Published in  
March 4, 2024

The Yearly Debate on Taraweeh

Scholars define taraweeh (تراويح) as the night prayer that is offered in congregation during the month of Ramadan. Is praying 20 raka’at taraweeh an innovation? Is there anything that is a “good bid’ah”? Breaking away from the congregation after 8 raka'at? Can we read from the mushaf in Prayer?

Scholars define taraweeh (تراويح) as the night prayer that is offered in congregation during the month of Ramadan. Its time is from after the sunnah prayers of the Isha salah till dawn. It is considered a mustahab (encouraged) act of worship. Interestingly, we don’t find the term taraweeh in the Qur’an or the Sunnah. It was a term that was later coined by the scholars. 

Voluntary night prayers are of 2 types. One is qiyam al-layl and the other is tahajjud. Qiyam al-layl which means standing up at night is more general whereas tahajjud is more specific in nature. All the voluntary prayers that are prayed after Isha and before Fajr are known as qiyam al-layl. Tahajjud on the other hand refers to those specific prayers that a person prays after waking up from sleep. To highlight the importance of qiyam al-layl in Ramadan, the term taraweeh was highlighted.  

Allah says,

قُمِ ٱلَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًۭا

Stand all night in prayer except a little [Surah al-Muzzammil, 2]

وَمِنَ ٱلَّيْلِ فَتَهَجَّدْ بِهِۦ نَافِلَةًۭ لَّكَ عَسَىٰٓ أَن يَبْعَثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامًۭا مَّحْمُودًۭا

And rise at the last part of the night, offering additional prayers, so your Lord may raise you to a station of praise. [Surah al-Isra, 79]

The Prophet ﷺ said, “The best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” [Muslim] and “You should pray qiyam al-layl, for it is the custom of the righteous who came before you and it brings you closer to your Lord, and expiates sins and prevents misdeeds.” [Tirmidhi]

Imam Ibn Katheer رحمه الله says, “Allah commanded His Messenger ﷺ to pray the Night prayer after offering the prescribed prayers, and the term Tahajjud refers to prayer that is offered after sleeping. This was the view of `Alqamah, Al-Aswad, Ibrahim An-Nakhai and others.”

During the early stages of Islam, Surah al-Muzzammil was revealed. This was before the five prayers were obligated. Everyone was obligated with the prayer of tahajjud. During the night of the Mi’raj (Ascent) that 5 prayers were made obligatory (fard). Tahajjud as an obligation was abrogated. The Prophet ﷺ continued to pray tahajjud daily. Why? Once a Prophet of Allah starts a good deed, they do not abandon it. 

Qiyam al-Layl is a game-changer for the heart. Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever recites 10 ayat in qiyam will not be recorded as one of the forgetful. Whoever recites a 100 ayat in qiyam will be recorded as one of the devout, and whoever recites a 1000 ayat in qiyam will be recorded as one of the muqantareen (those who pile up good deeds). [Abu Dawud] The muqantireen are those who will be given a qintaar of reward. A qintaar is a large amount of gold, and most of the scholars of Arabic language are of the view that it is four thousand dinars.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever prays qiyam in Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” [Bukhari]

A lot of the times, we focus on the number of raka'at in taraweeh instead of focusing on how to pray the taraweeh prayer. As per Lisan al-Arab, "The word taraweeh is the plural of the word "tarweeha" which literally means ‘to rest’.  In the context of Salat al-Taraweeh, it means to rest between every four raka’at." 

Imam Ibn Mandhur رحمه الله said, “the tarweehah in Ramadan was called such because of the rest that people take after each set of four units of prayer and it (the word) means a single instance of rest.” 

