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What is Nafl? The Optional Sunnah Prayers

Beyond the five daily required prayers, Muslims often engage in optional prayers before or after the required prayers. These prayers are performed similarly to the required prayers but are of varying lengths and timings.

Performing these extra prayers can be a good habit, and some scholars state that saying the prayers may offer benefits for the person praying.

In Islamic theology, these optional prayers are known as a nafl or supererogatory prayers. Muslim prayer certainly involves performance. Required or optional, prayers for Muslims involve prescribed motions at different portions of the prayer.

Ishraq Prayer

Muslims can perform Salat al-Ishraq (the Post-Sunrise Prayer) about 20 or 45 minutes after sunrise, according to different schools of thought.

An adherent prays between two and 12  rak’ahs (units of prayer) in multiples of two. After completing the prayer, a person can recite other Islamic verse and should avoid participating in worldly affairs until a few minutes after sunrise or when the sun has fully risen. Ishraq prayer is associated with forgiveness of sins.

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Duha Prayer

Also linked with seeking forgiveness for sins, the time for Duha prayer begins after sunrise and ends at noon. Forms of this prayer generally include at least two rak’ahs, and as many as 12.

Some classical scholars actually treat the Ishraq and Duha prayers as part of the same period. Some traditions believe that extra benefits come from saying the prayer once the sun has risen to a certain height. In some schools, the Duha prayer is also known as a Chast prayer.

Tahajjud Prayer

The Tahajjud is the night vigil. Two rak’ahs are considered the minimal night vigil prayer, although some consider the optimal number to be eight.

Scholars offer a wide variety of opinions regarding, for example, the benefits of lengthier recitations versus the number of rak’ahs prayed, as well as which part of the prayer is most important when the prayer is divided into halves or thirds. Scholarly consensus holds that performing the Tahajjud is among the best of virtuous acts.

Sunnatul Wudu

Among the presumed benefits of performing the Sunnatul Wudu are making paradise obligatory. This prayer is performed after wudu, which is the ritual washing with water that Muslims perform before prayer itself, including the hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head, and feet.

One group recommends not performing the Sunnatul Wudu during sunset or sunrise or at noon.

Other Optional Prayers

Among the other optional prayers are the Prayer for Entering a Mosque and the Prayer of Repentance. The tradition includes general nafl prayers that can be prayed whenever an adherent wants to, and without any particular cause or reason.

However, one restriction with general nafl prayers is that they should not be performed at times when other optional prayers are prohibited.