TARAAWEEH: 20 RAKAATS OR 8??? CLARIFIED!

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TARAAWEEH: 20 RAKAATS OR 8??? CLARIFIED!

Whilst Muslims across the globe eagerly anticipate the imminent arrival of the exalted month of Ramadhaan in order that they may enjoy a spiritually motivating journey in the quest to gain the pleasure of Allah Ta Aala , there are those who prepare to set course for an altogether different route.  A route which will spark the flames of controversy within the Muslim ranks.

South African Muslims are by no means strangers to controversy in this blessed month. This is due to the fact that only in the month of Ramadhaan, do we begin to realize just how many Muslims there are out there. For eleven months they remain like bears in hibernation, and suddenly adopt a ‘Ramadhaan Beard’, ‘Ramadhaan Dress code’, ‘Ramadhaan Code of conduct’, etc. These are the ever elusive ‘Ramadhaan Muslims’. Only in Ramadhaan do we become conscious of ‘Halaal’ & ‘Haraam’. Hence the circulation of the ‘haraam’ debacle

This is the opportune moment for those who are hell-bent on causing chaos in the Ummah! It is for this reason that we find a number of controversial issues surface mainly in the month of Ramadhaan.

This essay will (insha Allah) aim to shed light on a controversy which has wreaked havoc for Muslims in most of the Arab world, and the west as well. It is undoubtedly a controversy which has unsuspectingly crept into South Africa by covert means, and is destroying the very ambience of the month Ramadhaan. I refer to the matter pertaining to the ‘Night Prayer’ of Ramadhaan, Salaatut Taraaweeh!

So? What is the controversy?

For approximately 1420yrs, Mulsims have been praying their Taraaweeh Salaah with congregation in 20 Rakaats with utmost  certainty. Until now…a group of misguided Muslims who have, either a very shallow understanding of hadith, or are intentionally providing calculated misinformation to the Muslims by claiming that the Taraaweeh prayer is only 8 Rakaats.

The Taraaweeh prayer in the current format of 20 Rakaats has always been the Ijmaa’ (consensus) of the Ulama for centuries.

Prior to any form of rebuttal (which will come in the form of a series of objective questions), we must ensure that all readers are fully aware of the concept of Taraweeh as it has been practiced from the era of the righteously guided companions (radhiyallahu anhum ajma’een), till today.

If we are to conduct a word search for the word ‘Taraweeh’ from the blessed lips of Nabi Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the books of Hadith, we will unfortunately come up very short. The current institution of Taraaweeh was originally known as ‘Qiyaamul Layl’ (to stand in prayer at night).

Where did the word Taraaweeh originate from?
The word ‘taraaweeh‘ is the plural form derived from the word ‘tarweehah‘, which literally translates as a ‘break, interval, pause’ etc. Since the Taraaweeh prayer consisted of ‘breaks’ or short ‘Tarweehah’ in-between Rakaats, it came to be known as Salaatut Taraaweeh. The Taraaweeh salaah is Sunnat-e-Muakkadah and this is the consensus of the Jurists in Islam.

Did the Prophet (peace be upon him) read the Taraaweeh in congregation?
Narrated by ‘Urwa: That he was informed by ‘Aisha, “Allah’s Apostle went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the mosque 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 mosque was full with a large number of people. Allah’s Apostle came out and the people prayed behind him. On the fourth night the Mosque was overwhelmed with people and could not accommodate them, but the Prophet 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). “
(Sahih Bukhari, Chapter on the Night Prayer in Ramadhaan)

The above hadith incontrovertibly explains that the Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) did lead the companions in the night prayer in the month of Ramadhaan.

How many Rakaats did the Prophet ﷺ(sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) read?
There are numerous ahaadeeth which explain various opinions in relation to the number of rakaats read in the night prayer of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) There are two conflicting viewpoints which have now taken center stage:

1. Taraaweeh is 20 Rakaats as this has been the teaching for approximately 1420 years.
2. Taraaweeh was read as 8 Rakaats. This means that 20 Rakaats is a bid’ah.

Since the latter view is a more recent one, we will commence by analyzing its origin so that the reader may be able to fully grasp the subject.

View One: Taraaweeh as 8 Rakaats – True? or Falsified?
Those who aggressively market this opinion have forwarded two proofs from the books of hadith.

Proof 1 : The first proof (recorded in the Musnad Abu Ya’la & Tabraani) explains that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) recited in the month of Ramadhaan 11 rakaats (8 + 3 witr) at night.

