History has not recorded the detailed life of any person in the same way as it has done in the case of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is due to the fact that his practices, particularly in matters of religion, provide an example that we are urged by God to follow. The encouragement applies even in ordinary matters where no religious edict is needed and where people are free to choose whatever method they wish. In such matters, following the Prophet’s example earns us a reward. God states in the Qur’an: “In God’s Messenger, you have a good example to follow, for those of you who hope to please God and to be successful on the Last Day.” Therefore, the Prophet’s companions were keen to watch his practice for guidance and they reported what they saw and heard. Scholars in succeeding generations have emphasized the need to follow the Prophet’s guidance and practice, outlining this and explaining it.

Thus, we have a complete record of how the Prophet conducted himself even in his private and personal life. We learn how he behaved at home, what he used to do when resting and relaxing, and how he talked, joked, ate, and dressed. Books have been written on his character and behavior, in addition to what has been recorded about his public life and how he ran his community and state. It is acknowledged by all scholars that we are required to follow the Prophet’s example only in what pertains to faith and religion. But in private and personal matters such a requirement does not apply. However, if we learn how the Prophet behaved in a certain situation and we follow his example with the intention of being close to him and learning from him, such intention earns us a reward from God.

Thus, if we follow the Prophet’s example in how he sat when eating, we are not doing a religious duty or recommended practice, but our desire to do as he did is acknowledged by God and granted a reward. Therefore, scholars have recorded such private matters and ascertained that their reporting is accurate and authentic.

Abbad ibn Tameem quotes his uncle saying that he “saw God’s Messenger lying down in the mosque, with one of his legs over the other.” [Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Malik and Al-Tirmidhi). This Hadith serves to tell us that it is permissible to lie down in a mosque, and the posture of the Prophet is perfectly permissible. Moreover, when we know that the Prophet did something in a particular fashion, it means that his way is not harmful.

Al-Baraa’ ibn Azib, a companion of the Prophet, reports: “When the Prophet lied down to sleep, he would put his right hand under his right cheek and say: ‘My Lord! Protect me from Your punishment on the day You resurrect Your servants.'” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood and Al-Baghawi). The supplication the Prophet used to say at a particular time is recommended for us to say, but the posture is not. However, it is a comfortable position that we may wish to try.

Abu Qatadah reports: “When the Prophet stopped at night for rest on a travel, he would lie down on his right side, and if he stopped before dawn, he would put up his arm and place his head on his palm.” (Related by Muslim, Ahmad, and Al-Tirmidhi). The Prophet placed his hand under his head in the latter case because he wanted to be sure not to sleep long and miss the dawn prayers. Otherwise, if the night were still long, he would take a more comfortable position. To him, prayer was of extreme importance. Hence, he wanted to make sure not to miss it.

Naturally, the Hadiths describing the Prophet’s sleep mostly come from some who were closely related to him. His cousin, Abdullah ibn Abbas, who was young during the Prophet’s lifetime, reports: “I stayed overnight at Maymoonah (the last of the Prophet’s wives) when the Prophet woke up, relieved himself, then he performed the ablution in a middle-of-the-way fashion, making it complete but not too elaborate, then he prayed and completed his prayer in 13 rak’ahs, then he lied down and slept until his breathing was audible, which was his habit when he slept. Then Bilal called him for prayer and he prayed without performing a fresh ablution.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Al-Tirmidhi).

Another Hadith which is similar in many ways is also reported by Ibn Abbas: “I stayed overnight in the home of my maternal aunt Maymoonah, the Prophet’s wife when the Prophet was also staying there as it was her night. The Prophet prayed the obligatory prayer of Isha and came home to her where he offered four rak’ahs of prayer before he went to sleep. He then woke up and said: ‘The young lad is asleep’, or words to this effect. He stood up for prayer and I joined him standing to his left, but he moved me to his right. He prayed five rak’ahs, then added two more rak’ahs, then he slept until I heard his breathing. He later went out for prayer.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Al-Baghawi).

These two Hadiths could be speaking of the same occasion, or of two different occasions. The discrepancy in the number of rak’ahs of prayer is easily reconciled. The first mentions that the Prophet completed his prayer in 13 rak’ahs, while the second mentions his prayer in three lots adding up to 11 rak’ahs but if we add the 4 rak’ahs of obligatory Isha prayer the complete number becomes 13, except for the last two which were the recommended, or Sunnah, prayer before the obligatory one Fajr, at dawn. This last prayer does not count as a night prayer and should not be confused with what the Prophet prayed at night.

In the first Hadith, Ibn Abbas does not mention that he joined the Prophet in his prayer, while he mentions it in the second. Perhaps he mentioned the occasion at different times, and he felt in the second that it would be useful to mention the fact that the Prophet moved him to his right-hand side when he was the only one joining him in prayer. This defines the position of the imam in relation to the only person joining him.

We have mentioned these Hadiths here as they relate to the description of the Prophet’s sleep. We learn from them that he used to sleep soundly, as his breathing would be audible. We also learn that the Prophet used to offer voluntary night prayer often, particularly if the Hadiths are speaking of different occasions.

In the first Hadith, Ibn Abbas makes clear that the Prophet did not renew his ablution when he woke up for prayer, while in such a situation we are required to perform a fresh ablution, or else our prayer would not be valid. The Prophet might have been informed by Gabriel that his ablution remained valid as sleeping does not invalidate ablution if one is certain that no wind or urine discharge took place during sleep.