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بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيْم

اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْن،وَالصَّلاۃ وَالسلامُ عَلَی النَّبِیِّ الْکَرِيم وَعَلیٰ آله وَاَصْحَابه اَجْمَعِيْن۔

Two Rak’ahs Sunnah Prayer before Fajr Salah

Importance of two Rak’ahs Sunnah prayer before the obligatory Fajrsalah:

Every Muslim should take care of the Sunnah and nafl prayers besides observing the obligatory ones so that they may attain closeness to Allah the Exalted as the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) is reported to have said, “The slave attains closeness to Allah by way of offering optional (nafl) prayers.” (Bukhari) Moreover, if there happens some shortcomings in the obligatory prayers, the Sunnah and nafl ones will supplement them as the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) is also reported to have said, “The first thing for which a person will be brought to account on the Day of Resurrection will be his (obligatory) salah. If it is found to be complete then it will be recorded as complete, and if anything is lacking He will say: 'Look and see if you can find any voluntary prayers with which to complete what you neglected of your obligatory prayers.' Then the rest of his deeds will be reckoned in the same manner”, (Tirmidhi, Ibne Majah, Nasa’I, Abu Dawud, Musnad Ahmad).

There are twelve Rak’ahs that are regarded as Sunane Mu’akkadah (emphasized Sunnah prayers): two Rak’ahs before Fajr, four before Zuhar, two after Zuhar, two after Maghrib and two after Isha’. In the light of the Prophetic injunctions, the Ummah unanimously holds that the two Rak’ahs Sunnah prayer before Fajr is the most important Sunnahsalah as compared to the rest Sunane Mu’akkadah. Some Ahadeeth of the Prophet (PBUH) regarding the Sunnah prayer before Fajr are as follows:

Ayishah (RA) narrated from the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) that he said: “The two Rak’ahs of Fajr are better than this world and all that is in it.” Another narration says that the Prophet (PBUH) said:“These two (pre-Fajr) Rak’ahs are more beloved to me than the whole world”, (Muslim).

Aishah (RA also narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) was never more regular and strict in offering any nawafil (voluntary prayers) than the two Rak’ahs (Sunnah) before Fajr (dawn) prayer (Bukhari and Muslim).

Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Do not leave two Rak’ahs of Fajr, even if horses trample over you (even if you are being attacked by a cavalry)”, (Abu Dawud).

Aishah (RA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) never missed offering four (Rak’ahs) before Zuhar salah and two before Fajr salah, (Bukhari).

Offering two Sunnah Rak’ahs after the congregation of Fajr has started:

There is unanimous agreement between the scholars that except for Fajr salah if any of the rest four congregational obligatory prayers starts then no other prayers even the Sunnah prayers associated with the obligatory salah in progress can be offered. As for the two Sunnah Rak’ahs before Fajr, the scholars, however, have two different opinions. Both the opinions have been espoused and reported from the noble Companions (RA) as mentioned by Imam Tirmidhi in his Sunan, (Tirmidhi: vol. 1, p. 282).

First opinion:

Like other Sunnah prayers, the pre-Fajr two Sunnah Rak’ahs should not be offered after the commencement of the congregation. The proponents of this opinion cite a Hadeeth of the Prophet (PBUH) narrated by Abu Hurairah (RA) that prohibits performance of any prayer other than the obligatory one after the congregation has begun, (Tirmidhi: vol. 2, p. 282). The actual purpose of the Hadeeth as interpreted by the proponents of the second opinion will be discussed in the end of the article. This will show that it is the difference of interpretation of the Hadeeth between the scholars that resulted in two different opinions.

Second opinion:

Taking into consideration the importance of pre-Fajr Sunnah prayer, the Companions (RA) would offer these two Rak’ahs even after the commencement of the congregation and only then, they would join it. Therefore, if a person finds it more likely that he would catch up with imamat least in the second Rak’ah then he should offer two Sunnah Rak’ahs maintaining a proper distance from the place where the congregation is being held and then join the congregation. The arguments presented to substantiate this view are as follows:

Abdullah ibn Abu Musa (RA) narrated: “Once Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud (RA) entered our mosque while imam was leading Fajrsalah. Hence, since he had not yet performed two Rak’ahs Sunnah of Fajr, he stood behind one of the pillars of the mosque and performed them (while jama’ah was in progress). Thereafter he joined the congregation.” The Hadeeth has been reported by al-Tabrani with a chain of strong narrators,(Majma’ al-Zawa’id: vol. 1, p. 75).

Practice of Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA):

Abu Uthman al-Ansari (RA) narrated:“Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) arrived while imam was leading the Fajr prayer. Since Ibn Abbas (RA) had not yet performed two Rak’ahs (Sunnah), he performed them behind imam (i.e. separately), then joined in the congregation.” (Athar al-Sunan: vol. 3, p. 33, Sharh Ma'ani al-Athar by al-Tahawi, Book of Salah, Chapter: A man enters the mosque when imam is in Fajr salah while he has not yet performed two Sunnah Rak’ahs, should he perform {them} or not? The Hadeeth has been classified as Sahih by al-Nimawi).

