Why do the Shi’ah avoid Tarawih congregations? Click here for Printable factsheet pdf format
And during a part of the night, engage in the night prayer (Tahajjud) beyond what is incumbent on you; perhaps your Lord will raise you to a position of great glory. (Holy Qur’an, 17:79)
Prophet Muhammad (s) said regarding the month of Ramadan: “Whoever establishes the night prayer (Qiyam al-Layl) in it out of sincere Faith and hope for reward from Allah, all of his previous sins will be forgiven.”[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 3, book 32, number 226]
The Ahl al-Sunnah generally consider it a sunnah to offer specific evening prayers – the Tarawih – in congregation during the holy month of Ramadan. The Shi’ah, while being commended to offer similar nawafil (recommended prayers), are not allowed to offer them in congregation. This practice of the Shi’ah is in accordance with the orders and sunnah of the Prophet (s).
Brothers and sisters from the Ahl al-Sunnah come together in Tarawih congregations during the early evenings of the month of Ramadan. They stand in prayer and recite the Qur’an, and may Allah (swt) reward them for their sincere intentions and actions.
However, the word Tarawih was never mentioned by the Qur’an or the Prophet (s) to describe these extra congregational prayers during the evenings of the month of Ramadan.
It is a term developed later amongst Muslims. Linguistically, the word “Tarawih” is the plural of the word ‘tarwiha’ referring to the short period of rest between every four units of the prayer. Later, the entire congregational prayers in the nights of Ramadan were called by this term.
Origins of Tarawih as a Congregational Prayer
It is a well-established fact that the Tarawih, as a congregational night prayer of Ramadan, owes its existence to the order of the second caliph, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab.
q Narrated Abu Hurayra: Allah's Apostle said, “Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, “When Allah's Apostle died, the people continued observing that (i.e. Nawafil offered individually, not in congregation), and it remained as such during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar's Caliphate.” ‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Abdul Qari said, “I went out in the company of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups – a man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him.
Then, ‘Umar said, ‘In my opinion I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one Qari (reciter) [i.e. let them pray in congregation!]'. So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubayy bin Ka’b. Then, on another night, I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar remarked, 'What an excellent bid'a (innovation in religion) this is; but the prayer which they do not perform, but rather sleep at its time, is better than the one they are offering.' He meant the prayer in the last part of the night."[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 3, book 32, number 227]
q “It was called bid’ah because the Prophet (s) did not use to pray it in congregation, and neither was it prayed like that in the time of al-Siddiq (referring to the first Caliph), nor in the early part of night or with these number of units.” [
al-Qastallani, Irshad al-Sari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 5, page 4]
[al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, volume 6, page 287]
q “‘Umar was the first who set the example of the night prayer of Ramadan, the Tarawih, and gathered people for it, and instructed different regions regarding it. This was during the month of Ramadhan of the year 14 (hijri). He appointed for the people reciters of the Qur’an who led the Tarawih prayer for men and women.”
[Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat, volume 3, page 281]
[al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa', page 137]
[al-‘Ayni, ‘Umdat al-Qari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 6, page 125]
Congregation in Mosque or Individually at Home?
Offering the optional prayers individually inside the home and away from congregation in mosque is highly recommended by the Prophet (s) as it brings more blessings for the home and family and helps in the Islamic upbringing of children.
q The Prophet (s) said: “O people! Perform your prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what he performs at his home, except the compulsory (congregational) prayer."
[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 9, book 92, number 393]
[al-Nasa’i, Sunan, volume 3, p. 161, p. 198]
q Once Abdullah bin Mas’ud asked the Prophet (s): “Which is better; to pray in my house or in the mosque?” The Prophet (s) replied: “Do you not see how near to the mosque my house is? To pray in my house is more beloved to me than to pray in the mosque except for the obligatory prayers.”
[Ibn Majah, Sunan, volume 1, page 439, number 1378]
q Narrated Zayd bin Thabit: Allah's Apostle (s) made a small room (with a palm leaf mat). He (s) came out (of his house) and prayed in it. Some men came and joined him in his prayer. Then again the next night they came for the prayer, but the Prophet (s) delayed and did not come out to them. So they raised their voices and knocked the door with small stones (to draw his attention). He came out to them in a state of anger, saying, “You are still insisting (on your deed) that I fear this prayer might become obligatory on you. So, O you people! offer this prayer at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is the one which he offers at home, except the compulsory (congregational) prayer.”
[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 8, book 73, number 134]
Didn’t the Shi’ah Imams Pray Tarawih?
Imam al-Baqir (‘a) and Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) were asked about the permissibility of praying optional prayers in congregation during the nights of Ramadan. They both narrated a tradition of the Prophet (s) where he said:
q “Verily, the offering of nafila (recommended prayers) in congregation during the nights of Ramadan is an innovation… O people! do not say nafila prayers of Ramadan in congregation…. Without doubt, performing a minor act of worship which is according to the sunna is better than performing a major act of worship which is an innovation.”
[al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, volume 8, page 45]
This view of the Imams from the Prophet’s progeny is confirmed by a scholar well-known amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah who writes:
q “The progeny of the Prophet (s) say that congregation in Tarawih is an innovation”.
