Taraweeh (or Tarawih) vs Tahajjud: Ending the debate
Until recently, I did not know that the matter of Taraweeh whether it is a bidat (innovation) or a valid form of worship is an ongoing intellectual war between different sects and scholars of Islam around the world. I sort of stumbled into the matter when I was trying to decide if I should offer Tahajjud prayer during the month of Ramadan as an extra effort to earn more rewards and closeness to Allah.
I have read almost a dozen of articles online to see if I find a solution to this problem. But with my amazement what I have found is that most of the authors of the articles on the subject were unclear and left some vague answers making the matter even worse and confusing. Therefore, I have dared to dig into this problem with an intention to find an acceptable and logical answer entirely based on sound authentic hadiths only.
For simplicity sake, I will use question and answer (Q&A) method addressing each issues as logically as possible so that the reader clearly understand the arguments and references presented here. To allow a quick check or lookup of the hadiths, I have used an online resource which is only a click away.
Q-1. Why we do not find the word “Taraweeh” anywhere in the original Islamic documents (i.e, the Qur’an and Sunnah)?
A-1. The prayer is referred to as the “Night Prayer” (Qiam-ul-layl) in the Qur’an and Sunnah, which basically is the Tahajjud prayer. A prayer was once publicly offered by our Prophet (s) in one Ramadan which was actually the Tahajjud prayer that he normally offered at home. One hadith indicates that he offered the prayer in a separate small room while another hadith says that room was a masjid. The name Taraweeh was invented by the followers when the Prophet (s) offered the prayer in public for few nights. He did not intend to make it a formal prayer and did not invite people to join him. It was the curious group of followers who stood behind him and followed him in that Tahajjud prayer without knowing what prayer he was offering and him knowing about it. When the Prophet (s) realized the matter he stopped offering the prayer publicly.
Narrated Zaid bin Thabit: Allah's Apostle made a small room in the month of Ramadan (Sa'id said, "I think that Zaid bin Thabit said that it was made of a mat") and he prayed there for a few nights, and so some of his companions prayed behind him. When he came to know about it, he kept on sitting. In the morning, he went out to them and said, "I have seen and understood what you did. You should pray in your houses, for the best prayer of a person is that which he prays in his house except the compulsory prayers." (Bukhari, Book #11, Hadith #698)
The following hadiths does not mention that this incident happened in the month of Ramadan, but considering the similarity of it with the above hadith we are assuming it happened in Ramadan -
Narrated 'Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers: One night Allah's Apostle offered the prayer in the Mosque and the people followed him. The next night he also offered the prayer and too many people gathered. On the third and the fourth nights more people gathered, but Allah's Apostle did not come out to them. In the morning he said, "I saw what you were doing and nothing but the fear that it (i.e. the prayer) might be enjoined on you, stopped me from coming to you." And that happened in the month of Ramadan. (Bukhari, Book #21, Hadith #229)
Narrated Aisha: Once in the middle of the night Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out and prayed in the mosque and some men prayed with him. The next morning the people spoke about it and so more people gathered and prayed with him (in the second night). They circulated the news in the morning, and so, on the third night the number of people increased greatly. Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) came out and they prayed behind him. On the fourth night the mosque was overwhelmed by the people till it could not accommodate them. Allah's Apostle came out only for the Fajr prayer and when he finished the prayer, he faced the people and recited "Tashah-hud" (I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is His Apostle), and then said, "Amma ba'du. Verily your presence (in the mosque at night) was not hidden from me, but I was afraid that this prayer (Prayer of tahajjud) might be made compulsory and you might not be able to carry it out." (Bukhari, Book #13, Hadith #46)
Q-2. Then is Taraweeh actually a Tahajjud prayer?
A-2. Yes, it is. In the month of Ramadan, Tahajjud is called Taraweeh. We can be certain about this from the following hadith that confirms the unchanged nature of the prayer of the Prophet (s) throughout the year –
Narrated Abu Salma bin 'Abdur Rahman: I asked 'Aisha, "How is the prayer of Allah's Apostle during the month of Ramadan." She said, "Allah's Apostle 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 Apostle! Do you sleep before offering the Witr prayer?' He replied, 'O 'Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart remains awake'!" (Bukhari, Book #21, Hadith #248)
Narrated Abu Salama bin 'Abdur Rahman: that he asked 'Aisha "How was the prayer of Allah's Apostle in Ramadan?" She replied, "He did not pray more than eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in any other month. He used to pray four Rakat ---- let alone their beauty and length----and then he would pray four ----let alone their beauty and length ----and then he would pray three Rakat (Witr)." She added, "I asked, 'O Allah's Apostle! Do you sleep before praying the Witr?' He replied, 'O 'Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep." (Bukhari, Book #32, Hadith #230)
Q-3. Is Witr (or Beter) part of Tahajjud?
