Salat al-Layl (the Night Prayer) is one of the hidden treasures of Islam and is generally considered an act of worship that goes above and beyond the call of duty. In the Holy Qur'an, Allah describes those who have Taqwa as having the following characteristics: "They used to sleep but little in the night. And in the morning they asked forgiveness." (51:17-18) There are numerous merits to performing Salat al-Layl listed in the Qur'an and the narrations of the Prophet and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all). Most of us have read or heard of these at one time or another so this article will not go into the specifics of Salat or reasons why they hold such great merit, as this information can be found in earlier articles on this website and many other sites as well. Rather, this article will touch upon how we can apply the Salat in our lives in a practical manner, and some of the positive effects the Salat can have in our daily life and indeed in our next life.
Many of us strive to perform Salat al-Layl whenever we can at the optimum time. According to our religious authorities, the time to perform Salat al-Layl is from midnight until the Adhan for Fajr prayers, with the best time being right before Fajr prayers in order to perform the two prayers consecutively. Now looking at this in reality will give a glimpse of why Salat al-Layl was made Wajib for the Prophets of Allah (peace be upon them) and not for us. In the summer, Fajr time can begin at as early as around 4 am. In order to pray Salat al-Layl at the best time, it would be necessary to wake up at around 3:30 in the morning in order to prepare for the prayer and perform it rather quickly. It is recommended to stay awake after Fajr prayers, but even if we go to sleep, this will still most likely lead us to feeling tired in the morning for work or school. So unless we plan on sleeping before 9pm, which I can guess many of us do not do, performing Salat al-Layl on a regular basis at the optimum time will surely lead to a tiring day. Luckily, Islam provides a way to perform the Salat at our own pace.
In the Holy Qur'an it is said that, "Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability." (2:286) Though there are many Mustahab acts we can perform, it is nearly impossible to perform them all and this verse shows that Allah just wants us to do whatever worship we can to the extent of our abilities. Accordingly, there is some leniency in the Shari'ah for performing Salat al-Layl, perhaps so that we can all partake in this great act and reap the benefits. While the best time to perform Salat al-Layl is right before Fajr, it can also be performed starting at midnight – which is when some of us go to sleep anyway. If we are not able to do this, we can perform the prayers right after our Isha prayers. And if this is too much and we are not able to perform the prayer at all those times, we can still do the Qadha prayer anytime of the day. It is said that Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has related from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) who said that when a person performs the Qadha of Salat al-Layl, Almighty Allah expresses pride before the Angels and says, "O Angels! See he is performing the Qadha of that which I have not made obligatory on him. Be witness that I have given him salvation." There are a number of traditions about the benefits of performing the Qadha of Salat al-Layl, which show the unique and great aspect that this prayer has.
Performing Salat al-Layl whenever we can is a great act of worship to be sure, but what effects does performing such a Salat have on us? There are numerous benefits of this Salat listed in narrations, and it seems that the positive effects this Salat brings can solve any and all of life's problems. In Bihar al-Anwar it is stated: "Salat al-Layl makes one's face beautiful; beautifies one's etiquette; gives a pleasant smell to one's body and increases one's daily sustenance. It also removes sorrow and grief and gives strength to the eyes." While this hadith seems to cover what most of us pray for, another narration goes on to say, "That house in which Salat al-Layl is recited beams with light for those who are in the heavens just as the stars beam with light for those who are on Earth." To top it all off, another hadith says, "Salat al-Layl is a Kaffara for the sins committed in the day." These traditions are sufficient to show the monumental effects this prayer can have in both this life and the next life.
Finally, the words of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) give us the reason why some of us may not be able to perform Salat al-Layl. It is said a man came to our Imam and said, "I have been denied the chance to recite Salat al-Layl." The Imam simply replied, "Your sins have prevented you." Let us hope that we never get to this stage and that if we are at it, to get out of it as soon as possible. We should always strive to do the best we can, and given the leniency available in performing Salat al-Layl, this is a worship that many of us should not miss. "And during a part of the night, pray Tahajjud beyond what is incumbent on you; maybe your Lord will raise you to a position of great glory." (17:79)