[al-Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar, volume 3, page 50]
What do Sunni scholars say about praying Tarawih at home?
q “The scholars agree on its merit, but they differ on whether it is better to pray it in one’s home individually or in congregation in a mosque.” Al-Nawawi, the famous commentator of Sahih Muslim, then goes on to list scholars who support the second and dominant view. He then writes: “Malik, Abu Yusuf, some Shafi’i scholars, and others say that it is better to pray it individually in the home”.
[al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, volume 6, page 286]
The Shi’ah always aspire to pray the night prayer – called the Tahajjud or Qiyam al-Layl or Salat al-Layl – in the last part of the nights of every month, particularly during Ramadan. They are also commended to offer additional nawafil prayers during the nights of Ramadan. However, they offer these optional prayers mostly in their homes and never in congregation. By doing so they abide by the Qur’an and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (s).
The Legality of the Taraweeh Prayer in Islam
Sunnat or Innovation?
The books of Islamic laws and traditions of both Shias and Ahle Sunnat mention innumerable recommended prayers. Some of the prayers exceed a thousand units. The prayer of Taraweeh is among the recommended prayers of the Ahle Sunnat and it is performed in congregation in the nights of Ramazan at an estimated twenty units daily.
There is no doubt that prayers is the best form of worship and there is no specific limit for recommended prayers in Islamic jurisprudence. But the pertinent question is – has the law allowed for recommended prayers like ‘Naafela’ for example, to be recited in congregation like obligatory prayers and those which have been specifically mentioned by Islamic law? There exists a divergence of views between Shias and Ahle Sunnat in the matter of Taraweeh.
The term ‘Taraweeh’
Taraweeh is the plural of the word ‘tarweeh’, having the basic meaning, ‘to sit’. Thereafter, the recommended prayers, which were recited while sitting, for the sake of comfort and rest after the four units of recommended Ramazan prayers were referred to as Taraweeh. This changed further with the four units of recommended prayers themselves being identified as Taraweeh. However, the recommended congregational prayers, which are twenty units are also called as Taraweeh.
Kahlaani writes: The nomenclature of Taraweeh for this prayer is probably based on the tradition which Baihaaqi has related from Ayesha. Ayesha narrates: Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) would rest after every four-unit prayer.
If this tradition is considered ‘saheeh’ then the sitting of the Imam in Taraweeh prayers would be seen in the light of original narration.
However, Baihaaqi has himself raised doubts about the veracity of the tradition since it is narrated only by one individual i.e. Mughairah b. Dayyab who is not considered reliable.
The prayers of Ramazan in Shiite and Ahle Sunnat traditions
There are numerous reports in the books of traditions, narrations and Sunnat quoted from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and the infallible Imams (a.s.) regarding the legality of the recommended prayers of the Ramazan month. Legality here means the governing laws, the number of units and the way of reciting these prayers. It can be concluded that these prayers are allowed.
The point of contention however, is, whether these prayers must be recited individually or in congregation? This topic will be covered extensively at a later stage in the article.
Keeping brevity in consideration, we will only refer to those Ahle Sunnat traditions which have been noted by Bukhari and those Shiite traditions which have been narrated in the book of ‘Tehzeeb’ by Shaikh Toosi (r.a.). However, we will cursorily point out to other sources, which have traditions relevant to the discussion.
The traditions of Ahle Sunnat
1. Yahya b. Bukair has narrated from both Ibne Shahaab and Aqeel that Umme Salaam has informed me through Abu Hurairah: The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has instructed regarding the month of Ramazan: One who stands up for prayer with belief and sincerity, the God of the Worlds will forgive all his past sins.
2. A similar tradition has been narrated from Abu Huraira, from the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.): God will forgive all the past sins of a person who establishes prayer with belief and sincerity in the month of Ramazan.
Ibne Shahaab says: The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) passed away and things continued in this manner during the reign of Abu Bakr and the first part of Umar’s caliphate.
Shukani adds: It is narrated from Nauee that the establishment of prayers in Ramazan has been confirmed by Taraweeh but the prayers were not limited to Taraweeh. And the statement of Kirmani which says that the establishment of prayers in Ramazan is only through Taraweeh is not rooted in fact.
3. According to Bukhari, there is a narration from Ayesha: Certainly the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) stood for prayer and in Ramazan….
Yahya b. Bukair narrated from Aqeel, from b. Shahaab, from Urwaah: I was informed by Ayesha that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) went to the mosque in the middle of the night and some people performed prayers with him. This spread among the people due to which a crowd gathered and everybody performed prayers with him. In the morning, word about this spread among the people. People prayed along with the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) for three nights. But on the fourth night there was no space for the performance of the night prayers due to the crowd till it became time for the morning prayers in the mosque. The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) announced after the morning prayers after reciting the witness: I am not apprehensive for the lack of space but fear that this prayer may be made obligatory upon you and that you are unable to perform it. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) departed from this world and the system continued in the same manner.
Shukani says: Nauee has indicated: The fact gathered from this tradition is that recommended prayers can be prayed in congregation but my opinion is that it should be recited individually. Albeit, with the exception of special prayers like the Prayer of Eid, Eclipse, Rain and Taraweeh according to most jurists.
This view is erroneous due to the following reasons:
(a) The stated narration does not highlight the fact that the prayer performed by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was Taraweeh. Nor has it been clarified that the prayer had been established in the Ramazan month. So, it cannot be a proof to prove the legality of Taraweeh.
