On the authority of Muaadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, inform me of an act which will place me into Paradise and keep me away from the Fire.” He said, “You have asked about a great matter but it is easy for whomever Allah, Exalted be He, makes it easy. [You should] worship Allah and not ascribe any partner to Him, establish the prayer, give the Zakat, fast Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House.” He then said, “Shall I not inform you of the gates to goodness? [They are] fasting [which] is a shield, charity [which] extinguishes the sins like water extinguishes a fire and the prayer of a man in the depths of the night [which also extinguished sins].” The he recited [the verses], “Who forsakes their beds” until he reached, “they used to do”. Then he said, “Shall I inform you of the head of the matter, its pillar and its apex?” I said, “Certainly, O Prophet of Allah.” He said, “The head of the matter is submission [to Allah]. Its pillar is the prayer. And its apex is jihad.” Then he said, “Shall I not inform you of what controls all of this?” I said, “Certainly, O Prophet of Allah.” He took hold of his tongue and said, “Restrain this.” I said, “O Prophet of Allah, will we be held accountable for what we say?” He said, “May your mother be bereaved of you, O Muaadh. Is there anything that has thrown people on their faces – or he said on their noses – into the Fire except that which their tongues reap?” (Recorded in al-Tirmidhi)
“… the prayer of a man in the depths of the night [which also extinguished sins]. The he recited [the verses], “Who forsakes their beds” until he reached, “they used to do.”
We can understand from this statement of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that prayer in the depths of the night has the same properties as giving voluntary charity, it can extinguishe some of our minor sins.
The Importance of the Late-Night Prayer
In this hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, refers to the following Qur’anic verse:
“Their sides forsake their beds to invoke their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend [in charity] out of what We have bestowed on them. No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do” (Surah al-Sajdah:16-17)
Although there is a difference of opinion about the precise meaning of the phrase, “their sides forsake their beds” and what prayer it is referring to, the fact that the Prophet linked in to his statement about prayer in the depths of the night to this Qur’anic ayah, appears to indicate that it is the late night prayer that is being referred to, and Allah know best.
Ibn al-Qayyim points out that one of the merits of the late-night prayer is that in general, it is hidden from the eyes of others. No one else sees what you are doing. Therefore, in this verse, Allah specifically states that the reward for what the believers are doing in a hidden fashion, is a great reward that is kept hidden for them. No one can know it or imagine it.
Many other verses in the Qur’an emphasize the importance of the late-night prayer:
“They used to sleep but little at night [spending time in prayer] and in the hours before dawn, they were found asking for forgiveness [from Allah]” (Surah al-Dhaariyat:17-18)
“And in some late parts of the night offer the late-night prayer with it [the Qur’an], as an additional prayer for you. It may be that your Lord will raise you to a position of praise” (Surah al-Israa:79)
“Is the one who is obedient to Allah, prostrating himself or standing [in prayer] during the hours of the night, fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord [equal to one of the disbelievers]? Say: Are those who know equal to those who know not? It is only people of understanding who will remember [and take lesson from this].” (Surah al-Zumar:9)
“O you [Muhammad] wrapped in garments, stand and pray all night, except a little of it or less than that, or a little more. And recite the Qur’an in a slow style. Verily, We shall send down to you a weighty word. Verily, the rising by night is very hard and most potent and good for governing oneself and most suitable for [understanding] the [words of Allah]. Verily, there is for you by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties. And remember the Name of you Lord and devote yourself to Him with a complete devotion.” (Surah al-Muzzammil:1-8)
Many ahadith also state the virtues of the late-night prayer:
“You should perform the late-night prayer for verily it was the custom of the pious people before you. Certainly, the late night prayer is an act that takes one closer to Allah, keeps one away from sins, expiates for evil deeds and repels disease from the body.” (Recorded in al-Tirmidhi)
“The best prayer after the obligatory prayer is that during the depths of the night.” (Recorded in Muslim)
The scholars have said that the reason for the late-night prayer being more virtuous than the voluntary prayers done during the day is because of the lack of ostentation and show in the prayer performed when others are sleeping. The intention behind the late-night prayer is therefore more pure – to please Allah alone. Further it is easier for one to concentrate on the object of one’s worship. This is perhaps one of the greatest virtues of the late-night prayer, it increases our sincerity towards Allah, all praises and glory be to Him. It reminds us that our goal is not the pleasures of this world, but the worship of Allah alone.