Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
What is the ruling of the Shaf` prayer (2-rakats prayed before witr)?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. May His blessings and peace be on His Beloved Prophet, the best of creation, and his family, companions, and followers
Witr prayer is a sunna. Its optimal number of rakats is eleven. Minimally, it is one rakat. The optimum minimal is three rakats. All of these rakats are called witr,’ after the name of the prayer. The final rakat is also called witr’, because it is an odd number [f: which is the linguistic meaning of witr].
The rakats prayed before it are called shaf` [even], because they are an even number. Thus, it is established that Shaf` prayer is a sunna, and it is a part of the Witr prayer.
– Amjad Rasheed.
(Translated by Faraz Rabbani)