Number of Rakaats in Taraweeh Prayer: Twenty or Eight?

Introduction

The blessed month of Ramadhan is upon us and the Muslim ummah strive to achieve spirituality in their daily life. The most important worships during this blessed month amongst others are fasting (sawm) during the day and performing the Taraweeh prayer during the night. Abu Huraira (radi allahu anhu) narrates that the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam stated, “Whoever prayed at night in the month of Ramadhan out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Sahih Al Bukhari, 3:226)

In exploring the Taraweeh prayer I will first look briefly at the history of the Salah followed by the evidences in the light of Ahadith in to the number of rakaats that should be performed for this prayer.

History

Once, in the month of Ramadhan, the Prophet of Allah sallallahu alahi wa sallam came out of his home and led Taraweeh prayer. The Sahabah who were present at the time, prayed behind him in congregation. The second and third nights, a larger number of Sahabah came and performed the Taraweeh prayer behind the Prophet of Allah sallallahu alahi wa sallam. On the fourth night, an even larger number of Sahabah attended the Masjid expecting to pray this new Salah behind the Prophet of Allah sallallahu alahi wa sallam. But he did not come out to lead Taraweeh that night. The Sahabah waited all night. When the Prophet of Allah sallallahu alahi wa sallam finally emerged for Fajr prayer he told them “I knew you were waiting for me but I did not come to lead the Taraweeh prayer last night because I was afraid it might become fardh on the Ummah which they may find difficult to fulfil.”(Sahih Al Bukhari, 2:229; Sahih Muslim, 1271)

During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (radi allahu anhu) there was no emphasis of praying Taraweeh in congregation. The Sahabah used to hold small congregations to perform the Taraweeh prayer. It was during the time of Umar (radi allahu anhu) that he brought this to a collective congregation under one Imam (Sahih Al Bukhari, 1:269 Baab fadle man qama Ramadhan). This happened during the second year of the caliphate, i.e. 14 hijri.

It has been established via Ahadith and the actions of the Shahbah, Tabieen, Tabe Tabieen, Muhaddiseen and Jurists (Fuqaha) that Taraweeh is twenty rakaats and not eight as is the misconception of some section of the Muslim ummah today.

In the Muslim world from east to west the Ummah has performed twenty rakaats for 1284 hijri. It is only after the British ruled in the Indian sub-continent that the concept of eight rakaats started. In 1284 Hijri in Akbarabad a ghair muqallid started this opinion that Taraweeh is eight rakaats. At the time demonstrations took place and the rightly guided scholars reputed this claim via evidence from the Ahadith. Latafat press printed a booklet called Istaftahu Taraweeh establishing that Taraweeh is twenty rakaats and not eight as claimed by ghair muqallideens today.

In Pakistan’s Panjab Muhammad Hussain Batlawi with the support of the British and the ghair muqallideens made the claim in Pakistan of establishing eight rakaats. Lahore was the first city to establish the custom of praying eight rakaats in Pakistan. (Serate Sanaee, P452)

All the Shahbah, Tabieen, Tabe Tabieen, Muhaddiseen, Fuqahas and scholars performed twenty rakaats. Ahadith will be presented which establish that the taraweeh salah is 20 rakaats. There are no clear hadith, sahih (strong) or dhaeef (week), establishing eight rakats of Taraweeh.

First I will look at the widely accepted opinion that Taraweeh prayer consists of twenty rakaats.

Evidences of Twenty Rakaats

Evidence 1

عن ابن عباس أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يصلي في رمضان عشرين ركعة والوتر.

Ibn Abbas (radi allahu anhu) narrates that, “Allah’s Messenger sallallahu alahi wa sallam in Ramadhan used to pray twenty rakaats and witr.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah Vol 2, P286, Hadith no 13. Al Mu’jamul Kabir at Thabrani, vol 5, P433, Hadith no11934. As Sunannul Kubra lil Baihaqi, vol 2, P496)

Evidence 2

عن جابر بن عبد الله قال خرج النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ذات ليلة في رمضان فصلى الناس أربعة وعشرين ركعة وأوتر بثلاثة.

