Tahajjud, or qiyaam ul-layl, is the voluntary night prayer that was recommended by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is a simple act of worship that can have profound benefits. In this episode, host Mohamad Zaoud talks to Dr. Tamara Gray, author of the Yaqeen Institute paper “Tahajjud: Fuel for the Self and Society,” about how tahajjud can reinvigorate your personal relationship with God and your ability to contribute to positive social change.
why is there such an emphasis on voluntary prayers in islam can the key to holding onto our faith be found in these night prayers
welcome to doubletake a podcast by yakreen institute where we explore ideas and questions in islam that give us pause i'm muhammad zaw and today on the show we're looking into the concept of tahejud the voluntary night prayer and the role it has to play in our lives and with me today is dr tamra gray author of the paper tahajjud fuel for the self and for society dr tamra assalam alaikum and welcome to double take
allah thank you for having me dr tamra you're the founder of rabitha and you're also you've got a doctorate in leadership policy and administration you've you've been in education for the last 25 years my question right off the bat is why did you focus on tahajud what was that moment that made you realize you know what we need to start focusing on this in 2012 when i came to the united states i thought i was coming here for a short time i thought i was only going to be here for like five months and during that time in those first months i toured around the united states and met a lot of muslim women many many masha'allah it was a very it was a beautiful experience it was also exhausting because i i did 69 talks in ramadan but what i learned that throughout that time i learned so much and one of the things i learned is that we have a
i don't know what to call it a crisis a crisis of prayer in our community that so many people are not praying or they're not praying regularly or they're not praying um at all and i was really surprised by that i must admit and i gave a lot of thought to how do we fix that how do you how do you come this is by the way i'm not talking about those who didn't self-identify as muslims or those who were not on a path of some sort these are the people that would take time out to come to a talk these are the the women who would take time out or they were wearing hijab or they were volunteering at the masjid or volunteering in their youth group that we really had a crisis of even our young leaders or our leadership missing prayers on a regular basis and so i did a lot of thinking around that and i was reading a book at the time about habits the power of habit it was called the power of habit and it was talking about the the keystone habit had a lot of really good examples in there about businesses and things like that and i was thinking what is the keystone habit of our dean what could i what might i be able to say is the keystone habit now his definition of a keystone habit is the thing that when you do it everything else falls into place so it might not be what you feel is the main thing so he had an example of an aluminum company and in this aluminum company the main thing in an aluminum company is to sell aluminum i think that's an obvious thing but the keystone habit that that he demonstrated that saved this company that was failing was not selling or sales it was safety and i i learned from that or i thought about that that you know the keystone habit is not necessarily the furu the furuta is that basic thing we absolutely have to do but if we're not doing it what do we need to do so that we can do it and that's where i thought yeah it's a hajju if we the one who wakes up for tahajjud at night is not going to miss fisher is not going to miss their prayers during the day because by herself or himself he or she has self-identified as a person who prays to hajju the person who prays to hajjut is not going to be missing or their obligatory prayers on a regular basis was there a moment in your life where you you felt that you felt that the hajjud was the keystone habit that needs to to occur in most muslims beyond you know reading the power of habit and seeing people's uh challenges with the obligatory prayers was there a moment in your life where you said you know what this actually works well it's a funny story actually i i had i was a new muslim i'd become a muslim in january and i had moved in to live with some lovely malaysian students at macalester where i went to university and i was still i mean i just barely had learned the five prayers and i had just begun to pray them on time because before that i found waldo very difficult so i spent a lot of time i wouldn't pray because i was too hard to make until i i learned oh you actually have to pray them in their time i didn't understand that right away so i was just brand new praying those prayers on time and i just moved in and i came downstairs we prayed sloth and i shot together the night prayer and when we finished praying i went to take off my prayer clothes and my my young friend who was the leader of the prayer and the leader of the house i would say she said oh aren't you going to pray with it and i had no idea what which it was i had never heard of it i know what she was talking about but i was 18 and i was very it's very important to me not to look foolish so i said i didn't say anything i just stared at her and then she said oh oh oh you i bet you pray wizard after tahajjud right and i didn't know what that was either what are you talking about but again i didn't want to look foolish so i said yes and she said shall i wake you and i said yes and so she did and from that i you know i grabbed it