Tarawih (Taraweeh) refers to extra prayers performed by Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, they are not compulsory. However, many Muslims pray these prayers in the night during Ramadan. Some scholars maintain that Tarawih is neither farz nor a Sunnah but Sunnah Muakkadah (Emphasized practice of Hazrat Mohammed )
Allah Taa’la has blessed the Muslims with a very sacred and blessed month in which all rewards are multiplied, the reward for a nafl (optional) act becomes equivalent to a compulsory act (farz) and the reward for a compulsory act is multiplied 70 times. In this month the gates of heaven are opened, the punishment of hell is ceased and heaven is at its best. Besides all these blessings, the month of Ramadan has been blessed with the act of Taraweeh Salaah.
Tarawih prayers are prayed in pairs of two and can be prayed in at least 20 raka‘āt. A break is taken after every 4 rak’ah. This prayer is performed only during Ramadan of the Islamic calendar after salat of Isha’. Muslims believe it is customary to attempt a khatm “complete recitation” of the Quran as one of the religious observances of Ramadan by reciting at least one juz’ per night in tarawih. Tarawih prayers are considered optional, not mandatory.
A majority of Sunni Muslims regard the Tarawih prayers as Sunnat Mu’akkadah, a salaat that was performed by the Islamic prophet Hazrat Mohammed very consistently. Sunni Muslims believe tarawih is a Sunnah salat and may be performed at home if one is unable to attend a mosque. According to this tradition, Hazrat Mohammed initially prayed the tarawih in congregation during Ramadan which is evident in ahadith. Hazrat Mohammed prayed in congregation for three consecutive nights but discontinued this practice out of fear that it would be made mandatory, rather than sunnah. During the time when Hazrat Umar was the caliph, he reinstated the praying of Tarawih in congregation since there was no longer any misapprehension of it being made mandatory.
Roots of Taraweeh
It is narrated by Muslim on the authority of Abu Huraira
that the Prophet said, “Whoever stands in Ramadan with Imaan and hope of reward, all his past sins will be forgiven.” (Muslim, pg 259)
The Prophet has stated here that ‘whoever stands in Ramadan’, this refers to standing Taraweeh. The commentators have said this is because the Prophet of Allah has specified ‘standing’ with the month of Ramahan. So it is apparent that it is NOT referring to Tahajjud but Taraweeh.
How many Rak’ats?
The precepts of the Holy Prophet has been misunderstood by many regarding how many rak’ats should be prayed.
It is mentioned in Musanif ibn Abi Shayba, Tabraani and Baihaqi on the authority of Ibn Abbas May Allah be pleased with him that the Prophet used to pray 20 Rak’ats in Ramadan besides witr. (Vol 2, pg 153)
Further evidence that the Prophet’s 20 rak’ats is proven by a narration narrated by Imam Malik (Allah’s blessings upon him). In the time of Hazrat Umar the people used to pray 23 rak’ats (pg 130) and this was by the order of Hazrat Umar , the second Khalifah of the Prophet , regarding whom the Prophet said if there were to be a Prophet after me, it would be Umar . The Prophet also said that he was the Mulham of this Ummah (command revealed upon). There is no space for objection here saying this is not a Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammed because the Prophet has himself said,
“Hold on firmly to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Khulafah Rashideen.”