What is sunnah acts of ritual prayer?
It is a Sunnah for Muslim men to do the call for prayer (adhan) before the five daily prayers and to call for the commencement of the prayer (iqamah) before the obligatory cycles of the prayer.
The Sunnah acts of prayer are divided into two categories according to the Shafii School:
First category is called “ab’ad (parts plural of the word ba’d)” (Sunnah acts which are considered as part of prayer). If any one of the acts in this group is forgotten or neglected, one should perform the prostration of forgetfulness (sajdat al-sahw) at the end of the prayer.
Second category is called “hay’at (forms plural of the word hay’ah)”. Every act which is neither an essential act of prayer nor part of such a pillar is to be classified as a ‘hay’ah (form)’. If any one of the acts in this group is forgotten or neglected, one does not need to perform the prostration of forgetfulness (sajdat al-sahw) at the end of the prayer. However, one who intentionally neglects any one of them will not earn the reward of performing a Sunnah.
The list of Ab’ad Sunnahs is as follows (omission of any one of them requires the performance of a prostration of forgetfulness)
- Recitation of the invocation of qunut when standing up during the last rak’ah of the dawn prayer. Standing for the recitation of the invocation of qunut. Following the invocation of qunut with a prayer of blessings and greetings of peace on the Prophet, the members of his family and on the Companions.
- Reciting the first testimony (tahiyyat) in prayers consisting of three or four rak ‘ahs. Sitting for this testimony.
- Following this testimony (tahiyyat) with a prayer of blessings on the Prophet by saying “Allahumma salli ala Muhammadin abdika wa rasulika al-nabiy al-ummiy”. Sitting for this prayer.
- Following the final testimony (tahiyyat) with a prayer of blessings on the Prophet’s family. Sitting for the final testimony.
- Recitation of the invocation of qunut when standing up from ruku’ in the final cycle of the witr prayer during the second half of Ramadan. Standing for the recitation of the invocation of qunut. Following the invocation of qunut with a prayer of blessings and greetings of peace on the Prophet, the members of his family and on the Companions. on and a greeting of peace to the Prophet, the members of his family and Companions.
There is not a specific number of hay’at Sunnah, but the following can be given as examples (omission of them does not require the performance of a prostration of forgetfulness)
- Uttering the intention by tongue right before the beginning takbir.
- Looking at the place of prostration while performing the prayer (One who performs a prayer in Masjid al-Haram may look at the Ka’bah; One who performs a funeral prayer may look at the coffin; and one who is in the sitting position and raises his index finger while reciting the invocation of tahiyyat may look at his index finger).
- Keeping the space between the feet open for a period while standing, bowing for ruku’ and performing the prostration (Women keep their arms, legs and belly adjacent to each other when performing the prostration.)
- Uttering the beginning takbir in a standing position if one is able to do it.
- Raising hands up to the shoulder level when uttering the beginning takbir, going to ruku’, standing back from the ruku’, and when standing up from the first sitting. When raising hands, fingers should be open, palms should face towards the qiblah, and thumbs should be at the level of the earlobes. (Women do not raise their hands so high).
- For those who perform their prayer in congregation, to utter the takbirs in a low voice which they themselves can hear. As for the imam, he should utter all takbirs in a loud voice which everybody can hear.
- To place one’s right palm over the back of one’s left hand while holding onto the left wrist and part of the left forearm while standing. Hands should be tied above the belly and under the chest. They should be kept not in the middle of the body but a little bit towards the left side of the body.
- To follow takbirat al-ihram with a recitation of the prayer of commencement (du ‘a· al-iftitah), the words to which begin as follows: “Wajjahtu wajhiya…”
- To recite chapter al-Fatiha in the first cycle after the recitation of the supplication which begin as follows: “Wajjahtu wajhiya…”
- To pray for divine protection against evil during each rak’ah; specifically, one should utter the prayer for divine protection between the prayer of commencement and one’s recitation of the Such a prayer for protection may consist of any words which convey a plea to Allah for protection from evil; however, it is preferable to say silently, “I seek refuge in God from the accursed Satan (audhu billahi mina al-shaytan al-rajim)”.
- To make the recitation silently in the noon (zuhr) and the late afternoon (‘asr) prayers; whereas reciting aloud during the first two of the obligatory cycles of the evening and the night prayers; and during all the obligatory cycles of the dawn, the Friday, and the festival prayers. (Recitation is made silently in prayers performed during daylight except during the Friday and the festival prayer; while all prayers performed at night including tarawih, witr, and makeup prayers are recited aloud.)
- To say “basmala” aloud at the beginning of chapter al-Fatiha in prayers in which the recitation is performed aloud.
- To wait silently so long as to say “subhanallah” between beginning takbir, saying “audhu…” and “basmalah”.
- To say Amin out loud after the recitation of the Fatihah in prayers in which the recitation is made out loud and to say it silently in prayers in which the recitation is made silently. (It is Sunnah (mandub) for the imam leading a prayer that is being performed aloud to remain silent long enough after the Fatiha to allow those being led in prayer to recite it after him. The ideal practice is for the imam to spend this silent time in inward supplication or recitation.)
- In the first two cycles of a prayer to recite some passage from the Qur’an following the This passage may be less than a complete surah, although according to the Shafiis, a complete surah is preferable (the minimum equivalent of a surah being three verses). (In prayers in which the recitation is made out loud, the congregation waits silently until the imam finishes the recitation of Fatiha and says “amin”. After he says “amin”, the congregation begins the recitation of Fatiha. When they finish the recitation of Fatiha, they do not recite any additional part from the Qur’an, but rather listen to the recitation of the imam).
