Believers are divinely invited to perform night worship, or Qiyam al-Layl, as a way to draw closer to Allah. Nurulain Wolhuter writes on the great virtues of this act.
The heart of the seeker yearns for the inner secret; the one which is devoid of the ego’s desires and purified from the filth of worldly attachments. It is the prize given by the Almighty to the one whom He draws near.
And who is nearer to Allah than His beloved Messenger? He, Allah bless him and give him peace, is the subject of the divine injunction:
O you who wraps himself [in clothing],
Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little –
Half of it – or subtract from it a little
Or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation. (Sura al Muzzamil: 1-4).
So if he, the inimitably close, was commanded to rise at night and pray, how much more should we, the small and blemished ones languishing in the distance, strive to follow his example?
Humaid bin ‘Abdur-Rahman narrated: “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is prayer at night.” (Nasa’i)
We will never be able to match his prayer, neither in length nor in quality. However, by doing our best, we can try to attain closeness, to become one of the muqaribin, or “the ones drawn close.”
Abu Hurayra narrates that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: “Our Lord who is blessed and exalted descends every night to the lowest heaven when the last one-third of the night remains, and says: Who supplicated Me so that I may answer him? Who asks of Me so that I may give to him? Who asks My forgiveness so that I may forgive him?” (Sunan Abi Dawud).
It is also narrated that, during this time, the Messenger of Allah used to pray eleven rakat, or in another narration, 13 rakat, and that he ended with the witr prayer. He gave life to this time of the night by supplications and acts of supererogatory worship.
Abu Hurayra also narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘(Allah says) the most beloved thing with which My slave comes nearer to Me is what I have enjoined upon him (the obligatory deeds); and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (supererogatory deeds) till I love him. When I love him I become his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks (something) from Me, I give him, and if he asks My Protection (refuge), I protect him” (Bukhari).
The one who performs an abundance of acts of supererogatory worship, particularly in the last part of the night, is knocking on the door of Allah Most High, waiting to receive His love. The great Imam al-Haddad writes in his poem Qad Kafani (My Lord’s Knowledge Has Sufficed Me):
لم أزل بالباب واقف فارحم ربي وقوفي
I am ever a bystander at the door, so have mercy O my Lord! as I stand.
Some nights may be dry, others less so but our love remains lukewarm. Until, in the nights of the soul’s most ardent yearning, usually forged in tears and heaving breasts, the Most Merciful unlocks the door to a secret that no one knows but they. This is a meeting that may be fleeting or may be long, a full-blown union, or an encounter from which the tarnished soul may run. But for those who are timid, or who feel unworthy of the gift, the answer is to turn to the Beloved, seeking his intercession, and waiting for the next envelopment. He, the Most High, will open the door, again and again, at His Will and in His time, so the path to this inner secret is to stand at the door every night, crying, in sincerity and love, for the opening that is promised by the One who draws you near.
Nurulain Wolhuter is a student in the Shari’ah course at Dar al Safa in Cape Town, South Africa. She relocated there from Birmingham, UK, in order to pursue her studies and hopes to return in the future to do daw’ah and share her knowledge.