Jabir ibn Abdullah (radi allahu anhu) narrates that, “The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam came out one night in Ramadhan and led the people in 24 rakaats (4 rakaats Esha and 20 rakaaats Taraweeh) and performed 3 rakaats witr.”(Tareekh Juurjaan lil Imam Al Hafiz Hamza ibn Yusuf Sehmi, P142)

Evidence 3

عن أبي بن كعب أن عمر ابن الخطاب أمر أبي بن كعب أن يصلي بالليل في رمضان، فقال: إن الناس يصومون النهار لا يحسنون أن يقرؤوا، فلو قرأت القرآن عليهم بالليل، فقال يا أمير المؤمنين، هذا شيء لم يكن، فقال: قد علمت ولكنه حسن. فصلى بهم عشرين ركعة.

Ubayy ibn Ka'b (radi allahu anhu) narrates that, “Umar (radi allahu anhu) ordered him (Ubayy) to lead the people in prayer in the nights of Ramadhan, “Because the people are fasting during the day and are unable to recite (the Quran) properly, therefore it will be better if you recite (the Quran) to them (in Salah) during the night.” I (Ubayy) asked: "O commander of the believers, this thing was not done before." He said: "I know, but it is a good practice", and so (Ubayy) led (the Companions) in 20 rakaats."( Ithaf Al Khairatil Mahrate alal Matalibil A’liyah, vol 2, P424, Hadith no 2390)

Evidence 4

عن السائب بن يزيد قال: كانوا يقومون على عهد عمر في شهر رمضان بعشرين ركعة وإن كانوا ليقرؤون المئين من القرآن.

Saeeb ibn Yazid narrates, "During the time of Umar ibn al-Khattab (radi allahu anhu) they would perform 20 rakaats in the month of Ramadhan. And they would recite the Ma'in (A group of medium sized chapters from the Quran containing approximately 100 verses) from the Quran.”( Musnad ibn Ja’ad, P813, Hadith no 2825. Ma’rifati Sunan Al Asar lil Baihaqi, vol 2, P305, Hadith no 1365)

Evidence 5

عن السائب بن يزيد قال: كانوا يقومون على عهد عمر بن الخطاب في شهر رمضان بعشرين ركعة، قال: وكانوا يقرؤون بالمئين وكانوا يتوكؤون على عصيهم في عهد عثمان بن عفان من شدة القيام.

Saeeb ibn Yazid narrates, "In the time of Umar ibn al-Khattab (radi allahu anhu) they would perform 20 rakaats in the month of Ramadhan. And they would recite the Ma'in from the Quran. And they would lean on their sticks in the time of Uthman ibn Affan (radi allahu anhu) from the discomfort of standing."( Sunan Al Kubra lil Baihaqi, vol 2, P496)

Evidence 6

عن الحسن أن عمر بن الخطاب جمع الناس على أبي بن كعب في قيام رمضان فكان يصلي بهم عشرين ركعة.

Hasan (radi allahu anhu) narrates that,” Umar ibn al-Khattaab (radi allahu anhu) gathered the people together in Ramadaan to be led by Ubayy ibn Ka’b. He used to lead the people in 20 rakaats.” (Sunan Abu Dawood, P1429. Seyaru Elameen nubala lil Imam Az-Zahabi, vol 3, P176.))

Evidence 7

عن يزيد بن رومان قال كان الناس يقومون في زمن عمر بن الخطاب في رمضان بثلاث وعشرين ركعة.

Yazeed bin Rouman narrates that, “The people during the time of Umar ibn al-Kattab (radi allahu anhu) used to pray 23 rakaats during Ramadhan.” (As Sunan al Kubra lil Baihaqi, vol 2, P496)

Evidence 8

عن يحيى بن سعيد الأنصاري قال: إن عمر بن الخطاب أمر رجلا يصلي بهم عشرين ركعة.

Yahya bin Saeed Al Ansari narrates that "Umar ibn Al-Khattab (radi allahu anhu) ordered a man to lead the people for 20 rakaats.”(Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 9

عن زيد بن علي عن أبيه عن جده عن علي أنه أمر الذي يصلي بالناس صلاة القيام في شهر رمضان أن يصلي بهم عشرين ركعة يسلم في كل ركعتين ويراوح ما بين كل أربع ركعات.

