Guide to Witr Prayer: What, How and When to Perform It

We explore the significance of Witr Prayer and guide you how to pray Witr.
by Muslim.Sg 2024-03-13 • 16 min read
Muslim.Sg is a one-stop online media platform that aims to inspire and empower millennial Muslims with powerful and engaging Islamic religious content.
2024-03-13 • 16 min read

Many of us may observe various acts of worship during Ramadan. It could be a starting point for some of us, and hopefully, we may develop consistency beyond the blessed month.

Amongst these good deeds that are usually observed in Ramadan is Solat (Prayer) Witr. Unlike the Terawih prayer, Witr prayer can be performed in any other month as well.

Let us look at how significant Witr prayer is to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Imam Ibn Qayyim mentioned in Zad Al-Ma’ad: “It is part of his prophetic guidance during travel to shorten the obligatory (fardhu) prayers. It was not recorded that he performed any sunnah prayer (rawatib) before and after (the fardhu prayers), except for the Witr prayer and the Sunnah prayer (before) of Fajr (Subuh), for he never missed both these prayers whether in residence or in travel.

Read: The Ultimate Travel Guide For Muslims

Simply put, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. has never missed the Witr prayer. Even when he experienced the complications of travel, he diligently observed it. This was a different case when it pertained to other sunnah prayers.

Congregational Prayer including Witr Prayer

What: Ruling and Significance of Witr Prayer

According to the Syafi’i mazhab, Witr prayer is not obligatory. It is a highly encouraged Sunnah (sunnah mu’akkadah)1 act of worship. There are many hadith which praise the merits of the Witr prayer.

Read: The 4 Mazhabs in Islam

Its significance came to a point that the companion Abu Darda’ r.a. was instructed by Prophet s.a.w. to never miss it:

عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ قَالَ أَوْصَانِي حَبِيبِي صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِثَلَاثٍ لَنْ أَدَعَهُنَّ مَا عِشْتُ بِصِيَامِ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ مِنْ كُلِّ شَهْرٍ وَصَلَاةِ الضُّحَى وَبِأَنْ لَا أَنَامَ حَتَّى أُوتِرَ

Abu Darda reported: “My beloved, the Prophet s.a.w. instructed me with three deeds I will never leave for as long as I live: fasting three days a month, performing forenoon prayer, and not sleeping until performing Witr prayer.”

(Sahih Muslim)

Attaining consistency to perform it can be challenging. Perhaps you may try to pace your efforts well and remember not to experience burnout because it could be detrimental to your overall commitment to acts of worship. If you are not able to perform it, let alone be consistent with it, that does not make you a bad Muslim. As long as we are granted another day to live, the opportunity to do good remains open, insyaAllah.

Another merit of Solat Witr is that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. clearly identifies it as a prayer that Allah s.w.t. loves. Ali Ibn Abi Talib r.a. reported that the Prophet s.a.w. said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ وِتْرٌ يُحِبُّ الْوِتْرَ فَأَوْتِرُوا يَا أَهْلَ الْقُرْآنِ

“Verily, Allah is numerically odd (witr), and He loves what is odd (witr). Perform the Witr prayer, O people of the Quran”

(Sunan At-Tirmizi)

From this hadith, we can also deduce that praying Witr is a practice and trait of the people of the Quran; those who diligently read, memorise and embody the values of the Quran.

The companion, Sayyiduna Ali Ibn Abi Talib r.a, narrated this hadith and left a comment, saying: “The Witr prayer is not required like your prescribed prayers, but it is the Sunnah of Rasulullah s.a.w.”

How Many Raka’at Are There in Solat Witr?

Solat Witr is a prayer with an odd or uneven number of raka’at (unit of prayer). The minimum raka’at is one2, and the maximum number of raka’at is eleven. 

Even if the minimum raka’at for Solat Witr is one, it is not encouraged to normalise it. Thus, Imam An-Nawawi points out in his book, Al-Majmu’, that the ‘complete’ minimum raka’at for the sunnah Witr prayer is three. 

