In the month of Ramadan, the Taraweeh prayer offered during the night is a very common practice among Muslims. It has a strong link to the holy month. Taraweeh commences after Isha and is mostly conducted in congregation by Imams around the world.
There is a lot of controversy on whether the Prophet prayed 8 rakats of Taraweeh, or 20. Most people prefer to pray 20, while some others pray 8.
But in reality, there is no set number of Rakats for Taraweeh. The Prophet Muhammed, upon being asked about night prayers, said that they are to be done two by two, and he did not specify any particular number.
Abu Dawood, Book 5, Hadith 92, Narrated by Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmaan
Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmaan asked ‘Aa’ishah “How did the Messenger of Allah pray during Ramadan?” She said: “He did not pray more than eleven rakats in Ramadan or at other times. He would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray three. I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, will you sleep before you pray Witr?’ He said, ‘O ‘Aa’ishah, my eyes sleep but my heart does not.’”
With regard to the words of the Prophet, “Pray as you have seen me praying”, this does not apply in absolute terms. But what is meant by the hadith is pray as you have seen me praying with regard to how to pray, not how many rakats, unless there is a text to state what the number is.
Whatever the case, a person should not be strict 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 rakats of following bid’ah, and they leave the mosque, thus missing out on the reward of which the Messenger of Allah said:
Tirmidhi, Book 8, Hadith 125, Narrated by Abu Dharr
Whoever stands (praying) with the Imam until he finished, then it is recorded for him that he prayed the whole night.
Some of them even sit down after completing ten rak’ahs, thus breaking up the rows of worshippers by sitting there, and sometimes they start talking and disturb the people who are praying.
After all, a person – being Muslim – must make it a point to always double check his facts and opinions by referring to the Hadith and turning to learned scholars before he puts it forward. Tiny misconceptions like these, are what lead to arguments between Muslim brothers and eventually to the division of the Ummah. Like the prophet said: “To ask is the cure to inability.” And so by asking scholars and researching on the facts, we will all be able to ‘cure’ our misconceptions.
By Aida Idrees