In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful. Peace and blessings of Allah be upon the leader and seal of the messengers and his family and companions.
A question that reoccurs, unfortunately, is the question regarding the validity of performing missed obligatory prayers in the place of certain sunnah prayers, like the ones before and after the obligatory prayers. Al-Imam Ahmad al-Tahtawi says in his Hashiyah (marginal notes) on Maraqi al-Falah at the end of the chapter of performing missed prayers:
“Being occupied with performing missed prayers is more appropriate and more important than voluntary (nawafil) prayers except for the known Sunnahs, the Duha prayer, the Tasbih prayer, and any prayer that has been narrated in the prophetic traditions, so they will be performed with the intention of voluntary prayer and other prayers will be done with the intention of performing missed prayers. This has been narrated in Al-Mudmarat from Al-Zahiriyyah and Fatawa Al-Hujjah. The meaning of ‘known Sunnahs’ are the mu’akkadah and the meaning of ‘other prayers will be done with the intention of performing missed prayers’ is that a person intends to perform missed prayers if they want to do other than the pre-mentioned prayers because it is more appropriate, on the contrary it is even what is stipulated.”
Bearing this in mind a number of things need to be taken into account in relation to the sunnah:
1. There is a difference of opinion regarding the ruling of leaving Sunnah mu’akkadah that is not a symbol of the religion. The majority of ulama in the Hanafi School have said that the one who leaves it without an excuse deserves chastisement and if it is persistently left then they deserve punishment. However some (Al-Tumurtashi, Ibn Mawdud al-Mawsili, Ibn Nujaym) have said that there is no sin involved unless it is left out of aversion to the Sunnah.
2. The Sunnah prayers are omitted if a person prays alone (which can be a relief for someone who has many years of missed prayers to perform) as is mentioned in Al-Muhit al-Burhani: “Whenever a person prays the obligatory prayer alone and not in congregation, then there’s no harm in performing the sunnahs of Fajr and Zhuhur and there’s no harm in leaving them because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t do them unless he performed the obligatory prayer in congregation, thus if a person does them when he prays alone he hasn’t performed the sunnah of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).There is also another stance that it is better to perform them no matter what, due to them being complementary to the obligatory prayers.
3. Consideration needs to be taken and wisdom needs to be applied when dealing with people who are weak in faith and have just started practicing in religion that they are not overburdened to the point of feeling overwhelmed with prayers, especially when there is leeway in the issue of praying sunnahs when a person has missed prayers in other schools. Shaykh Ibn Hajar Al-Haytami Al-Shafi’i mentions: “It is not permissible for him to pray nafl until his responsibility is cleared of all of the missed prayers that he transgressed in by causing them to go out of their time.”
4. Leaving a will is obligatory for someone who has missed prayers and fasts and this will be accepted from him, if he doesn’t leave a will and someone pays the compensation on his behalf it will also be accepted insha’Allah. The amount taken for each prayer and fast is the same amount of the eid al-fitr charity paid after Ramadan.As for the sin of missing those prayers then it will only be removed by a sincere repentance and intention to perform them whilst one is still alive.
5. There is no performing of missed sunnah prayers except for the 2 sunnahs of fajr if they are missed with the obligatory fajr prayer and then performed before midday.This has been mentioned in numerous books.
Vol2, page 41 (Dar al-Quba)
Al-Mujaz fi Usul al-Fiqh, page39 (Dar al-Salam)
Al-Ikhtiyar Vol1, page 425, Chapter of Testimonies (Dar al-Quba). Al-Muhit Al-Burhani Vol2, page 236, subject 1648 (Idarah al-Quran wa al-Ulum al-Islamiyyah)
Al-Muhit Al-Burhani Vol2, page 238, subject 1654 (Idarah al-Quran wa al-Ulum al-Islamiyyah); Al-Hidayah, Vol1, page 256 Chapter on Catching the Obligatory Prayer (Dar al-Farfur)
Hashiyah al-Jurhuzi ala al-Manhaj al-Qawim page 206 (Dar al-Minhaj)
Maraqi al-Falah, page 260-261 (Dar al-Quba)
 Al-Hidayah, Vol1, page 255 Chapter on Catching the Obligatory Prayer (Dar al-Farfur)