(b) The jurists of Ahle Sunnat hesitate using this narration in proving the legality of the recommended prayers in congregation and excepting special occasions like Eid and prayers for rain, give preference to individual recitation (which will soon be proved through the writing of Shukani).
(c) The chain of narration of the tradition is open to debate, since Yahya b. Bukair, who is Yahya b. Abdullah b. Bukair is considered untrustworthy by some scholars. Nesaaee says: He is untrustworthy. And reiterates at another place: He is not reliable. Ibne Hakim says: His narration is found in books but cannot be used as reasoning.
(d) Ismail states that Ayesha was asked: How would the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) pray during Ramazan? She replied: He would increase his prayers only by eleven units. The first four units of such beauty that it is indescribable. The next four units of such deliberation and poise as is unimaginable. And then he would recite three units. I asked : O Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) do you sleep before the single-unit (witr) prayer? He replied: Ayesha! My eyes rest but my heart is awake.
The interpretation of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) statement – ‘I fear that it will be made obligatory’.
(I) Ahle Sunnat traditions
The aforementioned tradition contains a point worth mentioning. (I fear that it will be made obligatory) how is it possible that the concurrence of a recommended thing causes it to become obligatory? According to the statement of Allama Majlisi (r.a.) regularity in a good action and gathering for a recommended act cannot lead it to becoming compulsory. For, God is not ignorant of the goodness and evil of an action that the consensus of people should make it evident for Him! If the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was fearful of the recommended prayer being made compulsory due to its observance by the people then why did he order them to pray in their houses? Why did he not stop them due to fear of its becoming obligatory? The narration should have been: I am afraid of the congregation of recommended prayers being made obligatory for you and not the phrase: I am afraid of the recommended prayers being made mandatory for you as narrated by some Ahle Sunnat accounts. Because, they believe that some recommended prayers like Eid, rain, eclipse and the funeral prayer are recommended. So, congregation has not been prohibited. On this reasoning, if the narration is correct, it can be interpreted that one must not take undue effort and pain in whatever God has not ordered. For e.g. the night prayer should not be considered compulsory. This would be called innovation in religion. It is now clear that the tradition reasons on the fact that the action of Ahle Sunnat (reciting of the Nafila in congregation) is a disliked (makrooh) action. Rather it could be a source of retribution. If it is so and the chain of revelation has been closed, someone establishing it as compulsory on his own own, would be illegal.
(II) Shiite traditions
1. Shaikh Toosi (r.a.) by his chain of narration has related through Masadah b. Sadaqah from Imam Sadiq (a.s.): The method of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the blessed Ramazan month was that he would increase his recommended prayers progressively from the beginning of the month to the twentieth day to twenty additional units. Eight units after Maghrib and twelve units after Eshaa. And he recited thirty units in the last ten days. Twelve after Maghrib and eighteen after Eshaa. In addition to this, he read the tahajjud prayer and supplications a great deal. He prayed a hundred units in both the twenty-first and twenty-third nights and was awake throughout the nights.
2. Also, Shaikh Toosi (r.a.) has narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) through Mufazzal thus:
يُصَلِّىْ فِىْ شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ زِيَادَةَ اَلْفِ رَكْعَةٍ
More than 1,000 units of prayers are recited in the Ramazan month.
Mufazzal asked: Who has the strength to recite so many prayers?
Imam (a.s.) replied: O Mufazzal, it is not as you assume. Can prayers of more than 1,000 units not be recited? Is it not possible to recite 20 units in every night, 100 units each in the 19th, 21st and 23rd nights and 30 units in the last eight nights would bring the total to 920 units…
In addition to this, there are numerous other traditions from the Imams (a.s.) which clarify that 20 additional units to be recited in the first twenty nights and 30 units in the last ten nights. This has already come in detail.
The opinion of jurists about the Nafila of Ramazan Month
If someone examines the books of Shiite jurists regarding the Nafila of Ramazan, he will find whole chapters dedicated to it dealing with the reasons for the legality and validity of Nafila. He will conclude that Shiite jurists are just as unanimous as the Ahle Sunnat jurists regarding the legality of prayers and consider them among the irrefutable affairs. If somebody gives an opinion to the contrary, then his opinion is divorced from the Shiite belief and is not compatible with Shiite jurisprudence and books.
The words of Allama Amili are worth recording at this juncture: Allama Amili says: The recommendation of the nafila of Ramazan is popular among our jurists as recorded in books such as ‘Mukhtalif’, ‘Muktasar’, ‘Gaayatul Maraam’, ‘Rauz’, ‘Majmaul Burhan’, ‘Kifayah’, ‘Mafaatih’, etc. Unanimity can said to exist in this matter as documented in Fawaaidush Sharaaih, Majmaul Burhan and Riyaaz. Nobody denies this. Shaikh Sadooq (r.a.) has consented to its unanimity and supported it. So, there is consensus among jurists in this matter as written in ‘Masabihuz Zalaam’. Most jurists hold the same belief. There are reliable reports and popular traditions as written in Sharaaih, Zukra, and Rauza. It is documented in Mukhtalif that there are many traditions to this regard. The book ‘Bayaan’ mentions that the legality of the nafila of Ramazan month is established. If someone denies this, then he opposes the actions of jurists and companions and the reliable and continuous traditions. The book Zukra states that the juristic opinion and continuous traditions prove the legality of the prayers so the baseless calls of the opponents should be disregarded.