was pre-google so i had to quickly look at my books and try to figure out what she's talking about but yeah so from those very early days i started to pray to jeju with those beautiful women in the house alhamdulillah so you learned tahajud subhan allah like you learned as part of learning the faith full stop like it wasn't kind of an extra that you learn several years later it was something that was built into the foundation i guess that that plays a big role i have i have actually a very small story on on that front um so i have like a sister mashallah who's like like my literally my sister she's like next level muslim right um i'm inshallah late bloomer with regards to tahajud but she's she's really good with it and um her kids she's got eight kids and she was telling me the story of um one of them uh who's 10 got sick so the one who was nine she has hassan hussein the one who was nine um woke up in the middle of the night to pray for his brother who was sick and when he woke up feeling better uh they asked you know uh did anyone do anything special because they've got eight kids so they have that conversation over breakfast and and so the nine-year-old said yes i woke up to make diet for him and pray for him and he felt better and honestly like it's it's part and parcel in there in their lives so i guess it plays a very big role if that's just your habit from really early days i guess inshallah later in this episode we're going to talk more about what if you're hopefully a late bloomer and learn to hazard later in your years how can you create it into a habit but like i have i just want to ask you the question one more time if you don't mind like what is the relationship between the hajjut and the obligatory prayers like what does it do if if my obligatory prayers are kind of wavering or struggling and i'm you know sometimes missing fajr what's the role of tahajud in that kind of context well it pulls you up so just like if we can use an analogy for someone in a classroom who did really poorly on a midterm exam and they can't if they care about their grade they're going to go to the instructor and say what can i do how can i how can i pull myself up here because i've made that mistake of not studying or whatever for that other exam and instructor might or might not give some extra work allah is very generous with us and the the act of praying to jeju does three things one is it pulls you up out of a state of rafla a state of heedlessness so if you're rushing to pray fajr prayer and setting that alarm for ten minutes before the sun or going to bed at two three o'clock in the morning and missing feature prayer on a regular basis if you decide i'm praying to hajjud that lifestyle is going to change you're going to have to go to bed earlier you're going to have to figure out a different way to manage your clock so that's one thing it will it will that's why i say it's a keystone habit because in establishing that habit other habits will begin to develop because of it and secondly with the analogy of the extra paper with that extra paper you start to feel better about yourself when you start to feel better about yourself it becomes easier to stand on the per carpet before all los one of the reasons i think people don't stand is because they're feeling shame and they're they feel like i missed four prayers today and now i'm gonna pray asha i missed a whole bunch of prayers last week now i'm gonna you know who am i what do i think no but with the hajju you start to see yourself as a person who prays and that and they start to fall into place and pretty soon you're like i mean i prayed to hajjud why would i miss i prayed to hajju why would i miss fisher i prayed zahid why would i miss and the third reason that people miss prayers is because they are out and about there's somewhere where it's difficult to pray and again this feeling of okay it's difficult to pray now but i pray to hajjud how am i gonna i'm not going to miss this prayer i'm going to stop even though i'm on the highway i'm going to stop get off the highway and go pray my dojo prayer i'm not i'm going to pray a shot before going to sleep maybe i'm going to set up my day so that all of my prayers can be prayed in the beginning of time so i don't have to worry about them it just changes your attitude towards prayer prayer becomes part and parcel of life just like eating or from some people exercise or brushing your teeth the thing that you just do everybody eats everybody brushes their teeth i guess in that moment when no one else is awake and you know if you're a busy mom who's busy during the day and got kids kind of lingering around and or a dad for that matter who's who's also catching up um that moment just between you and allah i guess is uh is that precious time um let's just say i'm yeah sorry go away that's a little bit different so that's actually really enjoying tahaju time so that's that's a that's a beautiful thing that will come as you begin to develop the habit of tahejud and begin to feel wow this is the only time i have space a lot of moms myself included when my children were young after they went to bed i didn't want to go to bed i wanted to stay for two or three hours just with my own head and my and i had to sometimes with my own studies i had i had a lot going on and just for the just for the record and dads they want to yeah well i mean i've never been a dad so i'm not sure but um yeah like that time so when the time starts to flip and become the morning time it becomes very valuable time so but that takes time i think to begin to appreciate the the really extensive blessings of those early hours of the morning and really appreciate them the story you told about your sister's son and his understanding