“When any of you sleeps, shaitan ties three knots at the back of your head, on each knot he repeats and exhales the following words, “the night is long, so stay asleep”. If you wake up and remember Allah, one knot is undone; and if you do wudu, the second knot is undone; and if you pray, the third know is undone, and you get up in the morning full of energy and with a clear heart. Otherwise you get up lazy with a muddled heart.”(Bukhari)
In Thu Thua, a remote village on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, there is a 14-year-old girl named Dao Ngoc Phung. Dao lives in a shack with her two younger siblings. Her mother died of cancer in 2010, and her father is a carpenter who takes city jobs to support his family and pay down their debt of $1,500. This essentially leaves Dao, standing at 4 feet 11 inches and weighing a meek 97 pounds, as a single mother who happens to be in the ninth grade. Nonetheless, by her example, this young girl can teach anyone about devotion.
It is safe to say that she is in a tougher situation than any of us, but Dao’s awe inspiring determination also leads her to be stronger than most of us. She hopes to go to college and become an accountant; a dream that is nearly impossible for a village girl in Vietnam, where oftentimes girls are treated as second class citizens and are forced to drop out of school to help at home. Nonetheless, Dao sets her alarm for 3 am everyday and studies as she cooks rice for her and her siblings’ breakfast. She then wakes her brother and sister and they head off to school. Despite school being a 90 minute bike ride away, Dao arrives to class 20 minutes early because she doesn’t want to be late.
After school, Dao and her siblings go fishing for dinner. She helps her siblings with their homework before doing her own, reserves all the repulsive chores, such as cleaning the toilet, for herself, and comforts her little brother when he misses their mother. She tells New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, “I try to comfort him, but then all three of us end up crying.”
Sometimes Dao doesn’t sleep until 11pm, only to hear her alarm go off 4 hours later. MashaAllah, imagine having the initiative to wake up at 3 am every day after 20 hours of school, chores, and homework. She hardly gives herself a break: on Sundays she sleeps in, which, by her definition, is waking up at 5 am.
Dao is so committed and so devoted to her education even though there is no guarantee that she will see the fruits of her labor. No one has promised her that if she commits to a 20 hour work day, she will one day become an accountant.
In the same way Dao is committed to school, aren’t Muslims committed to worshipping Allah (swt)? Isn’t that our purpose in life?
Yet we, unlike Dao, are given this guarantee of success if we pray qiyam. We know the benefits of qiyam, but how many of us are devoted enough to break out of our sleep and remember our Lord?
It is said that Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (as) related that the Prophet (saw) said that Allah expresses pride before the Angels and says,
“O Angels! See he is performing the Qadha of that which I have not made obligatory on him. Be witness that I have given him salvation.”
There are countless other benefits of qiyam outlined in hadith: “That house in which Salat al-Layl is recited beams with light for those who are in the heavens just as the stars beam with light for those who are on Earth.” Another hadith says, “Salat al-Layl is a Kaffara for the sins committed in the day” (Ahl al-Bait). To top it all off, Al-Hassan was once asked, “How is it that those who stay up at night have the most attractive faces?” He replied, “Because they are on intimate terms with the Merciful, and He robes them in some of His light.”
Though the last third of the night is the most blessed, we can still pray Salat Al Layl after midnight, and if that is too hard, then we can pray after Isha. Allah says in the Qur’an that He does not impose upon any soul a duty beyond the extent of its ability (2:286). He has put so much reward in an act that He has made so simple for us.
It is true that we are not commanded to pray qiyam, it is an act of worship that goes beyond the call of duty. But no one commanded Dao to work 20 hours a day, either. She just has a goal, and will do everything she can do attain it. If our goal is Jannah, shouldn’t we take advantage of the opportunities that Allah has handed right to us? Think about it this way, if a bag of Rutgers college tuition vanished from our doorstep at the start of Fajr, how many of us would stay up all night to pick it up? How many of us would jump out of bed at the first sound of our alarms? Yet, we let the treasure fade away night after night. Qiyam is a gem waiting at the foot of our pray rug, and anyone who ignores it doesn’t realize how much two rakats of prayer will be worth on the Last Day.
“Our Lord descends during the last third of each night to the lower heaven and says: ‘Is there anyone who calls on Me that I may respond to him? Is there anyone who asks Me that I may give unto him? Is there anyone who requests My Forgiveness that I may forgive him?’”(Bukhari and Muslim).
He waits for us every night in the lower heavens, yet we lay unconscious, tucked away in our sheets.
Tonight, don’t miss that call.