It is recorded in Motabar: The scholars agree to the recommendation of the Nafila prayers and its effect thereof. Rather, there is unanimity in it excepting a few individuals.
Saraair: 1,000 units are recommended, there is no contradiction in it. And none except Abu Jafar b. Baabawayh has opposed it. But his opposition holds no effect due to the unanimity of the preceding and current scholars.
The comment of Shaikh Sadooq (r.a.) in Kitaabul Faqeeh does not argue against the recommendation of nafila prayers. Rather he states that there is no problem in acting upon what has come in narrations and traditions.
Moreover, it is stated in the Amaali of Shaikh Sadooq (r.a.): If someone does not want to increase the recitation of nafila prayers in the Ramazan month, then he should recite 20 units in the first twenty nights of the month, eight units between the Maghrib and Eshaa prayers and 12 units after the Eshaa prayers. Then recite 30 units each, in the remaining ten nights of the month.
The number of units in the Nafila of Ramazan
There is intense conflict among the Ahle Sunnat regarding the number of units of nafila. The reason for this is that they do not have a clear link from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) regarding it. 20 units is popular according to consensus. Some have said 36 units. Others have indicated 23 units. Some affirm 16 units, others, 13 units, while others 24 units, yet others 34 units. Some even state it as 14 units.
But it is 20 units during the first twenty nights and 30 units in the last ten nights according to Shiite scholars. However, an additional 100 units are recited in the nights of Qadr (19th, 21st, and 23rd) which adds up to a thousand units.
Summary of the statements of Ahle Sunnat scholars
Ibne Qudammah affirms: In this matter the opinion of Abu Abdillah (a.s.) is twenty units and Nauee, Abu Hanifa and Shafei have adopted this statement. But Maalik has recorded 36 units and opined that this has continued since the beginning. He has taken the action of the people of Medinah as reference.
The author states
1. The proof of 20 units for Ahle Sunnat is the action of Ubayy b. Kaab where Umar b. Khattab has exhorted people to pray with him and this establishes the matter that they have no direct tradition from the Holy prophet (s.a.w.a.). Furthermore, it is evident from some traditions that there is no increase in the nafila during the month of Ramazan, i.e. only the performance of 11 units of nafila night prayer. They have reverted to the narration of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) to prove the 20 units of nafila. He (a.s.) had appointed a man to establish the 20 units of prayer.
2. Muhammad b. Nasr Maruzi has rejected the claim of Ibne Qaddamah where he has said that there was unanimity in the companions on 20 units. He explains: The tradition has reached from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) through unbroken chain that there has been no addition to the 11 units of nafila during Ramazan month, then who are the companions (who claim otherwise) and how did they establish unanimity opposing the Sunnat of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)? Therefore, it is preferable that the standard of our actions should be the words and action of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
3. Qastaani says: What is known and adopted by the majority are 20 units, with 10 salaam and 5 tarweeh (pauses). Due to this, each tarweeh is 4 units with 2 salaam except witr which is 3 units. The narration of Ayesha that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has not increased anything in the 11 units of nafila during Ramazan and other months have been deemed to mean the witr prayer by companions.
4. Sarakhsi opines: In my view, there are 20 units other than witr. Maalik says: 36 units are Sunnat.
5. Al-Aini has indicated severe conflict in this matter. (we are not quoting his comments to maintain brevity).
6. Hanafi says: It is necessary in the month of Ramazan that after every Eshaa prayer, the Imam of the congregation establishes 5 tarweeh for the people. Each tarweeh should be of four units and two salutations and he should rest for some time after every tarweeh. He should perform the witr prayer after the 5 tarweeh. Ubayy b. Kaab has done this and this is also the way of the people of Mecca and Medina.
7. Baghvi adds: The prayer of Taraweeh of 20 units with 10 salutations in Ramazan month is also counted among the Sunnat.
8. Mawrudi has also taken 20 units as 5 Taraweeh.
9. Al- Juzairi has also assigned 20 units other than the witr prayer.
It is summarized from the above facts that 20 units are unanimous among the Ahle Sunnat as Ibne Qaddamah and others have claimed. The public opinion is also the same as claimed by Askalaani. Abu Abdillah, Nauee, Abu Hanifa, Shafei and Hambali, all of them agree to this as Tarbandi has often quoted scholars. This fact has also been recorded from Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and Umar and also other companions and Taabein (inclusive of Amash, Ibne Malikaa, Haris Hamadani, residents of Kufa, etc).
The opinion of Imamiyya jurists
A thousand units of prayers are popular with the jurists of Imamiyya sect. This can be divided as 20 units from the beginning of Ramazan month to the twentieth, and 30 units for the remaining ten days. The details are available in the books of jurisprudence. We quote the opinions of some pillars of the Imamiyya sect such as Sayyed Murtaza (r.a.), Shaikh Toosi (r.a.), Abu Islah Halabi (r.a.), Allamah Hilli (r.a.), Faazil Naraaqi (r.a.), Sayyid Amili (r.a.) and Allamah Tabatabaii (r.a.) at this juncture:
1. Sayyed Murtaza (r.a.) says: According to the Imamiyya sect the system of recommended prayers is that 20 units are recited in every night. From them, 8 units after Maghrib prayer and 12 units after Eshaa prayer. On the 19th night, recite 100 units, on the 20th night, 20 units, on the 21st night 100 units and on the 22nd night thirty units out of which 8 units are after Maghrib prayer and the rest to be recited (i.e. 22 units) after Eshaa prayer.
