As mentioned before, Imam Ahmad allowed this act on the basis that it is a dua, and he did not connect it to an action of the Prophet (S.A.S.).

With this explanation, it is clear that the act of stretching one’s hands to the sky for the qunoot of the witr is not evident from the Prophet (S.A.S.), hence, avoiding it is better and closer to the Sunnah.

And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan