All praise be to Allah. The solution to the sleeping and missing Sallat al-fajr, has two aspects: theoretical and practical.
The theoretical aspect may be further broken down into two points:
(1) The Muslim should know the great status of salaat al-fajr in the sight of Allah, may He be glorified. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever prays the dawn prayer in congregation, it is as if he had prayed the whole night long.” (Muslim, p. 454, no. 656; al-Tirmidhi, 221).
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said:
“The most burdensome prayers for the hypocrites are salaat al-’isha’ and salaat al-fajr, but if they only knew what they contain, they would come even if they had to crawl.” (Reported by Imaam Ahmad, al-Musnad, 2/424; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 133).
“Whoever prays fajr is under the protection of Allah. Do not put yourselves in a situation where Allah has to call you to account for your negligence.” (Reported by al-Tabaraani, 7/267; Saheeh al-Jaami’, no. 6344).
“Angels come to you in shifts by night and by day. They meet at salaat al-fajr and salaat al-‘asr, then those who had stayed with you at night ascend, and are asked by the One Who knows better than they: ‘How did you find My servants?’ They say, ‘We left them when they were praying, and we came to them when they were praying.’” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, al-Fath, 2/33).
“The best of prayers in the sight of Allah is the dawn prayer on Friday, in congregation.” (Reported by Abu Na’eem in al-Hilyah, 7/207, and in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 1566).
According to a saheeh hadeeth: “Whoever prays al-Bardayn will enter Paradise.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, al-Fath, 2/52). Al-Bardayn are fajr and ‘asr.
(2) The Muslim should understand the seriousness of missing salaat al-fajr. This is explained by the hadeeth already quoted:
“The most burdensome prayers for the hypocrites are salaat al-’isha’ and salaat al-Fajr…”
In al-Saheeh, it is reported that Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) said: “If we did not see a person at fajr and ‘isha’ prayers, we would think badly of him.” (Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Mu’jam al-Kabeer, 12/271. Al-Haythami said, the men of al-Tabaraani are muwaththaqoon (trustworthy). al-Majma’, 2/40). They thought badly of a person who was absent from these two prayers because regular performance of them is an indication of a person’s faith and a measure of his sincerity. Other prayers may be easier to do because they are more convenient to a person’s circumstances and fit in with his work and his sleep, but only those who are determined and sincere, people whom one hopes are good people, will be able to pray fajr and ‘isha’ regularly in congregation.
Another hadeeth which indicates the seriousness of missing salaat al-fajr is: “Whoever prays fajr is under the protection of Allah. Do not put yourselves in a situation where Allah has to call you to account for your negligence, because whoever finds himself in this situation will be sorted out and then thrown on his face in the Fire of Hell.” (Reported by Muslim, p. 454).
These two points are sufficient to guarantee that the Muslim’s heart will burn with the concern to ensure that he does not miss fajr. The first motivates him to strive to earn the reward for fajr, and the second acts as a warning that will deter him from committing the sin of negligence.
The practical aspect of dealing with this problem includes a number of steps which the Muslim can take in order to get used to performing salaat al-fajr regularly in congregation. These steps include:
Sleeping early. According to a saheeh hadeeth, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to dislike sleeping before ‘isha’ and talking afterwards. The Muslim should not sleep before salaat al-’isha’ because it is obvious that most of those who sleep before it will spend the rest of the night feeling so tired and heavy that it will be as if they are ill.
Also, the Muslim should not talk after ‘isha’, and the scholars have explained the reason why doing so is disliked: it is because doing so leads to people staying up late, which in turns leads to the fear that they will sleep and miss qiyaam al-layl, or the correct or preferred time for fajr prayer.
The kind of talk that is disliked after ‘isha’, as the commentators explain, is that in which there is no clear benefit, but if there is some benefit – such as studying and gaining knowledge, learning stories of righteous people, speaking to a guest, spending time with one’s wife and family, speaking to travellers and taking care of them and their luggage, or any other permissible reason – then there is nothing wrong with it. This has no connection with the reasons for which many people stay up late nowadays, to do wrong and commit sin! So the Muslim should sleep early, so that he can wake up refreshed to pray fajr and avoid the kind of late nights that make him too tired to get up and pray fajr in congregation.
It is a fact that people differ with regard to their need for sleep, so it is not possible to dictate a set number of hours that people should sleep, but each person should stick to the time that will give him enough sleep to wake up refreshed for salaat al-fajr. If a person knows from experience that sleeping after 11 p.m., for example, will mean that he cannot get up for fajr, then from an Islamic point of view he should not sleep any later than that… and so on.
Making sure that one is clean (taahir) and reciting adhkaar (prayers) before sleeping. This helps a person to get up for fajr.
Having a sincere intention and being determined, when going to sleep, that one will get up for fajr. But a person who goes to sleep hoping that the alarm will not go off, and that no one will come and wake him up, will not – with such a corrupt intention – be able to get up to pray fajr whilst he still has this bad intention.
Remembering Allaah as soon as one wakes up. Some people may initially wake up, then they go back to sleep again. But if a person remembers Allah straight after waking up, this will loosen one of the knots of Shaytaan, and will motivate him to get up. When he performs wudoo’, his determination becomes stronger, and Shaytaan is driven further away, and when he prays, his shaytaan is defeated, his balance (of good deeds) becomes heavier, and he will feel happy and energetic.
Seeking help from one’s family and friends to pray fajr, and encouraging one another in this regard. This is essential, and is undoubtedly included in the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meanings):
“… Help you one another in al-birr and al-taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety)…” [al-Maa’idah 5:2]
“By al-‘asr (time). Verily! Man is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth and recommend one another to patience.” [al-‘Asr 103:1-3]
The Muslim should encourage his wife, for example by waking her up to pray fajr, and she should encourage him, no matter how tired and exhausted he may be. Children should also seek their father’s help to wake up, so he can wake them when it is time for the prayer. No father should say “They have exams, they are tired, let them sleep, poor kids.” It is a mistake to think that be doing this one is being a kind and merciful parent; true parental mercy means that the father wakes them up to worship Allaah. “And enjoin al-salaah (the prayer) on your family, and be patient in offering them (the prayers)…” [Ta-Ha 20:132 – interpretation of the meaning].
Just as family members should help and encourage one another to pray fajr, so brothers in Islam can also help one another. For example, university students living in the same residence or neighbours in the same neighbourhood can help one another by knocking on a neighbour’s door to wake him for prayer and helping him to worship Allah.
Praying to Allah to help him to wake up to pray fajr in congregation. Du’aa’ is one of the greatest sources of strength and success in all things.
Using various means of being woken up, such as alarm clocks. These should be put in the most appropriate place. Some people put the alarm clock next to their head, and when it rings, they turn if off at once and go straight back to sleep. Such a person should put the clock a little further away, so that he can feel that it is really waking him up.
One can also arrange to receive alarm calls from the telephone company, and no Muslim should think that it is too much to pay for this service if he needs it, because this is spending in the way of Allah, and waking up to obey the command of Allah cannot be measured in terms of worldly wealth.
Throwing water in the face of the person who is sleeping. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) praised the man who gets up at night to pray, and wakes his wife, and when she refuses to get up, he throws water in her face; and he praised the woman who gets up at night to pray, and wakes her husband, and when he refuses to get up, she throws water in his face. (Reported by Imaam Ahmad in al-Musnad, 2/250; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 3494).
Throwing water in a person’s face is one of the means of waking a person for prayer that is prescribed by Shari'ah. In fact it is quite refreshing and energizing. Some people may become enraged when woken in this manner, and they may shout and swear and issue threats, so the person who is seeking to wake another should employ wisdom and patience, and remember that the pens are lifted from the record of one who is sleeping (i.e., his deeds are not being recorded while he is asleep) – so he should put up with any bad treatment, and not let this put him off trying to wake people up for prayer.
Not sleeping alone. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) forbade any man to sleep alone. (Reported by Imaam Ahmad in al-Musnad, 2/91; al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, no. 60). Perhaps the wisdom behind this prohibition is that a person could sleep too long if there is no one to wake him up for prayer.
Not sleeping in remote places where it would not occur to anyone that someone could be sleeping there, such as a person sleeping on the roof of a house without telling his family where he is, or sleeping in a remote part of the house or student residence, so that no-one will know to wake him for prayer, but everyone will think that he is in the mosque when in fact he is fast asleep. Anyone who needs to sleep in a remote place should tell the people around him where he will be so that they can come and wake him.
Being lively and active upon waking. One should get up straightaway, and not wake up in stages, as some people do. A person could be woken up several times, and each time he gets up, but when his friend leaves, he goes back to bed. Waking up in stages usually ends in failure, and the only way to prevent falling asleep again is to get up straight away.
Not setting the alarm too early. If a person knows that there is still a long time to go until the time of the prayer, he may think, “I still have time, let me sleep a little more…” Everyone should know how to handle himself and avoid this situation.