A-3. The witr prayer that we offer at the end of Isha prayer is actually a part of the Tahajjud prayer. Witr prayer was mandated on ummah by the Prophet (s) himself during his time. Practice then was to offer one rakat of witr after Isha. Later many adopted three rakat, which was also an occasional practice of the Prophet (s). The following hadith confirms it –
Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar : The Prophet said, "Night prayer is offered as two Rakat followed by two Rakat and so on, and if you want to finish it, pray only one Raka which will be witr for all the previous Rakat." Al-Qasim said, "Since we attained the age of puberty we have seen some people offering a three-Rakat prayer as witr and all that is permissible. I hope there will be no harm in it." (Bukhari, Book #16, Hadith #107)
Although the Prophet (s) advocated for mostly one rakat of witr, but he himself used to offer three rakats most of the time making the total rakat eleven (meaning, eight rakat of Tahajjud and three rakats of witr), not nine; as we have seen in the hadiths quoted in answer two above. In some other hadith we find that our Prophet (s) even occasionally offered odd numbers of 5, 7 and even 9 rakats of witr.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah has ninety-nine Names, i.e., one hundred minus one, and whoever believes in their meanings and acts accordingly, will enter Paradise; and Allah is witr (one) and loves 'the witr' (i.e., odd numbers). (Bukhari, Book #75, Hadith #419)
The difference between a Maghrib prayer and a three rakat witr prayer is that there is no tashahhud after the 2nd rakat and the prayer continues to the 3rd rakat with recitation of dua Qunut before ruku. He always offered the Sunnah or nafl prayers at home and only the fard prayers were offered at the masjid in congregation. There are plenty of hadiths reflecting this matter.
Q-4. What is a Tahajjud prayer?
A-4. We can call this the sixth compulsory prayer as mentioned in the Qur’an as an “additional” prayer, but made this prayer compulsory for the Prophet (s) only –
And pray in the small watches of the morning: (it would be) an additional prayer (or spiritual profit) for thee: soon will thy Lord raise thee to a Station of Praise and Glory! (Al-Isra, Chapter #17, Verse #79)
Yet, he missed it few times –
Narrated Masruq: I asked 'Aisha "What deed was the most beloved to the Prophet?" She said, "The regular constant one." I said, "At what time did he use to get up at night (for the tahajjud night prayer)?' She said, "He used to get up on hearing (the crowing of) the cock (the last third of the night)." (Bukhari, Book #76, Hadith #468)
Many among the followers of the Prophet (s) also used to offer this prayer after and before fajr time ending it with the witr prayer of one or three rakats. Those who did not offer this prayer regularly were allowed to offer the witr prayer after the isha prayer, which is basically a part of thahjjud prayer; thus making it indirectly compulsory on the ummah. Technically, we offer six compulsory or fard prayers, sixth one being the witr prayer that we offer at the end of isha prayer as a concluding prayer for the day.
Narrated Ibn Abu Mulaika: Muawiya offered one Rak'a witr prayer after the 'Isha prayer, and at that time a freed slave of Ibn 'Abbas was present. He (i.e. the slave) went to Ibn 'Abbas (and told him that Muawiya offered one Rak'a witr prayer). Ibn Abbas said, "Leave him, for he was in the company of Allah's Apostle." (Bukhari, Book #57, Hadith #108)
Q-5. Then how did the Taraweeh prayer get started?
A-5. Taraweeh prayer got started accidentally when our Prophet (s) offered the Tahajjud prayer publicly. Then he stopped it fearing that the prayer may become an obligation for the ummah. The hadith that relates to this is matter are quoted in answer one above.
Another hadith that refers to this prayer is -
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said: "Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be forgiven." (Bukhari, Book #2, Hadith #36)
By “establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan” the Prophet (s) is indicating to the Tahajjud prayer, which is later known as Taraweeh prayer. During Ramadan, Tahajjud prayer is substituted as Tawareeh prayer, which is essentially the same prayer offered in the same manner without any change as we have seen in the hadith quoted in answer two.
