Islamic Studies Personal Development Worship

In the Early Hours

308481087_b632b5d97b_oThe Prophet ﷺ said that Allah has blessed the morning time for our Ummah, so many of us take advantage of this time by studying, preparing for work and school, or helping our family.

In the Qur’an, Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – glory be unto Him) conveys to us what the believers are doing during their morning. He says in two ayat (verses):

وَالْمُسْتَغْفِرِينَ بِالْأَسْحَارِ

“…and those who seek forgiveness before dawn.” (Qur’an, 3:17)

وبِالْأَسْحَارِ هُمْ يَسْتَغْفِرُونَ

“And in the hours before dawn they would ask forgiveness…” (Qur’an, 51:18)

The word used for morning here is as-haar which means the very early morning right before the fajr prayer, the time that we have suhoor (pre-dawn meal). This is why some translations will translate as-haar as the last hours of the night, because according to Islamic time it is still considered night. However, other translations say early morning because according to the current world clock, it is past midnight (i.e., a.m. time). The time of as-haar corresponds to the last third of the night, when Allah (swt) – Majestic and Glorified – comes down to the lowest heaven to answer the supplications of His servants.

Imam as-Sa’di says in his tafsir:

“The subject matter of this ayah [51:18] is the time of as-haar. These believers lengthened their night prayers until the time of the early morning, and then proceeded by seeking the forgiveness of Allah. This special recognition is only for this time, and not for any other time [of the day].”

If we look at the order of these two ayat, we find that they are opposite – the ayah from Surat Dhariyat (51) mentions bil as-haar (until the early morning) first then al-mustaghfiroon (those who ask for forgiveness), while the ayah from Surah Ali-Imran (3) mentions al-mustghafireen first then bil as-haar.  This is called taqdeem and ta’kheer in Arabic rhetoric, which means that a word in the sentence is brought earlier or delayed.

What is the difference between these two ayat?

Of the two, the ayah from Surat Dhariyat gives a stronger meaning because of the placement of the words. Allah says:

وبِالْأَسْحَارِ هُمْ يَسْتَغْفِرُونَ

“And in the hours before dawn they would ask forgiveness…” (Qur’an, 51:18)

Allah mentions bil as-haar first in this ayah to bring attention to the specific time that they make istighfaar. In the ayah before this, Allah says about the believers:

كَانُوا قَلِيلًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ مَا يَهْجَعُونَ

“They used to sleep but little of night…” (Qur’an, 51:17)

The scholars of tafsir say that they spent their night in worship, and then during the last portion of the night before Fajr, they turned to Allah making istighfaar (seeking forgiveness). Allah says that they were not yahja’oon from haja’a which means to sleep peacefully during the night. This word is used to describe someone who sleeps without any worries; as we say now “I slept like a baby.” Sleeping comfortably was not normal for these believers because they had their minds on Allah and the Hereafter.

Here we notice the humility of the true believers; after they spent their night worshiping Allah, they seek His forgiveness.

Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen says regarding this ayah,

“This is from the goodness of their deeds and their humbleness; they see themselves as inadequate even though they spent the night in prayer. So, they seek the forgiveness of Allah after obeying Him, as if to repair any defects in it [i.e., their worship].”

A person should train him or herself to seek forgiveness after acts of worship because of the defects and mistakes [that a person could have made]. After salah, we seek the forgiveness of Allah three times (astagfirullah) and after Hajj, Allah tells us: Then depart from the place from where [all] the people depart and ask forgiveness of Allah. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an, 2:199)

So these believers seek the forgiveness of Allah after their night prayers, their standing, and their vigilance in obeying Allah due to their fear that their worship was inadequate. This points to the fact that they see themselves as small and meager, which is opposite of what we see now from some people who worship Allah. This latter group of people worships Allah to raise themselves and they think that they are from the righteous slaves of Allah. Indeed, a man must have hope in his Lord and know that Allah has blessed him with the ability to obey Him, but this person sees and believes that he has perfected everything – and he should fear lest his deeds are destroyed while he is unaware.

In the other ayah from Surat Ali-Imran, Allah says:

وَالْمُسْتَغْفِرِينَ بِالْأَسْحَارِ

…those who seek forgiveness before dawn.” (Qur’an, 3:17)

This ayah highlights the act of seeking istighfaar, which is why al-mustaghfireen is mentioned before the time. Allah (swt) is showing the importance of the act of doing istighfaar here, and that this is one of the special characteristics of the believers.

From both of these ayat we learn that Allah praises the act of the believers as well as the time they are taking to seek forgiveness, by highlighting the time in one ayah and the act of istighfar in another.