Practice of Abdullah ibn Umar (RA):

Muhammad ibn Ka’b (RA) narrates: “Abdullah ibn Umar (RA) left home and Fajr prayer had already begun. He prayed two Rak’ahs of salah outside before entering Masjid and then joined in the congregation.” (Sharah Ma'ani al-Athar by al-Tahawi, Book of Salah, Chapter: A man enters the mosque when the imam is in Fajr salah …, narrated with a sound (hasan) chain).

“Abu al-Darda (RA) would enter Masjid while everybody would be in rows performing the Fajr prayer. He would first perform his two Rak'ahs in a corner of the masjid, and then join everyone in the (farz) prayer."  (Sharah Ma'ani al-Athar by al-Tahawi, Book of Salah, Chapter: A man enters the mosque when the imam is in Fajrsalah …).

Practice of the Companions (RA) during the reign of Umar (RA):

Abu Uthman Mehdi narrated: “We would come (in Masjid) without having yet performed two (Sunnah) Rak’ahs of Fajr during the reign Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA) and find him leading the prayer,so we would perform our two Rak’ahs at the rear of Masjid, then joined the congregation.” (Sharh Ma'ani al-Athar by al-Tahawi, Book of Salah, Chapter: A man enters the mosque when the imam is in Fajr salah …).

The practice of all these noble Companions (RA) thus confirms that if a person is certain of catching up with the congregation of the obligatory Fajr prayer then he should offer the two Sunnah Rak’ahs in some corner of Masjid.

For more details on the issue, below is a summary of what Imam Ali ibn Abu Bakr al-Haithami wrote in his famous collection of Hadeeth, Majma’ al-Zawa’id wa Manba’ al-Fawa’id in the chapter, may one perform other than the prescribed prayer once the call to commence salah (iqamah) is made?’. The most authentic Hadeeth mentioned by the author is what has been reported about the practice of Abdullah ibn Masud (RA) that if he ever reached the mosque and had not yet performed two Sunnah Rak’ahs he would perform them behind a pillar of the mosque and then join in the congregation. (This narration is undisputedly authentic.) It is worth noting that Abdullah ibn Masud (RA) was a Companion of high caliber to whom the elder Companions (RA) rather the Rightly-guided Caliphs would make recourse to find a solution for the issues they faced. He was known among the Companions for his in-depth knowledge and religious insight. Besides, he was keen at following each and every Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). The chapter, however, includes a few other narrations as well which are either weak as the author himself declared them so or are open to interpretation so as to remove any contradiction on the face of it between the Ahadeeth. To give an example, Abu Musa (RA) narrated: “While the Mu’azzin was giving call to commence prayer, the Prophet (PBUH) saw a man praying the two (Sunnah) Rak’ahs of the Dawn (Fajr). So he patted on his shoulder and said,‘If only it was (performed) before’.”The Hadeeth does not imply absolute prohibition of offering the Sunnah Rak’ahs after commencement of the prescribed prayer. On the other hand, it merely dictates what is best and preferable i.e. performance of the Sunnah prayer before the call to commence the obligatory one is made which, as you know, no one denies. Nevertheless, all these Ahadeeth establish the fact that the Companions (RA) even during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) would pray two Rak’ahs of pre-Fajr Sunnah prayer after the commencement of the congregation if they had not yet performed them and only then, they would join the congregation.

The true interpretation of the Hadeeth of Abu Hurairah (RA):

The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “Once the call to commence salah (iqama) is made for the prayer, there is no prayer except farz prayer (maktubah)”, (Tirmidhi, vol. 2, p. 282). The Hadeeth is undoubtedly an authentic. Yet, in view of the other Ahadeeth reported in this regard and practice of the noble Companions (RA), Hadeeth should be reinterpreted that it applies to other than the Fajr prayer because two Sunnah Rak’ahs of Fajr are the most emphatic of all the Sunnah prayers.

Another point to be noticed:

When there is little chance that one will make it to joining in the congregation if starts offering the Sunnah prayer, he should leave it and join the congregational prayer. Then, if one wants to make it up, he may offer it after sunrise as per the Prophetic injunction. One should not offer it immediately after Fajrsalah because the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) prohibited offering any salah after Fajr until the sunrises.

Abu Hurairah (RA) reports that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever fails to pray two Rak’ahs of Fajr, he should then pray them after sunrise” (Tirmidhi, classified as ‘sahih according to the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim’ by Hakim).

Imam Malik (RA) said: “It has reached me that Abdullah ibn Umar (RA) missed two Rak’ahs of Fajr and he made them up after sunrise”, (Mu’atta Malik, Chpater on Ahadeeth pertaining to two Rak’ahs of Fajr).

The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “No prayer is to be offered after Fajr prayer until the sun rises”, (Bukhari and Muslim).

All the above-mentioned Ahadeeth clearly suggest that if the Sunnah Rak’ahs of Fajrare missed they are to be performed only after the sun has risen. Some individuals are seen to perform them immediately after the prescribed Fajr salah and present a Hadeeth of Abu Musa (RA). The fact is that the Hadeeth they cite as evidence is a mursal Hadeeth i.e. narrated with a broken link in its chain of narration at the level of a Companion (RA) as Imam Tirmidhi who recorded the narration has thus classified it.

May Allah grant us punctuality in offering two Sunnah Rak’ahs of Fajr before the congregational prayer begins so we may act upon what is actually required of us by the Shari’ah.

Mohammad Najeeb Qasmi (www.najeebqasmi.com)