Number of Rak’ats in Tarawih: A Detailed Analysis

[By Maulana Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera]

FOR ABOUT twelve hundred and fifty years, until the 20th century, there was little controversy surrounding the issue of how many rak’ats are to be performed for tarawih. There was a general consensus among Muslim scholars that tarawih is no less than twenty rak’ats. Until recently there was also no mention of any masjid in which less than twenty rak’ats were performed or of any scholar holding such a view. It has only been in the last hundred years that some people have began insisting that the tarawih prayer consists of only eight rak’ats. The practice of the Companions [sahaaba], Followers [tabi’in] and other scholars (rahmatullah alayhim) who proceeded them has always been of performing twenty rak’ats.

A consensus was reached [ijma’]  was reached among the Companions at the time of the leader of the Faithful [Amir al-Mu’minin] ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu) that tarawih was twenty rak’ats. He had appointed Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu) to lead the people in twenty rak’ats, as is understood from authentic report. He was not met with any refutation or argument concerning this agreement; neither from the Companions who had performed tarawih with the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), nor from any of the wives of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). If it had been a practice he had innovated himself, it would have  most certainly been rejected and refuted by the Companions and household of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). This chapter discusses the issue in detail, and establishes that the correct number of rak’ats for tarawih is indeed twenty.

OPINIONS OF THE SCHOLARS

Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Ahmad (rahmatullah alayhim) are unanimous that twenty rak’ats are to be performed for tarawih during Ramadan. There are different opinions recorded from Imam Malik: One states states twenty rak’ats; another is of thirty-six rak-ats, about which Imam Malik said, “This is our former opinion;” and a third view is of thirty-eight rak’ats. There is also an opinion which states  forty-one rak’ats (Bidayat al-Mujtahid 1:120). ‘Allama ‘Ayni has mentioned the second view of thirty-six rak’ats to be Imam Malik’s more popular opinion.

What becomes clear at this point is that none of the four prominent imam’s held a view of tarawih being less than twenty rak’ats. Twenty rak’ats. Twenty is the minimum number mentioned, and the reason for Imam Malik’s view of thirty-six rak’ats is that it was the practice of the people of Mallah to perform tawaaf [circumambulation] of the Ka’bah after every four rak’ats of tarawih. During the pause between each four rak’ats of tarawih, the people of the illuminated city of Madinah would observe an extra four rak’ats of prayer in place of the tawaf. [see al-Mughni 2:167]

Therefore, since tarawih was performed as twenty rak’ats, consisting of five sets of four rak’ats (each set called a “tarwiha”), the people of Madinah would perform an extra four rak’ats after every tarawiha, bringing the total number of extra rak’ats to sixteen. Sixteen extra rak’ats plus the twenty rak’ats of tarawih make thirty-six rak’ats. Hence, the actual number of rak’ats of tarawih was twenty even according to Imam Malik.

Tarawih During the First Generations

For centuries, ever since tarawih came to be observed in congregation, no less than twenty rak’ats were performed by the Muslims throughout the Islamic world. Nafi’ a prominent tabi’i states, “I never found any one performing less than thirty-nine rak’ats (three of which were witr).” Nafi’ remained in Madinah for most of his life and passed away in 117 A.H (Fath al-Bari 4:254). At that time, the number of rak’ats observed for tarawih in Madinah were thirty-six (twenty rak’ats tarawih and sixteen supererogatory [nafl] rak’ats).

Thereafter, Imam Shafi’i states, “I observed the people performing thirty-nine rak’ats in Madinah [which include three witr], and twenty-three rak’ats in Makkah.” Imam Shafi’i was born in 150 A.H and passed away in 204 A.H. Hence, this report accounts fpr the second century of Islam. Furthermore, Ibn ‘Abd al Barr states, “Twenty rak’ats was the opinion followed by the majority of scholars, including those of Kufa, Imam Shafi’i and most other jurists,” This specifies that, throughtout the earlier period of Islam, the minimum number of rak’ats performed in tarawih was twenty.

Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161A.H) and Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 150 A.H) of Kufa both held the opinion of twenty rak’ats. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal of Baghdad (d. 235 A.H) held the same opinion as did Dawud al-Zahiri (d. 270 A.H). ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (d. 181A.H), one of the prominent scholars of Khurasan, also held the view of twenty rak’ats (Bidayat al-Mujtahid 1:120)

From the above, one can comfortably conclude that the predominant view of the scholars from Makkah to Khurasan and beyond was of tarawih being twenty rak’ats. There ia not a single opinion of eight rak’ats to be found during this extensive period, neither from the great imam’s nor from any other jurists.

The mass of people who follow the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali schools of thought, and who constitute the majority of the Umma, have until today adopted the view of twenty rak’ats are performed in congregation for tarawih until today. It was not until aproximately a century and a half ago, that the first arguments were made, after the consensus reached by ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu); claiming that tarawih was only eight rak’ats and not twenty.

Imam Tirmidhi, well-known for recording in his Sunan the various opinions held by different scholars in jurisprudential [fiqhi]  issues, does not mention so much as even a weak opinion of tarawih being eight rak’ats when discussing the issue. If there had been an opinion of eight rak’ats concurrent among the earlier scholars, he would not have failed to mention it. [see: Sunan al-Tirmidhi 1:166]

ABSENCE OF AUTHENTIC NARRATIONS CONCERNING THE NUMBER OF RAK’ATS IN TARAWIH

Another point to be taken into consideration in this issue is that many scholars state that there are no authentic [sahih] and direct [marfu’] chains if narration (from the Messenger sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) mentioned the exact number of rak’ats performed by him in tarawih.

1. Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

Whoever assumes that there is a fixed number of rak’ats reported from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) concerning tarawih, and does not accept any greater or lesser number, has erred (Majmu’ al-fatawa 46, Mirqat al-mafatih 3:381)

2. ‘Allama Subki writes:

Let it be known that it has not been narrated as to how many rak’ats the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed during those nights [in congregation], whether they were twenty or less. (Tuhfatul al-akhyar 116).

3. ‘Allama Suyuti says,

The scholars have differed on the number of rak’ats [in tarawih] . If it [the number] had been estrablished through the practice of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), they would not have differed [regarding it]. (al-Masabih 42)

4. ‘Allama Shawkani writes:

What has been understood from the hadiths in this chapter is the validity of the nightly prayers of Ramadan, and that they can be performed either in congregation or individually . However, to confine the prayer known as tarawih to a stipulated number of rak’ats…Is not understood from the Sunna. [Nayl al-awtar 3:53]

5. Mawlana Wahid al-Zaman states:

There is no fixed number [of rak’ats] for the prayer in the nights of Ramadan i.e Tarawih (Nazl al-abrar 1:126).

The scholarly statements mentioned above clearly establish that there are no authentic narrations stating that Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed a fixed number of rak’ats for tarawih. Hence, this strikes down the claim that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) only eight rak’ats and that to perform anything besides eight is a “reprehensible innovation”[bid’ah], as claimed by some.

There are however a handful of weak reports which infom us of the number of rak’ats performed by the Messenger in tarawih. For instance, there is a narration of Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) which states that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed twenty rak’ats. Although the hadith scholars have classified this narration to be weak, it could still be used as evidence, because it is supported by the consensus of Companions  and the practice of the whole Umma, generation after generation, for more than twelve hundred years.

Other weak reports from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) on this issue that are not substiantially supported by the practice and statements of the pious predecessors, will be rejected. One must understand though that even if the narration of Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) is rejected, the scholarly consensus [‘Ijma] reached by ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) – which established that tarawih was twenty rak’ats– would be sufficient evidence to prove that tarawih is indeed twenty rak’ats.