When our mother Aishah رضي الله عنها was asked, "How is the prayer of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) during the month of Ramadan." She said, "Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) never exceeded eleven rak'at in Ramadan or in other months; he used to offer four rak'at - do not ask me about their beauty and length, then four rak'at, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then three rak'at." [Bukhari]

How were these beautiful standings? Awf ibn Malik رضي الله عنه reported, "I stood with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) to pray at night. The Prophet (ﷺ) began to recite Surat al-Baqarah and he would not pass by an ayah of mercy but that he would ask for it, nor did he pass by an ayah of punishment but that he sought refuge from it. Then, the Prophet (ﷺ) bowed for as long as he stood, saying in his bowings, “Glory to Him with Power, Dominion, Grandeur, and Majesty.” The Prophet (ﷺ) prostrated for as long as he stood, saying the same in his prostrations. Then, the Prophet (ﷺ) began to recite Surat Aal Imran and then he recited another chapter and another. [Abu Dawud]

Umar ibn al-Khattab ordered Ubayy ibn Ka'b and Tamim ad-Dari رضي الله عنهم to lead the people in salah in Ramadan. The Imam used to read 200 ayat in one rak'ah and the people used to lean against their walking sticks because of the lengthy period of standing. They would continue throughout the night and only depart at the time of dawn. During the era of the Tabi'un, they used to recite Surah al- Baqarah in eight rak'at in the night salah. If anyone recited this surah in twelve rak'at, they felt that the reader was lenient with them.

Imam Ishaq ibn Rahwayh رحمه الله was asked about how many ayat should be recited in the night salah of Ramadan. He did not concede less than ten verses. Someone told him, "They are not happy with this number." He said, "If they are not happy, do not lead them in salah if they do not agree to ten verses from Surah al-Baqarah. Then when you reach the shorter verses, recite until they are equal in length to ten verses of Surah al-Baqarah." That is, in each rak'ah. Imam Malik رحمه الله also considered it reprehensible to recite less than ten verses. [Lataif al-Ma'arif]

The Origins of Salat al-Taraweeh

Narrated 'Urwah رضي الله عنه: That he was informed by Aishah رضي الله عنها, "Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the masjid 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 masjid was full with a large number of people. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) came out and the people prayed behind him. 

On the fourth night the masjid was overwhelmed with people and could not accommodate them, but the Prophet (ﷺ) came out (only) for the morning prayer. 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 (Qiyam) should be enjoined on you and you might not be able to carry it on." So, Allah's Apostle died and the situation remained like that (i.e. people prayed individually)." [Bukhari]

According to Imam Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani رحمه الله, the Qiyam of Ramadan is general i.e. it refers to any nawafil prayers and praying them in congregation is permissible. [Fath al-Bari]

Abdur Rahman bin 'Abdul Qari رحمه الله said, "I went out in the company of 'Umar bin al-Khattab رضي الله عنه one night in Ramadan to the masjid and found the people praying in different groups. A man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, 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 Ubay bin Ka'b. 

Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, Umar رضي الله عنه remarked, 'What an excellent Bid'ah this is; but the prayer which they do not perform, but sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering.' He meant the prayer in the last part of the night. (In those days) people used to pray in the early part of the night." [Bukhari]

Al-Hasan رحمه الله reported that Umar Ibn al-Khattab رضي الله عنه gathered the people (in taraweeh prayer) behind Ubayy ibn Ka'b who would perform 20 raka'at with them. [Abu Dawud]

Saa’ib ibn Yazeed رحمه الله said that Umar ibn al-Khattab رضي الله عنه gathered the people together in Ramadan to be led by Ubayy ibn Ka’b رضي الله عنه and Tamim ad-Dari رضي الله عنه in praying twenty-one rak’at, and they used to recite hundreds of verses, and they dispersed before dawn broke. [al-Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq]

Abd al-Azeez ibn Rafee’ رحمه الله said that Ubayy ibn Ka’b رضي الله عنه used to lead the people in praying twenty rak’at during Ramadan in Madinah, and he would pray Witr with three rak’at." [al-Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah]

The Yearly Debate: 8 vs 20

Coming to the yearly 8 vs 20 raka’at discussion that happens every year. Firstly, we need to revise and establish a very important principle.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “So hold fast to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the Khulafa ar-Rashideen (the rightly guided caliphs), those who guide to the right way. Cling to it stubbornly (literally: with your molar teeth]. Beware of newly invented matters (in the religion), for verily every bidah (innovation) is misguidance.” [Abu Dawud]

Secondly, we need to establish if there is even a fixed number of units specified by the Prophet ﷺ.

