Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) stated: “The best prayer after the obligations is the Night Prayer (Salātul-Layl).” Reported by Muslim. He also said: “O people, spread salutations among yourselves, feed the people food, keep the family ties, and pray through the night whilst the rest of the people are sleeping — and you shall enter Paradise in peace.” Reported by At-Tirmidhi who graded it hasan-sahīh, and Al-Hākim authenticated it.
From the Night Prayer is the Witr. The least rak’ahs in Witr is one, and the most is eleven. A person can make Witr with just one rak’ah due to the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ): “Whoever loves to make Witr with one rak’ah, let him do so.” Reported by Abu Dawūd and An-Nasā’ī.
A person can make Witr with three rak’ahs due to the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ), “Whoever loves to make Witr with three rak’ahs, let him do so.” Reported by Abu Dawūd and An-Nasā’ī.
Also, he can pray Witr with just one Tasleem (i.e. the salām) at the end due to what has been reported by At-Tahāwi, that ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) made Witr with three rak’ahs and he did not make the Tasleem until after the last Rak’ah.
The worshipper can also make two rak’ahs for Witr, then make Tasleem, then make the additional one rak’ah, making it three. This has been reported by Al-Bukhāri from Abdullāh Ibn ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhuma) that: “He used make Tasleem after the two rak’ahs in Witr, and then Tasleem after another rak’ah.”
A person can pray Witr with five rak’ahs, praying them all together without sitting [for Tashahhud] except after the last rak’ah and then make the Tasleem. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Whoever likes to make Witr with five rak’ahs, let him do so.” Reported by Abu Dawūd and An-Nasā’ī.
A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) stated: “The Prophet (ﷺ) would pray thirteen rak’ahs in the Night Prayer. And from that he would pray five as an odd number (Witr), not sitting down [for Tashahhud] in any of that except after the final rak’ah.” Agreed upon by Bukhāri and Muslim. And he would [sometimes] make the Witr seven rak’ahs and do the same as he did when he prayed five. Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) said: “The Prophet (ﷺ) would pray the Witr as seven rak’ahs and would not separate between the rak’ahs with salām (i.e. Tasleem) nor speech.” Reported by Ahmad, An-Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah.
He can also pray nine rak’ahs, and not sit [for Tashahhud] except after the eighth rak’ah — then he sits and recites the Tashuhhud and supplicates in it, not making Tasleem, then stands and prays the ninth rak’ah — then he sits for the Tashahhud and du’ā, and makes Tasleem to finish. A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) said concerning the Witr of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ): “He would pray nine rak’ahs, and not sit [for Tashahhud] except after the eighth. He would remember Allah, praise Him and supplicate. Then he would get up without making Tasleem, stand and pray the ninth rak’ah. Then he would sit after that [in Tashahhud], remember Allah, praise Him and supplicate. Then he would make the Tasleem that we could hear.” Reported by Ahmad and Muslim.
He can also pray eleven rak’ahs. And if he wants, he can make Tasleem after every two. And then make Witr with one rak’ah at the end. This is based upon the hadeeth of A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) where she said: “The Prophet (ﷺ) would pray between the time of ‘Ishā and Fajr eleven rak’ahs. He would make Tasleem after every two rak’ahs, and finish with one Witr.” Reported by the four collectors of Sunan except for At-Tirmidhi.
If a person wants, he can pray four rak’ahs, then another four rak’ahs, then finish with three (Witr) due to the hadeeth of A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā): “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) would pray four. Do not ask concerning their beauty or their length. Then he would pray a further four. And do not ask about their beauty and length. Then he would pray three rak’ahs.” Reported by Bukhāri and Muslim. This narration can be taken to mean that he prayed four rak’ahs with one Tasleem at the end — and that is what is apparent from the text.
As for praying five, or seven, or nine at one time without Tasleem, then is when one prays alone or with a small jamā’ah who choose to pray like that. As for the Mosques where the people generally pray, then it is better that the Imām makes Tasleem after every two rak’ahs so as not to make matters hard for the people or cause them to doubt in their intention for the prayer. And Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) stated: “O people, some of you are scaring the people away. So whoever from you leads the people in Prayer, he should keep it short, for behind him are the weak, the aged, and the people who have matters they need to take care of.” Reported by Muslim. And in narration, he (ﷺ) said: “But when a person prays alone, he may pray however [long] he wants.” That is because it is not reported from the Prophet (ﷺ) that he lead the Companions in the Night Prayer (Witr) in this manner (i.e. with seven, nine, etc). Rather he only did that when praying alone.
Majālis Shahr Ramadān, by Ash-Shaikh, Al-Allāmah, Al-Faqīh, Muhammad Sālih ‘Uthaimīn (rahimahullāh), pp. 26-28.
Note: Abu Salamah Ibn Abdur-Rahmān said: I asked A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā), “How was the Night prayer of Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) during the month of Ramadān?” She said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) never exceeded eleven rak’ahs in Ramadān or in the other months.” Reported by Al-Bukhāri (no. 1147)