Who is Right?
Discouraging Supererogatory Worship (nafl)?
Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari
The area of supererogatory worship (nafl) is vast and includes voluntary salah, fasts, charity, Hajj, recitation of the Quran, litanies, and other virtuous acts. As much as performing these voluntary acts is rewarding, there is no sin in leaving them. Therefore, it is a mistake to deem such acts of worship as necessary (wājib). For example, sitting on the floor when dining is a Sunnah, yet, it would be incorrect to consider it necessary. Likewise, it would be incorrect for someone to declare the non-emphasised Sunnah (ghair-muakkadah) and optional (nafl) units of prayer at the beginning and end of salah to be necessary.
However, voluntary acts of worship should be encouraged because they please Allah Almighty and are a means of forgiveness.
Benefits of supererogatory and recommended (mustaḥabb) acts of worship
One benefit of supererogatory acts of worship is that although they are not necessary, they enable a person to reach something necessary. For example, have you ever seen, heard, or read of a person who punctually prays the twenty units of Tarawīḥ salah but does not pray Isha salah? Or, have you heard of someone who prays the Sunnah units of Fajr Salah but then returns home and does not offer the obligatory (fard) units? Certainly not. This means that someone carrying out righteous works that are not necessary will carry out righteous works that are necessary to an even greater degree.
No-one prays Tahajjud but avoids Fajr salah. Similarly, it is not possible that a person will observe all of the voluntary fasts of Rajab and Shaban but leave the obligatory fasts of Ramadan. Optional worship leads a person towards necessary worship.
Another benefit of optional worship is that on the Day of Judgement, any shortcomings in a person’s obligatory worship will be compensated using his optional worship. The Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said:
The first action that a person will be asked about on the Day of Judgement is his salah. If his salah is in order, then he will be successful. However, if his salah is not in order, then he will be unsuccessful. If there is any shortcoming in his obligatory worship, Allah Almighty will say, “See if this person has any optional worship.” Then, the inadequacy in his obligatory worship will be made up using this. This will be the case for his other actions too.
The third benefit of optional and recommended acts of worship is intriguing. Although some acts are only encouraged by Islam or encouraged by Islamic culture, they shield the worshipper against sins in a way that perhaps even some necessary good deeds do not. Ask yourself, if a man’s appearance corresponds to the Sunnah, i.e., he has a beard, wears a turban (imamah), and places a shawl on his head as the righteous do, will he then go to a nightclub? Will he unreservedly be fraudulent in business? Will he speak indecently? Will he act like an uncivilised person in the marketplace? Will he look at non-mahram women in a wrongful manner?
It is very unlikely that such a person would do these things, because if he did, people will speak up and say, “Brother! What are you doing! You are a religious individual, have a beard and wear a turban, and yet you do such things!” We come to know from this that recommended actions act as a shield before sins. Similarly, imagine if a person wearing a turban was to sit down and engage in conversation at the time of Salah; the people sitting there who might not even pray themselves will tell him that the adhan has taken place and the congregational prayer has started.
In short, the main principle is that we should avoid sins, stay away from what Islam prohibits, and do what it prescribes. However, these optional acts of worship prove beneficial in helping us fulfil those necessary acts of worship. One ascertains from this that the benefit of many desirable and optional acts of worship is that they facilitate in the fulfilment of obligatory and necessary acts of worship, and assist in avoiding haram.
Moreover, recommended acts of worship draw us closer to Allah Almighty. While obligatory worship is the priority and the basis of our relationship with Allah, optional worship strengthens that relationship.
One does not have the choice of accepting some obligatory and necessary acts of worship and leaving others; they must all be fulfilled. However, the domain of optional worship is vast, and every optional act of worship helps a person taste the sweetness of faith and love for Allah. The Sufi masters described that there are as many ways to reach Allah Almighty as there are breaths. Therefore, a person may perform whatever he wishes from the optional acts of worship.
People have different preferences in this regard. Some have a passion for Salah; some enjoy fasting; others feel great delight in performing Hajj and Umrah; some find peace in the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah Almighty; others have an inclination towards reciting the Quran; some have love for sending peace and blessings upon the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم; some enjoy feeding others; others find happiness in removing the problems of people; some are always prepared to serve their parents; and others talk to people in a pleasant manner and meet them with a cheerful face, bringing a smile to their faces.
Like this, there are thousands of paths that a person may traverse to foster his bond with his Lord and reach the haven of His proximity. Allah Almighty said in a divine hadith: “A slave attains greatest proximity to Me by means of obligatory worship (farāʾiḍ), and he continues to become closer to Me through optional worship (nawāfil) until I make him My beloved.”
So, develop a love for optional and desirable acts of worship. Act upon them. Make them a part of your life. Stay away from and do not listen to those who spend their days and nights in distancing you from worship instead of encouraging you to perform it.