The word “sunnah” generally means the example or practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). When we talk about sunnah Prayers, we mean those ritual Prayers (salah) that the Prophet prayed in addition to the fard (obligatory) Prayers. They are optional, but it is highly recommended to perform these Prayers. Following the example of the Prophet brings its own reward, and further, if one has any missing fard Prayers on Judgment Day, the missing Prayers will be made up with the sunnah Prayers that were performed.
The sunnah mu’akkadah (confirmed sunnah) are those optional Prayers that the Prophet always performed. There are other optional Prayers that he performed less regularly, such as the one before `Asr. This accounts for the variance in the number of rak`ahs before certain Prayers.
Fajr (Subh) (Dawn Prayer): Two rak`ahs of sunnah before the fard Prayers.
Zhuhr ( Noon Prayer): Either two or four rak`ahs of sunnah before the fard Prayers. Then two more rak`ahs of sunnah after the fard.
`Asr (Afternoon Prayer): Either two or four rak`ahs of sunnah before the fard Prayers. Note that it is forbidden to perform sunnah Prayers after `Asr until sunset.
Maghrib (Sunset Prayer): Two rak`ahs of sunnah after the fard Prayers.
`Isha’ (Night Prayer): Two rak`ahs of sunnah after the fard Prayers.
Witr: One or three rak`ahs, or any odd number up to thirteen rak`ahs. Witr Prayer can be performed immediately after the sunnah Prayer following `Isha’, or it can be performed just before sleeping, or after Tahajjud (optional Late Night Prayer).
If one performs just three rak`ahs of Witr, one may perform it like Maghrib Prayer (perform two rak`ahs, say the Tashahhud, then perform one rak`ah), or one may perform two rak`ahs and close with the Tasleem, then perform one final rak`ah.
If one performs more than three rak`ahs of Witr, one performs them in units of two rak`ahs each and the last three rak`ahs can be offered like Maghrib, or the last rak`ah alone is also possible.
Summary of the Prayers
|Name of Prayer||Rak`ahsof Sunnah before||Rak`ahsof fard Prayer||Fard silent or aloud||Rak`ahs of Sunnah after|
|Zhuhr (Noon )||Two or four||Four||Silent||two|
|`Asr (Afternoon)||Zero or two||Four||Silent||None|
|Maghrib||Two||Three||First two aloud; third silent||Two|
|`Isha’||Zero or two||Four||First two aloud; last two silent||Two, followed by an odd number of Witr|
The Qunoot (Supplication) in Witr
It is a sunnah of the Prophet to make a du`aa’ (supplication) in the last rak`ah of Witr. This supplication is called qunoot. The qunoot may be uttered aloud before
ruku` (bowing), or after the ruku` while standing before prostrating. The following du`aa can be offered as qunoot, or other supplications may be said. The English translation of the du`aa is followed by the Arabic original and its transliteration.
O Allah, guide me along with those whom You have guided, pardon me along with those whom You have pardoned, be an ally to me along with those whom You are an ally to and bless for me that which You have bestowed. Protect me from the evil You have decreed, for verily You decree and none can decree over You. For surety, he whom You show allegiance to is never abased and he whom You take as an enemy is never honored and mighty. O our Lord, Blessed and Exalted are You.*
اللَّهُمَّ اهْدِنِي فِيمَنْ هَدَيْتَ وَعَافِنِي فِيمَنْ عَافَيْتَ وَتَوَلَّنِي فِيمَنْ تَوَلَّيْتَ، وَبَارِكْ لٍي فِيمَا أَعْطَيْتَ، وَقِنِي شَرَّ مَا قَضَيْتَ، فَإِنَّكَ تٌَْقْضِي وَلاَ يُقْضَى عَلَيْكَ، إِنَّهُ لاَ يَذِلُّ مَنْ وَالَيْتَ، وَلاَ يَعِزُّ مَنْ عَادَيْتَ، تَبَارَكْتَ رَبَّنَا وَتَعَالَيْتَ.
Allaahumma ihdinee feeman hadayta wa `aafinee feeman `aafayta wa tawallanee feeman tawallayta, wa baarik lee feemaa a`tayta, waqinee sharra maa qadayta, fa’innaka taqdee wa laa yuqdaa `alayka, innahu laa yadhillu man walayta, wa laa ya`izu man `adayta, tabaarakta rabbanaa wa ta`aalayta.
By Ælfwine Mischler*