If a person intends to do more than three, then he or she may do so in any odd numbers, i.e. five, seven, nine and eleven.

How to Perform the Witr Prayer

There are two ways to perform the Witr prayer.

  1. The best way to perform it is known as the ‘disconnected’ (fasl) method: It is safe to say that this method is the most commonly used way in our region. For example, if a person intends to pray three raka’at of Witr prayer, he or she observes it by performing two raka’at with a salam and then concluding the set with one raka’at and another salam.

    Another example is if the person intends to pray eleven raka’at by this method. He or she observes it by performing five sets of two raka’at with the salam for each set, and then concluding it with one raka’at with another salam, which accumulates to a total of eleven raka’at. The total raka’at is disconnected and broken down into sets of two raka’at and concluded with one raka’at.
     
  2. The other method, which is not commonly practised here, is the ‘connected’ (wasl) method: This method is observed by connecting all the raka’at together, proceeding until the last raka’at without any salam in between.

    For example, if a person intends to pray three raka’at of Witr prayer, he or she may perform three raka’at prayer with only one salam at the third (last) raka’at.

When to Pray Solat Witr

The duration to perform the sunnah Witr prayer is after Solat Isyak until the arrival of Subuh. Even if the time for Isyak has arrived, you would have to perform Solat Isyak first before performing the Witr prayer. This window of opportunity continues until the time for Subuh prayer arrives.

Nevertheless, Witr prayer is best observed to conclude the night. Abdullah Ibn Umar r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said:

اجْعَلُوا آخِرَ صَلَاتِكُمْ بِاللَّيْلِ وِتْرًا

“Make the last of your prayers at night the Witr prayer.”

(Muttafaqun ‘Alayh)

Should you intend to observe the night prayers, such as Solat Tahajjud3, it is preferred to perform your Witr prayer after your night prayers.

Read: How To Pray Tahajjud and Perform Qiyamullail

However, if you are unsure whether you are able to wake up at night for your night prayers (e.g. Solat Tahajjud), you may consider performing the Witr prayer before you sleep. This is consistent with the hadith. Jabir Ibn Abdullah r.a. narrated that the Prophet s.a.w. said:

 مَن خَافَ أَنْ لا يَقُومَ مِن آخِرِ اللَّيْلِ فَلْيُوتِرْ أَوَّلَهُ، وَمَن طَمِعَ أَنْ يَقُومَ آخِرَهُ فَلْيُوتِرْ آخِرَ اللَّيْلِ، فإنَّ صَلَاةَ آخِرِ اللَّيْلِ مَشْهُودَةٌ، وَذلكَ أَفْضَلُ

“He who apprehends that he may not get up in the later part of the night, should observe the Witr prayer in the first part of the night; and he who is certain to get up in the last part of it, he should observe Witr at the end of the night, because Salat at the end of the night is attended (by the angels), and that is better.”

(Sahihً Muslim)

In this regard, when you pray the Witr prayer in the first part of the night before going to bed and manage to wake up in the last part of the night before Subuh for the night prayers, you do not have to repeat the Witr prayer. As informed by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w:

لا وِترانِ في ليلةٍ

“There should not be two Witrs in one night”

(Sunan Abi Daud)

The previous hadith, which calls us to ‘make the Witr prayer as the last prayer of the night’ is recommended, but not compulsory to perform it as such.

In summary, assess your own body clock and circumstances. See which is more convenient for you and consider it for the long run. 

Surah and Dua for prayers such as Witr

Surah and Dua Recommendations for Your Witr Prayer

1. Surah to Recite

It is recommended, after Surah Al-Fatihah, to recite Surah Al-A’la (Chapter 87) in the first raka’at and Surah Al-Kafirun (Chapter 109) for the second raka’at. And finally, all three Surahs; Surah Al-Ikhlas, Surah Al-Falaq and Surah An-Nas (Chapters 112, 113 & 114) for the third (last) raka’at.

