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The sunnah of tarawih.

Mu' meneen Brothers and Sisters,

As Salaam Aleikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh. (May Allah's Peace, Mercy and Blessings be upon all of you)


One of our brothers/sisters has asked this question:

Dear brother,

Assalam Alaikum. Basing your answer on Quran and Sunnah:

(i) is there any specific number of rak’ahs for Taraweeh?

(ii) How many rakahs did the prophet (SAW) pray in Taraweeh?

(iii) How did the prophet perform these rakahs? was it in two units ending with a

salaam or was it four units and then salaam?

Please give as much evidence as possible. 


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The sunnah of tarawih

In the name of Allah, We praise Him, seek His help and ask for His forgiveness. Whoever Allah guides none can misguide, and whoever He allows to fall astray, none can guide them aright. We bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah Alone, and we bear witness that Muhammad (saws) is His slave-servant and the seal of His Messengers.


Your Question: ….is there any specific number of rak’ahs for Taraweeh?

Your Question: ….How many rakahs did the prophet (SAW) pray in Taraweeh?

The literal meaning of the Arabic term ‘tarawih’ is derived from the root word ‘rauh’ or ‘raha’ which basically means to take a rest. Because it is customary to take a small break or rest halfway through these extra voluntary prayers of the nights of Ramadan, it came to be called and recognized as the ‘tarawih’ prayers so as to distinguish them from other voluntary night prayers.


Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet (saws) would encourage people to perform the special night prayers during Ramadan (tarawih) without commanding them as obligatory and he (saws) said: "Whoever prays during the nights of Ramadan [tarawih] with a firm belief and hoping for reward, all of his previous sins would be forgiven."


At the time of the Prophet (saws), the prayers which we recognize as ‘tarawih’ today were not called ‘tarawih’ prayers, but rather they formed a part of the voluntary ‘qiyaam-ul-layl’ (standing in prayer at night) prayers.


There are two opinions amongst the scholars in Islam regarding the exact ‘rakahs’ to be prayed in the ‘tarawih’ prayers in Ramadan. Some scholars are of the opinion that it is eight rakahs+three ‘witr’ (thus 11-rakahs), while others are of the opinion that it is twenty rakahs+three witr (or total 23 rakahs).


The scholars who opine that the Tarawih salaah should be eight rakahs + three witr, use these narrations as their ‘daleel’ or evidence:

Aishah reported that the Prophet (saws) would not pray more than eleven rak'at during Ramadan, or otherwise.


It is reported on the authority of Jabir (r.a.) that the Prophet (saws) prayed eight rak'at and the witr prayer with the companions (and this was during Ramadan).


Abu Ya'la and at-Tabarani record, from Jabir that Ubayy ibn Ka'b (r.a.) came to the Prophet (saws) and said: "O Messenger of Allah (saws), I have done something last night," (i.e., during Ramadan). The Prophet said: 'And what was that, O Ubayy?' He said: The women in my house said, 'We don't recite Qur'an [well or much] so can we pray behind you?' I prayed eight rak'at and the witr prayer with them.

The Messenger of Allah (saws) was pleased with that and did not say anything."


The majority of the scholars prefer to follow the established way of the Rightly Guided Khalifas, who re-established the formal prayers of Taraweeh after the death of the Prophet (saws). And it is reported that all the believers during that time prayed twenty rakahs in the Taraweeh prayers led by a single ‘imaam’.


Fiqh-us-Sunnah Fiqh 2.27a

It is also true that during the time of Hadrat Umar (r.a.), Hadrat Uthman (r.a.), and Hadrat Ali (r.a.) the believers prayed twenty rak'at in their ‘tarawih’ prayers in Ramadan, and this is the opinion of the majority of the jurists of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools as well as that of Abu Dawud.

At-Tirmidhi says: "Most of the people of knowledge follow what has been related from Umar (r.a.) and Ali (r.a.) and other companions of the Prophet (saws), [i.e., that they prayed] twenty rak'at. And this is the opinion of eminent scholars of the stature of Imam al-Thauri, Ibn al-Mubarak, and ash-Shaf'i. And so I found the people of Makkah praying twenty rak'at."


From the above narrations, most of the scholars have opined that the Taraweeh prayers are of twenty rakahs; because it would be inconceivable for the Rightly Guided Khalifas to do something against the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saws).


Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 4590 Narrated by Irbad ibn Sariyah

One day the Apostle of Allah (saws) led us in prayer, then faced us and gave us a lengthy exhortation at which the eyes shed tears and the hearts were afraid. A man said: ‘O Messenger of Allah (saws)! It seems as if it were a farewell exhortation, so what injunction do you give us?’ He (saws) then said: ‘I enjoin you to fear Allah, and to hear and obey, even if it be an Abyssinian slave (is appointed as your leader) , for those of you who live after me will see great disagreement. You must then follow my Sunnah and that of the Rightly-Guided Khalifas (Hadrat Abu Bakr, Hadrat Umar, Hadrat Uthman, and Hadrat Ali) . Hold to it and stick fast to it. Avoid novelties, for every novelty is an innovation, and every innovation is an error.’


Thus, in light of the above narrations, there is no harm if one prays either eight rakahs or twenty rakahs in their Taraweeh prayers, because both ways, one would be in obedience and in accordance of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saws).


Your Question: ….How did the prophet perform these rakahs? was it in two units ending with a salaam or was it four units and then salaam?

Fiqh-us-Sunnah Fiqh 2.13

It is permissible to perform the witr prayers by praying two rak'at combinations[and concluding each of them with a tashahud and the tasleems] and then praying one rak'ah with a tashahud and taslim. Likewise, it is allowed to pray all the rak'at with two tashahuds and one taslim. One may pray an even number of rak'ats, one after another, without making any tashahud, save in the one before the last rak'ah in which case one makes the tashahud and then stands to perform the last rak'ah wherein one will make another tashahud and end the prayer with the taslim. One may also make only one tashahud and the taslim, in the last rak'ah of witr. All of that is permissible and can be traced to the Prophet (saws).

Al-Bukhari and Muslim quote 'Aishah saying that the Prophet (saws) would perform thirteen rak'at during the night and would make the witr prayer, and he would not 'sit' except in the last rak'ah of them. In another hadith, 'Aishah reports that the Prophet (saws) would perform nine rak'at during the night and that he would not sit during them until the eighth rak'ah in which he would make remembrance of Allah, praising Him, and would make supplication. Then, he would stand without making the taslim and pray the ninth rak'ah, after which he would sit, make the tashahud and make the taslim in such a manner that we could hear him.


The Prophet (saws) said: 'The night prayer is sets of two rak'at. If one fears the coming of the dawn, he should perform one rak'ah, thereby making all of them odd [witr].'


Since the number of rakahs of the voluntary night prayers are not specified, one may pray as many rakahs as is easy for them, either in a two rakah combination with a tashahud and tasleem for each, or all of them together with only a tashahud at the end of the prayer with no tasleem; then end these voluntary night prayers with one rakah of witr with a tashahud and tasleems thus making all of them ‘witr’ or an odd number. The Messenger of Allah (saws) prayed the night voluntary prayers in both ways, thus if one follows any one of the ways he would be in accordance with the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saws).


Whatever written of Truth and benefit is only due to Allah’s Assistance and Guidance, and whatever of error is of me alone. Allah Alone Knows Best and He is the Only Source of Strength.


Your brother and well wisher in Islam,





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