The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no true god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing Prayer, paying the Zakah, making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj), and fasting the month of Ramadan.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)
Concerning the prayer, every muslim is only required to perform five daily prayers. `Ubadah ibn As-Samit (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah Almighty has enjoined that five prayers have to be performed daily. He who performs them regularly, will be blessed by entering Paradise. However, he who pays no attention to performing them, there will be no covenant for him in the Hereafter, and it is for Allah Almighty to punish him or to bless him by entering Paradise.” (Reported by Malik, Abu-Dawud)
Therefore, we – Muslims – are obliged to pray five times a day. But there are certain supererogatory (sunnah) prayers that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) regularly offered. A Muslim is highly recommended to keep on offering the supererogatory prayers. The wisdom behind the legislation of supererogatory prayers is to make the heart of the Muslim attached to Allah in all times, seeking His Forgiveness and hoping to pass the hard test successfully. A Muslim may not perform obligatory prayers properly, and he may not be able to attain the high sense of awe, implied in prayer, due to material trappings that preoccupy his mind. Hence, Sunnah make up for the shortage that may arise in obligatory prayers.
A Muslim should be generous with His Lord, in the sense that he should perform as many voluntary acts of worship as he can in order to gain Allah’s Reward in the Hereafter. In this sense, Allah Almighty says: “And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil).” (Al `Imran: 133)
Shedding more light on this issue, the eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:
“The five daily prayers are prescribed upon every Muslim. But there are certain supererogatory (Sunnah) prayers that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) regularly offered. A Muslim is highly recommended to keep on offering the supererogatory prayers for the following reasons:
1. They bring the Muslim nearer to Allah. On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah, Most High, said: ‘Whoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works (acts of worship) so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him.’” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)
2. Whoever turns away from these sunnah (supererogatory) prayers, seems to be turning away form the love of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him). Allah says: “Indeed there is for you, in the Messenger of Allah, a good example to follow.” (Al-Ahzab: 21) Whoever loves Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), should adhere to his Sunnah. As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) kept on offering these supererogatory prayers, his adherents should follow his footsteps.
3. These supererogatory prayers compensate for whatever shortages and deficiencies that take place in the performance of the obligatory prayers. It stands to reason that no one can assume perfection of his prayers. When man will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment – and the first thing to be accounted for is prayer – his prayer will be looked at. If the obligatory prayers are incomplete, then the sunnah will compensate for them.”
Therefore, there are other prayers that are highly recommended to be performed before and after the obligatory ones. Such prayers are called sunnah or supererogatory prayers. If one performs them, Allah will reward him, but there is no punishment for not performing them.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “He who assiduously performs twelve rak`ahs (prayer units), will have a house built for him in Paradise. They are: four rak`ahs before the afternoon prayer (Zuhr) and two rak`ahs after it; two rak`ahs after the sunset prayer (Maghrib); two rak`ahs after evening prayer (Al-`Isha’); and two rak`ahs before the dawn prayer (Fajr).” (Reported by At-Tirmidhi)
In addition, there are other voluntary prayers that can be performed occasionally along with the previous sunnah prayers. They are, for example, the late night prayer (Tahajjud prayer); the eclipse prayer (Kusuf prayer); the prayer for seeking Allah’s guidance (Istikharah prayer); and the prayer in times of need (Hajah prayer). Each of the aforementioned prayers has a specific way to perform it. It should be notable that we have concentrated on the obligatory prayers along with the supererogatory ones immediately preceding and following them.