Proofs for the Obligatory Nature of the Witr Prayer
Ibn Abi Shaybah narrates in his Musannaf (4:505):
حدثنا زيد بن حباب قال حدثنا أبو المنيب عن عبد الله بن بريدة عن أبيه قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
الوتر حق، فمن لم يوتر فليس منا
“Zayd ibn Hubab narrated to us, he said: Abu l-Munib narrated to us from ‘Abd Allah ibn Buraydah from his father (Buraydah al-Aslami), he said: The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
‘Witr is a duty. So whoever does not perform Witr, he is not from us.’”
It was also narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, al-Hakim and al-Tahawi (in Sharh Mushkil al-Athar), all of them through the route of Abu l-Munib ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Abd Allah al-‘Ataki after whom the chain is the same. Some of them mention that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said this thrice. Both Muhammad ‘Awwamah (footnotes to Musannaf, 4:505) and Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut (footnotes to Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, 1404) said the chain and hadith is hasan. It was also deemed hasan by al-Nimawi and Ibn al-Humam (I‘la al-Sunan, 6:3). The editors of Musnad Ahmad also consider the chain of this hadith of Buraydah al-Aslami hasan (15:447). Al-Hakim said the hadith is sahih.
The narrators are all the narrators of the two Sahihs besides Abu l-Munib al-‘Ataki who Yahya ibn Ma‘in, al-Hakim, ‘Abbas ibn Mus‘ab and al-Nasa’i said is thiqah; and Ibn ‘Adi, al-Bukhari and Abu Dawud said “there is no harm in him”; and Abu Hatim said, “he is acceptable (salih) in hadith.” Furthermore, there is a supporting marfu‘ narration from Abu Hurayrah, “Whoever does not perform Witr, he is not from us.” This narration is weak but valid as supporting evidence, as mentioned by al-Arna’ut in his footnotes to Sharh Mushkil al-Athar. Furthermore, the words, “Witr is a duty,” was narrated with a sahih chain from Abu Ayyub al-Ansari by al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah and others. Al-Daraqutni also narrated it with a sahih chain from Abu Ayyub with the addition, “Witr is an obligatory (wajib) duty” (Sunan al-Daraqutni, no. 1640). Hence, the hadith with both its parts is at least hasan, and suitable for adducing as proof (salih lil ihtijaj).
Such harsh warning of expelling one from the Muslim community is only for abandoning an obligation or committing an act that is prohibited. Other acts for which the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned these words (“is not from us”) include cheating, disrespecting elders, wailing and rending garments, and not clipping the moustache (when it is long). Hence, this is a strong proof for the obligation (wujub) of Witr.
Imam Ahmad narrated in his Musnad (39:271, no. 23851):
حدثنا علي بن إسحاق، حدثنا عبد الله يعني ابن المبارك أخبرنا سعيد بن يزيد، حدثني ابن هبيرة، عن أبي تميم الجيشاني أن عمرو بن العاص خطب الناس يوم جمعة، فقال: إن أبا بصرة حدثني أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال
إن الله زادكم صلاة، وهي الوتر، فصلوها فيما بين صلاة العشاء إلى صلاة الفجر
قال أبو تميم: فأخذ بيدي أبو ذر فسار فى المسجد إلى أبي بصرة، فقال له: أنت سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول ما قال عمرو؟ قال أبو بصرة: أنا سمعته من رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
‘Ali ibn Ishaq narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah – meaning, Ibn al-Mubarak – narrated to us: Sa‘id ibn Yazid reported to us: Ibn Hubayrah narrated to me from Abu Tamim al-Jayshani that ‘Amr ibn al-‘As delivered a sermon to the people on Friday, and he said: Verily, Abu Basrah narrated to me that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“Verily, Allah has increased for you a prayer, and that is Witr. Therefore, pray it in [the time] that is between the ‘Isha prayer till the Fajr prayer.”
Abu Tamim said: Then Abu Dharr took hold of my hand and walked in the mosque towards Abu Basrah and said to him, “Did you hear the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) say what ‘Amr said?” Abu Basrah said: “I heard it from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace.”
The editors of Musnad Ahmad said: “Its chain is sahih. Its narrators are trustworthy.” (ibid.)
The proof of the obligatory nature (wujub) of Witr from this hadith may be derived from a number of perspectives:
- The instruction, “therefore pray it,” is in the form of an imperative (amr) which is generally for wujub. As the scholars of Usul say, “mutlaq al-amr li l-wujub” (an imperative free of qualifications [indicating otherwise] is for obligation).
- “Allah has increased/added for you a prayer.” That which is added is from the essence of that which it is added to. Therefore, Witr is from the essence of the obligations, hence obligatory.
- An addition and increase is only conceivable in something that is stipulated and fixed (muqaddar), and it is only the obligatory prayers that are fixed not the optional prayers.
Furthermore, this hadith has been counted amongst the mutawatir (mass-transmitted) hadiths. Al-Suyuti and al-Kattani included it in their lists of mutawatir hadiths (Qatf al-Azhar al-Mutanathirah fi l-Akhbar al-Mutawatirah, al-Maktab al-Islami, p. 107; Nazm al-Mutanathir fi l-Hadith al-Mutawatir, p. 104) It has been reported from numerous other Sahabah besides Abu Basrah, including Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri (with a hasan chain by al-Tabrani), Kharijah ibn Hudhafah (by Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Tahawi, al-Hakim and others), Ibn ‘Abbas (by al-Daraqutni), ‘Amr ibn al-‘As (by Ahmad and al-Daraqutni), ‘Uqbah ibn ‘Amir (by al-Tabrani), ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Awfa (by al-Bayhaqi) and Ibn ‘Umar (by al-Daraqutni). For a detailed analysis of these narrations and their chains, see I‘la’ al-Sunan, 6:5-10.
