The Prophet’s Tahajjud Prayer

By Sheikh Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Turayri

It is the middle of the night, or maybe a little before that time or a little thereafter. The Prophet wakes up. He sits in bed and wipes the sleep from his eyes. He picks up his tooth stick and brushes his teeth. He then turns his gaze to the heavens and avails himself of the peace and quiet at night to meditate on Allah’s greatness and how it manifests itself in the majesty of His creation. He recites a ten-verse passage from Surat Aal `Imran which begins with words:

Verily in the creation of the heavens and Earth, and in the alternation of night and day are signs for those who understand. (Aal `Imran 3:190)

He stands up and takes a water skin down from where it hangs on the wall. He opens it and pours out some water into a large cup. He uses this to perform ablution for prayer. He does not use much water for his ablution, though he completes them thoroughly.

Before he commences with the late night prayer (Tahajjud), he sometimes engages in the glorification of his Lord with the recitation of a number of remembrances. This prepares his mind for prayer. `A’ishah gives us an account of the things he says:

“When Allah’s Messenger got up at night to pray, he used to extol Allah’s greatness ten times then praise him ten times. Then, he would say the words “Glory and praise be to Allah” ten times. Then, he would say “Glory be to the Holy King” ten times. Then, he would ask Allah for forgiveness ten times. Then, he would say “There is no God but Allah” ten times. He would conclude by saying:

“O Allah! I seek refuge with You from the tribulations of this worldly life and the tribulations of the Day of Resurrection.”

Then, he would commence his prayer.

He begins by offering two brief units of prayer. The prayer will become much longer. Though he prays quickly when he leads others in prayer, he is just the opposite when he prays alone. He prolongs every action in the Tahajjud prayer, form the opening recitations, to the recitation of the Qur’an, to the supplications. Tahajjud is the longest prayer he makes. He is following Allah’s specific command to him in the Qur’an:

Stand in prayer the night long, except for a little. (Al- Muzzammil 73:2)

If we consider the Prophet’s state of mind, we realize that he is totally immersed in prayer while offering Tahajjud. His every thought and feeling are engaged and his communion with his Lord is total. It is as if his spirit has ascended to heaven and is being bathed in divine light while looking upon the throne of his Lord. It is as if he is having a private audience with Allah, so he extols His praises in the most emphatic way and beseeches Him with the most perfect supplications. This is not surprising, since the Prophet really had such an experience on the night of his ascension above the seven heavens, where he was brought to a level where could hear the scraping of the pens as they wrote out the decrees.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) has greater knowledge of Allah and stronger faith than anyone else in creation. His faith is certain. He admits this to his Companions: “The most God-fearing and knowledgeable about Allah among you is none other than myself.” (Al-Bukhari)

He commences the Tahajjud prayer with a heart full of reverence, love and longing for his Lord. His words are full of invocations of awe and praise. Among the words he uses to commence his prayers are the following:

“O Allah! Lord of Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, Creator of the heavens and earth, Knower of the seen and unseen, You will judge between Your servants in what they used to differ. Guide me by Your Grace to the truth in what they differ about. Indeed, You guide whomever You please to a path that is straight.”

“O Allah! Our Lord, Yours is the praise. You are the light of the heavens and earth and all that they contain. Yours is the praise. You sustain the heavens and earth and all that they contain. You are the King of the heavens and earth and all they contain. Yours is the praise. You are the Truth. Your Promise is true. The meeting with You is true. Your Word is true. Paradise is true. Hell is true. The Prophets are true. Muhammad is true. The Final Hour is true. O Allah, to You I have submitted and in You I have believed, and upon You I rely. I repent my sins to You. For Your Sake I dispute and by Your Standards I judge, so forgive me for what I have done before and what I have left behind, for what I have committed secretly and what I have committed openly and what only You know that I have done. You are the One Who sends forth and You are the One Who delays. There is no God but You. There is no might or power except with You.”

“I turn my face to the Creator of the heavens and earth upon the pure faith, and I am not from among the polytheists. Indeed my prayer, my sacrifice, my life, and my death are for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds, Who is without partner. This is as I was commanded, and I am of those who submit. O Allah! You are the King. There is no God but You. You are my Lord and I am Your servant. I have been unjust to myself and I confess my sins, so forgive me all of my sins, for indeed no one forgives sins but You. Guide me to the best conduct. No one guides to what is best except You. Keep me away from bad conduct, for no one can do this for me except You. Here I am. I heed Your Call, happy to serve You. All good is in Your Hands and no evil belongs to You. I exist by Your Will and shall return to You. You are Blessed and Sublime. I seek Your Forgiveness and repent unto You.”

Then, the Prophet begins to recite the Qur’an. He recites in a slow and melodious voice and is attentive to every word. When he recites a verse that speaks about Allah’s Mercy, he beseeches Allah. When he recites a verse that warns of Allah’s Wrath, he seeks refuge from it. When a verse of the Qur’an speaks of Allah’s Glory, he glorifies Allah.

