Qiyaam Ramadhan – Taraweeh (its concept and the number of rakats)
Yahya related to me from Malik from Ibn Shihab from Abu Salama ibn Abd ar-Rahman ibn Awf from Abu Hurairah that: the Messenger of Allah (May Allah’s peace be upon him) used to encourage people to observe the night in prayer in Ramadan without making it obligatory. He used to say, “Whoever observes the night in prayer in Ramadan with Imaan (faith) and expectancy (of reward), all his previous sins will be forgiven.”
Ibn Shihab said, “The Messenger of Allah (May Allah’s peace be upon him) died while that was still the custom, and it continued to be the custom in the caliphate of Abu Bakr and at the beginning of the caliphate of Umar ibn al-Khattab.” (‘Mu’wat’ta Imam Malik – Book of Prayer in Ramadhan)
Salah is the coolness of the eyes for the true believers and it is very beloved to Allah through out the year, but in Ramadan it will become more rewarding and beloved to Allah. This is why, along with fasting, the Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him)
mentioned: ‘Whoever does Qiyaam (stands in prayer, prays salah) with the hope of reward from Allah, will be forgiven.’
What is the concept of this special prayer of Ramadhan which is known as Qiyaam Ramadan or Taraweeh?
To earn forgiveness from Allah by spending the night in a lengthy Salah until one is so tired that he has to lean on a stick as the companions of the Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) did.
Brief explanation of the number of rakats of taraweeh and if taraweeh and tahajjud are the same type of prayer
The intention behind writing this explanation is so the readers understand the idea and the background information behind the different views hence they can tolerate one another and refrain from being deluded by Shaytan into arguing over the matter, as a result lose the main objective of the salah.
The root cause of the differences in rakats
- The majority of the Imams and the early Muslims understood the taraweeh and tahaj’jud to be two different salahs.
- Most of the great imams of fiqh (Islamic law) and hadeeth always had separate chapters for tahaj’jud and Ramadhan salah (Qiyam Ramadhan) clearly indicating that there is special Ramadhan prayer and there is tahaj’jud prayer which is for the entire year.
- They even had a discussion on ‘should a person pray witr immediately after taraweeh or leave it for after tahaj’jud to be the last prayer of the night’, since outside Ramadhan it was the sunnah of the Prophet to pray witr salah after tahaj’jud as the last prayer of the night.
- Tahaj’jud was sanctioned by Allah in Makkah through the Quranic verse: And during the night, wake up for Salah of tahaj’jud, an additional prayer for you. It is very likely that your Lord will place you at Praised Station. (Surah Bani Isra’eel 17:79)
- Initially tahaj’jud was compulsory in Makkah and later it was made an optional prayer.
- On the contrary the taraweeh narrations are from Madinah and the Prophet (saw) only prayed it for 3 nights and left it fearing that it may become compulsory for the people.
- Some Imams have explained taraweeh and tahaj’jud to be the same and their view was accepted by a very small minority of Muslims. The first recorded explanation of this view is 400 years after the early Imams, whereas the taraweeh and tahaj’jud prayers being separate salahs are seen in the early books of fiqh (Islamic law) and hadeeth collections.
Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) praying Taraweeh in Ramadhan (Qiyam Ramadhan)
أَنَّ عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ أَخْبَرَتْهُ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم خَرَجَ لَيْلَةً مِنْ جَوْفِ اللَّيْلِ، فَصَلَّى فِي الْمَسْجِدِ، وَصَلَّى رِجَالٌ بِصَلاَتِهِ، فَأَصْبَحَ النَّاسُ فَتَحَدَّثُوا، فَاجْتَمَعَ أَكْثَرُ مِنْهُمْ، فَصَلَّوْا مَعَهُ، فَأَصْبَحَ النَّاسُ فَتَحَدَّثُوا، فَكَثُرَ أَهْلُ الْمَسْجِدِ مِنَ اللَّيْلَةِ الثَّالِثَةِ، فَخَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَصَلَّى، فَصَلَّوْا بِصَلاَتِهِ، فَلَمَّا كَانَتِ اللَّيْلَةُ الرَّابِعَةُ عَجَزَ الْمَسْجِدُ عَنْ أَهْلِهِ، حَتَّى خَرَجَ لِصَلاَةِ الصُّبْحِ، فَلَمَّا قَضَى الْفَجْرَ أَقْبَلَ عَلَى النَّاسِ، فَتَشَهَّدَ ثُمَّ قَالَ “ أَمَّا بَعْدُ، فَإِنَّهُ لَمْ يَخْفَ عَلَىَّ مَكَانُكُمْ، وَلَكِنِّي خَشِيتُ أَنْ تُفْتَرَضَ عَلَيْكُمْ فَتَعْجِزُوا عَنْهَا ”. فَتُوُفِّيَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَالأَمْرُ عَلَى ذَلِكَ
Ibn Shihaab Narrated that he said ‘Urwa informed me: That he was informed by `Aisha,
“Allah’s Messenger (May Allah’s peace be upon him) went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the mosque and some men prayed behind him. In the morning, the people spoke about it and then a large number of them gathered and prayed behind him (on the second night). In the next morning the people again talked about it and on the third night the mosque was full with a large number of people. Allah’s Messenger (May Allah’s peace be upon him) came out and the people prayed behind him. On the fourth night the Mosque was overwhelmed with people and could not accommodate them, but the Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) came out (only) for the morning prayer (Fajr). When the morning prayer was finished he recited Tashah-hud and (addressing the people) said, “Amma ba’du, your presence was not hidden from me but I was afraid lest the night prayer (Qiyaam) should be compulsory on you and you might not be able to carry it on.” So, Allah’s Messenger died and the situation remained like that (i.e. people prayed individually). “
(Saheeh Bukhari –Book of Praying at night in Ramadhan)
The above hadeeth shows that the Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) never wanted taraweeh to become compulsory therefore never encouraged or continued to perform in jama’ah. This hadeeth doesn’t show how many rakats he prayed. There is no authentic narration from the Prophet as to how many rakats he prayed. In this case we will look into the actions of the companions because they were the best in understanding and practising upon the Quran and Sunnah.
Taraweeh – Sahabah era
Umar (May Allah be pleased him) ordered the sahabah to perform in one big jama’ah (congregation) Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab from Urwa ibn az-Zubayr that Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abd al-Qari said,
“I went out with Umar ibn al-Khattab in Ramadan to the mosque and the people there were spread out in groups. Some men were praying by themselves, whilst others were praying in small groups. Umar said, ‘By Allah! It would be better in my opinion if these people gathered behind one reciter.’ So he gathered them behind Ubayy ibn Kab. Then I went out with him another night and the people were praying behind their Qur’an reciter. Umar said, ‘How excellent this new way is, but what you miss while you are asleep (tahaj’jud prayer in the last part of the night) is better than what you observe in prayer (taraweeh prayer now).’ He meant the end of the night (praying Salah in the last portions which is the tahaj’jud Salah), and people used to watch the beginning of the night in prayer (Prayer beginning of the night is taraweeh because it is read at Isha time).”
(Mu’wat’ta Imam Malik – Book of Prayer in Ramadhan)
20 Rakats Taraweeh
وَحَدَّثَنِي عَنْ مَالِكٍ، عَنْ يَزِيدَ بْنِ رُومَانَ، أَنَّهُ قَالَ كَانَ النَّاسُ يَقُومُونَ فِي زَمَانِ عُمَرَ بْنِ الْخَطَّابِ فِي رَمَضَانَ بِثَلاَثٍ وَعِشْرِينَ رَكْعَةً .
Yahya related to me from Malik that Yazid ibn Ruman said,
“The people used to watch the night in prayer during Ramadan for twenty- three rakats in the time of Umar ibn al-Khattab.” (‘Mu’wat’ta Imam Malik – Book of Prayer in Ramadhan)
The above hadeeth is authentic and it clearly shows they prayed 20 Rakats Taraweeh (3 extra for witr). The fiqh and history books of the early Imams testify to the fact that this was the normal and the consistent practice since the time of Umar, from the both haramain (Makkah and Madinah) to the entire Islamic world. However some Imams added extra optional salahs in-between the long rest they used to have after 4 Rakats like Imam Malik and others.
