Supererogatory [optional] worship

Supererogatory worship reinforces the obligatory and is a means for the servant to approach Allah. As part of the nature of being human, it is not possible to perform obligatory worship completely and perfectly in a form that is the most acceptable to Allah. However much care may be taken, mistakes and faults will inevitably occur from time to time. Consequently there is no other remedy other than the supererogatory to make up for the deficiency. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has informed us that:

“On the day of judgement, the first deed that the servant will be taken to account for is the ritual prayer (salat). If the ritual prayer is complete, his affairs will be set aright and he will come out profitable. If his prayer is not complete he will lose and be deficient. If there is any deficiency in the obligatory worship, then the Lord Most Supreme and Glorious will say:

“Look and see whether my servant has any supererogatory prayers”. The supererogatory will make up the deficiency in the obligatory. And then he will be taken to account in the same way for his other deeds”.(Tirmidhi, Salat, 188/413).

However it should not be concluded that it is correct to leave the obligatory and occupy oneself with the supererogatory. Just as it is wrong to only busy oneself with the obligatory and neglect the supererogatory, it is also wrong to only perform the supererogatory and neglect the obligatory. The correct way is to perform the obligatory and also make efforts to perform as much of the supererogatory as much as is possible. The practice of the Messenger of Allah and his Companions is the only guide in this matter.

On the other hand it is not right for those who have a debt in the obligatory to only make up for the obligatory and abandon the supererogatory all together. This is because one can make up for the obligatory prayers at any time of the day except for times which have been specifically identified as being reprehensible for worship.  Whereas since all supererogatory prayers such as tahajjud (night prayers), ishrak, kusluk (the late morning prayers), awabeen (the late-evening prayer) are dependent on particular times, it is advisable to perform these prayers at these times[1].

The servant cannot approach Allah with any deed better than the obligatory. They can then continue this elevated journey by performing supererogatory worship. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) relates in a divine hadith that Allah has said:

“I wage war against the one who becomes an enemy of the friend of Mine who serves me in all sincerity. My servant draws nearer to Me with nothing more pleasing to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and then draws nearer to me with supererogatory devotions until I love him and when I love him I become his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks, so that by Me he hears, by Me he sees, by Me he strikes, and by Me he walks. Should he ask Me, I shall surely grant him his request; Should he ask Me for protection I shall surely protect him. Never do I hesitate in anything as I hesitate in taking the soul of my believing servant; he dislikes death, and I dislike to displease him”. (Bukhari, Rikak, 38; Ahmad, VI, 256; Haysami, II, 248).

Supererogatory worship keeps the awareness of servanthood alive, and softens the heart. It refines the soul and bestows the light of gentle beauty upon the face. The excitement of faith of those who continue in their supererogatory worship with awe, contentedness and alertness of the heart, is greater and their desire for union is more exuberant. And of course their happiness and pleasure in the afterlife will manifest accordingly.

Scenes of Virtue

The days and nights of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) were enlightened by much continued supererogatory forms of worship in addition to the obligatory. The sunnah prayers that he prayed before and after the obligatory, the tahajjud prayer that he continued to pray in the night, worship such as rememberance and reflection, his recitation of a certain portion of the Qur’an every day, his different prayers such as the late morning and evening prayers, his supererogatory fasting, his giving charity to the poor, his struggles in the path of Allah, his continued smiles that blossomed like a rose on his blessed face were all signs of his peaceful togetherness with Allah. Whenever he was happy about something or when he received happy news he would prostrate[2] and pray[3] in order to thank Allah for this bounty.  In the event of extraordinary events such as a solar or lunar eclipse he would immediately bow down in the face of such divine manifestations of magnificence[4].When he had a need to ask for from Allah he would again perform the prayer. In the blessed month of Ramadan the Messenger of Allah became even more spiritual with the worship he performed such as the tarawih prayers, his itikaf (seclusion), and the generosity in giving out of the Messenger of Allah. After Ramadan he would continue to perform from time to time supererogatory fasting. He would especially choose to fast on Mondays and Thursdays and he would explain the reason as follows:

It is on Mondays and Thursdays that the deeds of a person are presented to Allah Most High. I like to have my deeds presented while I am fasting”. (Tirmidhi, Savm, 44/747).