The methodology of offering the night prayer is that it is to be prayed in units of 2 raka’at each. Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه reported that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Salat during the night should consist of pairs of but if you fear that morning is near, then pray one rak'ah as Witr." [Bukhari]

From this, we learn that the Prophet ﷺ, upon being asked about night prayers, said that they are to be done two by two, and he did not specify any particular number.

Is praying 20 raka’at taraweeh an innovation?

This is an incorrect and extremely dangerous statement to make. It is proven through multiple authentic chains of narration and recorded on the authority of giants like Imam Malik, Imam al-Ayni, etc in their books of hadith that Umar and Ali used to establish 20 raka’at in congregation during their respective caliphates. There was no objection or difference of opinion among the sahaba on this matter.

This accusation of 20 raka’at being an innovation was the same statement made by the rawafidh (Shia). They accused our leader, Umar Ibn al-Khattab رضي الله عنه for initiating the “innovated” practice of 20 raka’at in taraweeh.

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله swiftly responded to this allegation and said, “If Umar رضي الله عنه by establishing 20 raka’at of taraweeh had been deemed to adopt a bad practise, then Ali Ibn Abi Talib رضي الله عنه would have put an end to this in his Khilafah. However, in the Khilafah of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, he too would read 20 raka’at taraweeh prayers in Kufa. In the month of Ramadan, Ali would state, ‘May Allah enlighten the grave of Umar, just as he has enlightened our masajid for us.’” [Minhaj as-Sunnah]

Is there anything that is a “good bid’ah”?

What did Umar ibn al-Khattab رضي الله عنه mean when he called taraweeh a good innovation? Sheikh Ibn Baz رحمه الله summarised and said, "What is correct is that every innovation is misguidance. Some scholars say: Good innovation, such as the compilation of the Mushaf and the taraweeh prayer, but what is correct is that all innovations are misguidance. There is nothing in them that is good. He (ﷺ) said: 'Every innovation is misguidance,' and he did not differentiate (between good and bad).

Therefore, the compilation of the mushaf is not an innovation, but rather, the Companions compiled it since they were commanded to preserve the Book of Allah. Thus, preserving and taking care of it so that nothing is lost is a command, making it compulsory. Likewise, the taraweeh prayer is not an innovation since the Prophet (ﷺ) performed it. (As for) the statement of ʿUmar (رضي الله عنه): 'What a great innovation this is' when he gathered the people under one imam, then what he did was an innovation from a linguistic sense, since the continuous performance of the taraweeh prayer under one imam (from the beginning of Ramadan till its very end) did not occur in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ). Hence, he called it an innovation from a linguistic sense; otherwise, it is a Sunnah since the Prophet (ﷺ) performed it with the Companions for a few nights.'

The Salaf and the Imams of this religion held onto the rope of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ by continuing to establish taraweeh as they did.

Imam Malik رحمه الله says that if we come across two seemingly contradictory ahadith and if we know that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar practiced one of them and left the other, then this would be proof enough for us for its authenticity.  [Al-Ta’leeq al-Mumajjad]

Mulla Ali Qari رحمه الله states, “In the time of Umar, Uthman and Ali, the companions performed twenty raka’at taraweeh. For this reason, there is a consensus (Ijma) upon this amount”. [Sharh Niqaya]

Imam Ibn Qudamah رحمه الله said, “The favoured view according to Abu Abdullah (i.e., Imam Ahmad), is that it is twenty rak’at. This was the view of al-Thawri, Abu Hanifah and al-Shafi'i. Malik said it is thirty-six.” [al-Mughni]

Imam al-Nawawi رحمه الله said, “Taraweeh prayer is Sunnah according to scholarly consensus. Our view is that it is 20 rak’at with 10 taslims, and it is permissible to pray it individually or in congregation.” [al-Majmu’]

Imam al-Tirmidhi رحمه الله said, ”Most of the scholars are of the view that what is narrated from Umar, Ali and other companions of the Prophet is twenty rak’at. This is the view of al-Thawri, Ibn al-Mubarak and al-Shafi’i. [Tirmidhi] If one claims to be a stronger adherent of the Sunnah than the author of Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, then we need to relook into what we have learnt.

Imam al-Shafi’i رحمه الله said, “This is what I learned in our land, in Makkah they pray twenty raka’at.”