You will find most of our local mosques to recite these surahs according to the mentioned order during Ramadan. According to Sheikh Zainuddin Al-Malibari in his book, Fathul-Mu’in, this is especially for those intending to pray three raka’at of Witr prayer. If you’re intending to pray more than three, you may recite the surahs in the same order for the last three raka’at.

For example, if you’re praying seven raka’at of Witr prayer, you may recite the mentioned surahs in the fifth, sixth and seventh raka’at accordingly.

Steps to perform Witr prayer

2. Read Dua Qunut During the Second Half of Ramadan

According to the Syafi’i mazhab, you may recite Dua Qunut in Solat Witr from the second half of Ramadan. It is recited in the last raka’at. Dua Qunut is the same dua recited for our Subuh prayer.

Read: Dua Qunut for Subuh Prayers and Dua Qunut Nazilah with Arabic/English Transliteration

3. Read Dua After Solat Witr

After completing your Witr prayer, take some time to seek Allah’s forgiveness and express your feelings and dua. Prophet s.a.w. was narrated to have prayed the following three times:

سُبْحَانَ الْمَلِكِ الْقُدُّوسِ

“Glory be to the Sovereign, the Most Holy”

(Sunan An-Nasa'i)

After which, you may recite any dua that comes to mind. Here are some other recommendations by our scholars:

سبُّوحٌ قُدُّوسٌ، رَبُّ المَلَائِكَةِ وَالرُّوْح

“You are the Most Glorious. The Most Holy. The Lord of the angels and of the spirit (Jibril a.s.)”

اللهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِرِضَاك مِنْ سَخَطِك، وَبِمُعَافَاتِك مِنْ عُقُوبَتِك، وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْك، لَا أُحْصِي ثَنَاءً عَلَيْك، أَنْتَ كَمَا أَثْنَيْتَ عَلَى نَفْسِك

“O Allah, I seek protection in Your pleasure from Your anger, and I seek protection in Your forgiveness from Your punishment. I seek protection in You from You. I cannot count Your praises. You are as You have praised Yourself”

During Ramadan, our local mosques would enliven the time after Witr prayer with a set of dua that usually takes into an identical form, although there may be some slight differences depending on where you pray.

We have documented the dua at 5 Beautiful Dua for You This Ramadan, and you may consider reading them at home during the blessed month of Ramadan.

Conclusion

Ramadan is an excellent pivot to boost our motivation and start doing various acts of worship. This is especially so when we start doing it in congregation with others, shoulder to shoulder, strengthening one another as one community.

It may seem difficult at first, but when there is momentum, it becomes easier, and we will see its benefits in our own way.

Al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab, in his book, Lata-iful-ma’arif, once said regarding the night prayers: “There is nothing more pleasant for those who are in love than the moment of seclusion to invoke upon their Beloved (Allah s.w.t.), for it is the cure of their hearts and the point of their aspiration. Whoever does not experience their desire and the sweetness of their invocation will not know what brings them to tears.”

May Allah s.w.t. guide us in our faith, forgive our shortcomings, and accept our life of worship no matter how small and trivial it may seem to be. Amin

And Allah knows best. 



Notes

1 All sunnah acts are encouraged for us to observe. But there are some sunnah acts that are even more prioritised or placed with more emphasis than others. The Witr prayer, for example, is a sunnah act that is highly encouraged for us to perform. Yet, they are not obligatory. What’s also important is for us to observe these ritual acts of worship with care according to our individual capacity.

2 This is as mentioned by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. “Whoever likes to pray Witr with one raka’at, let him do so.” (Sunan Abi Daud). Our scholars, however, have observed narrations of hadith relating to Witr and concluded that it is frowned upon to normalise performing the Witr prayer with only one raka’at continuously.

3 Solat Tahajjud is a virtuous sunnah prayer that requires the individual to pray Isyak and sleep first, even if the sleep is just a short nap. 

 

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