Question # 77: In Prophets Mosque, the Imam prays 20 Rakats and also in Masjid-ul-Haram in Makkah the Imam prays 20 Rakat for Taraweeh, whereas in several other masjids, only eight rakat are prayed. What is the correct number of rakat in Taraweeh?

bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: Let’s analyze the Taraweeh prayer from the following perspectives:

  • Significance: It is a recommended Sunnah and not a compulsory prayer. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) offered Taraweeh prayer for first two nights and did not show up on the third night for fear that it would be made obligatory upon ummah. However, he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) encouraged the people to perform Taraweeh without making it obligatory.
  • Number of rak’ah with reference to ahadith: All the authentic ahadith prove that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did not pray more than eleven rak’ahs (eight plus three witr) in Ramadan.
  • Number of rak’ah based on opinion of the scholars: According to the opinion of the majority of the jurists, during the time of ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali, the people prayed twenty rak’ahs. The madhhabs of Abu Hanifah, al-Shafi’i and Ahmad, recommend twenty rak’ahs, whereas according to the madhhab of Malik, it should be thirty-six rak’ahs.
  • Reconciliation: There is no set number for prayers at night as is evidenced in the following hadith: the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Prayers at night are to be offered two by two (two rak’ahs at a time). If any of you fears that the time of dawn is approaching then let him pray one rak’ah as Witr.” However, at the time of Umar ibn al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه), Ubayy ibn Ka’b led the praying in qiyam in a single congregation, and when he could not make them stand for too long, he increased the number of rak’ahs to make up for the long standing, until it even reached thirty-nine, at times. The point is that the one who prays eleven rak’ahs in the manner narrated from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) or makes recitation shorter and increases the number of rak’ahs, both are equally good. In summary, this difference of opinion should not cause division and fitnah among the Muslims and one should not denounce the other for praying eleven or twenty-three rak’ahs, because the matter is broader in scope. Last but not the least, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever stands with the imam until he finishes (the prayer), the reward of qiyaam al-layl [(standing in prayer for the whole night)] will be recorded for him.” (irrespective of the number of rak’ahs).

Long Answer: [First of all, let’s understand that Taraweeh prayer is a recommended Sunnah and not a compulsory one.] ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنه) said: “The Prophet offered salah in the mosque and many people prayed with him. The next day he did the same and more people prayed with him. Then the people gathered on the third night but, the Prophet did not come out to them. In the morning, he said to them: ‘Surely I saw what you did, and nothing prevented me from coming out to you, save that I feared that [the prayer] would be made obligatory upon you.’ And that was during Ramadan.” This is related by the group except for at-Tirmidhi. [Nevertheless,] Abu Hurairah (رضي الله عنه) reported that Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) would encourage people to perform the special prayers during Ramadan without commanding them as obligatory and he said: “Whoever prays during the nights of Ramadan [taraweeh] with a firm belief and hoping for reward, all of his previous sins would be forgiven.” This is related by the group.

Number of rak’ah of Taraweeh (with reference to ahadith)

Ibn Khuzaimah and Ibn Hibban have recorded in their sahihs on the authority of Jabir that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) prayed eight rak’ahs and the witr prayer with the companions. Then, the next day, the people waited for him but he did not come out to them.

Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman asked ‘Aa’ishah (رضي الله عنه), “How did the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) pray during Ramadan?” She said: “He did not pray more than eleven rak’ahs in Ramadan or at other times, he would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray three. I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, will you sleep before you pray Witr?’ He said, ‘O ‘Aa’ishah, my eyes sleep but my heart does not.’” (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim) Those who say that it is not permissible to do more than eight rak’ahs in Taraweeh quote this hadith, which indicates that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was consistent in his prayers at night in Ramadan and at other times.

Abu Ya’la and at-Tabarani record, with a hasan chain, from Jabir that Ubayy ibn Ka’b came to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, 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’ahs and the witr prayer with them. The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was pleased with that and did not say anything.” This is the sunnah that has been related from the Messenger of Allah and nothing besides that is authentic. (‘Fiqh Us-Sunnah’ by As-Sayyid Sabiq)

[However, later, when Umar ibn Al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه) gathered people to pray in congregation behind one Imam,] it was narrated by Saa’ib ibn Yazeed: “‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه) gathered the people together in Ramadan to be led by Ubayy ibn Ka’b and Tameem al-Daari in praying twenty-one rak’ahs, and they used to recite hundreds of verses, and they dispersed before dawn broke.” A number of narrators narrated it from al-Saa’ib, some of whom mentioned twenty rak’ahs or twenty-one or twenty-three… The extra amount mentioned – twenty-one or twenty-three, refers to Taraweeh plus Witr. From all the reports [from Tabi’een], it is clear that twenty rak’ahs [were offered in] Taraweeh …at the time of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه).

Number of rak’ah of Taraweeh (opinion of Scholars)

During the time of ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali, the people prayed twenty rak’ahs, and this is the opinion of the majority of the jurists of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools, as well as that of Dawood. At-Tirmidhi says: “Most of the people of knowledge follow what has been related from ‘Umar and ‘Ali and other companions of the Prophet, [i.e., that they prayed] twenty rak’ahs. And this is the opinion of al-Thauri, Ibn al-Mubarak, and ash-Shafi’i. And so I found the people of Makkah praying twenty rak’ahs.”