We learn from all this that at the time of Umar رضي الله عنه, people were praying 20 raka’at in Madinah in the congregation. Likewise in the time of Ali Ibn Abi Talib رضي الله عنه in Kufah, the people prayed 20 raka’at in the congregation. This was then reported to have increased at the time of tabi’in to 39 or 41 raka’at on certain occasions. What our master, Umar did was that he increased the number to twenty to make the recitation in qiyam easier for the people so that they would bow and prostrate more.

An interesting point to note here. How did the people of Madinah reach the number 39? It came across because of a healthy rivalry between the people of Makkah and the people of Madinah. The people used to take a short break after every 4 raka’at in taraweeh. The people of Makkah wanting to do extra, said we will do a tawaf of the Ka’bah in every break and this is something only we can do. When the people of Madinah heard about this, they added 4 raka’at in the break and their total raka’at went up to 36. Add to it the witr and the final number came to 39 raka’at. For nearly 100+ years after this, this was the standard practice in Madinah. This is why in the books of Maliki fiqh we find this as their preferred position for taraweeh.

Coming back to the main discussion. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله said, “It is proven that Ubayy ibn Ka’b (رضي الله عنه) used to lead the people in praying 20 raka’at in qiyam in Ramadan, and he used to pray Witr with 3 raka’at. Many scholars think that this is the Sunnah, because he established that among the Muhajirin and Ansar and no one objected to that. Others regarded it as mustahab to pray 39 rak’at, based on the fact that this was the practice of the people of Madinah in the past.”

The Sheikh further explained, “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 raka’at to make up for the long standing. So they doubled the number of raka’at. He used to pray 11 or 13 raka’at of qiyam 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 raka’at until it reached 39.” [Majmu’ al-Fatawa]

This explanation helps us reconcile the reports that mentioned Ubayy ibn Ka'ab and Tamim ad-Dari being ordered by Umar to lead the people in 8+3 raka'at. Imam Malik recorded that Saa’ib ibn Yazeed said, "Umar ibn al-Khattab ordered Ubayy ibn Ka'b and Tamim ad-Dari to watch the night in prayer with the people for eleven rakas.The reciterof the Qur'an would recite the Mi'in (a group of medium-sized suras) 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."

What then about the Hadith of Aishah رضي الله عنها, where she said that the Prophet prayed only 11 raka’at?

Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman asked ‘Aishah رضي الله عنها, “How did the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) pray during Ramadan?” She said: “He did not pray more than eleven rak’at 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. [Bukhari]

A few points with regard to this narration:
- From the wordings, it is also seen that she is referring to a prayer that is prayed both in and outside of Ramadan. Salat al-Taraweeh is restricted to Ramadan. Imams Malik, Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and others all placed this narration from Aisha under the “Chapter of Tahajjud”. Taraweeh and tahajjud are two separate and distinct prayers.

- Both Aishah and Abu Salamah were alive during the Caliphates of Umar, Uthman and Ali. It is said that the understanding of a narration is best taken from the one narrating it. If Aishah رضي الله عنها, and other companions had understood that the Prophet was referring to Salat al-Taraweeh to be 11 raka'at, then they would have corrected or advised Umar Ibn al-Khattab when he established twenty raka’at in congregation during his reign. So why did they not oppose or question this practice? This is because they understood the narration to refer to Salat al-Tahajjud which is also referred to as Salat al-Layl.

- Our mother Aishah رضي الله عنها mentioned only that which she saw during the night that was allocated to her. She spent only one night with the Prophet ﷺ every 9 nights.

- From other narrations, we learn that the Prophet ﷺ is authentically reported to have also prayed 7, 9, 13, or even 17 raka’at at times. There was no fixed standard. Ibn Abbas was the nephew of the Prophet's wife, Maymunah رضي الله عنها. He had access to the Prophet's household at night. He narrated that the Prophet used to pray twenty raka’at by himself followed by Witr (every night) in the month of Ramadan. [Bayhaqi] The narration of 13 raka’at is also narrated by Aishah رضي الله عنها, herself. Based on this, it cannot be said that 11 raka’at was the Prophet’s practice every day necessarily.

