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Tahajjud, Witr, Taraweeh and Qiyaam al Layl

The terms Tahajjud, Witr, Taraweeh and Qiyaam al Layl are used for the supererogatory night prayers, which are a Sunnah. To someone new to Islam, and even many Muslims can get confused between these terms. We will, inshah Allah, deal with the matter, in this article.

Qiyaam al Layl

The Tahajjud, Witr and Taraweeh all come under the heading of Qiyaam al Layl (i.e. night prayers) or Taraweeh, but the term Taraweeh refers specifically to Qiyaam al Layl in Ramadan.

It was narrated from ‘Amr ibn Murrah al-Juhani (رضی اللہ عنہ) that a man came to the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) from Qadaa’ah and said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, what do you think if I bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that you are His Messenger, and I pray the five daily prayers, and fast the month (of Ramadan), and pray qiyaam in Ramadan, and pay zakaah?” The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever dies doing that will be one of the siddeeqs (truthful) and martyrs.” [Ibn Khuzaymah; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Khuzaymah, 2212].

It says in Maraaqi al-Falaah: What is meant by qiyaam is spending a part or most of the night in worship, even if it is spending one hour in prayer, reading Quran, glorifying Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎), through tasbeeh, listening to hadeeth, or sending blessings upon the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). [Al-Mawsoo‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, 34/117]. So, Qiyaam al Layl includes many forms of worship, not just prayer and can be prayed any time after Ishah (night) prayer and before the start of Fajr (pre-dawn) prayer.

Tahajjud Prayer

2 opinions on what Tahajjud prayer is:

  • 1) The Tahajjud is a prayer that may be prayed at any time of the night, this is the view of the majority of fuqaha (scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence).
  • 2) The Tahajjud is a prayer that is prayed at night after sleeping and then waking. See: al-Mawsoo‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 2/232.

Ismaa‘eel ibn Ishaaq al-Qaadi has narrated the hadeeth of al-Hajjaaj ibn ‘Amr (رضی اللہ عنہ), the Companion of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), which supports the second opinion, that he said: "Does one of you think that if he gets up and spends the entire night in prayer that he had prayed tahajjud? Rather tahajjud is praying after sleeping, then praying after sleeping, then praying after sleeping. This is how the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) prayed."

Al-Qurtubi (رحمه الله) said in his commentary on the verse "And in some parts of the night (also) offer the Salat (prayer) with it (i.e. recite the Quran in the prayer), as an additional prayer (Tahajjud optional prayer Nawafil) for you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم). It may be that your Lord will raise you to Maqaman Mahmuda (a station of praise and glory, i.e. the highest degree in Paradise!)."  [Quran: Surah al-Isra’ 17: Ayah 79], said that Tahajjud comes from the word hujood, which is doing one thing and the opposite of it, the word hajada may mean he slept or it may mean he stayed up at night, which are two opposites. So, Tahajjud means waking up after sleeping, and it became a name for the prayer, because the individual wakes up for it. Hence, tahajjud means getting up to pray at night. This meaning was given by al-Aswad, ‘Ilqimah, ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn al-Aswad and others.

Witr Prayer

The Witr is Qiyaam al Layl that start after the Ishah prayer and lasts until dawn begins, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Allah has prescribed for you a prayer (by which He may increase your reward), which is Witr; Allah has enjoined it for you during the time between ‘Isha’ prayer until dawn begins.” [al-Tirmidhi, 425; Graded saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi].

Although Witr can be offered any time of the night, it is best prayed later. It is narrated from Jaabir (رضی اللہ عنہ) that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever fears that he will not get up at the end of the night, let him pray Witr at the beginning of the night, but whoever thinks that he will be able to get up at the end of the night, let him pray Witr at the end of the night, for prayer at the end of the night is witnessed (by the angels) and that is better.” [Muslim, 755].

