1,001 Sayings and Deeds of the Prophet
Nocturnal Devotions and Qunuts
Allah's Apostle offered Witr prayer at different nights at various hours extending (from the Isha prayer, the night prayer, the last of the five compulsory prayers) up to the last hour of the night.
I did not see the Prophet reciting (the Quran) in the night prayer while sitting except when he became old; when he used to recite while sitting, and when thirty or forty verses remained from the Sura, he would get up and recite them and then bow.
As to how many rakats the Prophet did during the Night Prayer:
I asked Aisha about the night prayer of Allah's Apostle and she said, "It was seven, nine or eleven Rakat besides the two Rakat of the Fajr prayer (i.e. Sunna)."
The Prophet (p.b.u.h) used to offer thirteen Rakat of the night prayer and that included the Witr and two Rakat (Sunna) of the Fajr prayer.
His followers, in increasing numbers, like mindless automaton, joined the Prophet during his nights spent worshipping Allah thinking that another round of compulsory prayers was in the offing.
Not this time. There would be no call to prayer to break the silence of the middle of the night.
Once in the middle of the night Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out and prayed in the mosque and some men prayed with him. The next morning the people spoke about it and so more people gathered and prayed with him (in the second night). They circulated the news in the morning, and so, on the third night the number of people increased greatly.
Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) came out and they prayed behind him. On the fourth night the mosque was overwhelmed by the people till it could not accommodate them.
Allah's Apostle came out only for the Fajr (the first of the obligatory prayers) prayer and when he finished the prayer, he faced the people and recited "Tashah-hud" (I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is His Apostle), and then said, "Amma ba'du. Verily your presence (in the mosque at night) was not hidden from me, but I was afraid that this prayer (Prayer of Tahajjud i.e. the night prayer, a voluntary prayer) might be made compulsory and you might not be able to carry it out."
Some of the prayers the Prophet offered at night were Nawafil prayers i.e. prayers that are not compulsory. The type of prayer he offered when riding.
Narrated Ibn Umar:
The Prophet used to offer (Nawafil) prayers on his Rahila (mount) facing its direction by signals, but not the compulsory prayer. He also used to pray Witr on his (mount) Rahila.
During his nocturnal devotions God's Messenger may also have recited Qunuts.
Narrated Muhammad bin Sirin:
Anas was asked, "Did the Prophet recite Qunut (a prayer within a prayer, usually in the form a supplication, recited while standing) in the Fajr prayer?"
Anas replied in the affirmative.
He was further asked, "Did he recite Qunut before bowing?"
Anas replied, "He recited Qunut after bowing for some time (for one month)."
I asked Anas bin Malik about the Qunut.
Anas replied, "Definitely it was (recited)".
I asked, "Before bowing or after it?"
Anas replied, "Before bowing."
I added, "So and so has told me that you had informed him that it had been after bowing."
Anas said, "He told an untruth (i.e. "was mistaken," according to the Hijazi dialect). Allah's Apostle recited Qunut after bowing for a period of one month."
Anas added, "The Prophet sent about seventy men (who knew the Quran by heart) towards the pagans (of Najd) who were less than they in number and there was a peace treaty between them and Allah's Apostles (but the Pagans broke the treaty and killed the seventy men). So Allah's Apostle recited Qunut for a period of one month asking Allah to punish them."
An example of a Qunut:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Whenever the Prophet (p.b.u.h) lifted his head from the bowing in the last Raka he used to say: "O Allah! Save 'Aiyash bin Abi Rabi'a. O Allah! Save Salama bin Hisham. O Allah! Save Walid bin Walid. O Allah! Save the weak faithful believers. O Allah! Be hard on the tribes of Mudar and send (famine) years on them like the famine years of (Prophet) Joseph ."
The Prophet further said, "Allah forgive the tribes of Ghifar and save the tribes of Aslam."
Abu Az-Zinad (a sub-narrator) said, "The Qunut used to be recited by the Prophet in the Fajr prayer."
The Prophet would sometimes ask members of his household, including his daughter Fatima and his son-in-law Ali, who was not impressed, to join him in his nocturnal devotions.
Narrated Um Salama:
One night the Prophet got up and said, "Subhan Allah! How many afflictions Allah has revealed tonight and how many treasures have been sent down (disclosed). Go and wake the sleeping lady occupants of these dwellings up (for prayers), perhaps a well-dressed in this world may be naked in the Hereafter."
Narrated Ali bin Abi Talib:
One night Allah's Apostle came to me and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet and asked, "Won't you pray (at night)?"
I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Our souls are in the hands of Allah and if He wants us to get up He will make us get up."
When I said that, he left us without saying anything and I heard that he was hitting his thigh and saying, "But man is more quarrelsome than anything." (18:54)
Insomnia may not have been the cause for the Prophet's night time devotions.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) said, "Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: 'Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?'"