Some people misapplied the words of the Prophet ﷺ when he said, “Pray as you have seen me praying”. This is meant to refer to the methodology or the actions that are done in salah. When the Prophet himself did not restrict the number of units or give a particular number, then using this hadith to make a claim becomes wrong.

Imam al-Shafi'i رحمه الله beautifully summarised the whole discussion and said: "There is no limit or restriction in the matter; it is a nafl (voluntary) prayer. If they lengthen their recitation and lessen the number of units, then that is good, and I prefer this. But if they increase the number of units, that is also fine."  [Ma'rifat al-Sunan wal Athar]

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله said, “If a person prays taraweeh according to the madhabs of Abu Hanifah, al-Shafi'i and Ahmad, with twenty raka’at, or according to the madhab of Malik, with thirty-six raka’at , or with thirteen or eleven raka’at, he has done well, as Imam Ahmad said, because there is nothing to specify the number. So the greater or lesser number of raka’at depends on how long or short the qiyam (standing in the prayer) is. [al-Ikhtiyarat]

From this we learn that the Prophet ﷺ often used to pray 11 raka’at and make them very lengthy, so much so that it used to take him most of the night. On one night in which the Prophet ﷺ led his companions in taraweeh, he kept praying until just before dawn, and the sahaba feared that they would miss suhoor.  Later, the sahaba themselves increased the units and decreased the length of recitation in each unit to make it easy for the people to pray taraweeh.

Breaking Away From the Congregation After 8 Raka'at

In the blessed month of Ramadan, it makes no sense for people to be arguing or fighting over issues that are a matter of scholarly differences or make them the cause of division and fitnah among Muslims. The teacher of our teachers, Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymin رحمه الله commented on the issue of people praying ten raka’at with the Imam, then sitting down and waiting for Witr instead of completing the taraweeh prayers with the Imam. He said,

“Here we say that we should not go to extremes or be negligent. Some people go to extremes in adhering to the number mentioned in the Sunnah, and say that it is not permissible to do more than the number mentioned in the Sunnah, and they aggressively denounce those who do more than that, saying that they are sinners. This is undoubtedly wrong. How can they be sinners, when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), 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 (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) so that we might say that he knew what happened inside his house. Since the Prophet (ﷺ) 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’at then pray Witr with one rak’ah.

With regard to the words of the Prophet (ﷺ), “Pray as you have seen me praying”, this does not apply in absolute terms even for these people. Hence they do not say that a person should pray Witr with five rak’at sometimes and with seven rak’at sometimes and with nine rak’at sometimes. If we understand it in absolute terms, then we would have to pray Witr with five rak’at sometimes and with seven rak’at sometimes and with nine rak’at sometimes. But what is meant by the hadith is pray as you have seen me praying with regard to how to pray not how many rak’at, unless there is a text to state what the number is.  

Whatever the case, a person should not be strict with people with regard to a matter that is broad in scope. We have even seen some brothers who are strict on this matter accusing the imams who pray more than eleven rak’at of following bid’ah, and they leave the masjid, thus missing out on the reward of which the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "Whoever stands with the imam until he finishes (the prayer), the reward of qiyam al-layl will be recorded for him.” (Tirmidhi) Some of them even sit down after completing ten rak’at, thus breaking up the rows of worshippers by sitting there, and sometimes they start talking and disturb the people who are praying. We have no doubt that their intentions are good and they are doing their best to come to the right conclusion, but that does not mean that they are correct.

The other group does the opposite. They sternly denounce those who pray only eleven rak’at and say that they have gone against scholarly consensus. Allah says,

وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ ٱلرَّسُولَ مِنۢ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ ٱلْهُدَىٰ وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِۦ مَا تَوَلَّىٰ وَنُصْلِهِۦ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَسَآءَتْ مَصِيرًا

“And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger 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!” [Surah al-Nisa, 115] All the generations who came before you only knew the number as twenty-three rak’ahs, and they denounce anyone who says anything different.” [Al-Sharh al-Mumti’]

What did these people miss out by breaking away from the Imam? A huge reward. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Whoever stands with the Imam until he finishes, it is equivalent to spending the whole night in prayer.” [Tirmidhi] The one who left midway, before the Imam has completed his prayer, gets rewarded only what he has prayed and misses out on being recorded as those who spent the entire night in prayer.

