When I was growing up, my parents – like so many other desi parents – stressed the Sunnah prayers like fardh. If my understanding was the measure, they didn’t do a very good job of differentiating the Sunnah and the fardh. I prayed the Sunnah prayers just as diligently as I prayed my fardh prayers, but in my mind, I was confused. If I made intention of it being sunnah – something I understood as not obligatory – why did I have to pray them as if they were obligatory?
In Islaam, Muslims are told to strive for perfection. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the nights.” (Bukhaari, 1/2/38 )
On the day of Judgment, the first thing that you will be questioned about is your salah. If there is a deficiency in the fardh (obligatory) prayers, then the Sunnah will be looked at. If there is a deficiency in the Sunnah, the nawaafil will be looked at. The case is also similar for other deeds – such as fasting.
How many of us really think that we have fulfilled our duties to our prayers since the day they were made obligatory on us? (Which, by the way, is upon reaching puberty.) And if any of us really feels safe, then we are truly idiots.
Humans aren’t perfect. If you think you’re going to be perfect in your fardh all the time, think again. There will be some instances, no matter how hard you try, where you’ll slip up. If you slowly, gradually start losing grip on your fardh…where do you think you’ll end up? On the other hand, if you were already pretty consistent with keeping up with Sunnah and occasionally nafl deeds, then a little faltering here and there would be ok – as long as you got back on track.
Also, look at other activities in your life – wouldn’t you do extra credit if you knew for sure there was a possibility you would fail? Or even get – God forbid – a B? (Seriously, some Muslims are fanatical about getting straight A’s, but subhaanAllah, when it comes to the deen, it’s ok for us to just do enough to ‘get by.’ How the heck do we know we’re ‘getting by’ anyway?) Or what about our financial situation – we’re not going to have just enough money in the bank to pay our bills for the next month and get the groceries. We like to have a cushion. Just in case.
The need for a cushion is even more so with our deen. We don’t know how many people we could’ve accidentally hurt that we have to account for; or perhaps we’ve forgotten how many sins we’ve committed in the past (or that are still ongoing!), etc.
Now, after reaching adulthood, I understand the wisdom of my parents’ having me pray Sunnah. Although, I do think that a differentiation should be made between Sunnah and Fardh. Your children should know the difference, and they should know the importance of praying Sunnah and Nafl prayers – they are a means of being closer to perfection; they serve as a way of keeping you within fulfilling fardh deeds; and they will be inshaa Allah a cushion for us on the Day of Judgment, when our other deeds may fall short.