It was during the time of Umar bin Al-Khattab’s (ra) caliphate this prayer was allowed to offer in an organized manner as we find today. The following hadith reveals some crucial information -
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle 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 died and the people continued observing that (i.e. Nawafil offered 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 Ubai 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'a (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." (Bukhari, Book #32, Hadith #227)
Points to note here is –
In my readings of many different articles on this subject I have found some authors defending Umar (ra) for this innovation by trying to change the platform from bidat to revival of a Sunnah.
Let’s face the facts again; the additional prayer during Ramadan (i.e., Tahajud) was in practice at the individual level; therefore, Umar (ra) did not revive any lost Sunnah. What he basically did is formalized the prayer in an organized manner to avoid possible chaos that could have arisen.
As a “rightly guided caliph” and as a close companion of the Prophet (s) what he did is an act of a true and able leadership to keep the peace and unity of ummah after the problems and turmoil faced by the earlier caliph Abu Bakar (ra). Besides, Islam permits such acts as we find in the following hadith -
Narrated Ibn Abi Mulaika: Somebody said to Ibn 'Abbas, "Can you speak to the chief of the believers Muwaiya, as he does not pray except one Rak'a as witr?" Ibn 'Abbas replied, "He is a Faqih (i.e. a learned man who can give religious verdicts)." (Bukahri, Book #57, Hadith #109)
On the other hand, Umar (ra) was one of those companions who have been declared by the Prophet (s) who are guaranteed paradise –
Narrated Jabir: The Prophet, said, "I entered paradise and saw a palace and asked whose palace is this? They (the Angels) said, "This palace belongs to 'umar bin Al-Khattab.' I intended to enter it, and nothing stopped me except my knowledge about your sense of Ghira (self-respect (O umar)." 'umar said, "O Allah's Apostle! Let my father and mother be sacrificed for you! O Allah's Prophet! How dare I think of my Ghira (self-respect) being offended by you?" (Bukhari, Book #62, Hadith #153)
Then how can such a person allow bidat which is prohibited in Islam and still be in paradise? Well, technically he did not innovate anything rather allowed expansion of a short demonstration shown by the Prophet (s) in those days of publicly offering of Tahajjud in a masjid. Taraweeh / Tahajjud is still an optional (i.e., nafl, not Sunnah) prayer in Ramadan but of high importance.
Q-6. Why do we offer Taraweeh which is a nafl prayer in congregation?
A-6. Since this practice was not there during the time of the Prophet (s) no one asked this question to him. But logically speaking, this particular Taraweeh (which is basically a Tahajjud prayer) is in the rank of the fard prayer as this prayer was fard on the Prophet (s) that he regularly offered. Probably for that reason he (s) did not object to the congregation when other followed him. But he feared that this prayer may become the sixth obligatory prayer if he continued. From that point of view, although the prayer is nafl to us today, it was a fard (obligatory) prayer for the Prophet (s). Hence, congregation was permitted. Besides, Prophet (s) did not disprove of it when others stood behind him to offer the prayer in congregation.
Q-7. Why do we offer twenty rakats instead of original eleven rakat including witr?
A.7. I could not find any hadith that talks about the number of rakats of Taraweeh prayer. It was a common practice to offer the prayer in the manner the Prophet (s) did, which is eleven rakat. Chances are the same number of rakats was offered at the formal prayer during the time of Umar (ra). Since one of the primary objectives today for this particular fashion of offering the prayer is to recite the entire Qur’an within the month of Ramadan, it is possible that the organizers themselves increased the rakats up to twenty for the convenience of tracking the recitation of the Qur’an in reference to the prayer. In many regions, there is a practice of completing the recitation of the Qur’an in Taraweeh prayer on the 27th Ramadan. There are some regions where this prayer is offered in only eleven rakats in congregation. Fortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for Taraweeh, which allows flexibility that a group needs to fulfill their targets. In some region 30 to 36 rakats are also offered in taraweeh! But following the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) by offering eight rakats followed by three rakat of witr is recommended and should be desirable.
Q-8. Why do we recite the Qur’an in Taraweeh prayer calling it a Khatam Taraweeh?