- To recite longer parts from the Qur’an in the first cycle than the parts recited in second cycle.
- For those who are in the congregation to advise the imam who makes an error while performing the prayer.
- To utter Allahu akbar in transition from one act to another except standing back up from ruku’ (for example when going down into a ruku’ or a prostration)
- To keep the back parallel to the ground while performing ruku’ and to grasp the knees during ruku’ (Women do not bow down so much and do not hold their arms so tight in the position of ruku’).
- To praise God when bowing by saying three times “subhana rabbi al-’azim (“Glory be to my great Lord)”.
- To say sami’a Allahu Ii man hamidah while lifting one’s head after a ruku’. It is also a Sunnah for this statement to be said by both the imam and the congregation. To say rabbana wa laka al-hamd as one finishes coming up into a standing position.
- After standing back up from ruku in the second rak’ah of Dawn Prayer, to recite the supplication of qunut that begins with the phrase “Allahummahdini fiman hadayt…” The imam should use the plural forms for the phrases when reciting this supplication. In witr prayer, one may recite the supplication transmitted from Umar (r.a.) beginning with the phrases “Allahumma inna nastainuka…” Supplication of qunut can be recited in the final rak’ah of the obligatory prayers when a calamity hits the country.
- To raise the hands in a position whereby the palms face up to the sky when reciting the supplication qunut. (One should not wipe the hands to the face after finishing this supplication of qunut).
- To place the hands to the ground in line with the shoulders when performing prostration and to close the gaps between the fingers.
- If the congregation is not too crowded, men should keep their elbows away from their sides and from the ground, while women should keep them close to their body.
- To utter praise to God while prostrating by saying subhan rabbi al-a’la. The minimum degree of the Sunnah is fulfilled by saying these words only once; however, in order to fulfill it more completely, one should say them three times. To increase the number of praises when performing the supererogatory prayers individually.
- To recite the supplication “Rabbighfirli wa-rhamni wa-jburni wa-rzukni wa-hdini wa afini wa’fu anni” between the two prostrations.
- After finishing the two prostrations, to sit for a short while before standing up. This sitting is called “istiraha”.
- When standing up from the prostration or from the first sitting, to raise the knees from the ground before the hands. Then to stand up by leaning on to the hands.
- When seated, to spread one’s left hand in such a way that its fingertips are over one’s left knee.
- When seated at any time during prayer, to sit on top of one’s left calf and heel with the top of the left foot downward, while holding the right foot perpendicular to the ground or floor and pointing one’s toes toward the This ruling applies, of course, only to those who suffer from no physical condition that would prevent them from sitting in this fashion; otherwise-for example, if someone is too overweight to sit in this position-he may adopt whatever seated posture he is capable of.
- In prayers with three or four cycles (rak’ahs), to sit in the first sitting in a position called iftirash and in the final sitting in a position called tawarruk (women sit in the position of tawarruk in both sittings)
- When seated and uttering the words, La ilaha illa Allah …, to close one’s right hand into a fist, leaving one’s index finger extended toward the It is desirable to move one’s index finger when saying “illa Allah”.
- In the first sitting after reciting the supplication tahiyyat to recite a prayer of blessings and greetings of peace to the Prophet (Salawat) and in the final sitting to recite the supplications of “Salli” and “Barik” up to the phrase “hamidun majid”.
- After the recitation of tahiyyat, the invocations of “salli” and “barik” in the final sitting to recite some other invocations narrated from the Prophet (pbuh).
- To utter the second concluding greeting of peace to the left at the end of the prayer.
- To say the well-known dhikr (remembrances) and prayers etc. after finishing the ritual prayers (When the ritual prayer is finished, it is recommended to recite the Verse of Throne (Ayat al-Kursi), followed by “Subhanallah”, “Alhamdulillah”, and “Allahu akbar” thirty three times each.)
- To raise both hands and invoke to Allah after the prayer. It is reported that the supplications made after the obligatory prayers are among the invocations accepted by Allah.
By fulfilling the Sunnah acts of prayer, the prayer becomes complete. The omission of any of these acts causes a decline in the spiritual rewards of the prayer.
It is recommended to recite one of the chapters called tiwal-i mufassal between chapter “al-Hujurat” and “al-Naba’” during the dawn and the noon prayers. It is recommended to recite one of the chapters called awsat-i Mufassal, which are the chapters between the chapters of “al-Naba’’” and “al-Duha”, during the late afternoon and the night prayers, and during the evening prayer it is recommended to recite one of the chapters called qisar-i Mufassal, which are the chapters found in the Qur’an after chapter “al-Duha”. Furthermore, it is recommended to recite in the first rak’ah of the dawn prayer on Friday the chapter “al-Sajda”, and in the second rak’ah the chapter “al-Insan”.
If a place is available at home, it is meritorious to change place of prayer and to perform supererogatory prayers by going home.
Those who perform the prayer should remember the greatness of Allah Almighty and should not keep their hearts busy with thinking about mundane and banal matters of this world. They should avoid looking around while praying and contemplate about the meanings of the chapters of the Qur’an and the supplication they are reciting.
It is recommended to perform the prayer while being serene and to try to avoid yawning.
The performance of a prayer with its Sunnah and recommended acts is what was defined as a prayer by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Since a person knows that he/she is in the presence of Allah when performing prayer, it is important to wear the best attire. Muslim women should wear socks even when they pray alone and they should avoid wearing transparent clothes. It is among the manners of prayer for Muslim men to wear a turban or a prayer cap to cover their heads.
 Al-Nawawi, al-Majmu, 3/262.
Source: Fiqh1 (According To The Shafi’i School Of Islamic Law), Erkam Publications