Rebuttal : When we analyze the sanad (chain) of the above proof, we conclude that one of the narrators in this chain is Isa bin Jaariyah. The scholars who were masters in the subject of Rijaal such as Yahya bin Maeen have classified him as a weak narrator. Great muhaddithoon such as Imaam Nasai (Rahimahollah) have classified him as Matrook. Meaning that if they found him in the chain, they would abandon that narrative. On this basis, the above narration is weak.

Proof 2 : Taraaweeh is 8 Rakaats as this is evident in the most authentic book of hadith, Sahih Bukhari:

Narrated by Abu Salma bin ‘Abdur Rahman: I asked ‘Aisha, “How is the prayer of Allah’s Prophet during the month of Ramadan.” She said, “Allah’s Prophet never exceeded eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in other months; he used to offer four Rakat– do not ask me about their beauty and length, then four Rakat, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then three Rakat.” Aisha further said, “I said, ‘O Allah’s Prophet! Do you sleep before offering the Witr prayer?’ He replied, ‘O ‘Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart remains awake’!” (Sahih Bukhari)

Since those who quote the above hadith, do so with a bit of a swagger, we must insist on presenting a preliminary observation which unveils the shallow minded viewpoint for what it is…calculated misinformation!

Preliminary observation.
At least a century ago, a student of hadith could not take the narration he learned into the public domain, until he was educated on the various commands, the socio-historic background, wisdom, etc. regarding that particular narration. Fast forward to the modern age, and even a child has access to the Prophetic traditions at the click of a button. Whilst there is nothing wrong in providing access to the books of ahaadeeth, the detrimental effects of taking a hadith and practicing upon them without a solid grounding, will result in the exact same dilemma as we face now (the view of Taraaweeh being 8 rakaats).

We also see an increase in the number of people who walk around with their ‘translated‘ copies of Sahih Bukhari due to their lack of understanding the Arabic language. This causes a huge portion of the hadith, its socio-historic background, and command in the shariah to become literally ‘Lost in Translation’. Furthermore, we find the view regarding 8 rakaats to be spreading among the youth like a house on fire. This is because; the perpetrators responsible for the arousal of this controversy know that the youth of the modern age are always looking for upgrades. They are constantly upgrading their vehicles, mobiles, and latest gadgetry. Now, all of a sudden, when it comes to their religion, they want to downgrade? They are conditioned to take the ‘easy path’ of 8 rakaats, in the face of a mountainous journey of 20 rakaats. Being youth, they choose that which is easy, whilst still allowing them to feel some sort of ‘religious fulfillment’ in reciting 8 rakaats, and also giving them the ‘free time’ to pursue idle causes. We do know very well that an idle mind is the devils’ playground.

Rebuttal 2:  When the above proof is presented to the layman, he is immediately faced with the following questions.

1. If Sahih Bukhari explains that the Taraaweeh of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was 8 Rakaats, then why am I reading 20?
2. Why have our Ulama not told us this?
3. Have they intentionally hidden this information from us?

This is exactly the sort of designed responses that the people of mischief have planned.

The answer to this seemingly brilliant proof is actually quite a simple one. It lies within the words of Sayyidah Ayeshah (radhiyallahu anha). She stated:

‘Allah’s Prophet never exceeded eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in other months’

To the unsuspecting-shallow-minded-Muslim, the above statement is used to prove that the Prophet ﷺ (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) read 8 rakaats plus 3 witr. To the Islamically educated Muslim, the above statement is pivotal in disproving their stance. The fact that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) is described to have recited these 8 rakaats IN & OUT of Ramadhaan sparks us to inquire the following:

Does this mean that the Prophet ﷺ(peace be upon him)  read ‘Taraaweeh‘ even out of Ramadhaan? If so, why are we only reciting it in Ramadhaan? Remember, we clearly explained that the original word was not Taraaweeh, but ‘Qiyaamul Layal’ (to stand in prayer at night). So? Is there any such prayer which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam)ﷺ recited at night, both in and out of Ramadhaan? Yes! It is known as Tahajjud.

It is by no means a coincidence that above ‘so-called’ proof for 8 Rakaats Taraaweeh, is in fact NOT ABOUT TARAAWEEH AT ALL! It is about Salaatut Tahajjud.

Further proof which strengthens this stance is the undeniable fact that Imaam Bukhari (rahimahollah) himself placed the above quoted hadith in the chapter on Tahajjud.

