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.
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 hewalks. 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.
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 and pray 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.
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 (r.a) 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 and would fast the Ashura fast on the 9th and 10th or the 10-11th days of the month of Muharrem.
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.