2. Shaikh Toosi (r.a.) writes: In addition to the recommended prayers of other months, perform a 1,000 units prayer in the blessed month of Ramazan. The breakup of this is – 20 units in the first twenty nights, eight units between Maghrib and Eshaa and the rest 12 units after Eshaa prayers. Perform 30 units in the last ten nights and perform 100 units each in all three nights of Qadr.
3. Abu Islaah Halabi (r.a.) has also explained on the same lines.
4. Abul Hasan Halabi (r.a.) clarifies: Perform a 1,000 units prayers in the Ramazan month in addition to the daily recommended prayers. From the first to the fifteenth night pray 20 units and from then onwards increase the units.
5. Allama Hilli (r.a.) has also ordered the recitation of 1,000 units recommended prayers in Ramazan month. 20 units for first twenty night then an increase to 30 units.
6. Faazil Naraaqi (r.a.) has considered 1,000 units as unanimous but described its system in two ways:
(a) 20 units in each night 8 after maghrib and the rest after Eshaa or vice versa (12 after Maghrib and 8 after Eshaa) after that add an additional 10 units in the last ten nights with another 100 units in each night of Qadr.
(b) The system remains as before but recite only 100 units in the nights of Qadr.
7. Sayyed Amili (r.a.) articulates: 20 units in each night and there is consensus on this point. As is mentioned in the books Intesaar, Khilaaf, Lisaam, and Muntahi.
8. Sayyed Tabatabaii (r.a.) states: Keeping the conflict of narrations in mind, the jurists agree upon the recommendation of 1,000 units of nafila prayers. He commented on the writing of Shaikh Sadooq (r.a.) (‘ there are no recommended prayers in Ramazan month different from the other months’) – as being rare.
And he has described the system of Ramazan recommended prayers as stated previously.
The writing of Shaikh Sadooq (r.a.) does not provide reasoning for the lack of validity or the rejection of the legality of recommended prayer. It only objects to the reiteration of recommendation. It is also clearly stated that action is established based on traditions.
Different opinions regarding Taraweeh
Some people have provided a diverse opinion to the scholars who adhere to the popular belief of the twenty units of Taraweeh being Sunnat. They reject this idea:
Kahlani, the author of Subul as-Salaam has rejected it and said: There is no correct (saheeh) tradition regarding the 20 units. If we talk about saheeh tradition, it is of only 11 units and the 20 units prayer is innovation.
Shukaani, in Nail al-Awtaar has followed Kahlani in his opinion calling it an innovation. But, despite this, Kahlani has not rejected the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation. He has relied upon the testimony of Umar that he (Umar) found people praying individually scattered across the mosque and ordered congregation to be formed. Then he points to the narration of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that the Ahle Sunnat quote: You follow my Sunnat and the Sunnat of the rightly guided caliphs after me. He then explains: the Sunnat of caliphs signifies the ways and methods of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in divergence to the enemies of Islam and the manners and etiquette adopted by the chosen majority and other people like them. This tradition includes all the rightly guided caliphs and is not limited to the Shaikhain (Abu Bakr and Umar) since it is the rule of law that no rightly guided caliph has the right to invent a system in contravention to the way of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). This is true even for the order of recommended prayer in congregation by Umar who has declared it to be an innovation, not a Sunnat. Other than these topics, the companions have disputed this order of the Shaikhain making it clear that the stated narration is not considered as proof for Taraweeh by them.
Shukaani opines that we get a legal order for the prayers of the month of Ramazan either in congregation or in solitude. Hence, we do not find a reasoning for limiting it to Taraweeh or specific numbers or particular Sunnat prayers.
Allama Majlisi (r.a.) surmises: We find that from Ahle Sunnat narrations that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not perform 20 units under the name of Taraweeh, rather he performed 13 units. Their traditions do not indicate the recommendation of 20 units in any condition. Even though it is an excellent form of worship, confining it to a specific time and manner deeming it recommended is certainly an innovation and deviation. This is because the Ahle Sunnat state it in the nature of emphasized Sunnat and consider its performance as one of the signs of religion.
The congregation of the Taraweeh prayer and the innovation of the Second Caliph
We find in some traditions that the first person to establish the Sunnat congregational prayer in the month of Ramazan is Umar b. Khattab when it did not exist in the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) or the Caliphate of Abu Bakr. But Umar gave his opinion for it based on its fondness and goodness and exhorted the people to practice it. He admitted it was an innovation although a good one. Interestingly, he himself was not regular in the congregation but recited in solitude at home. This fact has been revealed by great scholars of the Ahle Sunnat like Qastalani, Ibne Qaddamah, Qalqashqandi, etc. We will discuss their writings later.
The narration of Bukhari
It has been narrated from Ibne Shahaab, from Urwah b. Zubair, from Abdur Rahman b. Abdul Qaari: We went to the mosque with Umar b. Khattab in a night of the Ramazan month. People were busy with their individual prayers. Some were involved in prayers with their tribesmen. On witnessing this, Umar b. Khattab said: It would be better if I collect them under one congregational leader. Then he chose Ubayy b. Kaab for their leadership. The next night we went to the mosque and witnessed that the people were reciting prayer in congregation. Umar remarked: نعم البدعة هذه ‘This is an admirable innovation.’ However if these people perform the prayer after awakening from sleep, it would be better than performing it in the early part of the night.