Zaid ibn Ali narrates from his father (Zain Ul-Aabideen) who narrated from his grandfather (Hussain) who in turn narrated from Ali (radi allahu anhu) that, “He commanded the person who used to lead the people in salatul qiyaam (Taraweeh) in the month of Ramadhan to lead them in twenty rakaats, to perform salam after every two rakaats, and to rest in between every four rakaats.” (Musnad Imam Zaid ibn Ali, P158)

Evidence 10

عن أبي الحسناء أن عليا أمر رجلا يصلي بهم في رمضان عشرين ركعة.

Abul Hasnaa narrates that, “ Ali (radi allahu anhu) commanded a person to lead the people in performing twenty rakaats during the month of Ramadhan.”( Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 11

عن زيد بن وهب كان عبد الله بن مسعود يصلي بنا في شهر رمضان فينصرف وعليه ... كان يصلي عشرين ركعة ويوتر بثلاث.

Zaid ibn Wahb narrates that, “Abdullah ibn Masood (radi allahu anhu) used to lead us in the month of Ramadhan in Taraweeh and when he would return home, it would still be night time. (The narrator) said, “He used to offer twenty rakaats and he would pray three Witr.”( Kitaab Al Marwazi, P158)

Evidence 12

عن حسن عبد العزيز بن رفيع قال: كان أبي بن كعب يصلي بالناس في رمضان بالمدينة عشرين ركعة ويوتر بثلاث.

Hasan Abdul Azeez ibn Rafee’ narrates that, “Ubayy ibn Ka’b used to lead the people in praying twenty rakaats during Ramadhan in Madinah, and he would pray Witr with three rakaats.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285. Kitaab Al Targeeb wat Tarheeb lil Asbahani, vol 2, P368)

Evidence 13

عن عبد الله بن قيس عن شتير بن شكل أنه كان يصلي في رمضان عشرين ركعة والوتر.

Abdullah ibn Qays narrates from Shutayr bin Shakal that, “He used to lead the people in Ramadhan in twenty rakaats and witr.”(Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 14

عن ربيع - وأثنى عليه خيرا - عن أبي البختري أنه كان يصلي خمس ترويحات في رمضان ويوتر بثلاث.

Rabi Wasani narrates from Abul Bakhtari that, “He used to pray in Ramadhan with five resting periods (tarweehaath - rest periods after every four rakaats) and he would perform three rakaat witr.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 15

عن سعيد بن عبيد أن علي بن ربيعة كان يصلي بهم في رمضان خمس ترويحات ويوتر بثلاث.

Saeed bin Ubayd narrates that, “Ali bin Rabee’ah used to lead the people in Ramadhan in five tarweehaath (rest periods after every four rakaats) and he used to perform witr with three rakaats.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 16

عن عطاء قال: أدركت الناس وهم يصلون ثلاثا وعشرين ركعة بالوتر.

Ata narrates that, “I found the people (Sahabahs and Tabieen) that they were performing twenty three rakaats including the witr.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 17

عن أبي إسحاق عن الحارث أنه كان يؤم الناس في رمضان بالليل بعشرين ركعة ويوتر بثلاث ويقنت قبل الركوع.

Abu Ishaq narrates from Haris that, “He used to lead the people in Ramadhan at night in twenty rakaats and he used to perform witr with three rakaats and recite qunoot before ruku.” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, vol 2, P285)

Evidence 18

Hafiz Askalani narrated that Imam Rafiee stated that there is Ijma (consensus) of the Muhadiseen that Allah’s Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamled the sahabahs in 2 or in some narrations 3 nights in twenty rakaats. After these occasions the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamdid not come and he stated the reason that, “I was afraid it might become fardh on the Ummah which they may find difficult to fulfil.” (Talkeesul Habib, vol 1, P119. Al Lawwamid Dhurari Sharhe Sahihul Bukhari, P155)

Evidence 19

There are no opinions within the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence that Taraweeh is less than twenty rakaats. Imam Abu Hanifa (Bidayat Al Mujtahid li Ibn Rushd, 1.214), Imam Shafi’i (Qiyam Ramadhan li Al Marwazi, P159) and Imam Hanbal (Al Mughni li Ibn Qudaamah al Hanbali, 2/366) state Taraweeh consists of twenty rakaats and that is one opinion of Imam Malik who has called this view as mustahsan. (Bidaayat Al Mujtahid li Ibn Rushd, 1/214) The other view of Imam Malik is that Taraweeh consists of thirty-six rakaats. According to another report, he considers it to consist of forty one rakaats.

