Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling if the imam prolongs the qunut recitation during the witir prayer? Hope for an explanation.
Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.
Qunut supplication is a specific dhikr that contains supplication and praises for Allah SWT. It can be recited with any phrase that have two elements of speech which includes the verses of al-Quran on the condition of the person set the intention to recite the qunut supplication.
This is as stated in Kasyifah al-Saja Syarh Safinat al-Naja:
والقنوت هو ذكر مخصوص مشتمل على دعاء وثناء ويحصل بكل لفظ اشتمل عليهما بأي صيغة شاء كقوله: اللهم اغفر لي يا غفور، فالدعاء يحصل باغفر والثناء بغفور، وكذلك ارحمني يا رحيم وقوله: الطف بي يا لطيف وهكذا، ومثل الذكر المخصوص آية تتضمن ذلك كآخر سورة البقرة بشرط أن يقصد بها القنوت، وكقوله تعالى: ربنا اغفر لنا ولإخواننا الذين سبقونا بالإيمان ولا تجعل في قلوبنا غلاًّ للذين آمنوا ربنا إنك رؤوف رحيم} الحشر:10
Qunut us a specific dhikr which includes supplication and praises for Allah SWT. It can be recited with any phrases which lead to both elements, such as: “O Allah, forgive my sins, O Lord the All-Forgiver.” Thus, a supplication is a result of the word ‘forgive me’ and praises ‘the All-Forgiver’. Another example, is “Have mercy on me, O the All-Merciful,”, “Be kind to me, O the All-Kind,” and others. Likewise, it is also included in this specific dhikr is verses of al-Quran which contains these elements (supplication and praise) such as the final verse of surah al-Baqarah on the condition that it is intentioned as qunut supplication. The same for the statement of Allah SWT: “And [there is a share for] those who came after them, saying, “Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts [any] resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful.” 
However, the prioritized phrases of the qunut supplication are as narrated from Rasullullah PBUH by Abu Hurairah RA, as is normally recited in our society today and several additions are included. For the addition in this supplication and praises, Imam Ibn al-Hajar said: “It is fine to add phrases (supplications and praises) and it isn’t necessary to perform the sahwi prostration if the additions are left.”
This is the same as the sunnah of adding qunut supplication as recited by Saidina Umar al-Khattab RA:
وَاسْتَحَبَّ الْأَصْحَابُ أَنْ يَضُمَّ إِلَيْهِ قُنُوتَ عُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ
It is sunnah according to Syafieyyah scholars to combine the qunut supplication narrated with the qunut supplication of Saidina Umar. 
Qunut recitation is divided into two, which are:
First: Qunut Ratibah, which is the qunut that is sunnah to be recited in two places:
- During the iktidal in the second rakaat of Subuh prayer
- In the final iktidal in Witir prayer beginning in the middle of the Ramadhan month
Second: Qunut Nazilah which is a sunnah supplication recited in prayer when a calamity or disaster strikes especially when it involves Muslims.
Prolonging QUnut in Witir Prayer
In a hadith narrated by Hasan bin Ali RA in Jami’ al-Tirmizi and also Sunan Abi Duaw from al-Hasan bin Ali RA:
عَلَّمَنِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَلِمَاتٍ أَقُولُهُنَّ فِي الوِتْرِ: اللَّهُمَّ اهْدِنِي فِيمَنْ هَدَيْتَ…
“God’s Messenger taught me some words to say when standing in supplication during the witr. They were, “O God, guide me among those Thou hast guided…” 
In madhhab al-Syafie, it is sunnah for the imam or anyone who is praying alone to recite the qunut supplication in the final rakaat of Witir prayer and it is recited beginning on the 15th final nights of Ramadhan. 
According to the above question, the qunut supplication is recited after a person stands from the bowing position on the final rakaat of Witir prayer, it isn’t conditioned to recite certain supplications, but it is better if a person recites the supplication taught in the sunnah of the Prophet PBUH. Among them is the one narrated by al-Hasan RA the grandson of Rasullullah PBUH.
As for prolonging the recitation of qunut, if he is praying alone then there isn’t an issue for him to prolong his supplication. However, if he is an imam, then he shouldn’t harm or burdens those behind him by prolonging the supplication.
The reason is there is a hadith that instructs the imam to not burden (prolong) their prayers for those who are behind them which consists of people of various backgrounds. Among them is a hadith narrated from Abu Hurairah RA, the Prophet PBUH said:
إِذَا صَلَّى أَحَدُكُمْ لِلنَّاسِ، فَلْيُخَفِّفْ، فَإِنَّ مِنْهُمُ الضَّعِيفَ وَالسَّقِيمَ وَالكَبِيرَ، وَإِذَا صَلَّى أَحَدُكُمْ لِنَفْسِهِ فَلْيُطَوِّلْ مَا شَاءَ
“If anyone of you leads the people in the prayer, he should shorten it for amongst them are the weak, the sick and the old; and if anyone among you prays alone then he may prolong (the prayer) as much as he wishes.” 
Furthermore, prolonging a short requisite in prayer is among the matters which invalidates prayer. Among the short requisites are I’tidal (standing after bowing) and qunut supplication is recited during I’tidal. It is conditioned that a person praying to not prolong his I’tidal after bowing for a long time which is the duration of the recitation of al-Fatihah. The reason is I’tidal is a short requisite, hence, it is impermissible to prolong it except in the qunut and tasbih prayer. 
Moreover, Imam al-Nawawi cited the opinion of the ashab from Khurasan which states I’tidal is a short requisite and is instructed to be eased (shortened). If he purposely prolongs it such as staying quiet (for a long time), reciting qunut that isn’t sanctioned (not warid from the Prophet PBUH) or with other dhikrs, then for this three wajah, the most sahih according to Imam al-Haramain and also decided by al-Baghawi is that this act invalidates prayer except which is warid (come from) the shariah. 
To conclude, we advise the imam to not prolong the recitation of qunut to avoid the khilaf of some scholars who stated that the prayer will be invalidated and there is a possibility of burden or harm towards the makmum.