In many masajid today we see that the Imam changes after 10 raka’at. Can one leave after 10 raka’at and does this fulfil the requirement for attaining rewards as mentioned in the above hadith? No. Our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله said, “What we understand from this hadith is that the Prophet was talking about the end of the prayer and not the Imam himself. The Imam is there to facilitate the prayer and the second Imam is there to make it easy for the first Imam. It is considered as one prayer, even if the Imams change and not two different prayers. When the first Imam changes, no one says that the prayer has finished. Rather, the second Imam replaces him and completes the taraweeh. This is the best and safest opinion for a person to follow.”

What's worse is when those who break away from the congregation look down upon those praying the complete 20 raka'at or worse label them as innovators. SubhanAllah! When there is a level of scholarly difference of opinion among the scholars, rather Imams of this Ummah, then it does not befit the layman to blame another layman from following the opinion of established scholars. They cannot be blamed of indulging in innovations or going against the Sunnah. Why?

Imam Sufyan al-Thawri رحمه الله said, "As for the issues about which the jurists differed: I do not denounce any of my brothers from acting on them." [Al-Faqih wal-Mutafaqih]

Imam Ibn al-Qudamah رحمه الله said, "No one should denounce anyone for following his madhab, for there is no denunciation with regard to issues that are subject to ijtihad." [Adab al-Shar’iyyah]

Imam al-Nawawi رحمه الله said, "The scholars only denounce (if someone opposes) what the nation is agreed upon, as for the issues upon which they differed - there is no denunciation on those issues." [Sharh Nawawi]

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله wrote, "Whoever adopts a view by being a muqallid to someone, cannot rebuke one who takes another view due to being a muqallid to someone else. But if one of them does have a conclusive shari‘ah proof, it is required to comply with it when it becomes known. It is not lawful for anyone to to say that one view is preferable to another, without  proof; nor be biased to one opinion over another – or one person over another – without a definitive proof. Instead, one who is a muqallid is obliged to follow a qualified scholar: he cannot evaluate, weigh-up, or say something is right or wrong … As for someone who only knows the opinion of one scholar and his proofs, but does not know the other scholar’s opinion or proofs, he is from the generality of the muqallids. He is not of the scholars who are able to evaluate or weigh-up (proofs). [Majmu' al-Fatawa]

Our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله said, "Enjoining good and forbidding evil can be done only by a person who has knowledge. Having knowledge doesn't necessitate that a person must be a scholar. Every Muslim must do it as long as they have knowledge regarding that matter. The person must be sure that the ma'aruf being propagated is actually ma'aruf and the munkar being spoken against is actually munkar. A person must be careful of the difference of opinion regarding Munkar. Not every difference is a valid difference. The difference spoken about here is when the proofs being presented are strong on both the sides without following desires. Instead of passing a ruling on one another, the opposing side needs to be explained with the proofs that the case they believe in is a munkar. [Sharh Riyadhus Saliheen]

Reading From The Mushaf in Prayer

Those of us who have not memorized the Quran, especially if one is praying the taraweeh at home or leading their families at home, can hold the mushaf while reciting. If one is praying in congregation, it is best to not do so and focus on the Imam’s recitation. 

Imam Malik رحمه الله disliked holding the mushaf in the obligatory prayers, but allowed it in Ramadan saying: There is no harm if a person were to lead people from the Mushaf in voluntary prayers in Ramadan. [al-Mudawwanah] This is similar to what has been reported from Imam Ahmad رحمه الله who allowed it for voluntary prayers in Ramadan, and disliked it in obligatory prayers. [Masail Abi Dawud]

Imam al-Bukhari رحمه الله mentions that our mother, Aishah رضي الله عنها, had a slave who would lead her in Ramadan reading from the Mushaf. 

Anas would lead the prayer and have one person behind him hold the Mushaf, so that if he ever forgot, he would be reminded by that person. This act was reported from among the tabi'in like Muhammad ibn Sireen, Aishah bint Talha, al-Zuhri, al-Hasan al-Basri, 'Ataa, and Yahya ibn Sa'eed al-Ansari who allowed it.

