It’s not only a disputed topic among the common people but also among the scholars. So don’t get into any sort of conflict with any person when such a topic arises. We can listen to one another why one thinks so and so, to always get a better understanding. But the sole condition of the discussion should be such that it must be in a dignified manner where each person defends his opinion with reasons, as in why he considers so and shouldn’t impose on others. The reason one states will actually help us to understand whether the person is making a sound and a just statement, so that one can consider or is in fact just an immature one, so it becomes clear that we can discard it.
A quote from Imam Shafi’i will always help us in times of arguments;
❝I never once argued with anyone hoping to win the debate; rather I always wished that the truth would come from his side.❞
This must always be the sole reason one must argue for; to get to the truth rather than winning or putting anyone down. Coz if you don’t, then just for winning, one can end up committing sins (hurting or shaming or disgracing the other person).
So now let’s begin with the topic. There are basically only two types of Salah; one that is Fardh (Obligatory) and the other is Nafl (Voluntary). These are actually the two main branches which people have divided and then given many names to each. We will try go through all those names as well. In fact the divide is more or less only in linguistic terms.
Now Fardh has got many names like obligatory, compulsory and Wajib, based on language that we use, obviously two are in English and the latter is in Arabic. People predominantly all over have their main confusion with obligatory and Wajib. But in fact it actually means the same. One that Allah has ordained upon us and upon missing any of those there is a sin associated with it. And Allah has commanded us to pray 5 times daily and that’s the only Fardh prayers or Wajib prayers which is compulsory and upon missing them there is a grave sin linked to it.
The dispute here is due to Hanafi school of thoughts who have taken it as two different entities. Based on Hanafi School of thought, Obligatory means one which is Fardh based on direct evidence. And Wajib is that Fardh which is based on indirect evidence or through interpretation. So there lies the root cause of confusion for many.
So to clear the confusion let us go back to the life of the prophet (ﷺ). Apart from the obligatory prayers he (ﷺ) used to offer some prayers which he never missed, some prayers he offered on a regular basis and some intermittently. And among those which he never missed even when traveling became to know as Sunnah Muakkadah like the Sunnah of the Fajr and the Witr.
Then comes those what he offered on regular basis like the Sunan Al-Rawatib; the 12 rakah sunnah split across the Fardh prayers like, 2 before Fajr and then 4 before Dhuhr and then 2 each after Dhuhr, Magrib and Esha respectively.
And lastly those which he offered intermittently became to be known as Nafl in today’s context, whereas it’s actually a generic term for all the voluntary prayers.
So if you actually see all these are nothing but voluntary prayers that which you can offer based on ur convenience. And among them, some are highly recommended like the Tahiyyat Al-masjid, which means prayer to greet the masajid and one should not sit in the masajid without offering a 2 rakah prayer, and if incase u join at the time of iqamah then u don’t need to offer that coz the Fardh which u pray basically covers that, as the Hadith stresses to not sit in the masajid without offering salah. After this, the sunnah of the Fajr and the Witr are highly recommended. And then there are the night prayers which are also voluntary prayers but are highly encouraged like Tahajjud which means pray after u get up from sleep in the night and let me just clarify with regards to Qiyaam Al-Layl. It literally means standing up in the night which actually means using the night for all acts of worship that you do in the night like prayer, Dhikr, reciting the Quran etc.
And moving further, there are many other voluntary prayers like Duha or Ishraq, Salah for repentance, salah of Wudhu etc. All of them are just 2 rakah salah.
So all these voluntary acts if you don’t do then you are not sinful but remember our Fardh salah that we perform, is that perfect? Ask yourselves? We all know it isn’t! And as per the Hadith narrations, on the day of judgement Allah will ask His angels to check if we have got any Nafl to complete the deficiencies of our Fardh. Don’t u think we would need it on that day!
So to end with I will only advise, focus on doing the Fardh first and then slowly u can build up on ur Nafl. Once u have built up the platform then maintain it as long as its possible coz that will help u in the long run.
To sum it up, don’t get confused with many different words with same meaning. Just remember it as Obligatory salah and Voluntary salah. One which u miss you will be punished and the other if u miss you will miss a great reward respectively.
Hope this clears the confusion.
May Allah benefit each one of us and guide us on the straight path!
Incase I have erred may Allah forgive me for my mistake and if it’s true then that it is only by the mercy of Allah and nothing from my side!
© Dr. Nisar Ahmad bin Ibrahim
Talhah ibn ‘Ubaidullah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: A man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, what prayers has Allah enjoined on me?” He said: “The five prayers, unless you do anything voluntarily.” The version narrated by Muslim says: “Five prayers every day and night.” He said: “Do I have to do anything else?’ He said, “No, unless you do it voluntarily.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhaari (1891) & Muslim (11))
Abu Qataadah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “When one of you enters the mosque, let him not sit down until he has prayed two rak‘ahs.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1167; Muslim, 714)
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The two rak’ahs of Fajr are better than this world and everything in it.”
(Narrated by Muslim, 725.)
The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The first thing that the people will be called to account for on the Day of Resurrection will be the prayers. Our Lord will say to the angels although He knows better: ‘Look into the prayer (formal obligatory prayer) of my servant to see if he observed it perfectly or has been negligent in it.’ So if he observed it perfectly it will be recorded to his credit, but if he had been negligent in it in any way, Allah would say: ‘See if My servant has any extra prayers.’ Then if he has any extra prayers, Allah would say: ‘Make up the deficiency in My servant’s obligatory prayer with his voluntary prayers.’ Thereafter all his actions will be examined in like manner”