Others narrations on the Rakats of Taraweeh
Yahya related to me from Malik from Da’ud ibn al-Husayn that he heard al-Araj say,
“I never saw the people in Ramadhan, but that they were cursing the disbelievers (the enemies from them).” He added, “The reciter of Qur’an used to recite surat al-Baqarah in eight rakats and if he did it in twelve rakats the people would think that he had made it easy.”
(‘Mu’wat’ta Imam Malik – Book of Prayer in Ramadhan)
Yahya related to me from Malik from Muhammad ibn Yusuf that as- Sa’ib ibn Yazid said,
“Umar ibn al-Khattab ordered Ubayy ibn Kab and Tamim ad-Dari to observe the night in prayer with the people for eleven rakats. The reciter of the Qur’an would recite the Mi’in (a group of medium sized ayahs) until we would be leaning on our staffs from having stood so long in prayer. And we would not leave until the approach of dawn.”
(‘Mu’wat’ta Imam Malik – Book of Prayer in Ramadhan)
The above narrations clearly show that there were 12 and 8 rakats of taraweeh (from 11 rakats, 3 were witr). This was read before the Sahabah agreed on 20 rakats because most of the early Imams and the practice of the early Muslims (Salaf) do not show 8 or 12 rakats but 20 rakats.
Some scholars commented on the status of the above narrations that they are weak in comparison to the more stronger and popular narrations of 20 rakats.
Is Taraweeh 8 rakats?
Those who believe Taraweeh to be 8 rakats quote the following hadeeth;
Narrated by Abu Salama bin `Abdur Rahman: that he asked `Aisha
“How was the prayer of Allah’s Messenger (May Allah’s peace be upon him) in Ramadhan?” She replied, “He did not pray more than eleven rak`at in Ramadhan or in any other month. He used to pray four rak`at -let alone their beauty and length (extremely beautiful and lengthy Salah) – and then he would pray four – let alone their beauty and length – and then he would pray three rak`at (witr).” She added, “I asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (May Allah’s peace be upon him) Do you sleep before praying the witr?’ He replied, ‘O `Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep.”
(Saheeh Bukhari –Book of praying at night in Ramadhan)
The above hadeeth mentions that the Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) did not pray more than 8 rakats night pray besides Isha and witr. It is very problematic to understand this hadeeth literally for taraweeh and tahaj’jud because there are numerous authentic ahadeeth confirming various rakats of night prayer-Tahajjud. This hadeeth shows the general practice of the Prophet’s tahaj’jud which was 8 Rakats, in and out of Ramadhan.
2 Rakats-Tahaj’jud Narration
Narrated Abu Sa’id and Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet (May Allah’s peace be upon him) said:
If a man awakens his wife at night, and then both pray or both offer two rakats together, the (name of the) man will be recorded among those who mention the name of Allah, and the (name of the) woman will be recorded among those who mention the name of Allah. (Abu Dawood- Book of Salah)
Tahaj’jud Salahs to be read in pairs and 6, 10 rakats. (Abu Dawood)
We can conclude that Tahaj’jud is not only 8 rakats but starts from 2 and goes up to over 10 rakats therefore it will be incorrect to say taraweeh or tahaj’jud to be only 8 rakats.
This hadeeth is understood by majority Imams to be regarding tahaj’jud because the hadeeth mentions inside and outside Ramadhan. The differences between taraweeh and tahaj’jud have been discussed above. They (only 8 rakat-group) also reject the overwhelming narrations of Umar and the companions praying 20 rakats which is against the understanding of majority of the early and later Imams and also the hadeeth, fiqh and history books of Islam.
Praying 20 rakats of taraweeh is proven through authentic narrations to be the practice of the sahabah and they understood Islam better than any other people. Therefore Muslims should try their best to pray 20 and feel confident that it is authentic. However the Prophet (saw) left reading taraweeh with the sahabah fearing it may become compulsory hence we must not make taraweeh compulsory but regard it as ‘sunnah’ which means there is a great reward in reading it but one must not regard a person missing it to be sinful.
Allah knows best