Q. Is there a limit on the allowed number of nawafil prayer? Would exceeding that limit for voluntary prayer constitute bid'a?

A. The following is from Imam al-Dhahabi's (d.748 A.H.) priceless biographical encyclopedia of the great Muslims entitled Siyar A`lam al-Nubala'. It consists in some of al-Dhahabi's biographical notices on the topic of quantity of nawafil prayers. It is hoped that it will shed some light on the question.

- Abu Muslim al-Khawlani(R)['Sayyid al-Tabieen' d.62 A.H.]: two men looking for him found him praying, one counted 300 rak'as until he finished.

- `Ali Ibn al-Hussein ibn `Ali ibn Abi Talib [Zayn al-Abideen d.94 A.H.]: he prayed 1000 rak'as daily until he was buried.

- Talq Bin Habib al-'Anzee(R)[min al-'Ulama' al-'Amileen d.<100 A.H.]: he did not start reading surah 2 in prayer except that he reached surah 29 before the first ruk'u[2/3 Quran].

- 'Abd al-Rahman al-Aswad(R)[al-Imam Ibn al-Imam d.98/99 A.H.]: he was counted praying 65 raka's before Jum'a prayer alone.

- Bilal Bin S'ad(R)[Shaykh Ahl Dimishq d. 11x]: he prayed 1000 rak'as daily.

- Ali Bin Abd Allah(R)[al-Imam al-Qanit d. 118 A.H.]: he had 500 trees, he prayed 2 raka's at each tree daily[=1000 rak'as + fard + other].

- Abu Hanifa(R)[al-Imam Faqih al-Milla d.176 A.H.]: He prayed Fajr with the wudu of 'Isha for forty years, and he read the entire Qur'an in one rak'a.

- Bishr Bin Mansur(R)[al-Imam d.180 A.H.]: he prayed 500 rak'as daily.

- al-Qadi Abu Yusuf(R)[Qadi al-Quda d.182 A.H.]: his daily Wird[devotional practice] was 200 rak'as.

- Ahmad Bin Hanbal(R)[al-Imam Haqqan d.265 A.H.]: he prayed 300 rak'as daily until he fell sick from this and he prayed 150 rak'as daily.

- Baqi Bin Mukhlad(R)[al-Imam Shaykh al-Islam d.276 A.H.]: he read the entire Qur'an every night in 13 rak'as, prayed 100 rak'as daily and constantly fasted.

- al-Husayn Bin al-Fadl(R)['Alim 'Asruh d.282 A.H.]: he prayed 600 rak'as daily.

- al-Junayd(R)[al-Imam b.22x]: his daily Wird was 300 rak'as.

There are numerous other stories like the above showing how many of Ahl al-Sunna performed amazing amounts of devotions.

Imam al-Subki said in Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya that Muhammad ibn Isma`il -- Imam Bukhari -- completed Qur'an once every day, and in Ramadan twice every day i.e. 60 times in the month of Ramadan, and that his student al-Warraq once counted the number of times he rose up from bed at night: 17 times.

Like Imam Bukhari, Abu Hanifa used to make 60 khatmas of Qur'an every Ramadan: on in the day, one in the night, besides his teaching and other duties. al-Subki relates it of Bukhari in Tabaqat al-shafi`iyya, while Dhahabi and al-Haytami relate it of Abu Hanifa respectively in Manaqib Abi Hanifa (p. 23) and al-Khayrat al-hisan. al-Khatib in Tarikh Baghdad (13:356), Dhahabi in the Manaqib (p. 22), and Suyuti in Tabyid al-sahifa (p. 94-95) relate that Ibrahim ibn Rustum al-Marwazi said: "Four are the Imams that recited the entire Qur'an in a single rak`a: `Uthman ibn `Affan, Tamim al-Dari, Sa`id ibn Jubayr, and Abu Hanifa." Suyuti also relates in Tabyid al-sahifa that a certain visitor came to observe Abu Hanifa and saw him all day long in the mosque, teaching relentlessly, answering every question from both the scholars and the common people, not stopping except to pray, then standing at home in prayer when people were asleep, hardly ever eating or sleeping, and yet the most handsome and gracious of people, always alert and never tired, day after day for a long time, so that in the end the visitor said: "I became convinced that this was not an ordinary matter, but wilaya." May Allah be well pleased with His Friends and send blessings and peace upon his Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.