The word “qunut” means obedience accompanied by humility. For example, while addressing Hadrat Maryam (Mary), God says: “O Mary, be obedient {uqnuti} to your Lord.”1 What is meant by qunut in prayer is the supplication that we recite in the second rak‘ah of every prayer.

On the interpretation of the verse, “And dedicate yourself to Him with total dedication,”2 Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) says that what is meant by “tabattul” is to raise the hands in supplication during prayer.3 The word “tabattul” means cutting off hope in other than God.4

The Qur’an thus enjoins us: Supplicate your Lord, beseechingly and secretly.”5 One of the signs of beseeching and weeping in the presence of God is to raise the hands in supplication.6 The indigent man stretches his hands toward the Absolute All-sufficient, praying to Him alone and purges his heart of other than Him.

Although qunut is only optional {mustahabb} in prayer, it has, nevertheless, been given such attention that Imam ar-Rida (‘a) thus wrote in one of his letters to Ma’mun: “Qunut is an obligatory sunnah in all the daily prayers.”7 Of course, the purpose of the Imam (‘a) is to emphasize the importance of qunut. For example, if one forgets to perform it before the ruku, it is recommended to perform a compensatory one after ruku, and if he remembers it during sujud, he may also do so after salam.

Concerning the etiquette of performing qunut, it is thus recorded: You have to raise your hands up to the level of your face; the palms of the hands must be open toward the sky; the two hands must be kept together; the fingers must be close together except the thumbs; at the time of reciting the supplication, you have to look at the palms of the hands and recite it loudly; of course, not to the extent that the leader of the congregation would hear it.8

There is no specific supplication and one may recite whatever supplication one wants. It is also not necessary that the supplication be recited in Arabic as it may also be recited in English. Of course, it is clear that the Qur’anic supplications and the supplications that the Infallibles (‘a) read in their qunut have special virtue and preeminence.

The qunut of different prayers

The number of qunut is not identical in all prayers. Each of the five daily prayers has one qunut before the ruku‘ of the second rak‘ah. But the Friday congregational prayer which has two rak‘ahs have two qunuts, one before the ruku‘ of the first rak‘ah and the other one after the ruku‘ of the second rak‘ah.

In the ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Qurban prayers each of which has two rak‘ahs, we recite nine qunuts; five successive qunuts before the ruku‘ of the first rak‘ah and four successive qunuts before the ruku‘ of the second rak‘ah. Of course, there is a special supplication recorded for these qunuts.

Even in the salah al-ayat {prayer of natural signs} which has two rak‘ahs and five ruku‘s in every rak‘ah, it is recommended to recite the qunut before the second, fourth, sixth, and eight ruku‘s, though it is enough to have one qunut before the tenth ruku‘.

The witr prayer, which is a one-rak‘ah prayer performed at the end of the night supererogatory prayers, has a long qunut and many recorded supplications, such as istighfar {to say, for example, “astaghfirullah”} 70 times, “al-‘afwu” 300 times and supplication for 40 believers.

The prayer for rain, like the ‘Id prayers, has five qunuts in the first rak‘ah and four qunuts in the second rak‘ah.

In any case, to prolong the qunut is recommended. Abu Dharr asked the Prophet (S): “Which prayer is better?” The Prophet (S) replied: “The prayer whose qunut is longer and anyone who would recite his qunut longer will have more comfort during the time of the Day of Resurrection.”9

The qunut of the Infallibles (‘a)

Ibn Mas‘ud said that the reason behind his acceptance of Islam was his witnessing the prayer of three persons, viz. the Holy Prophet (S), Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a) and Hadrat Khadijah (r).10

In the salam that we give in the Ziyarah Al Ya Sin to Hadrat al-Mahdi (may Allah, the Exalted, expedite his glorious advent), we read: “Peace be upon you when you are standing for prayer and qunut!”

For each of the Infallibles (‘a), there has been recorded long supplications in the qunut, which we cannot quote here for lack of space. It is surprising that the qunut with all its blessings is not widely and frequently practiced. Were Hadrat ‘Ali and the Khulafa’ ar-Rashidun not reciting qunut in their prayers?

During qunut we should not think of ourselves and our requests only. We have to learn from Hadrat Zahra who said: “al-jaru thumma ’d-dar.11

That is, “Think of your neighbor first and then your family.” God has promised to grant the personal requests of anyone who would pray for others.

In the qunut we have to pray against our enemies, asking for the victory of Islam and the Muslims.
In his qunut the Holy Prophet (S) would curse a group of people, mentioning their names and descriptions. In the qunut of his prayer, Hadrat ‘Ali (‘a) used to curse Mu‘awiyah and ‘Amru ibn al-‘As.12 At any rate, tawalla and tabarra are part of the religion, nay the foundation of our religion:

هَل الدِّين إِلاَّ ٱلْحُبّ وَ ٱلْبُغْض؟

“Is the religion other than love and hatred?”13

  • 1. Surah Al ‘Imran 3:43.
  • 2. Surah al-Muzzammil 73:8.
  • 3. Wasa’il ash-Shi‘ah, vol. 4, p. 912.
  • 4. Mufradat ar-Raghib.
  • 5. Surah al-A‘raf 7:55.
  • 6. Ma‘ani as-Saduq, p. 369.
  • 7. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 82, p. 197.
  • 8. Masa’il-e Qunut dar Tawdih al-Masa’il.
  • 9. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 82, p. 200.
  • 10. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 38, p. 280.
  • 11. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 43, p. 81.
  • 12. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 82, p. 201.
  • 13. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 68, p. 63.