The opinions of these great scholars are widely accepted and are supported by the Quranic verses and Ahadith mentioned below.

Evidence 20

There is Ijma (consensus) of the companions and scholars on performing twenty rakaats Taraweeh.

Allah states in the Holy Quran. “Obey Allah and obey the Prophet and those who are in charge of affairs among you. Should you happen to dispute over something, then refer it to Allah and to the Prophet...”( Surah Nisa v.58 – v.59)

Ibn Abbas (radi allahu anhu) considers ‘those who are in charge of affairs among you’ in this verse to be referring to the Islamic scholars.

In another Hadith the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam stated, "Verily the best among you (to follow) is my generation (the Companions [radi allahu anhum]), then those who follow them [Tabieen], and then those who follow them [Tabe Tabieen]…" (Sahih Muslim Hadith no. 2535)

The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam warned his followers: “I have left you upon clear proofs, its night is like its day, and no one deviates from it except one who is destroyed, and whoever lives (long) from amongst you will see great controversy. So stick to what you know from my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khaleefahs - cling to that with your molar teeth.”( Ibn Maajah Hadith no.43)

In a similar Hadith the prophet states, “…You must then follow my sunnah and that of the rightly-guided caliphs” (Abu Dawood 4607)

In accordance to the above Ahadith the fact that Umar (radi allahu anhu) approved twenty rakaats and the other caliphs maintained this practice after him is sufficient to prove its correctness. There was consensus of the companions on the performing of twenty rakaats and this is maintained by the ummah till today with the exception of a minority group, ghair muqallideens.

Hafiz Ibn Abd al-Barr states, “The Companions had no dispute regarding this.” (Al-Istidhkar) Allamah Ibn Qudamah said, “The Companions made ijma’ (consensus) upon this in the era of Umar (radi allahu anhu)”.

Apart from the above mentioned evidence there are many other numerous Ahadith which establish that Taraweeh is twenty rakaats and not eight rakaats. Also in the Haramain (the two holy mosques of Makkah and Madina) from the time of the noble Sahabah to date through the mutawaatir (continuous) practice of the ummah twenty rakaats Taraweeh continue to be performed year in year out.

Evidence of those who support eight rakaat Taraweeh

The main narration the ghair muqallideen use to support their opinion of eight rakaats is the narration of Aisha (radi allahu anha). Abu Salama narrates that he asked of Aisha (radi allahu anha), “How was the prayer of the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam in Ramadhan?” She replied: “The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam would not pray more than eleven rakaats in Ramadhan or any other month, he used to offer four rakaats, do not ask me about their beauty and lentgh, then another four rakaats, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then 3 rakaat (witr). Aisha (radi allahu anha) added ,”I asked, O Allahs messenger sallallahu alahi wa sallam! Do you sleep before offering Witr? He replied, O Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart remains awake.” (Sahih Bukhari 2:248)

It is claimed by the ghair muqallideens that from the above narration Taraweeh is meant. They claim that qiyaam of Ramadhan, qiyaamul layl, Taraweeh and Tahajjud are all different names for the same prayer. That for eleven months of the year it is called Tahajjud and during Ramadhan it is called Taraweeh.

Are Taraweeh and Tahajjud the same salah?

1. Tahajjud was ordained by express Quranic verse, “Stand up at night except a little.” (Surah al Muzzammil: 2) Whilst Taraweeh was established through the Hadith of the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam, “I have made its standing Sunnah upon you.” (Ibn Majah 1328)

2. Tahajjud was ordained in Makkah while Taraweeh was prescribed in Madina when fasting was made obligatory.

3. Taraweeh is performed in the earlier part of the night after Esha prayer while Tahajjud is performed in the latter part of the night after sleeping a while.

4. Taraweeh is performed in congregation while Tahajjud is performed individually.

It is clear from the above that Taraweeh and Tahajjud are separate prayers. So how do the ghair muqallideen justify the claim that it is the same prayer? That for eleven months of the year, it is called Tahajjud; and during Ramadhan, it is called Taraweeh. They claim that during Ramadhan the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamdid not perform Tahajjud, only Taraweeh was performed and this is what is meant in the Hadith of Aisha (radi allahu anha).