Praying Taraweeh at Home

Imam al-Nawawi رحمه الله said, “Praying taraweeh is Sunnah according to scholarly consensus. It is permissible to offer this prayer alone or in congregation, but which is better? There are two well-known opinions on this matter. The correct view according to the consensus of our companions is that praying it in congregation is better. The second view is that it is better to pray it individually. Our companions said: The difference of opinion has to do with one who has memorized the Quran; there is no fear that he may become lazy and neglect it if he prays on his own, and the congregation in the mosque is not going to be affected if he stays away.  But if one of these factors is absent, then praying in congregation is better, and there is no difference of scholarly opinion on this point." [al-Majmu']

Without a doubt, praying taraweeh in the masjid is better. In the narrations from the Prophet ﷺ, we see him mentioning about rewards that a person gets after staying till the end with the Imam etc. That being said, there is the other side of the coin that also needs to be taken into consideration. Why? Because the Prophet also prayed at home. Imam Ibn Abi Shaybah relates that Ibn Umar, his son Salim, Qasim bin Muhammad, ‘Alqamah, and Ibrahim al-Nakha’i used to pray individually instead of in congregation. Imam Malik, Abu Yusuf and some of the Shafi’is scholars held to this position. Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr relates this position from Imam al-Shafi’i himself.

Imam al-Muzani رحمه الله  said, “He (i.e Imam al-Shafi’i) said, “With respect to standing (in prayer) during the month of Ramadan (i.e. taraweeh), the prayer of one praying alone is better according to me.” [Mukhtasar al-Muzani]

According to the Maliki scholars, it is recommended to pray taraweeh at home as long as the masajid are not abandoned and the individual will pray it at home and not skip it.

Also, Zaid bin Thabit رضي الله عنه narrated that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Pray in your homes. Verily the prayer of a person in his home is more virtuous than in the mosque except for the prescribed prayers.”

As per the Hanabilah, praying taraweeh in congregation is more virtuous than praying it alone. But if one was to pray it alone, then that is also valid especially if it is being done to enhance once connection with the Book of Allah or for the tarbiyah of his family. Imam Ahmad was asked about the one who wants to delay the taraweeh until the last part of the night. He replied, “Praying with the Muslims in congregation is more beloved to me.”

A person should take this option only if they know for sure that they will not become lax with regards to the taraweeh, they want to stand in qiyam longer than the congregation, they want to recite with more focus, or similar. Especially in our times today, it is best that we pray with the congregation. The hearts need to be connected with the masajid and the community.

End of the day, the simple answer is as was summarised by Imam Hasan. Imam Hasan al-Basri رحمه الله was asked by a person, "Do I pray taraweeh in the house or in the masjid?." He replied, "At a place where your eyes are able to shed tears and your heart easier to soften and humble, so hold onto that place."


  • The Prophet ﷺ prayed 8 raka'at plus 3 witr in the few times that he prayed publicly. Umar also started off the united congregation with 8 raka'at plus 3 witr. Later on, he made it 20 raka'at plus 3 witr. The difference here was that the standing was shorter, had more prostrations, and the aim was to make it easy for the people.
  • There is no fixed number of raka’at for taraweeh. No scholar in our history has said that praying 8 or 20 is an obligation. How can it be said, when the prayer itself is a nafil prayer. What the scholars debate at times is on what is the best number to pray. The Hanafi, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools say 20 is the best as this was the established practice of Umar and none of the sahaba opposed it. The Malikis say 36 is best because that was the practice of the People of Madinah for over a century.
  • A person prays how much ever they are able to pray in units of 2. It is very simple. To navigate the differences of opinion, we can follow Imam Malik رحمه الله. It is mentioned that the practice of Imam Malik was to pray 8 raka’at at home in accordance to the personal practice of the Prophet ﷺ, while the Imam lead people in congregation of either 20 or 36 raka'at for ease of the community in accordance with the established practice of the sahaba.

  • Stay with the Imam till the end of the salah. If you want to leave early, then find a masjid that prays lesser units or pray at home. Don’t break away from the congregation midway as one is missing out on many rewards and also causing fitna among the community.

  • Don’t waste time and energy in Ramadan arguing over unnecessary matters. The arguing might end up reducing from the rewards of the acts of worship that we are doing. 

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