by Abu Jamal

Commands With Degrees of Priority

In the Islamic belief system, the commands of Allâh (swt) exist within an order of priority, some commanding greater priority than others. In a Hadith Qudsi (saying directly attributed to Allâh), Abu Hurairah reports that Allah (swt) said: And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks (of) Me, I will give him…. [Bukhari].

This hadith makes it clear that there exists the fard (obligatory) and the nawafil (supererogatory or recommended), and that the performance of the fard exceeds the performance of the nawafil in importance, but they both result in the pleasure of Allah (swt), his ever-present support and his response to one’s supplications. As an illustration of the significance of performing the nawafil, Umm Habiba, the wife of the Apostle of Allah (saws), reported Allah’s Messenger (saws) as saying: If any Muslim servant (of Allah) prays for the sake of Allah twelve rak’ahs (of Sun’an) every day, over and above the obligatory ones, Allah will build for him a house in Paradise. [Muslim]

Thus we see two levels of priority: the fard, which are obligatory acts and the Nawafil (supererogatory or recommended), which are an extension of the obligatory. The supererogatory are principally reflected in prayers. Although it is our objective to perform salah perfectly, from a practicable point of view, this is unlikely. The function of supererogatory prayers is to compensate for any deficiency that exists in terms of the performance of fard salah, or the obligatory prayers. Who can truly state that all their prayers are offered with the utmost of submission and reverence to Allâh (swt) , that their thoughts of worldly matters don’t divert their attention?

We should perform those acts that are obligatory before the acts that are supererogatory and recommended. Just as the obligatory represent different levels of importance and we should give preference to them in order of importance, so also the supererogatory and recommended actions represent different levels of importance and we should give preference to them in order of importance. It is a mercy and favor of Allâh (swt) that he has prescribed supererogatory and recommended acts to compensate for deficiencies in meeting our obligatory responsibilities. The supererogatory and recommended acts can be grouped together under the term nawafil, or recommended.

What is the First Thing For Which We Will Be Called to Account?

Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet (saws) said: The first thing that the people will be called to account for on the Day of Resurrection will be the prayers. Our Lord will say to the angels although He knows better: ‘Look into the salah of my servant to see if he observed it perfectly or been negligent in it’. So if he observed it perfectly it will be recorded to his credit, but if he had been negligent in it in any way, Allah would say: ‘See if My servant has any supererogatory prayers’. Then if he has any supererogatory prayers, Allah would say: ‘Make up the deficiency in My servant’s obligatory prayer with his supererogatory prayers.’ Thereafter all his actions will be examined in like manner. [Abu Dawud].

Thus we have two types of act, the fard (obligatory) and the nawafil (supererogatory and recommended). Islamic scholars concur that an inability to perform the fard results in Allâh’s punishment, whereas an inability to perform the nawafil causes a less severe censure or a loss of rewards. Allah (swt) has also commanded those things which must be avoided (the haram or prohibited) or should be avoided (the makrouh or disliked).

As an indication of the distinction between the prohibited and the disliked, Narrated Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Prophet of Allah (saws) disliked ten things: (then he listed them) but he did not declare them to be prohibited. [Abu Dawud]  In summary, the obligatory is the opposite of the prohibited and the supererogatory or recommended are the opposite of the disliked. As a result, failure to perform the obligatory is prohibited and failure to perform the supererogatory or recommended is disliked.

The Pillars

One should also recognize that the obligatory acts and basic Islamic responsibilities are not at the precise same level of importance, even though they are all mandatory on the believer. Islam is based upon five pillars: Belief in the Oneness of Allâh (swt) and the Prophethood of Muhammad (saws), Salah, Zakat, fasting during Ramadan and the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The belief in Allâh (swt) is a prerequisite for all else, without which adherence to the other Pillars is meaningless. Salah is next in importance because the individual who establishes salah establishes her or his deen, and whoever leaves salah leaves their deen. There are numerous ahadith that define the difference between Islam and kufr (disbelief) as abandoning one’s salah.

Zakat comes after salah, and is a means of purifying the believer. Zakat is associated with salah in eighty-two verses of the Holy Qur’an. The first Khalifah, Abu Bakr (ra) determined that he would fight individuals who separated zakat for salah, who refused to pay their zakat. He based his decision on the words of the Prophet Muhammad (saws): I have been ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger, and they establish the prayer, and pay zakah. [Bukhari, Muslim]

Unfortunately, many of us Muslims do not appreciate – and act upon – the distinctions raised in this article. As a result, their lives are lived in contradiction. Some may fail to fast during Ramadhan, but attend the Eid prayer. Some may fast during Ramadhan, but are negligent is regular Jumuah attendance. Some may attend Jumuah but are deficient in their five daily prayers. Even if all these requirements are met, an absence of adherence to supererogatory prayers may diminish their status in the sight of Allah (swt). Some may offer their five daily prayers and fail to pay their zakat. We must recognize the fard and the nawafil, and honor them both, insha’Allah.


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