What is Qiyaam al Layl
Qiyaam al Layl is a supererogatory prayer, made up of units (rakats) of prayer; it may also include other forms of worship, such as reading Quran, doing Tasbeeh, etc. Qiyaam al Layl is Sunnah mu’akkadah (a confirmed Sunnah). The Tahajjud, Witr and Taraweeh prayers all come under the heading of Qiyaam al Layl (night prayers) or Taraweeh, however, Taraweeh refers specifically to Qiyaam al Layl when it is prayed in Ramadan.
How Many Rakat is Qiyaam al Layl Prayer?
Although the instruction of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) to the one who enquired about Salat al Layl, i.e. Qiyaam al Layl, was to leave the total rakat units open, so long as they were prayed in units of two with the last rakah of the night being the witr, his own personal practice was that he would never pray more than 11 or 13 rakahs in total. It is narrated from Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا) that, "The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to pray eleven rak’ahs at night, and say the tasleem after each two rak’ahs, and he would pray Witr with one rak’ah." [Agreed upon, Saheeh]. and in another hadeeth it is related from her: "The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) would pray thirteen rak‘ahs at night, then he when he heard the call for Fajr prayer, he would pray two brief rak‘ahs (i.e. two sunnah of Fajr)." [Al-Bukhaari]. From this we have evidence that the practice of the Prophet was to pray 11 and certainly no more than 13 rakahs in total, prayed in units of two with one witr in the prayer, the stronger opinion being 11 rakats in total.
It is also narrated from Abu Salama bin Abdur Rahman (رضی اللہ عنہ) that he asked Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا): "How was the prayer of Allah's Apostle in Ramadan?" She replied, "He did not pray more than eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in any other month. He used to pray four Rakat, let alone their beauty and length, and then he would pray four, let alone their beauty and length, and then he would pray three Rakat (Witr)." She added, "I asked, 'O Allah's Apostle! Do you sleep before praying the Witr?' He replied, 'O Aishah! My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep." [Bukhari].
In the above hadeeth "He used to pray four Rakat" means that the Prophet took a slight rest after the first four Rakats, then he did another four after them, and the rakats were done in units of twos, with the witr being the odd number. Also, the words of Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا) "He did not pray more than eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in any other month" indicate that this was the norm and when the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) prayed 13 rakats, it was an exception.
Blessings of Qiyaam al Layl
Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) praises those who have faith and are pious, engaging in good deeds, one of the best of which is praying Qiyaam al Layl. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says:
“Only those believe in Our Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), who, when they are reminded of them, fall down prostrate, and glorify the Praises of their Lord, and they are not proud. Their sides forsake their beds, to invoke their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend (in charity in Allah’s Cause) out of what We have bestowed on them. No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do” [Quran: Surah al-Sajdah 32: Ayah 15-17].
Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has described the pious as having a number of characteristics , including praying Qiyaam al Layl. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says:
“Verily, the Muttaqoon (the pious) will be in the midst of Gardens and Springs (in the Paradise), Taking joy in the things which their Lord has given them. Verily, they were before this Muhsinoon (good‑doers). They used to sleep but little by night [invoking their Lord (Allah) and praying, with fear and hope].” [Quran: Surah al-Dhaariyaat 51: Ayah 15-17].
The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” [Muslim, 1163].
And he said: “You should pray qiyaam ul-layl, for it is the custom of the righteous who came before you and it brings you closer to your Lord, and expiates sins and prevents misdeeds.” [al-Tirmidhi, 3549; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel, 452].
“The custom of the righteous” means it was their usual practise. “It brings you closer to your Lord” means, it is an act of worship by means of which one may draw closer to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى). “and prevents misdeeds” means, it prevents one from committing sin. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says:
“Verily, As‑Salaah (the prayer) prevents from Al‑Fahsha’ (i.e. great sins of every kind, unlawful sexual intercourse) and Al‑Munkar (i.e. disbelief, polytheism, and every kind of evil wicked deed)” [Quran: Surah al-‘Ankaboot 29: Ayah 45].
It was narrated that ‘Amr ibn Murrah al-Juhani (رضی اللہ عنہ) said: 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 and martyrs.” [Ibn Khuzaymah; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Khuzaymah, 2212].
It is narrated that Ali (رضی اللہ عنہ) said: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “In Paradise there are apartments the outside of which can be seen from the inside and the inside of which can be seen from the outside.” A Bedouin stood up and said: “Who are they for, O Messenger of Allah?” He said: “They are for those who speak good words, feed others, fast regularly and pray to Allah at night when people are sleeping.” [Al-Tirmidhi (1984), Graded hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi].
The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever prays qiyaam reciting ten verses will not be recorded as one of the negligent. Whoever prays qiyaam reciting one hundred verses will be recorded as one of the devout. Whoever prays qiyaam reciting one thousand verses will be recorded as one of the muqantireen.” [Abu Dawood, 1398; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood].
The muqantireen are those who will be given a qintaar of reward. A qintaar is a large amount of gold, and scholars of Arabic language are of the view that it is four thousand dinars. However, what is meant by this hadeeth is to emphasize the greatness of the reward earned by the one who recites a thousand verses. Al-Tabaraani narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “A qintaar is better than this world and everything in it.” [Al-Tabaraani, Graded hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb, 638].
Al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar said that from start of Soorat Tabaarak [al-Mulk] to the end of the Quran is one thousand verses. Whoever prays qiyaam reciting from Soorat Tabaarak to the end of Quran has prayed qiayam with one thousand verses.