What is the reason why takbir is uttered in the third rak'ah of the witr prayer?

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What is the reason why takbir is uttered in the third rak'ah of the witr prayer?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The takbir uttered in the third rak'ah of the witr prayer while standing serves to separate the additional chapter or verses and qunut prayers (du'as).  

According to Hanafi madhhab, after the chapter of al-Fatiha and an additional chapter or verses are read, it is necessary to raise hands by saying "Allahu akbar" and read qunut prayers. After that, ruku' (bowing down) is performed. The witr prayer itself, the takbir uttered in the third rak'ah and the qunut prayers read after that takbir are wajib. The Prophet (pbuh) performed the witr prayer like that. The Companions like Hz. Ali and Ibn Umar reported it like that.

The takbir uttered in the third rak'ah is called "takbir al-intiqal (transition)". For, what is read before takbir is a chapter and verses. Qunut prayers are prayers reported from the Prophet (pbuh). This takbir is uttered in order to separate the verses and du'as, and to pass to du'a section. 

The reason why takbir is uttered aloud and hands are raised is to inform handicapped people like the deaf and the blind about the takbir as it is mentioned in Tahtawi's book.1

There are various narrations in the tafsir book called Ruhu'l-Bayan about the origin of raising hands and how it became sunnah. One of the narrations is as follows:  

"The Prophet (pbuh) led a two-rak'ah prayer to all prophets in Masjid al-Aqsa on the Night of Ascension. Hz. Musa (Moses) asked the Prophet to perform one rak'ah for him when he arrived at Sidratul-Muntaha (Lote Tree of the Utmost Boundary).

It is stated in the chapter of as-Sajdah that the Prophet would meet Hz. Musa on the Night of Ascension as follows:  

"We did indeed aforetime give the Book to Moses: be not then in doubt of its reaching (thee): and We made it a guide to the Children of Israel." 2

This verse is interpreted in a few ways. One of the interpretations is that the Prophet will not doubt that he will reach the whole Quran; another one is that will not doubt that he will reach Hz. Musa.

"The Prophet (pbuh) went up to Sidratul-Muntaha during Ascension and performed one rak'ah. Then, he added another rak'ah, making it a two-rak'ah prayer. God Almighty ordered him to perform one more rak'ah. Thus, it became a prayer with an odd number (witr) like the evening prayer. While the Prophet was about to perform the third rak'ah, divine mercy and light became manifest. The Prophet was surrounded by that light. In that transcendental state, his hands were released. Then, he raised his hands and uttered takbir. Thus, raising the hands became a sunnah,"3

According to another narration, while the Prophet (pbuh) was performing the third rak'ah, he read the chapter of al-Fatiha and an additional chapter. While he was about to bow down, he saw Hell. The people of Hell were as black as pitch. The Prophet lost consciousness and his hands were released. Hz. Jibril (Gabriel) arrived at once and poured some Kawthar water on him. The Prophet regained consciousness. He uttered takbir and read qunut prayers. He took refuge in Allah from Hell and the people of Hell in qunut prayers.   

The Prophet (pbuh) stated the following about the time and virtue of the witr prayer:

"Allah rendered an extra prayer to you; this prayer is better for you than camels with red feathers. It is the witr prayer. Allah determined its time as the period between the night prayer and dawn."4

As it is known, the most important possession for Arabs at that time wascamels with red feathers. It is stated in the hadith that the witr prayer is more valuable than the most valuable worldly possessions.  

Although these narrations and wisdoms exist, what is essential regarding worshipping is to imitate the Prophet as to how he performs worshipping. Besides, wisdoms and benefits serve as encouragement only.


1. at-Tahtawi, p. 305; Nimet-i Islam, p. 308.
2. as-Sajdah, 32/23.
3. Ruhu'l-Bayan, IV/413-414.
4. Abu Dawud, Salat:336.

(Mehmed PAKSU, Sorulu-Cevaplı İbadet Hayatımız)

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