We would further like to inquire from these people who make such claims to answer the following questions for us:

‘If you are so adamant that this hadith is proof of 8 rakaats Taraaweeh, and not Tahajjud, are you also reciting these 8 rakaats in the other 11 months like the Prophet ﷺ(? If not, then why are you only practicing upon the numerical aspect only? Is this not in a way, a form of misguidance by your own standard?

Furthermore, Imaam Bukhari (rahimahollah) was a muqallid (adherer) to the Muzh-hub of Imaam Shaafa’e (rahimahollah). In the Shaafa’ee Mazh-hub, Taraaweeh remains to this day as 20 Rakaats. Our next question to these people is, “Don’t you think that the man who collected this hadith (Imaam Bukhari) would have understood it better? Hence his placing of it in the subject of Tahajjud? If not, are you now saying that you possess a far superior understanding of this hadith, than the compiler himself?

Point of Interest: Based on the above hadith, they conclude that the current format of Taraaweeh is a Bid’ah (innovation). One of the first people to have made this unscholarly statement was a person known as Al-Hilli (1250-1325CE). He argued in his book ‘Minhaajul Kaaraamah’ that Taraaweeh was a Bid’ah. For those who are unaware, Al-Hilli was a very high ranking Shia scholar. As for those who understand the viewpoint of the Shias, suffice to say that this statement was just to throw dust in in the direction of Ameerul Mu’mineen, Sayyidona Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) who established the current format of 20 Rakaats Taraaweeh.

Proof for 20 Rakaats Taraaweeh
We have thus far established that the Noble Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did offer the Taraaweeh Salaah in the month of Ramadhaan. He (sallallahu alayhi was sallam) sometimes prayed individually and other times in Jama’ah (congregation). There are numerous narrations which prove that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did offer 20 Rakaats of Salaatut Taraaweeh.

Hadhrath Abdullah Ibn Abbas (radhiyallahu anhuma) states:
“During the month of Ramadhan, aside from the praying of wit’r the Beloved Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wa Sallam) would pray 20 rak’aats of Taraaweeh.”
Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybha – Hadith 7692
Imaam Bayhaqi – Sunan al-Kubra, Hadith 4391
Allaamah Ibn Hajr Asqalani – Fathu-hul Bari, Hadith 1908
Imaam Zhahabi – Meezaanul I’tidaal.
(hadith numbers will vary depending on publication)

The narrator, Hadhrath Abdullah ibn Abbas (radhiyallahu anhuma) is recognized as one of the foremost authorities on Islamic matters. So there is no discrepancy in relation to the sanad (chain) of the above mentioned narration. It is from here that the basis of the current format of Taraaweeh is established as 20 Rakaats. It also rubbishes the clichéd statement that Taraaweeh in the 20 Rakaat format is a Bid’ah (innovation). It is not an innovation, but a practice of the Noble Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam).

Taraaweeh in the era of the Khulafaah (radhiyallahu anhum ajma’een)
After the greatest calamity on the earth (the demise of the Noble Prophet peace be upon him), the Ummah was faced with many problems. The first Caliph, Sayyidona Abu Bakr As-Siddique (radhiyallahu ahnu) faced numerous problems. Many became Murtads (Apostates). Though his reign as Caliph was a short lived one, he focused his energy on the ‘bigger picture’, which was to bring these apostates to justice. In this era, Taraaweeh remaind as it was practiced during the lifetime of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). It was only during the reign of Sayyidona Umar (Radhiyallah anhu) that the current format of Taraawaeeh was instated.

“Narrated by Hadhrath Abu Hurayrah (Radhiyallahu anhu): Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, “Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) passed away and the people continued observing that (individually, not in congregation), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar’s Caliphate.” ‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Abdul Qari said, “I went out in the company of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque 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 remarked, ‘What an excellent Bid’ah (i.e. innovation in religion) 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.”  (Sahih Bukhari, Book of Salaatut Taraaweeh )

A few aspects emerge from the above mentioned narration.

