Prayer by night was another skill to foster the principle of human responsibility in the hearts and minds of the believers. Mohammad and his small circle of followers were the first to work and acquire that skill. “Stand to prayer by night, but not all night- half of it- or a little less or a little more; and recite Quran in slow, measured rhythmic tones. Soon We shall send down to you a weighty message.” [73:1-5]
“And so do a group of those with you.” [73:20]
The burden of the message is heavy, and the change to be affected by its principles is impeccable. Therefore, the responsibility of Mohammad and his disciples is huge. The quality and the caliber of this group must be superior and extraordinary. How did the prayer by night prepare that group to carry on their weighty mission?
Prayer by night indicates that they had to wake up from sleep, leave their comfortable beds, and brave some cold nights. Dedication, commitment, self-control, discipline, resolve, patience and perseverance were among the outcome qualities generated by this spiritual exercise. The ability to say “no” to things that are dear to us like rest, warmth, and comfort created in the practitioner of prayer by night the resolve and perseverance needed to face the different difficulties and challenges that might arise during the process of reform and social change.
As the revelation of Quran continued and the magnitude of the responsibility to implement and spread it increased, Quran described the behavior of Mohammad and his companions as follows: “Only those who believe in Our signs, who, when they are recited to them fall down in adoration, and celebrate the praises of their Lord, nor are they puffed up with arrogance. Their sides do forsake their beds of sleep.” [32:15-16]
They shun their comfortable beds. They could not sleep all the night. They kept a distance between them and their beds. They took advantage of the silence, solace, and tranquility of nighttime to recite Quran in their night prayer, reflect upon it, and see how it should shape and mold their daily life. “And stay up reciting it (Quran) in prayer by night, an additional benefit for you. Soon your Lord will raise you to a station of praise and glory.” [17:79]
Hojood هُجُود in Arabic means sleep, tahajjudتَهَجُّد is to overcome sleep. They would not have abandoned their sleep unless they were preoccupied with something of more importance and significance. Quran and its message overwhelmed them. It is not by chance that the call for dawn prayer that requires from us to get up from sleep contains this additional statement:
“Prayer is better than sleep!”
Prayer by night is difficult, and Quran does not deny that fact. However, Quran adds that it is more telling. “Truly the rising by night is most potent for governing the self and most suitable for framing the word of prayer and praise.” [73:6]
Yes! It gives us something additional and extra in order to make of us better human beings with lofty qualities. “An additional benefit for you.” [17:79]
It is prescribed for our own sake. We are the ones who receive the extra benefit. We will be raised and borne into a higher expression of our existence. This high station of praise and glory is realized in this life and in the hereafter. “Soon your Lord will raise you to a station of praise and glory.” [17:79]
Baathبَعث is revival after death as will happen in the Day of Judgment. But this process can also happen while we are still physically alive and well. It will be in the form of death of oneself to be replaced by another of higher quality and state. Prayer at night plays this role of taking us to a highly praised abode. “And stay up reciting it (Quran) in prayer by night, an additional benefit for you. Soon your Lord will raise you to a station of praise and glory.” [17:79]
Jalaluddin Rumi brought this concept closer to our understanding when he disclosed our passage from one stage to another through the death of the previous one:
I died as a mineral and became a plant
I died as plant and rose to animal
I died as animal and I was a man
What should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: All except God does perish
In this highly praised abode Mohammad and his disciples deserved to be among “the worshippers of the Most merciful and compassionate.” Among their attributes is this:
“Those who spend the night in adoration of their Lord prostrate and standing.” [25:64]
Prayer by night was not disconnected from their daily life. They were highly concerned, and they accepted their responsibility and accountability. Part of their vision was to avoid anything that brings them closer to the wrath of hellfire. They expressed that vision in this du’a:
“Those who say: Our Lord! Avert us from the wrath of Hell, for its wrath is indeed an affliction grievous.” [25:65]
Ihsanإحْسَان is another state reserved for those who pray by night. Ihsan indicates that the believers go beyond the expected. Compare them to others in prayer and charity:
“Those who remain steadfast to their prayer and those who in whose wealth is a recognized right.” [70:23-25]
Mohsineenمُحْسِنِين go beyond the five prescribed prayers and the right of the poor in their wealth is unlimited.
“They were mohsineen: They were in the habit of sleeping but little at night, and in the hours of early dawn they pray for forgiveness, and in their wealth the right to those who ask and those who do not have.” [51:16-19]
Prayer at night is directly and intimately connected with daily life. Like tasbeeh, it is a skill that produces into this life responsible human beings of high quality and qualifications. They deserve to be the worshippers of the most Merciful and to be elevated to the state of ihsan, praise and glory.
By Dr. Walid Khayr