On the 13th, 14th and 15th days of the hijri month called the ‘days of white’ (due to the full moon) he would take care to fast and advised his Companions to do the same. Ibn-i Abbas  states:

“The Prophet would fast on the days of the full moon in both war and peace and would never abandon this practice”. (Nasai, Savm, 70)

Allah’s Messenger would spend six days of the month of Shawwal fasting [5] and would fast the Ashura fast on the 9th and 10th or the 10-11th days of the month of Muharrem[6].

The Prophet would explain the virtues of the Greater and Lesser Pilgrimages (Hajj and Umrah) and he would be in a state of constant remembrance, and would never cease his praise, glorification and asking for forgiveness. He would sacrifice an animal for himself and for those in his community who could not afford to. [7]

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Rabia bin Ka’b  narrates:

“I used to prepare the Messenger’s (pbuh) water for ablution and bring the things he needed to his door at nights. For a while I would hear him say ‘Sami Allahu liman hamida’ and then I would hear him say ‘Alhamdulillahi Rabb al alemin’. (Ibn-i Sa’d, IV, 313).

One day The Messenger of Allah said to me:

“Ask me for whatever you want”. I said:

“I want to be together with you in Paradise”. The Prophet replied:

“Can’t you ask for something else”? I said:

“This is the only thing I want” I said. Hearing this Allah’s Messenger said:

In that case, make much prostration so that you can help me help you”. (Muslim, Salat, 226).

What is meant by prostration is generally the ritual prayer or salat. In that case those who want to enter Paradise and be a neighbour of the Beloved of Allah should pray much and increase their prostrations which are moments of closeness with Allah.

The station of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Paradise is greater than that of all the other prophets. So if one desires to be close to the Prophet in Paradise, one should act in accordance with the sunnah and in particular, perform much ritual prayer (salat) in deep reverence.

***

Ummu Habiba  narrates:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

Allah will most certainly build a house in Paradise for whoever prays 12 cycles of supererogatory prayers in addition to the obligatory”. After hearing this good news from the Messenger of Allah I never abandoned any of these prayers”. (Muslim, Musafirin, 103).

***

On the day that Khaybar was conquered a man came to the Prophet and said:

“O Messenger of Allah, today I have made such a profit the likes of which none of the people of this valley have seen” The Prophet aksed him:

“What did you earn?” The Companion replied:

“I continued to buy and sell without stopping so much so that I earned 300 ukiyye[8].

In response to this the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“Shall I tell you something that is the best of profits?”

The Companion replied:

“What is that o Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet gave the following response:

Two cycles of supererogatory prayer that you pray after the obligatory prayer”. (Abu Dawud, 168/2785).

***

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) once sent a military troop to a certain region. In a very short period of time the soldiers of Islam returned with large amounts of booty. One individual said:

“O Messenger of Allah! We have never seen a troop return as quickly as these and with as much booty”.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) asked:

“Shall I tell you something that has a faster return and brings more booty?” and then continued:

If a man takes his ablution properly and then arrives at the mosque, and prays his dawn prayer and follows it up with two cycles of the midmorning prayer, then this man will have made a much faster return and will have gained much more”. (Ibn-i Hibban, VI, 276/2535).

***

Ibn-i Omar  narrates:

I said to Abu Dharr :

“Dear uncle, can you give me some advice? He replied:

“You asked from me what I asked for from the Messenger of Allah. Allah’s Messenger said to me:

If you pray two cycles of the late-morning prayer you will not be written as amongst the ignorant; if you pray 4 cycles you will be written as a worshipper; if you pray 6 cycles, Allah will meet all of your needs; if you pray 8 cycles you will be recorded as a ‘qanitin’ (one who does much worship); if you perchance pray 10 cycles, a house will be built for you in Paradise”.

There is no day, nor no night, and no second even in which Allah Most High does not bestow upon his servants what they wish and favours them. Allah Most High has not bestowed a bounty upon any of his slaves greater than the inspiration of His remembrance in his heart”.  (Haysami, II, 236; Ali al-Muttaki, VII, 809/21511).

***

The Blessed Prophet (pbuh) said:

There is a door to Paradise which is called the Gate of Duha. On the Day of Judgement a Crier will cry out:

“Where are those who were continual in their Duha prayer? Here is your door, so enter into Paradise through it by the Mercy of Allah”. (Suyuti, I, 355/2323).

***

To pray at least two cycles of the ritual prayer after every minor and major ablution, and to thank almighty Allah for the bounty of Islam and the joy of carrying out ablution is a beautiful virtue.