A-8. Since the Holy Qur’an was revealed in the month of Ramadan people attempts to read this book more in this month as the rewards are multiplied during this month. Originally, the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (s) in audible manner by Angel Gabriel (a) which the Prophet (s) used to memorize instantly and recite to others for their memorization. Every Ramadan our Prophet (s) used to revise and recite the entire Qur’an with Gabriel (a):
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The Prophet was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel visited him, and Gabriel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur'an to Gabriel, and when Gabriel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast wind (which causes rain and welfare). (Bukhari, Book #31, Hadith #126)
Hence, it is a Sunnah to recite the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan. The Qur’an survived through memorization for sometime until it was written down during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra). Even today we find hafiz who memorizes the entire Qur’an. Arabic speaking people understands what is being recited; but the non-Arabic is speaking people just listens to it only to qualify for the rewards for listening. But Muslims are required to learn the Arabic language so that they could understand what is recited:
O you who believe! Approach not As-Salat (the prayer) when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter, nor when you are in a state of Janaba ,(i.e. in a state of sexual impurity and have not yet taken a bath) except when travelling on the road (without enough water, or just passing through a mosque), till you wash your whole body. And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes after answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (by sexual relations) and you find no water, perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces and hands (Tayammum) . Truly, Allah is Ever Oft-Pardoning, Oft-Forgiving. ( سورة النساء , An-Nisa, Chapter #4, Verse #43)
Satan has done a marvellous job in succeeding to isolate the non-Arab Muslims away from the Arabic language; as a result the non-Arab Muslims no longer understands the words of Allah when the Qur’an is recited to them. I find this fact quite facinating when I come to think of the matter how come the Muslims have been tricked to such a silly arrangement/settlement with which they are so comfortable? Just imagine being able to read the English alphabets yet unable to understand what is beign read!
It is of no use if we do not understand what we are uttering no matter which prayer it is – regular or taraweeh. Besides, our Prophet (s) revised and recited the Qur’an as a separate worship session and never completed the Qur’an in prayer as it is done in Khatam Tawaweeh. In an attempt to complete the Qur’an in an anticipated time frame, the Imams recite the verses extremely fast, which are not recommended by Allah:
Hasty recitation of the Qur’an could change words, thus the meanings. Therefore, observing this practice is an innovation (bidat). The risk of following bidats is that the act of worship would not be accepted by Allah if it does not conform to the teachings of the Prophet (s), which is known as Sunnah:
Jabir b. Abdullah said: When Allah's Messenger (may peace he upon him) delivered the sermon, his eyes became red, his voice rose. and his anger increased so that he was like one giving a warning against the enemy and saying:" The enemy has made a morning attack on you and in the evening too." He would also say:" The last Hour and I have been sent like these two." and he would join his forefinger and middle finger; and would further say:" The best of the speech is embodied in the Book of Allah, and the beet of the guidance is the guidance given by Muhammad. And the most evil affairs are their innovations; and every innovation is error." He would further say:, I am more dear to a Muslim even than his self; and he who left behind property that is for his family and he who dies under debt or leaves children (in helplessness). The responsibility (of paying his debt and bringing up his children) lies on me." (Muslim, Book #004, Hadith #1885)
Insisting on bidats and continuing on a bidat even after knowing that it is an error is an act of betrayal of Sunnah. Hence, one would be considered a khawarij or kharizi, meaning those who follow worng innovated ways in the name of Islam. Our Prophet (s) did prophecy about emergence of such a group:
Narrated Yusair bin 'Amr: I asked Sahl bin Hunaif, "Did you hear the Prophet saying anything about Al-Khawarij?" He said, "I heard him saying while pointing his hand towards Iraq. "There will appear in it (i.e, Iraq) some people who will recite the Quran but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game's body.' "(Bukhari, Book #84, Hadith #68)
Fulfilling the prediction, it is interesting to note that the khawarij group first appeared during the time of Ali (ra)’s caliphate centered at Kufa, Iraq, and he had to crush them by force and eventually was killed by one of them. Unfortunately, the matter did not end there. We still have khawarij’s among us today who follows their own whims and desires customizing the religion in their own favored way as per their liking:
Have you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم) seen him who has taken as his ilah (god) his own vain desire? Would you then be a Wakil (a disposer of his affairs or a watcher) over him? ( سورة الفرقان , Al-Furqan, Chapter #25, Verse #43)
So be careful of the company of people you keep! If they are not following the Qur’an and Sunnah as guidance, then they are most probably khawarijis.
