By far, prayer in the middle of the night is the worship I struggle with the most. To get up in the middle of the night seems a feat beyond possibility. This is strange because I have small children, and have gone through many cycles of sleepless nights. Yet, even when I wake up in the middle of the night unplanned, I can’t seem to get myself to do the extra step of making wudu’ and standing to pray. Mostly, I will myself back to slumber trying to squeeze every last bit of sweet sleep I can.
For the Prophet of Allah ﷺ, and for the companions who joined Islam early on, sleeping through the night wasn’t an option. The verses above are the beginning of the chapter in which Allah lightened the requirement for night prayer. Prior to the establishment of the 5 daily prayers, night prayer was the main form of worship required of believers. Anyone who became a Muslim had to commit to spending a portion of his or her night standing in salah.
What about night prayer is so fundamental that Allah ﷻ chose it as the primary path to reach Him for those first believers?
At least that’s what a recent khatib imparted on me. Sleep, such a fundamental need of the human body, can only be sacrificed for the sake of something truly beloved. A new mother can attest to this most assuredly. Sleep deprived for months during pregnancy, she pushes through and wakes up to feed a hungry newborn for many nights more. It’s an act of self sacrifice. By extension, the sermon giver made the case that, when we wake up in the middle of the night to ask Allah to help our brothers and sisters around the world, we are showing how much we truly care about them. The depth of our love is translated into our commitment to rise in the night.
Allah ﷻ, in the verses above, calls our Prophet ﷺ to worship through the night. He tells the Prophet ﷺ that the days are long and the task of calling others to Allah is arduous. The night prayer will work to relieve the burdens of his days, and ease them for him. Allah asks the night prayer of the Prophet ﷺ for his own relief and happiness before anything else.
If night prayer is an act of love, the first ones we are loving are ourselves.
The idea of self-care has gained a lot of traction in recent years. One of the concepts behind self care is that to be able to give to others in any capacity, it’s important that you yourself to be nourished and fulfilled. As the arabic proverb says: the one lacking something, cannot give it. For the Prophet ﷺ, his whole life was dedicated to giving, and Allah ﷻ gave him the night prayer as a way to sustain himself through that. It was his most important self care tool.
For us, standing up in the night can feel, at first, antithetical to taking care of ourselves. Most self care toolkits suggest making sure to get adequate sleep as a way to take care of yourself. How can cutting into that be helpful?! What’s important to keep in mind though, is that we are not only a body, but also a mind, heart, and spirit.
A Chance to be our True Selves
Unloading to Allah in the depths of the night helps to give clarity amongst all our worries, unburden our hearts, and lift our spirits higher towards Him. Night prayer is self care because it gives us the chance to be our true selves, wholly, alone with Allah. Nothing is asked of us, and Allah calls out to us promising all that we ask for.
Once, when staying with my grandma in her home for some days, she lamented how she had missed her nightly prayer. She’d become occupied with hosting and seemingly the fatigue of it led her to miss her alarm. I told her not to worry, and that this was a gift from God to let her sleep more because she needed it. But she made a small frown and said ‘but I need it’. She went on to explain how night prayer is for her to ask for all her needs and arrange all her affairs. It was a special time that she had been cultivating for years. Missing it was a loss not a gain.
Night prayer, though difficult to establish, is a gift from Allah, because there is no equivalent relief for the self to it. Maybe it requires a deep sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice of love that in the end, we make for ourselves.
[Source: Ameera Aslam for Launchgood]