Is the Tahajjud Prayer Obligatory?
Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
Is the Tahajjud prayer obligatory due to the command in the Quran, the rebuke of the one who did not pray it in Sahih al-Bukhari, and the fact that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) regularly did it?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
The Tahajjud prayer is a Sunna (also referred to as recommended) prayer. [Maydani, al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab]
Types of Command
Not every command in the Qur’an and Prophetic narrations conveys obligation. Commands can convey many meanings. Some scholars have enumerated a total of 18 potential meanings for a command. [Bukhari; Kashf al-Asrar Sharh Usul al-Bazdawi]
In this regard, the Scholars are very attentive to the nuances of the commands in the Qur’an and the Prophetic narrations. [Ibid.]
Some examples are as follows:
1) Obligation/Necessity: “Establish prayer and give alms (Zakat)…” [Quran; 2:43]
2) Recommendation: “And make a contract with them, if you know there to be goodness in them.” [Quran; 24:33]
3) Indicating the Better of Two Options (Awthaq): “And have it witnessed when you make a sale contract between you.” [Quran; 2:282]
4) Permission: “Eat from that which they (trained dogs) have caught for you…” [Quran; 8:4]
5) Warning or Threat (rhetorical commands):
“Do as you please. Indeed, He is all aware of what you do.” [Quran; 41:40]
“Whoever wishes let him believe, and whoever wishes let him disbelieve. Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoer Fire….” [Quran;18:29]
The command in the Quran (mentioned below) is of the second types: for recommendation. [Bukhari; Kashf al-Asrar Sharh Usul al-Bazdawi]
Allah Most High says, “And rise at ˹the last˺ part of the night, offering additional prayers, so your Lord may raise you to a station of praise.” [Quran; 17:79]
The command in this verse conveys recommendation, and despite the verse addressing the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) directly, it applies to the entire Muslim community. [Qurtubi; al-Jam’i li Ahkam al-Quran]
Some scholars mentioned that the Tahajjud prayer was an obligation before being abrogated and reduced to the level of recommendation. [Ibid.]
“After the Obligation…”
The following narration supports the Tahajjud prayer being recommended:
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the night vigil prayer (a.k.a. Tahajjud); and the best fast after Ramadan is that of the month of Muharram.” [Nasaai’]
The phrase ‘after the obligatory prayers’ indicates that Tahajjud is not among the obligatory prayers, and this is the correct understanding.
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York, where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and several texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.