that the at that time is answered i mean that kind of those kinds of lessons over time begin to really in this age of addictions you can become addicted to instead of you know chips or candy bars or or something more uh more difficult to give up inshallah inshallah i become addicted um so i uh let's just say i'm convinced and i genuinely am like i read your paper and i i read your works and generally speaking we hear about the hajjord and the night prayer and the dua of the last third of the night and the last manta allah descends um in his infinite wisdom to to listen to the um to to the one who's making do i i get that um but everything i read about sleep suggests that i need that i need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep or seven to nine hours there's you know uh uh ample research to suggest that uninterrupted sleep is just is is mandatory if you want to live a healthy lifestyle um don't you feel this is contrary to that especially if we're waking up twice like once for the hajj um and once for fisher or you know once for a very extended time well oh i have so much to say first of all i this this so-called the so-called all this so-called research that tells us that we need seven to nine hours of sleep a night has not been done on people of prayer or people of taheshu or people of zikr and i used to say are people of meditation but just recently someone told me i haven't read the study yet this is very recently like a couple days ago someone told me about a study a sleep study that has come out around people that meditate and how much less sleep they need because of meditation and so imagine if we did a sleep study around people that use the time of sleep for prayer and zikr for tahajjud and diker and quran recitation what would we learn i propose that we would learn that those who spend serious time and worship not only need less sleep but their bodies become healthier as a result now of course that's not going to happen you can't say you can't be sleeping nine hours a night and then all of a sudden go to sleeping four hours and then blame to hajju because you feel tired it takes it takes time it takes some time to work on it and the tahejud you know you said working waking up twice a night i don't think personally i think it's better just to leave it to the end get out before i finish it and you can start by just getting up literally 15 minutes before fidget 15 minutes will be enough to run make a rule pray to kaz then you can go make yourself a cup of coffee it's just a beautiful moment to have a little coffee pray your fisher prayer sit with your coffee do some zikr some da'a and you've had this beautiful section of worship in the morning that will literally nourish you in ways that sleep cannot and that's not to say that sleep is not important uh especially if you're recovering from illnesses if you are deficient in certain vitamins the body has a right on us and that's a true that's true but i think we should look with some level of skepticism on studies that haven't taken into account the the physical bodies of the one whose soul is a little bit lighter because of worship and what is what makes us heavy to the bed the early scholars would say that what makes us happy to the bed is sin and it's a distance it's being away from allah that we need a lot of recovery time because of that so as muslims who are praying and doing our best we shouldn't need quite so much sleep thank you for clarifying that um you mentioned you know that uh 15 minutes and a cup of coffee in between is sufficient we often hear stories of the prophet sallam and his feet swelling to the extent that he you know it would crack or we would hear of uh uh muhammad al-mankedar for example and he used to spend the whole night and make dua for it to rain and it would rain we hear these stories of like extended prayer like really extended prayer um and i'm gonna kind of pick your brain as to how that 15 minutes becomes the that extended prayer later but you have something really profound in your paper which is centered around the concept of activism and that there is a relationship between tahajud prayer and positive social change being out there and doing something positive for society can you help kind of just talk to that yeah i'd love to so
there are a couple of different um thoughts that i have here or different let's say levels of social change or levels of how we create social change with tahajud as our as our friend or as our fuel as our fuel that's the word we used in the and one of them is when allah in surah al-israel calls upon the prophet sallallahu to pray to hajj says that this will result in
which is a praised status so on one hand the there on one hand as muslims we as a community are we a praised community are we a community that is praised by others and there's a lot of conversation around why we're not even though if you meet muslims person to person you'll find out that no matter really where they are in their deen they're going to be really generous kind good people so where why are we missing on this level uh why does islam islamophobia has money but on our side what can we do we can be a people of tahajud so and that level of social activism on of how do we help our own muslim community through to hajjud by itself we can raise our status in community now what does that mean exactly it can mean all sorts of things it can mean a change in systemic oppression it can mean a change in the way textbooks are written it can mean a change in the way that muslims are approached in the news it means all sorts of things this is but this is the result of a community that prays statute now also we are as we should be active in other issues that have not that are not clearly