The minimum number of rakats for Witr is one because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Witr is one rakah at the end of the night.” [Muslim, 752]. And he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The night prayers are two (rak’ahs) by two, but if one of you fears that dawn is about to break, let him pray one rak’ah to make what he has prayed odd-numbered.”  [Bukhari, 911; Muslim, 749]. If a person limits himself to praying one rakah, then he has performed the Sunnah. But Witr may also be three or five or seven or nine rakats, always being an odd number of rakats.

Taraweeh Prayer

The Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم) especially recommended praying Qiyaam al Layl in Ramadan. He said: “Whoever prays qiyaam in Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” [Bukhari (37) and Muslim (759)]. An-Nawawi (رحمه الله) included it in a chapter entitled: "Chapter: Encouragement to pray qiyaam in Ramadan, which is Taraweeh".

Although the Taraweeh can be prayed individually, it is generally prayed in congregation after the Ishah prayer. This usually means it is prayed at the Ishah time, the earlier part of the night. There is also a small rest within the prayer. For these reasons the Qiyaam al Layl during Ramadan is known as Taraweeh. (Please see our section of Taraweeh).

What the Scholars say of Taraweeh, Qiyaam al Layl and Tahajjud

Shaykh Ibn Baaz (رحمه الله) was asked: "What is the difference between Taraweeh, Qiyaam and Tahajjud? Please advise us, may you be rewarded."

He replied: "Prayer at night is called tahajjud or qiyaam al-layl, as Allah (سبحانه و تعالى‎) says: “And in some parts of the night (also) offer the Salaah (prayer) with it (i.e. recite the Quran in the prayer) as an additional prayer (Tahajjud optional prayer Nawâfil) for you” [Quran: Surah al-Isra’ 17: Ayah 79]

“O you wrapped in garments (i.e. Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم)! Stand (to pray) all night, except a little.” [Quran: Surah al-Muzzammil 73:Ayah 1-2].

“They used to sleep but little by night [invoking their Lord (Allah) and praying, with fear and hope].” [Quran: Surah al-Dhaariyaat 51: Ayah 17].

With regard to Taraweeh, the scholars use this word to refer to qiyaam al-layl in Ramadan at the beginning of the night, which should be made light and not lengthy. It may also be called tahajjud or qiyaam al-layl.

And Allah is the source of strength." [End quote from Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz, 11/317].


When the term Qiyaam al Layl, Tahajjud or Taraweeh are used individually, they mean the same thing and may be used interchangeably, with the term Taraweeh being used during Ramadan and Qiyaam al Layl or Tahajjud being used outside of Ramadan for the same supererogatory night prayer. However,  the term Qiyaam al Layl is more general than Tahajjud, Taraweeh or Witr, because it may include the night prayer and may also include other actions of worship, such as reading Quran or doing Tasbeeh, etc., or just the prayer itself.

However, if the second opinion on the definiton of Tahajjud prayer, above, is used, i.e. it is prayed after waking from sleeping, then its definition becomes more particular and specific meaning that, when the prayer is prayed at a time other than after waking from sleep at night, we cannot call the Tahajjud prayer by the name Taraweeh or Qiyaam al Layl. However, the reverse is not true, and the Tahajjud prayer may still be called Qiyaam al Layl, or Traweeh (during Ramadan).

What happens during Ramadan is that a person may pray the Taraweeh, but decide they want to also pray later on after having a short sleep. They may pray additional supererogatory prayers in the last third of the night, for more blessing; they may distinguish these additional prayers linguistically from the Taraweeh by calling them Qiyaam al Layl or Tahajjud (since they have had a nap) and because it is in the last third of the night. Generally, so long as they do not pray the witr (last odd rakat) more than once, it is regarded as being permissible.

Although the Witr is a part of Qiyaam al Layl, it is not the same as any of the other prayers. That is because it consists of praying an odd number of rakats, the minimum of which is one but it can also be three, five, seven or nine rakats.