This view contradicts the fact that the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamwould intensify his efforts in worship when the month of Ramadhan approached as reported by Aisha (radi allahu anha), “During the last ten nights of Ramadhan the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamwould tighten his waist belt and spend the night in worship. He would also wake up his family.” (Sahih Bukhari)

Another narration in Sahih Muslim clarifies that the Prophet performed Taraweeh and Tahajjud separately during the month of Ramadhan. Anas (radi allahu anhu) reports that, “The Messenger of Allah sallallahu alahi wa sallamwas observing prayer during Ramadhan. I came and stood by his side. Then another man came and he stood likewise until we became a group. When the Apostle of Allah sallallahu alahi wa sallamnoticed that we were behind him, he lightened the prayer. He then went to his abode and observed such a (long) prayer (the like of which) he never observed with us…” (Sahih Muslim 1104)

From the above narration we may deduce that the salah that the companions performed as a group behind the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamwas Taraweeh, and when he departed to his room he began another salah (Tahajjud) whose length was far longer than any salah known to Anas (radi allahu anhu).

Imam Ibrahim Al Nakha’i (a Tabiee) reports that, “Those who prayed Tahajjud did so at the side of the Mosque, and the Imam would lead the people in paryer in the month of Ramadhan” (Musannaf Ibn Abi Saybah). This clearly defines that at the time of the Tabieen, Taraweeh and Tahajjud were considered to be separate prayers.

The Hadith of Aisha (radi allahu anha) that is used to support the argument of eight rakats itself contains evidence that the salah that is being referred to in the Hadith is Tahajjud and not Taraweeh. The Hadith mentions, “The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam would not pray more than eleven rakaats in Ramadhan or any other month…” this clearly indicates that this was with reference to Tahajjud because the Tahajjud prayer was compulsory on the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamevery day. Allah states in the Quran, “Stand up at night except a little. Half of it or a little less than that.” (Surah al Muzzammil: 2-3)

From the Hadith of Aisha (radi allahu anha) the following points can be deduced and are clearly defined in its text:

  1. The Hadith mentions that the Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallam would pray Tahajjud in Ramadhan and also in the other months.
  2. The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamprayed this salah by himself (not in congregation), and the Witr prayer also.
  3. The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamprayed this salah at home alone, not in the mosque in congregation.
  4. The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamafter praying this salah went to sleep and then got up to perform the Witr prayer. Witr wasn’t performed straight after the first salah.
  5. The Prophet sallallahu alahi wa sallamperformed the salah with four-rakaat units, not two.
  6. The word Taraweeh is the plural of tarweeha which means literally to rest (Lisan Al Arab). In the context of Taraweeh salah to rest after every four rakaats. For the Taraweeh prayer to be literally correct there would need to be at least three rest periods which is the minimum requirement in the Arabic language.

The Hadith of Aisha (radi allahu anha) and the above narrations clearly indicate that the claim that Taraweeh and Tahajjud are one and the same prayer cannot be justified. They are two separate prayers. The clear text of the Hadith of Aisha (radi allahu anha) contradicts every claim they make that this Hadith relates to Taraweeh prayer. It is clear as mentioned above that this Hadith relates to Tahajjud and not Taraweeh and the above prayer was not performed in two rakaat units, nor was it and Witr salah performed in congregation. Neither was the Witr salah performed straight after the first prayer which are requirements and practice for Taraweeh accepted by both followers of twenty or eight rakaaats of Taraweeh prayer.

Conclusion

It is clear from the above discussion that the truth of the matter is that there is consensus of all the scholars that Taraweeh is twenty rakaats and not eight. The evidence provided outweigh the Ahadith used to substantiate the claim of eight rakkats not only in terms of number but in terms of authenticity, applicability and acceptability. It is fitting that I conclude with a statement of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya who the ghair muqallideens regard highly and claim as their own:

It has been proven without doubt that Ubbay ibn Ka’b (radi allahu anhu) used to lead the Sahabaas, during Ramadhan, in twenty rakaats and 3 witr. Hence it is the opinion of most of the scholars that this is Sunnah, because Ubbay ibn Ka’b led twenty rakaats of prayer in the presence of the Muhajireen (the emigrant Sahabah from Makkah) and the Ansars (the helpers (Sahabah) of Madina) and not a single Sahabah repudiated it.” (Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya, 1/191)


Author: Mufti Sayeedur Rahman, Vice Chairman of Shariah Council Midlands