Rabbi zidni 'ilman!
In answer to the above question:
Let us first correct the confusion regarding the terms used above (namely, between sunna and mandub), for you were making an unnecessary distinction there. (What you could have meant by sunna there, might be what is known by our fuqaha' as the Rawatib (see below), which in turn is a sub-species of prayers other than the Fard ones.) Nafl or Tatawwu' are among the proper terms used by Shafi'i scholars for prayers other than the Fard ones, commonly translated as "supererogatory or additional prayer". Their synonyms include: Sunna (or better known in some colloquial as Sunnat) or Hasan or Muraghghab fih or Mustahabb or Mandub prayers; thus they are all the same thing and I shall use interchangeably, the term Nafl or Nafila in my answer.
What is meant by "additional" is that these prayers are additional to the five Fard prayers. Among the thamra and benefit of these prayers is that they compensate any unintentional defects made during the Fard prayers, such as to forget something (like missing a Tama'nina [repose]) or to read something wrongly, and so on. The Nafila acts like an "insurance" or something like a "guarantor" for us in the hereafter. Its role is not dissimilar to a damage control crew on board a warship: plugging holes and repairing the ship if and when she suffers from an enemy attack, that is to say, they perfect defects.
Since the nature of this legal question has to do with extra acts of devotion and of worship, namely the fadila and the sunna and not what is Wajib and obligatory, there is therefore room for a wide variety of opinions among scholars of the four schools. So for our own good, we must remember that there is a lot of mercy to be gained from this issue and let not the khilaf regarding it be a cause of division and the remover of rahma for us, Amin! However, the Qawl Mu'tamad and the relied upon position of our school concerning the Nafila prayers is a straightforward one and the best discussion found in our books concerning it is in the Fath al-Mu'in of Imam al-Mallibari, the student of Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with both of these Imams!).
Our scholars have divided Salat al-Nafl into two types.
1. Those which are recommended to be performed in a group [jama'a], such as the prayers of the two 'Ids, the two Kusuf and Khusuf, the Istisqa', and the Tarawih.
2. Those which are sufficient when performed indivdually [munfarid], such as the Rawatib, the Witr, the Duha, the Tahiyyat al-Masjid, the Istikhara, the prayers done in Mecca (Tawaf and Ihram), the Wudu', the Awwabin between Maghrib and 'Isha', the Tasbih, the Tahajjud and the like.
All of the Nafila which are recommended to be performed in a jama'a are considered Mu'akkada [confirmed sunna], while all of the munfarid Nafila except for the Witr, a number of the Rawatibs, the Tahajjud, and the Duha, for example, are not Mu'akkada.
The Rawatib prayers (as they are originally called, "al-Sunan al-Ratiba ma'a al-fara'id") are Nafila prayers that accompany the Fard prayers, whether offered before or after them. They are further divided into two types: the Rawatib Mu'akkada and the Rawatib Ghayr Mu'akkada.
It is well known that the Rawatib Mu'akkada are ten rak'as. (And this fact serves as a hikma and wisdom behind why the Shari'a has stupulated that the Tarawih is 20 rak'as, since owing to the blessings of Ramadan, an opportunity arises for one to seize the rewards of a double Rawatib Mu'akkada per day during that blessed month! This is so, because strictly speaking, the Tarawih is also a type of Rawatib.) The ten Rawatib Mu'akkada are:
Two brief rak'as before Subh
Two rak'as before Zuhr
Two rak'as after Zuhr
Two rak'as after Maghrib
Two brief rak'as after 'Isha'
The remaining Rawatib are not Mu'akkada and (to complete your list) they are 12 rak'as:
Two additional rak'as before Zuhr
Two additional rak'as after Zuhr
Four rak'as (with two Salams) before 'Asr
Two brief rak'as before Maghrib (if there is time between the Adhan and the Iqama)
Two brief rak'as before 'Isha' (if there is time between the Adhan and the Iqama)
This makes the total number of Rawatib prayers, Mu'akkada or otherwise, to be 22 rak'as per day.
Thus, the correct order of importance among the legal categories is strictly speaking, not, as you thought (partly caused by the confusion of technical terms), "fard, sunna mu'akkada, sunna ghayr mu'akkada, mandub", but (their relative ranks appear below in roman numerals):
I. The Fard prayers (which is a genus [jins; but found in our fiqhi works as "qism" and "darb");
II. The Nafl/Tatawwu'/Sunna/Hasan/Muraghghab fih/Mustahabb/Mandub prayers (which is also a genus) of which it is further divided into two types:
III. The Mu'akkada (which is a species [naw'] of the second genus above), such as the group Nafila prayers like the 'Id and the like, and the Witr, the 10 Rawatibs, and so on;
IV. The Ghayr Mu'akkada (which is still a species of the second genus), such as the remaining Rawatib, the prayers of Istikhara, Tahiyyat, Wudu' and the like.
The Fath al-Mu'in (as well as the Fath al-Wahhab) summarises the order of importance for the Nawafil prayers as set out by Imam al-Nawawi (may Allah be pleased with him!) in the Majmu' and the Rawda (in decreasing order):
"The best of the Nafila prayers is the 'Id al-Adha, and then the 'Id al-Fitr, and then the Kusuf, and then the Khusuf, and then the Istisqa', and then the Witr, and then the two Raka's of Subh, and then the rest of the Rawatib [whether the Mu'akkada or the Ghayr Mu'akkada, for all of them, except the Rawatib of Subh are of the same rank], and then the Tarawih, and then the Duha, and then the Tawaf, and then the Tahiyyat, and then the Ihram, and then the Wudu' [and thereafter, the remaining Nafila prayers]." [I'anat al-Talibin, 1:270].
May this meet with your requirements and your needs and may it in turn be beneficial to others!
O Allah, do guide our ship safely into Your Harbour and we ask that our damage control crew be protected from evil and harm!
Wallahu a'lam, wa-ma tawfiqi illa bi-Llahi al-'Aliy al-'Azim!
M. Afifi al-Akiti ©
12 Sha'ban 1424
8 October 2003
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