What do the scholars of Ahle Sunnat say in this regard?
1. Qastalaani comments: Umar has called this prayer as innovation. This is because the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has not ordered its performance in congregation. It was not performed in the first part of night in the caliphate of Abu Bakr. It was not recited every night. Also, the prayers performed in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not have the same number of units.
2. Ibne Qaddamah says: Taraweeh has been related to Umar since he ordered its performance in congregation to Ubayy b. Kaab and he did accordingly.
3. Al-Aini opines: Umar called it an innovation because the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has not called it Sunnat. It was also not acted upon in the caliphate of Abu Bakr. He continues: There are two types of innovation. If it is according to the action liked by Islamic law, then it is good innovation. If it is disliked by religious law, then it is a disliked innovation. We will shortly conclude that we find only one kind of innovation and it is nothing except sin and prohibition.
4. Qalqashqandi adds: Among the original actions of Umar is the establishment of Taraweeh with a congregational leader for the first time in the Ramazan month. This was done in the 14th Hijri.
Al-Baasi, Suyuti, Sakhtewari and others have also written: The first person to establish the sunnat of Taraweeh was Umar b. Khattab. They have also clarified that the order of performing recommended prayers of Ramazan month was an innovation from the innovations of Umar.
Ibne Saad, Tabari and Ibne Athir comment: This is the event of 14th Hijri that one leader was appointed for the men and another for the women.
Al-Baasi, b. al-Teen, b. Abd al-Barr, Kahlaani and Zarqaani have also mentioned this topic and Kahlaani observes the statement of Umar (this is an admirable innovation) saying: If something is an innovation then it can never be liked or be good. It will always convey the meaning of deviation.
This is a brief outline of the statements of the scholars of the two sects. The matters presented in this topic become a basis for the arguments and reasoning on its legality.
The order of congregation in Ramazan month for recommended prayers
As mentioned earlier, a legal order had not been given for the congregation of recommended prayers in Ramazan in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) era. It has been innovated by the Second Caliph hence gave rise to severe differences between the Islamic scholars. The strong and proven arguments of the true Imamiyya sect have negated its legality. However, sadly, the scholars of Ahle Sunnat have misconstrued the matter and assumed that the Imamiyya sect has rejected the legality of all recommended prayers of Ramazan, while it is not so. The point of contention is the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation not the originality of recommended prayers in Ramazan month per se. Shiites have a strong tradition of performing recommended prayers. We just reiterate what the Second Caliph has himself admitted i.e. recommended prayers in congregation is an innovation.
Nevertheless, certain Ahle Sunnat scholars also hold a similar opinion. Shafei, for instance, considers the performance of recommended prayers in congregation as makrooh (abominable). While others have understood that the prayers should be performed in solitude and at home. Consequently, the matter of Taraweeh is not unanimous among the Ahle Sunnat, even if the majority are inclined to reciting it in congregation.
The opinions of the Ahle Sunnat jurists:
Abdul Razzaaq from Ibne Umar: The recommended prayers of Ramazan month should not be recited in congregation 2.
He also narrates from Mujahid that a man approached Ibne Umar and said – I recite the recommended prayers of Ramazan in congregation. Ibne Umar asked – Do you pray with the recitation? Man replied in the affirmative. Ibne Umar said – Then you are silent just like a donkey. Get out of here and recite the prayers in solitude at home (instead of in congregation). 3
Sarakhsi narrates from Shafei – There is no harm in reciting any prayers in congregation as Maalik has said and he considers it preferable. But I (Sarakhsi) consider this abominable (with regards to recommended prayers). Sarakhsi continues – Shafei has compared the obligatory prayers with recommended prayers while I consider them distinctly. In recommended prayers it is preferable to be discreet in its recitation and make it free from ostentation, while in obligatory prayers it is preferable to perform it openly and this is a characteristic of the congregation.
In the second part of his book he records that Tahawi has narrated from Moalla, Abu Yusuf and Maalik that these people were of the opinion that to the extent possible the recommended prayers should be recited in the house. Shafei says: Taraweeh should be recited in solitude so as not to make it ostentatious.
However, Esa b. Abaaq, Boka b. Qutaybah, Mazfi and Ahmed b. Ulwaan consider the congregational recitation more preferable. This view is in line with the majority of the Ahle Sunnat scholars.
After this Sarakhsi has quoted Abu Zarr (r.a.): A group from the innovators has considered it impermissible to recite the recommended prayers in the mosque in congregation. But since this is among the fundamentals of the Ahle Sunnat it has become a part of Islam.
A review of Sarakhsi’s comment
It is not clear which group is the target of Sarakhsi’s comment regarding innovation. While the Second Caliph has himself claimed that it is a good innovation. Does he mean Shafei who considered abominable the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation? Or does he mean scholars like Baghawi who considered preferable the recitation of recommended prayers in solitude in the houses with reference to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who ordered recommended prayers to be prayed in the houses. Or does he refer to the Imamiyya sect which does not consider preferable the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation because there is no divine endorsement from the (Book or Sunnat) in this regard.