let's say muslim issues but for example in anti-racism work in and when when muslims are involved in anti-racism work there's a lot of pain there a lot of pain in just hearing the stories and um knowing the kind of systemic racism that has occurred in this country for so many years and then also occurs in individual communities this country being the united states but i think racism is also global and also we have other issues in the united states like the issues of native americans just break my heart for example so what is um what does the hazard do for for someone who's passionate about you know the native american cause right so when you are praying to hajju you are given a an inner strength that gives you the ability to handle and manage the world of of difficulty when you want to enter into it to change it let's say the world of systemic oppression when you want to go in there and make a difference without dejude it's very draining and you can burn out in a very short time but with tahejud there's like this warm bubble on the inside that is sustaining and can hold us as a as individuals and as a community to that to not only being able to continue the work but also to continue to do the work within our own value system and our own sense of what is right and wrong so that we can participate while staying very much as part of that those who are the worshipers of the merciful subhanallah you know um as you're talking about that there's also a couple of things like if you're in public life like if you're on on the front lines of like a cause or if you're you know on the streets protesting i guess the hazard also plays the role of protecting that sincerity like if you're out and about and in front of people doing that all the time if you're if you're caring about the same cause in the middle of the night then it just you know it just reinvigorates that that sincerity that you're doing this for the right reason oh absolutely and then also if you find yourself missing it one night you can say to yourself oh what happened that i missed out and that hair what did i do did i do something differently yesterday did my intention change yesterday so you get the opportunity to quickly come back and make toba and reestablish but that's only for a person who's really established their tajuu so dr tamra you wrote off my sleep study that i cited just earlier i'm going to start another study if it's okay and tell me if it's uh if it passes uh there was a study in the european journal of social psychology that suggested that you need two months 66 days to build a habit and if you miss a day you rekindle it and you continue um but it's 66 days to build that serious habit um my question to you is uh how long in your mind do you think it would take for us to build that habit of tahajud um and how do we even start i i've all my life i've told people it takes 21 days but i'll have to read that that that study to see what they're saying why they're choosing 66 yeah this one negates that one but yeah let's just suggest it's a it's a month or two yeah yeah and i mean i think it does take time i will say that it does take time to establish habits that become real habits because what's a real habit a real habit is when you wake up in the morning and you make coffee even if you still cannot see clearly that's a real habit you just do it no matter what and that's what we want you to be and the rest of our prayers we want it to be something that we automatically do it's just so much a part of us and so yes it definitely takes time and your sister and her children are very lucky and blessed because the best time to create those habits are definitely in childhood children who are able to get up early in the morning and appreciate that and love that and experience the the beauty of those hours are going to be adults who just they're going to wake up at jesuit time whether they're prey or not at that time they'll get up and they'll just be part of of that world of early risers what was the second part of your question how do we develop how do we even start yeah how do we develop the habit well i think the way that we do it at rabota is we have a tahajud thread to help people that want to start and it's just encouraging each other to wake up at night and what one thing we've done is we have this thing called throw the football and so what that is is when you're getting ready for bed so you pray slaughter aisha and now you're going to go to bed well if you've been struggling with tahajjud you can pray to the cause of and throw that football to the morning to wake up and catch it in the morning so it's like a visual idea that okay i'm tossing this to myself and i'm gonna wake up in the morning and catch and catch this football and score the touchdown i'm speaking of american football here uh because obviously you wouldn't catch a soccer ball but um and it can work with any sort of idea that something you do at night that you whether you read surat last before you sleep whether you pray to the cause before you sleep whether you make sure to make before you sleep set your intention before you sleep and then set your alarm as well and get up when that alarm calls and have a buddy to report to so even if you just like i said 15 minutes before fashion and someone is saying hey did you do it yeah you're not someone who's going to shame you for not but he's gonna celebrate you for getting up maybe you got up three days this week that's how habits begin three days a week four days a week five days a week and it as it begins to grow it becomes part and partial of us we have an app that we're working on that is meant to help people develop habits of tahejud and habits of other acts of worship as well and in this app