Lighting a lamp when waking up – or, in our modern times, switching on the light. This has the effect of dispelling sleepiness.
Not staying up late, even to pray qiyaam al-layl. Some people may stay up late to pray qiyaam al-layl, then fall asleep a few minutes before fajr and be unable to wake up for the prayer. This happens a lot in Ramadan – people stay up late and sleep a little while before fajr, so they miss the prayer. No doubt this is a grave error, because fard (obligatory) prayer should take precedence over naafil (supererogatory) prayer. So what about those who stay up late not to pray but to commit sin, or at best to do permissible things? The Shaytaan may make the idea of staying up late to discuss important matters attractive to some daa’iyahs (Islamic workers), then they sleep late and miss the prayer, thus losing much more than they gained.
Not eating too much before going to sleep. Eating too much makes one sleep deeply. The one who eats a lot gets very tired, and sleeps a lot, thus losing a lot. So one should try to eat lightly in the evening.
Warning about the misinterpretation of the Sunnah to lie down after praying the Sunnah of fajr. Some people may have heard the hadeeth in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “When any one of you has prayed, let him lie down on his right side.” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, no. 420; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 642). It was also reported that when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had prayed the Sunnah of fajr, he would lie down, then Bilaal would call him to prayer, and he would stand up to pray. People may have heard these ahaadeeth, and be keen to follow this proven Sunnah, but they do not understand how to do it properly. So a person may pray the Sunnah of fajr, then lie down on his right side, and fall fast asleep until the sun rises. This is because of a lack of proper understanding. The lying down is not for the purpose of sleeping, and Bilaal used to come and tell the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) when it was time to pray. Moreover, as was reported by Imaam Ahmad and Ibn Hibbaan in a saheeh hadeeth, if the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) wanted to rest before fajr, he would put his head on his right palm, propped up on his elbow. (Reported by Ahmad in al-Musnad, 5/298; Saheeh al-Jaami’, no. 4752). This kind of resting prevents one from falling fast asleep, because in this case one’s head is propped up on one’s palm and elbow, and will drop if one dozes off, thus waking one up again. In addition to this, Bilaal was entrusted with the responsibility of waking the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) for the fajr prayer.
Praying qiyaam al-layl late in the night, just before fajr, so that when one finishes witr, the call for fajr prayer is given, making the worship continuous. The night prayer should be offered during the last third of the night – which is the preferred time – and immediately followed by the fajr prayer, whilst one is feeling awake and energetic.
Following the example of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in lying down to sleep. So a person should lie on his right side, placing his right cheek on his right hand. This position makes it easy to wake up. The best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and this is better than sleeping in any other position which may make it difficult to wake up.
Helping oneself by taking a nap during the day, because this will help a person by making him need less sleep at night.
Not sleeping after ‘asr or maghrib, because this will make a person sleep late, and whoever sleeps late will find it difficult to wake up.
Finally, sincere devotion to Allah is the best thing to motivate a person to get up for prayer, because Allah is the One Who is controlling all means of help. If a person has that true sincerity and his heart is burning with devotion to Allah, then Allah will help him to get up to pray fajr in congregation, even if he goes to sleep only a few moments before fajr.
This sincerity and devotion may cause some very enthusiastic people to find unusual ways to help themselves to wake up to pray, which is a sign of their eagerness and keenness. One of them may set a number of alarm clocks to wake him up, setting each one a few minutes later than the other, so that if he turns the first one off, the next one will wake him a few moments later, and so on. Another may tie a string to his wrist, with the other end dangling from his window, so that when one of his friends passes by on his way to the mosque, he can pull on the string and wake him for fajr prayer.
See what can be achieved with sincerity and determination, may Allah guide you! But the bitter truth is that weakness of faith and lack of sincerity are widespread among people nowadays, as we can see from the small numbers of people to be found praying in the mosques at fajr, despite the fact that there are so many people living around the mosques in many neighborhoods.
But no doubt there are people who sleep so heavily that it is almost like an illness, and they may be excused, because the matter is beyond their control. People in this situation should turn to Allah for help, and do everything that they possibly can, and visit the doctor, to try to find a cure.
Finally, a word about a well known phenomenon: some people claim that there is a hadeeth which says that the person who wants to get up for fajr should recite the last part of Soorat al-Kahf before sleeping, and have the intention in his heart to get up at a certain hour, and this will make him get up at that time. They claim that this is a tried and tested method. Our response is that there is no such saheeh hadeeth, and this carries no weight whatsoever. The best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).