Al-Sarkhasi, one of the imams of the Hanafi School, said:  It is twenty rak’ahs, apart from Witr, in our view. (Al-Mabsoot)

Ibn Qudamah said: The favored view according to Abu ‘Abd-Allah (i.e., Imam Ahmad, may Allah have mercy on him), is that it is twenty rak’ahs. This was the view of al-Thawri, Abu Hanifah and al-Shafi’i, Malik said it is thirty-six. (Al-Mughni)

Al-Nawawi said:  Taraweeh prayer is Sunnah according to scholarly consensus. Our view is that it is twenty rak’ahs with ten tasleems, and it is permissible to pray it individually or in congregation. (Al-Majmoo’)

Al-Suyooti said: What is narrated in the sahih and hasan ahadith is the command to observe night prayers during Ramadan, which is encouraged without specifying a particular number. It is not proven that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) prayed twenty rak’ahs of Taraweeh, rather he prayed at night with an unspecified number of rak’ahs. Then he delayed it on the fourth night lest it become obligatory for them and they might not be able to do it. Ibn Hajar al-Haythami said: There is no sahih report that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) prayed twenty rak’ahs of Taraweeh. The narration which suggests that he “used to pray twenty rak’ahs” is extremely weak (da’if). (Al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah)

Reconciliation

The point is that the one who prays eleven rak’ahs in the manner narrated from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) is doing well and is following the Sunnah; and whoever makes the recitation shorter and increases the number of rak’ahs is also doing well. A person who does either of these two things is not to be denounced. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: “If a person prays Taraweeh according to the madhhabs of Abu Hanifah, al-Shafi’i and Ahmad, with twenty rak’ahs, or according to the madhhab of Malik, with thirty-six rak’ahs, or with thirteen or eleven rak’ahs, he has done well, as Imam Ahmad said, because there is nothing to specify the number. So the greater or lesser number of rak’ahs depends on how long or short the qiyaam (standing in the prayer) is. (Al-Ikhtiyarat)

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “It grieves us deeply that we find in the Muslim ummah, a group which differs concerning matters in which differences of opinion are acceptable, and they take these differences as a means to cause division [and fitnah among the Muslims]. Differences within the ummah existed at the time of the Sahabah, yet they remained united…” (Al-Sharh al-Mumti’)

He further said “…the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), upon being asked about night prayers, said that they are to be done two by two, and he did not specify any particular number? Of course, the one who asked him about the night prayer did not know the number, because if he did not know how to do it, it is even more likely that he did not know the number. And he was not one of those who served the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) so that we might say that he knew what happened inside his house. Since the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) told him how to do it but did not say how many times, it may be understood that the matter is broad in scope, and that a person may pray one hundred rak’ahs then pray Witr with one rak’ah.

…[In fact,] the brothers who [accuse] the imams who pray more than eleven rak’ahs of bid’ah, and they leave the mosque, [miss] out on the reward of which the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever stands with the imam until he finishes (the prayer), the reward of qiyaam al-layl [(standing in prayer for the whole night)] will be recorded for him.” (Narrated by at-Tirmidhi; classed as sahih by al-Albani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi).

…The other group does the opposite. They sternly denounce those who pray only eleven rak’ahs and say that they have gone against scholarly consensus, whereas Allah says: “And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger (Muhammad) after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers’ way, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell — what an evil destination!” (Soorah an-Nisa’a, 4:115)” (Al-Sharh al-Mumti)

The evidence that there is no set number for prayers at night – which include Taraweeh – is the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar according to which a man asked the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) about prayer at night. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Prayers at night are to be offered two by two (two rak’ahs at a time). If any of you fears that the time of dawn is approaching then let him pray one rak’ah as Witr.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Majmoo’ al-Fataawa: “It is proven that Ubayy ibn Ka’b used to lead the people in praying twenty rak’ahs in qiyam in Ramadan, and he used to pray Witr with three rak’ahs. Many scholars think that this is the Sunnah, because he established that among the Muhaajireen and Ansaar and no one objected to that. Others regarded it as mustahabb to pray thirty-nine rak’ahs, based on the fact that this was the practice of the people of Madinah in the past.”

He further said “When Ubayy ibn Ka’b led them in praying qiyam in a single congregation, he could not make them stand for too long, so he increased the number of rak’ahs to make up for the long standing. So they doubled the number of rak’ahs. He used to pray eleven or thirteen rak’ahs of qiyaam al-layl, then it seems that after that the people of Madinah found it difficult to stand for so long during the recitation, so they increased the number of rak’ahs until it reached thirty-nine.”

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said, after mentioning the number of rak’ahs in Taraweeh prayer: “The matter is broad in scope. No one should be denounced for praying eleven or twenty-three, because the matter is broader in scope than that, praise be to Allah.” (Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen)

(The above reply is based on the book ‘Fiqh Us-Sunnah’ by As-Sayyid Sabiq and answers provided by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid on the topic)

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam