the timing of qiyaam
the time for praying qiyaam is from after ‘ishaa’ until fajr, because the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “allaah has added one more prayer for you, which is witr, so pray it between the ishaa’ and the fajr prayers.” [ahmad]
praying at the end of the night is better, for those who can manage it, because the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “whoever is afraid that he will not get up at the end of the night, let him pray witr at the beginning of the night, but whoever feels that he will be able to get up at the end of the night, let him pray witr at the end of the night, for prayer at the end of the night is witnessed (by the angels), and that is better.” [muslim]
if it is a matter of choosing between praying in congregation at the beginning of the night and praying alone at the end of the night, it is preferable to pray with the congregation, because that is counted as if one had prayed the whole night through.
this is what the companions, may allaah be pleased with them, did at the time of ‘umar, may allaah be pleased with him. ‘abdur-rahmaan ibn ‘abdul-qaari, may allaah be pleased with him, said: “i went out with ‘umar ibn al-khattaab, may allaah be pleased with him, to the mosque one night during ramadhaan, and saw the people scattered throughout the mosque, some praying individually, and some praying in small groups. he said: ‘by allaah, i think that if i gathered all of them behind one imaam it would be better.’ so he resolved to do that, and he gathered them behind ubayy ibn ka’b. then i went with him on another night, and the people were all praying behind their imaam, and ‘umar, may allaah be pleased with him, said: ‘what a good thing this is. however, what they sleep and miss – meaning the latter part of the night – is better than what they are doing,’ – the people used to pray qiyaam at the beginning of the night.”
how to pray witr:
the prophet, sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam, said: “do not make it resemble al-maghrib prayer.” therefore the person who wants to pray three rak’ahs for witr must find a way to make it different (from maghrib). there are two ways he can do this: either by concluding after the first two rak’ahs, which is the best way; or by not sitting (for tashahhud) after the first two rak’ahs (i.e., praying three rak’ahs non-stop).
recitation during the three rak’ahs of witr
it is recommended to recite chapter al-a’la (87) in the first rak’ah, al-kaafiroon (108) in the second rak’ah, and al-ikhlaas (112) in the third rak’ah. sometimes al-falaq and an-naas (113 and 114) may be added as well.
it was reported that the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, once recited one hundred verses of chapter an-nisaa’ in one rak’ah of witr.
du’aa’ (supplication of) al-qunoot
before making prostration upon finishing the last rak’ah, a person is recommended to humble himself before allaah by reciting the du’aa’ which the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, taught to his grandson al-hasan ibn ‘ali, may allaah be pleased with him, which is:
“allaahumma ihdinee feeman hadayta wa ‘aafinee feeman ‘aafayta wa tawallanee feeman tawallayta wa baarik le feema a’tayta wa qine sharra ma qadhayt, fa innaka taqdhe wa la yuqdha ‘alayk. wa innahu la yathillu man waalayta wa la ya’izzu man ‘aadayt. tabaarakta rabbana wa ta’aalayt. la manja minka illa ilayk (o allaah, guide me along with those whom you have guided, pardon me along with those whom you have pardoned, be an ally to me along with those whom you are an ally to, and bless for me that which you have bestowed. protect me from the evil you have decreed, for verily you decree and none can decree over you. for surety, he whom you show allegiance to is never abased and he whom you take an enemy is never honored. o our lord, blessed and exalted are you. there is no refuge from you except with you).”
sometimes one may exalt the mention of the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, by saying: (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam). there is nothing wrong with adding other du’aa’s that are known from the sunnah. moreover, there is nothing wrong with reciting qunoot after rukoo’.
what should be said at the end of witr
it is recommended to say at the end of witr (before or after the salaam): “allaahumma inne a’oothu bi ridhaaka min sakhatika wa bi mu’aafaatika min ‘uqoobatika, wa a’oothu bika minka. la uhse thanaa’an ‘alayka, anta kama athnayta ‘ala nafsik (o allaah, i seek refuge in your good pleasure from your wrath, and in your protection from your punishment. i seek refuge with you from you. i cannot praise you enough, and you are as you have praised yourself)”.
when he gave salaam at the end of witr, the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, used to say: “subhaan al-malik al-quddoos, subhaan al-malik al-quddoos, subhaan al-malik al-quddoos” (glory be to the sovereign, the most holy), elongating the syllables, and raising his voice the third time. [abu daawood]
two rak’ahs after witr
a person may pray two rak’ahs after witr if he wishes, because it is proven that the prophet, sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam, did this. 'aai’shah and umm salamah, may allaah be pleased with them, related that the prophet, sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam, would pray two rak'ahs after witr while sitting. [muslim and others]
it is recommended to recite chapter az-zalzalah (99) and al-kaafiroon (109) in these two rak’ahs. [al-albaani]
following the imaam until he finishes taraaweeh
it is better to stay with the imaam until he finishes, even if he is doing more than eleven rak’ahs, because it is permissible to do the extra rak’ahs, as the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “whoever prays qiyaam with the imaam until he finishes, allaah will record it as if he prayed the whole night.” [an-nasaa'i and others]
adding another rak’ah to the imaam’s witr
muslim scholars, may allaah have mercy upon them, stated that there is nothing wrong with doing this, so that one can pray witr at the end of the night. he who does so is considered to have prayed with the imaam until he finished, and added another rak’ah for a legal reason, which is so that he could pray witr later in the night. there is nothing wrong with this, and it does not mean that he did not stay with the imaam until he finished, but he did not conclude with him – he delayed it a little longer.