The School of Qiyam al-Layl
‘It is a school whose graduates are Islam’s best: the worshippers by night & knights by day. They straighten their feet before Allah in the depths of the night, in a place where no-one can see them or know them to be. Their tears fall upon their cheeks and purify their hearts.
They have sought safety in their Lord, they have fled to Him and returned to Him fully recognizing His Rights upon them, hoping for His Pleasure, and so He became pleased with them. He placed light upon their faces and light in their limbs, steadfastness in their deeds, sincerity in their hearts and insight in their souls.
So they see with a light from Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, and they take delight in praying in the depths of the night more than the people of desires take delight in the desires they love most. So praying by night has become the most valued thing in their lives and an act upon which they are the most steadfast. Rather, it has become a part of their heart which cannot be separated. You see their hearts longing for the night prayer and it flutters in happiness when the night draws near because it shall soon stand before its Lord in tranquility, humbleness and repentance.
The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the Night prayer.’ [Sahih Muslim]
He (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) also said, ‘May Allah have mercy upon a man who wakes up at night, prays and wakes up his wife; if she refuses he sprinkles water on her face. And may Allah have mercy upon a woman who wakes up at night, prays and wakes up her husband; if he refuses, she sprinkles water on his face.’ [Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i]
Hadith: ‘Indeed, there are in Paradise homes which are transparent – Allah has prepared them for whoever gives food (to the poor), spreads the salam and prays by night when everyone else is asleep.’ [Ibn Hibban, declared sahih by al-Albani]
Al-Fudhayl ibn ‘Iyyadh: ‘I saw a people whose shyness of Allah in the darkness of the night drove away their long sleep. One of them would be lying on his side but when he moved he would say, ‘This is not for you. Get up and take your portion of the Hereafter.’
It was said to al-Hasan (al-Basri), ‘How comes the Mutahajjidin (those who pray tahajjud) have the most beautiful faces?’ He said, ‘Because they secluded themselves with the Most Merciful and so He clothed them with a light from Him.’
Thabit al-Bunani said, ‘I can’t find in my heart anything sweeter to me than Qiyam al-Layl.’
Ibrahim ibn Shimas: ‘I knew Ahmad ibn Hanbal when he was a young boy, and he used to revive the night (with prayer).’
‘Amr ibn Dinar used to split the night into 3: One third for sleeping, one third for studying Hadith and one third for praying.
‘Amr ibn Dharr: ‘When the worshippers see that night has come over them, and they see that the people of heedlessness have taken their place of rest on their beds and returned to sleep, they rise up to stand before Allah in happiness and bliss. They seek out glad-tidings because of what He (`azza wa jall) has granted them of lengthy tahajjud and allowed them to partake from the goodness of maintaining night vigil. So they turn towards the night with their bodies and their faces touch the earth. The night comes to an end but the sweetness they find in recitation does not come to an end and their bodies do not tire from prolonged worship. Then morning comes for both of these two parties, the night has left them either with a profit or with deceit. Those people (who slept) wake up after they have tired of sleep and rest, and these people (who prayed) wake up looking forward to the approach of another night. How different these two groups are.
The Students of Knowledge and Qiyam al-Layl
The night of the true student of knowledge differs from the nights of the heedless and the negligent. His nights are filled with worship, standing before Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala whereby he asks Him of His Blessings, seeks forgiveness for his shortcomings, requesting all that he wishes for and beseeching Him in his complaints.
But indeed there are a people from amongst the students of knowledge who claim to seek knowledge but yet they are careless in their nights and so it passes them by in regret and sorrow. Gaining knowledge has thus become difficult for them and their akhlaq (character) turned bad, and that is because they spent the night in deep sleep such that nothing woke them up except the sun’s heat!
The scholars never thought that there could be a student of knowledge or a person of ‘ilm who slept the whole night without there being some form worship therein. In fact, they used to criticize whoever fell short in that!
Ibn al-Jawzi and al-Dhahabi both mention that Tawus went looking for someone during the last third of the night but they said, ‘He is sleeping.’ He said, ‘I didn’t think anyone actually slept during al-Sahr (the last part of the night).’
Nafi’ narrates: Ibn ‘Umar (radhiallahu `anhu) used to revive the night with prayers then he would say, ‘O Nafi’! Has the last portion come?’ I would say ‘No,’ so he would continue praying until I said, ‘Yes,’ then he used to sit seeking forgiveness and supplicating until morning.
– Translated from ‘Ladhat al-’Ibadah’ by Khalid al-Sayyid Rusha (لذة العبادة – منهج عملي للتربية الإيمانية), pg. 351 – 363