He stands for a long time in recitation. Ibn Mas`ud tells us: “I prayed with Allah’s Messenger one night, and he stood for so long that I almost resolved to do a very bad thing.” When asked what that bad thing was, he says: “I considered sitting down and not continuing with the Prophet in prayer.”

Sometimes the Prophet prolongs his recitation and offers a few very long units of prayer. On other nights, he stands in recitation for a shorter time and offers more units of prayer.

When he bows, he remains bowing for a long time, almost as long as the time he spends standing in recitation. He says:

“O Allah! I bow to You. In You I believe, to You I submit, and upon You I rely. You are my Lord. My hearing, my sight, my flesh, my blood, my mind, my bones, my sinew, and what my feet bear up, all of them submit in humility to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds. Glory be to the Possessor of Might, Pride, and Greatness, the Glorified and Holy, the Lord of the angels and of the Holy Spirit.”

Near the end of his life, he will often say while bowing and prostrating:

“Glory and praise be to Allah, our Lord. O Allah, forgive me.”

`A’ishah asked him about this, and he said: “My Lord has told me that I will see a sign in my community, and if I see that sign I should start saying: “Glory and praise be to Allah. I seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent to Him.” I have seen this sign (which is found in the following verses of the Qur’an):

When the help of Allah and the victory come, and you see the people entering into Islam in droves, then glorify the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness. Verily, He is ever ready to accept repentance. (An-Nasr 110:1-3)

The Prophet understands from this verse that the end of his life is near.

The Prophet prolongs his prostration in Tahajjud. He spends almost as much time prostrating as he in his bowing. It is here that he asks of Allah’s Grace and beseeches Him in many ways. The Prophet tells us:

“The nearest we are to our Lord is when we are in prostration, so beseech Him often at that time.”  (Muslim)

He also says while in prostration:

“O Allah, to You I prostrate myself and in You I believe. To You I have submitted. My face is prostrated to the One who created it, fashioned it, and gave it the faculties of hearing and sight. Blessed is Allah, the Best of Creators. O Allah! Forgive me all my sins, great and small, the first and the last of them, those that are apparent and those that are hidden. O Allah! I seek refuge in Your Pleasure from Your Anger, and in Your Forgiveness from Your Punishment. I seek refuge with You from You. I cannot count Your Praises. You are as You have praised Yourself.”

This is how the Prophet relates to his Lord in the depths of the night, in communion filled with worship, exaltation, reverence and submission. His spirit is raised up to great heights from his devotion and longing for his Lord. It is as if the world with all its vast mountains and starry skies recedes and regards him from a distance, bearing witness to his compliance with Allah’s command:

“Remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with full devotion. (Al- Muzzammil 73:8)

The Prophet remains in worship throughout the night, reciting the Qur’an with reverence, beseeching his Lord in humility and praising Allah’s holy name, until only one-sixth of the night remains. At this time, he pauses from his prayers and wakes up his wife so they can offer the Witr Prayer together. He performs the Witr Prayer as three consecutive units. In the first, he recites Surat Al-A`la (87th chapter of the Qur’an). In the second, he recites Al-Kafirun (the 109th). In the last, he recites Al-Ikhlas (the 112th). Sometimes, in the final unit of prayer, he also recites Surat Al-Falaq and Al-Nas (the 113th and 114th chapters of the Qur’an).

At the end of the Witr Prayer, he says:

“O Allah! I seek refuge in Your Pleasure from Your Anger, and in Your Forgiveness from Your Punishment. I seek refuge with You from You. I cannot count Your Praises. You are as You have praised Yourself.”

After completing the Witr Prayer, he says three times: “Glory be to the Holy King.” He holds the words longer on the final repetition.

The Prophet prays Tahajjud in his small one-room house that is free from luxuries and worldly effects. Sometimes he has a mat to pray on that is just big enough to accommodate him in prostration. At other times, he only has the bedding that he shares with his wife. He prays while she lies sleeping in front of him. There are no lamps in his house, so when he wants to prostrate in prayer, he makes a gentle indication to her so she can move her feet out of his way. When he stand up again, she stretches her legs back out.

On rare occasions, he goes to the mosque to pray Tahajjud. He does so when there are extenuating circumstances, like when his wife is in extra need of rest and he wants to avoid disturbing her. On one occasion, `A’ishah realizes he is not in the house, and she reaches out of the door leading into the mosque and finds his foot. He is engaged in worship there and saying:

“O Allah! I seek refuge in Your Pleasure from Your Anger, and in Your Forgiveness from Your Punishment. I seek refuge with You from You. I cannot count Your Praises. You are as You have praised Yourself.”

On another occasion, she finds him missing and fears he may be at the home of one of his other wives. She goes out searching for him and returns to find that he is deeply involved in prayer. She says to herself: “By my father and mother, O Messenger of Allah, my mind is on one thing and yours is on something else entirely.”



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