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Fasting by day, keeping vigil at night

Islam Acquaintance Centre

May 18th, 2020

Fasting by day, keeping vigil at night

Everyone knows Ramadan as the month in which Muslims fast during the day. What is less known is that they do not only fast during the day. They also keep vigil at night.

This process, of keeping vigil at night, is known as

قیام اللیل

Qiyam’al-Layl, which literally means standing in prayer during the night.

Having fasted during the day, a Muslim breaks his fast at sundown. After a short break, he or she begins the overnight prayer vigil.

This prayer vigil – it is known as Tarawih prayer – generally takes the form of congregational prayer in the mosque. ّTarawih prayers can vary from eight raka’ats to 20 raka’ats, a raka’at being one round of prayer. One feature of each raka’at is extended recitation of the Quran in each raka’at of prayer. We will go into this special relationship between the Quran and Ramadan in an upcoming dars, Inshallah.

Congregational prayers at night in Ramadan are a great tradition. However, in the time of Coronavirus, it is best to make the most of praying at home

For now, in this dars, I intend to concentrate on the intense dose of fasting and prayer that the believer takes during the month of Ramadan. What is the purpose of such an extreme test of endurance, which entails fasting by day and spending the night in prayer vigil?

The secret can be found in a Hadith-e-Qudsi of the Holy Prophet. A Hadith-e-Qudsi is when the Holy Prophet quotes Almighty Allah, without the quote constituting a verse of the Quran:

 قال الله تعالی: «الصوم لی و انا اجزی به»

Fasting is for me, and I will reward it.

There is a simple reason for Allah personalising the reward for the fast of Ramadan in this way. By its very nature, fasting has to be for Allah, since if one wishes to fast just ‘to be seen of men’, one could always fast in front of others, and break one’s fast in secret. But if one is observing the fast of Ramadan correctly, then a degree of God-consciousness has to be there.

The same goes for prayers at the dead of night. Only Allah sees one getting up at the dead of night and praying to Him. Like fasting, it is not something that is done to show off, it has to come from a true sense of devotion:

إِنَّ رَبَّكَ يَعۡلَمُ أَنَّكَ تَقُومُ أَدۡنَىٰ مِن ثُلُثَيِ ٱلَّيۡلِ وَنِصۡفَهُۥ وَثُلُثَهُۥ وَطَآئِفَةٞ مِّنَ ٱلَّذِينَ مَعَكَۚ

Allah knows that you stand up praying for nearly two-thirds of the night, or one-half of it and sometimes one-third of it, so do others among your followers.

(Al-Muzammil, 73:20)

Tarawih prayers in congregation in the mosque is a custom that has been in place since the time of the second Caliph of Islam, Umar Farooq, who called it a ‘good innovation’ – while adding a word of warning:

نعمت البدعة هذه ، والتي تنامون عنها أفضل من التي تقومون يريد آخر الليل وكان الناس يقومون أوله


…. It’s a good innovation (Tarawih prayers in congregation in the early part of the night) but what you miss through sleeping is more excellent than what you are standing in prayer for,’ meaning the end of the night, since people were praying in the early part of the night.


Now, with ulema all over the world advising their congregations to stay at home and observe the night prayer vigil of Ramadan there, due to the Coronavirus, there is a very good opportunity to offer what Umar referred to as ‘even more excellent’: prayer at the dead of night in one’s home.

To make any discovery in life, one has to push oneself to the limit. This is true of any of the great discoveries in the history of mankind, whether the discovery involves exploration, or is a scientific or mathematical discovery.

To find Allah, so that he is there before one in all His magnificence and munificence, at hand to answer all one’s prayers, is the very greatest of discoveries. It can achieved by making a supreme effort, fasting during the day and standing up in prayer at night with nothing else on one’s mind but to gain Allah’s good pleasure.

Now is the time to make that supreme effort. It is a comparatively small effort to make for such a huge reward.

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