Wa `alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
Answering your question, Dr. Wael Shehab, PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and currently the Imam of the Downtown Toronto Masjid in Canada, states:
Praying supererogatory Prayers that are backed by authentic Shari`ah proofs have great merits that a Muslim is advised not to miss.
By frequently praying the sunnah Prayers, a Muslim is obeying and following Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Also, the sunnah Prayers make up for one’s shortcomings while performing obligatory Prayers.
In addition, praying supererogatory Prayers that precede obligatory ones prepares worshippers to be fully concentrating while performing obligatory Prayers.
A Muslim is recommended to pray four rakahs before the Asr Prayer, as confirmed by Shafi`i and Hanafi scholars. The four optional rakahs before the Asr are sunnah ghair mu’akadah (i.e., an unconfirmed sunnah that the Prophet did not regularly maintain). This, however, does not contradict the merits of praying four rakahs before the Asr.
Below are some hadiths that affirm the merits and virtues of praying four optional rakahs before the Asr prayer:
1- Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet used to pray four rakahs before the Asr, ending each two rakahs with a tasleem for angels, prophets, and the believers (An-Nawawi, Al-Majmu`).
2- Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet said, “May Allah shower His mercy on the person who prays four rakahs before the Asr Prayer.” (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)
However, Ali reported that the Prophet used to pray two rakahs before the Asr (Abu Dawud).
As there are various reports on the number of supererogatory rakahs before the Asr Prayer, it becomes optional for one to pray two or four rakahs. Yet, praying four rakahs is better, since they entail more blessings and rewards from Allah.
Almighty Allah knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.