The question that needs answering is how on earth did the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation become a fundamental part of the Ahle Sunnat while it was never recited at the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Umar himself deemed it an innovation and more importantly himself never prayed in congregation (i.e. he used to pray in the house). This practice was never observed in the era of Abu Bakr’s caliphate nor in the early period of Umar’s caliphate. Illustrious scholars of the Ahle Sunnat like Abu Yusuf, Maalik, Shafei considered this practice abominable. Does Sarakhsi consider all these scholars outside the domain of the Ahle Sunnat because they have rejected a fundamental of the Ahle Sunnat i.e. recitation of Taraweeh in congregation.
Since the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) never considered it as a fundamental of religion, on what basis did it become a fundamental part of the Ahle Sunnat after his demise? How does one who act on this innovation become superior and worthy of greater reward? Is this not an example of a perverse innovation in religion?
Another point worth considering is how did the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation get the same footing as the recitation of obligatory prayers because there is no doubt about the performance of obligatory prayers in congregation. At the most one can say the Taraweeh prayers in congregation was the view of one individual who commented on it without any endorsement from the Sunnat. The Second Caliph only implied that if there was a leader to direct the congregation it would better. There is no other proof to consider the recommended prayer in congregation as preferable like obligatory prayers.
Musali, Baghawi, Qastalaani and other jurists have given their diverse opinions on this topic. Qastalaani has quoted several jurists in this regard and has concluded that recitation of recommended prayers in solitude is preferable. To support his contention he advances the example of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who recited the recommended prayers in his house. He also mentions Umar’s confession in this regard. He further mentions that Abu Yusuf, Maalik and Shafei scholars have concluded likewise. He then quotes Zohri who said that it was customary for the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to recite the recommended prayers in the house. This continued till Umar’s caliphate who appointed Ubayy b. Kaab as the leader of the congregation and this became the new custom.
On the same lines, Shukaani has quoted Maalik, Abu Yusuf and Shafei scholars to conclude that recommended prayers are best performed in solitude. In this regard he narrates from the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)
افضل المرء فى بيته الا المكتوبة
‘The best of men is he who performs all his prayers save the obligatory ones in the house.’
Then Shukaani records that there is consensus regarding this tradition. Moreover, the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) have also declared that reciting the recommended prayers in congregation is innovation.
The verdict of the Shiite jurists
All Shiite jurists without exception consider the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation an innovation. Sayyid Murtaza (r.a.) declares: As far as the congregation of the Taraweeh prayers is concerned, it is without doubt an innovation. In this regard, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had forewarned:
ايها الناس ان االصلاة بالليل فى شهر رمضان من النافلة فى جماعة بدعةٌ
‘O people, the recommended prayers in the nights of Ramazan are an innovation.’
Another incident in this regard involves Umar when he entered the mosque in one of the nights of Ramazan and found the people lighting the lamp in preparation for the congregation of the recommended prayers of Ramazan. He asked the people for the cause of congregation. They informed him of the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation. Umar replied: This is an innovation, although a good innovation.
Umar admitted that it was an innovation. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) views on innovation are clear:
بِدْعَةٌ فَنِعْمَةِ الْبِدْعَةِ
‘Every innovation is deviation.’
In another incident the people gathered in the Kufa Mosque and requested Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) Ali b. Abi Talib to appoint a person to lead the congregation of worshippers for the recommended prayers of Ramazan. He chastised them for this request and said: This is against the Sunnat.
Sayyid Murtaza (r.a.) records that the Jurist of the Jurists claims that the recommended prayers of Ramazan month were performed in congregation in the era of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), but then he abandoned them. The claim that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) performed it in congregation is nothing but a lie. Clearly, Shiites are not against the recitation of the recommended prayers, it’s only that they don’t accept the preference for reciting it in congregation. And if someone claims that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) performed it in congregation, it is just that – a mere claim, without any documentary evidence whatsoever. Such claims are made dime a dozen and have no legality whatsoever in Islam unless backed by an endorsement from the Quran or the Sunnat. More importantly, if there was a shred of truth in these claims, why would Umar call it an innovation?
Then Sayyid Murtaza (r.a.) says – I believe only the Imamiyya sect rejects the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation and considers it abominable. However, some prominent jurists of the Ahle Sunnat also hold this view.
Moalla narrates from Abu Yusuf – If someone recites the recommended prayers in solitude in his house just like the Imam of the congregation, then in my view it is better.
Maalik says – Many of our scholars like Rabiyya used to step out of the mosque at the time of the congregation for recommended prayers. They preferred to recite the prayers in their houses. I used to do the same. The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has not mentioned any other place save our houses for the recitation of these prayers.
Shafei says – I consider it preferable to recite the recommended prayers in solitude.
These facts have been recorded by Tahaawi in his book ‘Al-Ikhtelaaf’. It is obvious from this that the Sunni scholars who endorse the Shiite viewpoint in this regard outnumber those who oppose it.
It is clear that the Shiite viewpoint on the recommended prayers are backed by both Ijma (consensus) and Ehteyaat (precaution). This is because one who recites the recommended prayers in the privacy of his house is neither a sinner nor an innovator according to the consensus. However, one who recites the recommended prayers in congregation carries the burden of both sin and innovation.
Sayyid Murtaza (r.a.) continues – Umar himself acknowledged it to be in contravention of the Sunnat and therefore an innovation. The Ahle Sunnat scholars have themselves recorded the warning of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)
كُلُّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلاَلَةٌ وَ كُلُّ ضَلَالَةٍ فِىْ النَّارِ-
‘Every innovation is deviation and every deviation will be in the Fire.’