  • The companions were reciting Taraaweeh. Some individually, and others in congregationSayyidona Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) felt that it was in his opinion better for the companions to be in unified on the matter of Taraaweeh as opposed to being divided. (somthing that the preachers of 8 rakaats seem hell-bent on achieving)A Bid’ah is not necessarily a one-sided affair. Sayyidona Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) displayed to the Ummah that if a practice is instated for the benefit of the Muslims, it may be regarded as a good innovation. This is also the view of Allaamah Ibn Hajr Asqalani (rahimahollah) under the commentary of the above hadith in his masterpiece, Fath-hul-Baari.Ibn Hajr further explains that the view of Sayyidona Umar (radhiyallhu anhu) was accepted by the jumhoor (overwhelming majority) of the companions. This means that some of the greatest companions who were still alive at the time did not oppose the establishment of Taraaweeh in congregation for the Ummah at large by Ameerul Mu’mineen Sayyidoan Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). For the newly  sprung mushroom type ideologies to now declare that the current format of Taraaweeh is incorrect, and a Bid’ah (innovation), is basically to state that the giants of that era were Bid’atees (innovators). (Ma’aazhallah)The reason why none of the giants among the sahaabas never objected, is because they were most likely also aware of the following hadith recorded in the Mustadhrak of Imaam Haakim who graded it sahih: The Prophet (peace be upon him said),
  • “…take hold of my Sunnah, and the Sunnah of the righteously guided Caliphs…”It must be noteDd that the hadith does not clarify the amount of rakaats that were established in during that era, though the evidence is highly in favor of the 20 Rakaats.

Hadrat Sa’ib ibn Yazid (radhiyallahu anhu) has stated that,
“We, (the Companions of the Beloved Prophet peace be upon him) used to pray twenty rakaats Taraaweeh prayer in the era of the Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab.” (Sunan al-Bayhaqi)

Hadrat Yazid ibn Ruman (radhiyallahu anhu) reports that,
 “…during the time of Hadhrat ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, people used to pray 23 Rak’ahs during Ramadhan (20 rak’ahs for Taraaweeh prayer and 3 rak’ats for witr.)” (Muwatta Imam Malik)

Imam Badr al-Din Aini (rahimahollah) states in his renowned commentary on Sahih Bukhari entitled, “Umdat al-Qari”:
‘Allama ibn ‘Abd al-Barr has states that it is the ruling of the majority of the scholars that taraaweeh is twenty Rakaats. The scholars and jurists of Kufa, Imam Ash-Shaafa’i and the majority of the Fuqaha (Jurists) have stated this, and this is the sound opinion as transmitted from Hadhrat Ubayy ibn Ka’b that no companion had a difference of opinion in it. (‘Umdatul Qari)

Imam Tirmidhi states: The majority of the scholars practice which has been transmitted from Hadrat ‘Umar Faruq, Hadrat ‘Ali and the other companions that Taraaweeh is twenty rakaats. Imam Sufiyan al-Thawri, Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak and Imam aAsh-Shafa’i have stated the same (that Taraaweeh is twenty rakaats). Imam Shafa’i has stated that we have found the residents of our city Makkatul Mukarramah performing twenty rakaats for the Tarawih prayer. (Tirmidhi – Chapter on worshipping the nights of Ramadhan )

“Umar was the first to set the example of the night prayer of Ramadhaan, the Taraaweeh, and gathered people for it, and instructed dfferent regions (of the Muslim empire) regarding it. this was during the month of Ramadhaan of the year 14 Hijri. He appointed for the people, reciters of the Qur’an who led the Taraaweeh prayer for men and women.”
(Tabqaat ibn Sa’d, Taareekhul Khulafa by Imaam Jalaaluddin Suyuti, Umdatul Qari by Allaamah Badruddin Ayni rahimahomollah)

The Taraaweeh remained in the format instated by Sayyidona Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) throughout the Khilaafah of Sayyidona Uthmaan and Sayyidona Ali (radhiyallahu anhuma) & the generations to follow. It has only been in recent history that a minority of misguided people whose aim to cause confusion and dispute among the Ummah, have begun to preach a different method.

Conclusion: The above controversy which continues to cause havoc amongst Muslims is the result of taking a hadith in isolation. People are now preaching that we should abandon the four schools of fiqh (Hanafi, Shaafaee, Maaliki, Humbali) because we are told to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is yet again, calculated misinformation to cause the Ummah to become divided. The four schools of Fiqh have based their rulings primarily on the Qur’an and Sunnah. For us to now leave their rulings and compose our own, is to say that we have a better understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah than them! It is evident that even these misguided people don’t know the difference between Tahajjud and Taraaweeh, and they believe that they are superior to our predecessors who were luminaries that brightened the horizons of guidance for the future generations. Muslims should hold steadfast to the Four Schools of Fiqh as leaving the majority is the first step toward misguidance.

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