The believers who spend their nights in worship and their mornings seeking forgiveness, Allah (swt) describes their state in the hereafter as:

آخِذِينَ مَا آتَاهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَبْلَ ذَ ٰلِكَ مُحْسِنِينَ

…taking joy in the things which their Lord has given them. Verily, they were before this, doers of good.(Qur’an, 51:16)

Allah says they are aakhidheen, ones who take, because before they were muhsineen in the dunya.  A muhsin is someone who beautifies their deeds by doing them in the best possible way, as well as willingly and happily, in order to please Allah.  In Jannah they will accept everything Allah has given them happily because in the dunya, they did whatever Allah ordered them to do happily. They even gave up things that are permissible for the sake of Allah, such as their sleep, so in Jannah, they will enjoy the fruits of their labor.

May Allah make us from among them.  Ameen.

Action Items:

  • Make it a habit to seek forgiveness after every act of worship.
  • Take a portion of your morning to make istighfaar so that you may be from these believers.
  • The easiest way to wake up for qiyam al-layl is to wake up fifteen to thirty minutes before Fajr prayer.
  • Examine how you sleep. Do you sleep like a baby?

About the author



Amatullah is a student of the Qur’an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta’leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur’an, Tajweed (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has completed her undergraduate degree in Social Work and will be completing a Masters program in 2014. Her experiences include working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement, and accessibility for people with disabilities.

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  • May Allah reward you dear sister for this wonderful article.
    I have something to help my brothers and sisters to wake up at this blessed time. It is very difficult at present to stand sleeping at this time. Having a very hectic life can make one to lose “azima” resolution to observe this habit. However, our beloved prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) guided us to the clues of all best things. “Intention” is the first and last clue to attaining the pleasure of these blessed moments right before fajr. When a Muslim goes to bed, he/she must have the intention to gain the pleasure and stand before Allah at that time. “Actions are by their intentions”. These are the words of the Prophet. Another means, which i meself tried and it really works, is to read the last five verses of surat al-Kahf with the intention to wake up and catch those blessed hours of the early morning. The Prophet said, “Allah had blessed the early hours of the day for my ummah” “Barak Allahu li ummati fi bukuriha”.
    And all praise and thanks are due to Allah Almighty.

  • Barakallaahu feek Sr. Amatullah for another beneficial piece.

    I have a question: Is there any particular/prescribed way that we should be seeking istighfaar?

    • As Sister Heba mentioned above, the main concern with any action is the intention. But to answer your question more specifically, I hope these sayings of Rasulullah will suffice you.

      Sayyid-l-Istighfaar is a du`a that translates to “Master of Forgiveness” and the Rasulullah (saas) said, “Whoever says this during the day, believing in it with certainty, then dies on that day before evening comes, will be one of the people of Paradise, and whosoever says it at night, believing in it with certainty, then dies on that night before morning comes, will be one of the people of Paradise.” – Bukhari

      Rasulullah (saas) also said, “Allah forgives the man who commits a sin (then feels ashamed), purifies himself, offers a prayer and seeks His forgiveness.” – Abu Dawud, an-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, al-Baihaqi, and at-Tirmizhi who calls it hasan.

      Rasulullah (saas) also said, “Whoever makes wudu’ and perfects the wudu’ and then stands and prays two rak’at or four rak’at, obligatory or non-obligatory, and perfects therein his ruku’ and sujjud and then asks for Allah’s forgiveness, he will be forgiven.” – At-Tabarani

  • Salaam alaykum to sister Amatullah and readers,

    Jazak Allah Khair for the beautiful reminder and sound knowledge. You have inspired me to start waking up earlier and doing good deeds during the last part of the night. Inshallah Allah will help me to wake up. I would like to ask: How have you come to attain such precise knowledge?

    Thank you

  • Salam,
    May Allah bless you and the ummah. Ameen. Please tell us about lazyness and procrastation.

  • Every moment their it is Fadjr time, because the earth rotates around the sun. This contradicts the point that Allah(swt) comes down to the lowest heaven.

    Can somebody explain to me?!

    • You are right! But this is not mentioned in the Quran.
      It is in Hadith, which may or may not be correct, hadith were compiled many many years later.

  • “Night Prayer Alarm” is a Free iPhone/iPad app that wakes you up for Qiyam Al-Layl (Night) and Fajr (Dawn) Prayers year-round in any place in the world, and in any time zone. Please use it, and send it to all your friends. May Allah benefit every one with this app

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