As Othman  once said after he had taken his ablution in order to teach people:

“I saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) take his ablution like this. And then when he had finished he said:

“Whoever takes ablution like I just did and performs two cycles of prayer and stays away from the whisperings of the nafs during the prayer, will have their past sins forgiven”. (Bukhari, Wudu, 24)

***

One time the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to Bilal :

“O Bilal! Which of your worship is it that you performed after you became Muslim that you hope for the most reward from? Because I heard the sounds of your shoes ahead of me in paradise”. Bilal replied:

“After I have taken my ablution I pray as much prayer as I can, day and night. This is the worship that I hope for the most reward from”. (Bukhari, Tahajjud 17, Tawheed 47, FAdailus – Sahaba 108).

Allah’s Messenger saw Bilal in his dream walking ahead of him in Paradise. Almighty Allah showed the Prophet this dream to inform us of the importance of supererogatory prayers.

***

One day Abu Qatada came to the Mosque of the Prophet. When he saw the Blessed Prophet sitting amongst his Companions he went and sat next to him. Upon this Allah’s Messenger turned to Abu Qatada and said:

What prevented you from praying two cycles of prayer before you sat down?” Abu Qatade replied:

“O Messenger of Allah! I saw that you and your congregation were sitting (so I did not pray)”. The Prophet then said:

Whenever one of you enters the mosque let him not sit until he has prayed two cycles of prayer”. (Muslim, Musafirin, 70)

***

Whenever the Companions needed anything or whenever they were in distress they immediately prayed supererogatory prayers and sought refuge with Allah. One summer’s day the gardener of Anas  came to him and complained that it had not rained and that the garden had withered. Anas asked for some water and took his  ablution following which he performed the prayer. After he finished, he asked the gardener:

“Do you see anything in the sky?” The gardener replied:

“No I do not”.

Anas  went back inside and continued to pray. He asked again for the third or the fourth time:

“Can you see anything in the sky?” The gardener answered:

“I can see a cloud the size of a bird’s wing”. Upon this Anas continued his prayer and supplication. A little while later the gardener went next to him and said:

“The sky is full of clouds and it has started to rain”. Anas said:

“Come, mount the horse that Bishr bin Shagaf sent and look and see how far the rain has reached”.

When the gardener mounted the horse and looked around he saw that the rain had not reached beyond Anas’s garden. (Ibn-i Sa’d, VII, 21-22).

***

The sensitivity of the blessed Companions for their supererogatory worship was also passed onto their children. Rubayyi’ bint-i Muawwiz , who was one of the female companions says:

“… We used to fast on the day of Ashura. And we used to make our small children fast too. We would go to the mosque and makes toys out of wool for our children. Whenever one of them would cry for food we would hand him one of these toys and thereby distract them until the time came to break the fast”. (Bukhari, Sawm, 47; Muslim, Siyam, 136).

***

In short, worship that has been specified as obligatory and commanded to do is the bare minimum. In addition to this minimum, the believers need to continue on in and increase their supererogatory worship. This they should do to the best of their ability, both out of a desire to be close to their Lord, and as gratitude for all the bounties that have reached them in times of ease or distress. Because the meaning of worship is to appear before Allah Most High and converse with Him. This is a peerless standing that submerges the hearts in mystic pleasure and allows them to enter a spiritual atmosphere.

The experience obtained from supererogatory worship and the efforts shown to this end, all eventually lead the servant to the stage of ‘ihsan’, in which the servant is together with Allah always.

Supererogatory worship is the most fitting behaviour appropriate to the purpose of man’s creation. It is also the servant’s most vital provision for the hereafter.

[1].     The mujtahid scholars of the Hanafi School of thought are adamant that the sunnah prayers cannot be abandoned. It is only when at sinn-i kebir, that is old age, that is when one has lost the strength to carry out both the obligatory and the sunnah prayers that one can make up for their past obligatory instead of performing the sunnah prayers.

[2].     The prostration of gratitude is like the prostration of recitation. While one has the ritual ablution, the intention is made to make the prostration of gratitude, the hands are raised and the takbir is pronounced, “Allahu Akbar”, then a person prostrates and stays for as long as possible in that position, and then rises.

[3].     Ibn-i Majah Salat, 192

[4].     Bukhari, Kusuf, 2-4; Ibni Hibban, Sahih, Beirut, 1993, VII, 8, 100

[5].     Muslim, Siyam, 204

[6].     Muslim, Siyam 115

[7].     Abu Dawud, Edahi, 3-4/2792: Ibn-i Sa’d, I, 249

[8].     Ukiyye – an old measure of weight corresponding to 1283 grams.