it isn't out yet but insha'allah the intention is that with the app people will be able to set two or three or four or five days a week to start on that journey of creating a time in their life that they can't miss that they don't want to miss they want to catch that football and score every day you know the concept of having a buddy um i tested that once uh so i'm gonna kind of expose something here um and uh it wasn't for this keystone habit but it was for prayer in the mosque for fajr um there was a couple of guys were living in qatar and we felt guilty because there's mosques everywhere but we weren't praying fajr in the mosque so um we tested a couple of things one thing was okay so whoever um whoever misses the prayer in the in the masjid would have to donate x amount to x course okay um and it didn't work um so it just because it made us feel good that actually fine i missed prayer but i donated to that cause so so we flipped it on its head um so one of the guys suggested what if we were to donate that money to a cause that is so vile i can't say what the cause was i swear i'm too embarrassed to say what it was but um but it worked and honestly we were so consistent so it was having like it was more of a punishment like a serious punishment that is so obscene um and we were in the mosque every morning anyway that worked for us well you know the thing really is to know ourselves it's really important to know yourself and to know what motivates you so in that case it really motivated you that you didn't want to help this other organization and you didn't want so that motivated you to go and do the thing that you really wanted to do and for people that really just getting in that space of having a partner and having a buddy means that there's people that care about this thing with you and that by itself that social and that you know that also gets a social activism because as we encourage one another and in that social sphere become better individually we become better as a community as we become better as a community we become the people we're meant to be those who are calling for beauty and pushing against all things that are ugly i'm going to ask you one last question dr tamra if you were to ex you've explained it to me and very eloquently so thank you so much but if you were to explain the concept of the hajjur and its role in our lives to say a nine-year-old who is not so familiar with tahajud and the concept of night prayers he's barely familiar with the obligatory press what's your elevator pitch i would say tahajjud is a very special prayer that brings life to the night it brings life to the night and it's a time to wake up with your parents to sit with them and have maybe a cup of hot chocolate a lovely a pot of tea with cups all that are shared maybe a special treat that isn't allowed at another time of day to pray together and to make dua for one another and to ask for those things that you really really want and to store up for yourself presents and gifts wrapped gifts in jannah that when you grow older and after a very very very long life insha'allah when you go to jannah you'll see that you say what what are those gifts from and they'll be gifts that you gave yourself when you got up at night to pray and set up for yourself this incredible beautiful future in dunya and not only that it's really a good time for relation good relationship with parents at that time and siblings i'll tell you a story when i lived in philadelphia i was driving this is a long time ago and so children didn't have to be in chairs in the car car seats and they also didn't have to be in the back seat so i wasn't breaking any laws my daughter was four years old and she was in the front seat with me and we stopped at the stop sign stopped late and we were waiting and kitty corner from where we were there was a huge billboard and it said night life and my daughter four-year-old daughter had just started to read and she said mommy what is night life now of course that was a billboard for a bar and i said i wracked my brain like what am i going to tell my four-year-old daughter about this uh this b what is nightlife and i said happy nightlife is when you get up at night with your mommy and you mommy makes you lovely cup of hot chocolate and we sit together and you pray with me and we bring life to the night and she said mommy i want nightlife and i thought oh my god don't say that to your grandmother but um you know actually it's funny because i i it was adorable and that was so lovely but there was a part of me and we talked about this earlier that didn't want her to wake up at night with me at that time she was four and i that was a time that was really precious to me that sort of sanity piece and i had a baby at the time as well when she was four i also had an infant and it was it was definitely a time that i really needed and i remember and i had friends who were really good at getting their children up and praying with them it's a hazard time praying with them after fashion taking them to the masjid sitting with them teaching them and i wanted to be those people and i i and when my daughter said that to me i was really like yeah subhanallah i have to be more generous with my own time in the morning for my my lovely little daughter of course when it came to waking her up she wasn't quite as excited about it we did it maybe once or twice where she wanted you know the hot chocolate thing and this and that and it was fun but at four she wasn't quite ready for such a concept dr tamara thank you so much and for those of you who are interested in the topic of tahajud you need to read dr tamara's article to hazard fuel for the self and for society dr tamra thank you it's a pleasure to be here