Imam Ahmad narrated in his Musnad (8:456, no. 4847):
حدثنا يزيد، أخبرنا هشام، عن محمد بن سيرين عن ابن عمر، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، قال
صلاة المغرب وتر النهار، فأوتروا صلاة الليل
“Yazid (ibn Harun) narrated to us: Hisham (ibn Hassan al-Azdi) reported to us from Muhammad ibn Sirin from Ibn ‘Umar from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), he said:
‘Maghrib prayer is the Witr of the day, so perform the Witr of the night prayer.’”
This is an authentic chain. All the narrators are narrators found in all six collections of hadith. This hadith proves the obligation of Witr from two perspectives: Firstly, the command to perform Witr. Secondly, the comparison with Maghrib. Maghrib is an obligation, and so ought Witr be.
A question may arise here that if Witr is an obligation, does that not make the number of prayers six and not five? The answer is that firstly Witr is not an obligation like the obligation of the five prayers, but an obligation of lesser strength (though an obligation nonetheless). Secondly, Witr is not an independent prayer like the other five prayers. Rather, it is an add-on (tabi‘) to the ‘Isha and night prayers. Therefore, it is not a sixth prayer. The number of independent compulsory prayers remains five, and this does not negate that Witr too is an obligation.
Opponents of the Hanafi view often quote the hadith of the Bedouin in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) listed the basic obligations of a Muslim which if he does will be sufficient for his salvation, and Witr is not mentioned amongst them. The answer to this is either that this was before the obligation of Witr, or that Witr is considered as a complementary obligation to ‘Isha (and is therefore included by extension in the hadith). The evidence for this is that Sadaqat al-Fitr is also not mentioned in the hadith which the majority of the scholars accept is an obligation; and the interpretation given by them is either that Sadaqat al-Fitr was made an obligation later or that it is a complementary obligation to Zakah. Hence, the same justification can be made for Witr.
Abu Dawud narrated in his Sunan (ed. Muhammad ‘Awwamah, 2:256, no. 1426):
حدثنا محمد بن عوف، حدثنا عثمان بن سعيد، عن أبي غسان محمد بن مطرف المدني، عن زيد بن أسلم، عن عطاء بن يسار، عن أبي سعيد قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
من نام عن وتره أو نسيه، فليصله إذا ذكره
Muhammad ibn ‘Awf narrated to us: ‘Uthman ibn Sa‘id (ibn Kathir ibn Dinar) narrated to us from Abu Ghassan Muhammad ibn Mutarrif al-Madani from Zayd ibn Aslam from ‘Ata’ ibn Yasar from Abu Sa ‘id, he said: The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“Whoever sleeps from his Witr or he forgot it, he must pray it when he remembers it.”
The chain is authentic. All the narrators are trustworthy. Al-Hakim narrated it with the same chain and declared it sahih and al-Dhahabi agreed. (footnotes to Musnad Ahmad, 17:367)
This hadith proves that one must make up Witr if missed. The obligation of making it up is a strong indication of its obligation.
Other authentic hadiths use the imperative form for the command of Witr. For example, Imam al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
إجعلوا آخر صلاتكم بالليل وترا
“Make the last of your prayer at night Witr.”
Imam Muslim narrated in his Sahih from the Prophet:
أوتروا قبل أن تصبحوا
“Perform Witr before you reach dawn.”
He also narrated from him:
بادروا الصبح بالوتر
“Contest with dawn for the Witr (prayer).”
من خاف أن لا يقوم آخر الليل فليوتر أوله
“Whoever fears he will not stand at the end of the night, he must perform Witr at the start of it.”
Such a stress in performing the Witr in its correct time is a strong indicator of its obligation.
Imam al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih from ‘A’ishah:
كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يصلي وأنا راقدة معترضة على فراشه، فإذا أراد أن يوتر أيقظني فأوترت
“The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would pray while I was sleeping horizontally on his mattress. So when he intended to perform Witr, he woke me and I performed Witr.”
In short, his (peace and blessings be upon him) manner of stressing the importance of praying Witr is characteristic of obligatory, not optional, prayers.
Response to the Evidences of the Opposition
The evidences of the opposition have been discussed at length by Mawlana Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani (I‘la al-Sunan, 6:21-28)
The most famous objection (that this would imply an increase in the number of compulsory prayers from five to six) was addressed above under hadith four.
The strongest evidence in favour of the opposite view is the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar narrated in the Sahih of al-Bukhari that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) offered Witr on his camel – whereas it is impermissible to offer obligatory prayers on a vehicle, and this is only permissible for optional prayers. This has been answered in a number of ways. Firstly, it may have been that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did this for a specific reason or circumstance (‘udhr). Hence, the norm is that one must pray on the ground as it is from the obligations, but for a valid Shar‘i reason, one may pray on a vehicle. Secondly, there are conflicting reports from Ibn ‘Umar. Al-Tahawi narrated with sound chains that Ibn ‘Umar would pray the optional prayers on his camel, and would then dismount when he intended to pray Witr, and he attributed this practice to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Al-Tahawi further suggests that in the hadith of praying on the animal, Ibn ‘Umar related an earlier practice which has now been abrogated. He based this primarily on “hadith two” quoted above. (Sharh Ma‘ani al-Athar, Maktabah Haqqaniyyah, p. 285)
‘Allamah Anwar Shah Kashmiri stated that the disagreement between the Hanafis and the other three madhhabs in this regard is only in terminology and semantics, as none of the madhhabs said it is acceptable or permissible to leave Witr. Imam Malik said the testimony of the one who omits Witr is unacceptable, and similar statements are found in the other schools – which is proof that leaving Witr is a serious offence in all madhhabs, regardless of the ruling attached to it. (Fayd al-Bari, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2:480)