There are numerous traditions in Shiite books on the illegitimacy of the Taraweeh prayers. Those interested in researching this topic further can refer to the books of both the sects to distinguish truth from falsehood.
 Beharul Anwaar, vol.1, pg. 363; Fathul Baari, vol 4, pg. 294; Irshadus Saari, vol.4, pg. 694; Sharhuz Zarqaani, vol1, pg 237, An-Nihaya vol.1, pg. 274; Lisanul Arab, Qamus,etc
 Sablus Salaam, vol.2, pg.311
 Alsonanul Kubra, vol.2, pg.11
 Bukhari, vol.1, pg. 343, Muslim, vol.1, pg.523, Mutaa, vol.1, pg. 113, etc.
 Bukhari, vol1, pg. 343
 Nail al-Awtaar, vol3, pg.50
 Bukhari, vol.1, pg. 343
 Bukhari, vol.1, pg. 343
 Nail al- Awtaar, vol.3, pg.50
 Tehzeeb al-Kamaal, vol.20, pg.40,136, Saire A’laam al-Nahlaa, vol.10, pg.612
 Bukhari, vol1, pg.343
 Behaarul Anwaar, vol.31, pg.12
 Al-Tahzeeb, vol.3, pg.62. Al- Istibsaar,vol.1, pg.462, H.1791, Wasailush Shia, vol.8, pg.29, H.2
 Al-Tahzeeb, vol.3, pg.68, H.68 Wasailush Shia, vol.8, pg.29,Chap..7, H.1
 Al-Tahzeeb, vol.3, pg.62, H.2. Al- Istibsaar,vol.1, pg.462, H.1796, Wasailush Shia, vol.8, pg.29, H.2
 Sarakhsi comments: There is unanimity in the prayers and taraweeh and except the Raafezi (Shiites) none of the scholars and intellectuals refute this. Al-Mabsoot, vol 2, pg.1452. (Sarakhsi has mixed Taraweeh with nafila. The Shiite jurists do deny the original nafila but refute the recitation of nafila in congregation. This is neither legal nor recommended. Rather, it is an innovation.)
 Miftaah al-Karaamah, vol.3, pg.255
 Al-Hadaaiq an-Naazerah, vol.10, pg.509
 A’maali of Sadooq, pg.747. Majlis, pg.93, Mafaatihul Karaamah, vol.3, pg.255
 Al-Mughni, vol2, pg.168
 Al-Mughni, vol2, pg.168; Al-Sunan Al-Kubra vol.2, pg.1699 and writes that the chain of narrators are weak.
 Footnote of Al-Mughni, vol2, pg.168
 Al- Masboot, vol.2, pg. 145
 Umdat al-Qaari vol.11, pg.127 and…
 Al-Ikhtiyar, vol.11, pg.127…
 Al-Tahzeeb fi fiqhi al-shafeii, vol.2, pg.368
 Al-Haadi al-Kabeer, vol.2, pg.368
 Umdah al-Qaari, vol.11, pg.127…
 Al-Intesaar, pg.55
 Al-Khelaaf, vol. 1, pg. 530, Masala 459
 Ishaarah as-Sabaq, pg.105
 Qawaaid al-Ahkaam
 Mustand ash-Shiah, vol.6, pg.379
 Miftaah al-Kiraamah, vol.3, pg.255
 Man La Yahzar al-Faqih, vol.2, pg.139
 Riyaaz al-Masaail, vol.4, pg.197; Jawaaher al-Kalaam, vol.12, pg.187
 Subul as-Salaam, vol.2, pg.11
 Nail al-Awtaar, vol.3, pg.53
 Behaar al-Anwaar, vol.29, pg 51
 Bukhari, vol.1, pg.342; Abdul Razzaaq, vol.4, pg. 285
 Irshad as-Saari, vol.4, pg.657
 Al-Mughni,vol.2, pg.166
 Umdah al-Qaari, vol.11, pg.126
 Masar al-Anaafah fi ma’alim al-khilafah, vol.2, pg.337
 Mahaazeraat al-Awaail, pg. 149 and Sharh al-Mawaaqif
 Tabaqaat of b. Saad, vol.3, pg.281; Taarikhe Tabari, vol.5, pg.22; Kaamil, vol.2, pg.41; Taarikhe Umar b. Khattab of Ibne Jauzi, pg.52
 Subul as-salaam, vol.2, pg.10; Al-Mujtahid, vol. 1, pg.210; Sharhe Furqaani, etc.
2 Al Musnif vol. 5, pg. 264
3 Al Musnif vol. 5, pg. 264
 Al Masboot vol. 1 pg. 144
 Allamah Hilli (r.a.) declared that recitation of obligatory prayers in congregation is preferable, but the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation is not preferable excepting the prayers for rain and the two Eid.
 Irshaad al-Saari vol. 4, pg. 654-661
 Nail al-Awtaar vol. 3, pg. 50, Mustanad al-Imam Zaid Al-Haamish pg. 139
 Man La Yahzarahul Faqih vol. 2, pg. 137 Chapter of Salaat in Month of Ramazan
 Talkhees-e-Shafei vol. 1, pg. 193
 Al Intesaar vol. 55