And thus have We sent it (the Qur'an) down to be a judgement of authority in Arabic. Were you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم) to follow their (vain) desires after the knowledge which has come to you, then you will not have any Wali (protector) or Waq (defender) against Allah. ( سورة الرعد , Ar-Rad, Chapter #13, Verse #37)
Q-9. What is the best practice?
A-9. If one care for collecting more rewards and willing to take some trouble for it could follow the innovated model (i.e., offering the prayer in congregation without Khatme Qur’an as organized by Umar-al-Khattab). And those who prefer the way Prophet (s) offered the prayer could do it that way. Nafl prayers carry more reward and benefits if and when offered at home. See the hadith Bukhari, Book #11, Hadith #698 quoted above.
Q-10. Can we still offer Tahajjud even after offering Taraweeh?
A-10. Taraweeh means rest or ease. The prayer is offered in two rakats breaks which replace the Tahajjud. In Ramadan, Tahajjud become Taraweeh. If one prays additional Tahajjud after will add to his or her rakats of Taraweeh qualifying for more rewards. But it is better to follow the foot steps of the Prophet (s), because Allah would only accept worships that are done as per the teachings of the Prophet (s).
Apart from fasting in Ramadan, another big challenge for the Muslim worshippers is to find the Night of Power (Lailat ul Qadr) – the night when the revelation of the Qur’an began. The actual date and time of this night has been intentionally kept a secret by making the Prophet (s) forget the information –
Narrated Abu Salama bin 'Abdur-Rahman: I asked Abu Said Al-Khudri, "Did you hear Allah's Apostle talking about the Night of Qadr?" He replied in the affirmative and said, "Once we were in Itikaf with Allah's Apostle in the middle ten days of (Ramadan) and we came out of it in the morning of the twentieth, and Allah's Apostle- delivered a sermon on the 20th (of Ramadan) and said, 'I was informed (of the date) of the Night of Qadr (in my dream) but had forgotten it. So, look for it in the odd nights of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan. I saw myself prostrating in mud and water on that night (as a sign of the Night of Qadr). So, whoever had been in Itikaf with Allah's Apostle should return for it.' The people returned to the mosque (for Itikaf). There was no trace of clouds in the sky. But all of a sudden a cloud came and it rained. Then the prayer was established (they stood for the prayer) and Allah's Apostle prostrated in mud and water and I saw mud over the forehead and the nose of the Prophet. (Bukhari, Book #33, Hadith #252)
However, some companions dreamt of the night to be on the 27th of Ramadan –
Narrated Nafi: Ibn 'Umar said, "In the life-time of the Prophet I dreamt that a piece of silk cloth was in my hand and it flew with me to whichever part of Paradise I wanted. I also saw as if two persons (i.e. angels) came to me and wanted to take me to Hell. Then an angel met us and told me not to be afraid. He then told them to leave me. Hafsa narrated one of my dreams to the Prophet and the Prophet said, "Abdullah is a good man. Would that he offer the night prayer (Tahajjud)!" So after that day 'Abdullah (bin 'Umar) started offering Tahajjud. The companions of the Prophet (p.b.u.h) used to tell him their dreams that (Laila-tul-Qadr) was on the 27th of the month of Ramadan. The Prophet said, "I see that your dreams agree on the last ten nights of Ramadan and so whoever is in search of it should seek it in the last ten nights of Ramadan." (Bukhari, Book #21, Hadith #255)
As a result, many focus more on the 27th Ramadan considering this night to be the night of Qadr though it has not been confirmed by the Prohet (s). All devout and pious Muslims look for it in the last ten days of the month thus reducing any chance of missing it.
Narrated Aisha: With the start of the last ten days of Ramadan, the Prophet used to tighten his waist belt (i.e. work hard) and used to pray all the night, and used to keep his family awake for the prayers. (Bukhari, Book #32, Hadith #241)
Some more hadiths –
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Whoever fasted the month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith (i.e. belief) and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his past sins will be forgiven, and whoever stood for the prayers in the night of Qadr out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven." (Bukhari, Book #32, Hadith #231)
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven; and whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven." (Bukhari, Book #31, Hadith #125)
I kept my research findings within Bukhari and Muslim sharif only to avoid any possibility of backlashes from the reader. If the reader disagrees with any of my views I would request him or her to produce the proof (Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #111) with the arguments to allow me to cross-check the information before rectifying myself and this paper if needed.