Tahajjud or night prayer is the supererogatory prayer that is observed desirably in the night after a nap. Allah the Most High indeed commanded His Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) to observe witr regularly and He encouraged him to establish it. He said: “And wake up during the night and pray, as an additional prayer for you (O Prophet) (nafilatan lak), so your Lord may raise you to a praised status (of Grand Intercession])” (Q17:79). The obligation of this prayer is specific to the prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) but it is a recommended and desirable act for his ummah. The word “nafilah” in the verse means additional reward and degree of honor to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him). Hence, he used to give this prayer maximum attention to the extent that he does not ignore it whether he is on the journey or at home.
The night prayer is usually accompanied by the Qunut supplication wherein this supplication is common in witr of the last rak’ah (i.e., unit of prayer) of the night prayer. Ibn Allan said: The Qunut according to the people of Sharia is a name given to a supplication that is said in salat at a specific place during standing. In other words, it is a name given to a supplication that is said while in a standing position.
The basis for Qunut supplication in witr (prayer) is the famous Hadith of Hasan bin Ali; the grandson of the prophet, the text of which goes thus:
“He said: the prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) taught me some words to be said in the Qunut of witr prayer: “O Allah guide me among those whom you have guided, and grant me safety among those whom you have granted safety, take me into your charge among those whom you have taken to your charge, bless for me what you have given me, and protect me from the evil you have ordained. Surely, you decree, and none can decree anything against you. None whom you have taken as ally shall be humiliated, may you be blessed and exalted our Lord”. (Musnad Ahmad, Vol 3, p 245, cited in Arrisalah).
Regarding the strength of this hadith, Imam Tirmidhi said: this is a Sound Hadith (Hasan), and regarding the Qunut supplication in witr prayer, we do not know from the Prophet, any other narration better than this. (Sunnan Tirmidhi, edited by Shakir, (Vol 2, p. 329)
There is another hadith from the authority of Ali bn Abi Talib that the messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings be upon him) used to say at the end of his witr prayer: “O Allah I seek protection in your pleasure from your anger, and I seek protection in your forgiveness from your punishment. And I seek protection in You from You. I cannot count your praises. You are as you have praised yourself”. “Musnad Ahmad” cited in Ar Risalah, (Vol 2, p427). But there is the possibility that this particular supplication could be the prophet’s supplication outside the prayer (salat); after its conclusion.
As described in the hadith, it has been affirmed that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him), used to supplicate in witr prayer and that he used to specify certain supplications and teach the companions to say them in their witr and it is well understood that the best and perfect guidance is that of the prophet, especially in the acts of worship, is it true then that he used to say Qunut and if yes, what is his guidance in that?
According to Zad al-Ma’ad, it was not established that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) did Qunut in witr prayer except that which is found in a hadith narrated by Ibn Majah on the authority of Ubayy bn Ka’ab that the prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) used to say Qunut before ruku’ posture.
Ahmad said in the narration of his son, Abdullah: I choose Qunut supplication after ruku’ posture. Furthermore, every authentic report from the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) on the Qunut is only on Fajr prayer when he raises his head from the ruku’ posture. Regarding the Qunut of witr prayer, I prefer it to be after ruku’ posture. There was no authentic report from the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) on the Qunut of witr either before or after.
Ibn Qayyim said: “the Qunut in witr prayer was ascribed to Umar, Ubayy and Ibn Mas’ud, and the report from them regarding the qunut in witr was stronger than (the report on) the Qunut of Fajr prayer. Likewise, the report from the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) on the Qunut of Fajr prayer was stronger than the report on the Qunut of Fajr prayer. And Allah knows best.”. (Zad al-Ma’ad fi Hadyi Kharil ‘Ibad; Ata atil ‘Ilm, vol 1, p 397).
It was established that Umar bn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say in the Qunut of Subh prayer: “O Allah! We seek your help and your guidance and your forgiveness. We believe in you, and we alienate and forsake those who disobey you. O, Allah! You alone we worship and for You alone, we pray and prostrate, and to You, we run to. We hope for your mercy and we fear your torment. Certainly, your torment shall overtake the unbelievers”
It was reported in Musannaf of Ibn Abu Shaybah that the companions of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) used to say Qunut in witr prayer” (It’s chain of narration (Isnad) is sound. Cited in: Addirayah li Ibn Hajar)
The supplication of Umar bn Al-Khattab was famous among the companions (may Allah be pleased with them). It was reported that they supplicated with it and this has given a strong impression or certainty that that supplication was taken from the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) if not for the weakness of the Hadith linked to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings be upon him) in that regard. However, AbdulRazaq, in his Musannaf, has followed the narration and ascribed the supplication to ‘Ali, Ibn Mas’ud, Ubayy bn Ka’ab, Al-Barra bn ‘Azib, Anas bn Malik, and a group of others. Due to the fame of this prayer, it could be concluded that it is a matter of consensus among the companions.
It is permissible for an Imam or an individual to strive in coming up with Qunut supplication as there is no evidence restricting it to a particular prayer. However, a person who strives to come with it should avoid exaggeration and supplicate with what is meaningful and understandable. It is recommended to say the prayer of Umar bn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) and could be combined with the prayer of Hasan bn Ali (may Allah be pleased with him).
It was reported from Al-Badai’u in the Hanafi School of thought that: “there is no fixed prayer in the Qunut because many supplications were reported from the companions regarding the Qunut. This is because fixed prayer is said by the one who supplicates without the need to concentrate and without having a sincere interest in it towards Allah, the Most High, thereby, making the supplication be distanced from being accepted. In addition, there is no fixed time in the saying of any praise, and this is more required in the Qunut.
Then, he (the author of Al-Badai’u) said: in the Qunut, there is no fixed prayer other than his statement: “O Allah! We seek your help and guidance…”. This is because the companions agreed on this in Qunut, thus, the best is to read it but if one reads other ones, it is permissible, and if one reads it with other supplications, it is good, but the best is to read, after it, the one the prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him) taught Hasan bn Ali (may Allah be pleased with both of them).
This is also the view of the leading Scholars of Maliki School. They also opined that it is permissible to read any supplication one likes in the Qunut. However, they restricted the permissibility of Qunut in witr prayer to the last half of the month of Ramadan. “Attafrigh fi Fiqhul Imam Malik bn Anas” Vol 1, p330.
The opinion of the Shafi’iyyah tallies with that of Malikiyyah regarding fixing time of Qunut in the last half of the month of Ramadan, as this is the prevalent view in the School. On the contrary, Qunut supplication is permissible for the whole month of Ramadan.
Ibn Allan reported the agreement of scholars which states that the Qunut should not be identified with specific wordings. He said that the additions of scholars, i.e in the Qunut and some Adhkar (supplications) tolerable and better. However, the Tashhhud is different from other supplications because the scholars understood that it rests on its wordings; thus they did not add to it as they opined that any addition in it would make it contrary to what is best or preferred, but this is not the case in Qunut supplication. Their understanding of the great effect of acceptance of supplication, makes them tolerate flexibility in its wordings. (Alfutuhatur Rabbaniyyah ‘Alal Adhkar an-Nabawiyyah (vol. 5, p 109).