The reason why there is no authentic and direct reports from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) concerning the numberof rak’ats in tarawih, is that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed the prayer in congregation for a few days only, after which he performed tarawih in the confines of his home. Hence, many of the Companions did not observe him performing the prayer. Thereafter, the prayer continued to be performed individually or in small groups until the time of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) , when he appointed an imam to lead everyone in twenty rak’ats. Thus, it came to be performed as twenty rak’ats in a large congregation. The few Companions fortunate enough to have observed it with Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in congregation did not voice any objection to the decision of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). If the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had performed more or less than twenty rak’ats on any of the nights during Ramadan, these Companions would surely have refuted ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) decision for establishing tarawih as twenty rak’ats.

THE HADITHS ON THIS ISSUE

Since it has been established that there are no authenticated hadiths from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) regarding the number of rak’ats in tarawih, all that remains in terms of proof for tarawih being twenty rak’ats is the agreement of scholars with ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) decision: for once this is established, the Ummah must follow it wholeheartedly as it is incumbent on Muslims to follow the rulings of the Companions (radhiyallahu anhuma).

1. ‘Irbad ibn Sariya (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates [that the Messenger sallallaahu alayhi wasallam said]:

Keep to my Sunnah and the Sunna of the rightly guided Caliphs who followed the right way [al-Khulafa’ al raashidin al-mahdiyyin]. Hold fast to it, and cleave onto it with your teeth [Sunan Abi Dawud 2:287, al-Tirmidhi 2:97, Ibn Maja 5]

First the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) very strongly instructed, “keep to my sunna and the sunna of the guided Caliphs who will follow the right way.” This means that the rightly guided Caliphs must also be followed in their rulings, just as the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) is to be followed. ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu), being the second rightly guided Caliph, is the one who put forth the verdict that tarawih was to be performed as twenty rak’ats, which the Companions unanimously agreed upon. Due to the above hadith, his decisions will have to be accepted just as if it had come from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) himself.

Second, it should also be remembered that the amount of rak’ats stipulated by ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) could have only been acquired from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) himself. This is obviously assumed because the number of rak’ats for any prayer cannot be determined through one’s own preference, but rather must be set by Allah Ta’ala through his Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). For ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) to have ruled on this matter and not have received any objections from the Companions regarding it, indicates that the number of rak’ats performed by the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in tarawih was twenty. Ibn ‘Abbas’s (radhiyallahu anhu) narration (mentioned earlier) confirms that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed twenty rak’ats.

‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) determined the number of rak’ats of tarawih to be twenty and appointed Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radhoyallahu anhu) to lead the people in congregation. This then remained the practice of the Muslim Ummah throughout the caliphate of ‘Uthman and ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhuma), and then on and on for twelve hundred years. Hence, it will be necessary to follow suit. Some of the following hadiths mention this in more detail.

2. ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn ‘Abd al-Qari relates:

One night during Ramadan, he went out to the masjid with ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu). People were scattered around in groups. One person was praying alone, whereas another was leading a group of people in prayer ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) remarked, “if I could have them all congregate behind one imam it would be better.” He then made a firm commitment to do so and had them all pray behind Ubay ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu)

‘Abd al-Rahman  states that he went out with him again on another night and found the people congregated behind their imam. Upon seeing this, ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) remarked, “How great an innovation this is” [ni’matal-bid’atuhadhihi, i.e a practice that has been revived]” (Sahih al-Bukhari 1:269, Muwatta Imam Malik 42)

The Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had performed the tarawih in congregation for a few days and then discontinued it for fear of it turning into an obligation on the Umma. It then remained like this throughout the caliphate of Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu) , who remained occupied with the many issues that arose in his time. Thereafter, ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) revived the practice and had everyone perform twenty rak’ats tarawih behind one imam.

He called it a good practice saying that if it was an innovation, that it was indeed a good one. This practice was then continued throughout the generations.

Hadith 1 above makes it clear that a reprehensible innovation cannot be atteibuted to ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) or any of the other three Caliphs. Regarding ‘Umar’s statement being such a “wonderful innovation,” ‘Allama Tibi writes:

‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) was referring to the praiseworthy deed of encouraging the prayer and re-establishing the congregation after it had not been observed during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu), even though it had been observed for a few days in the time of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in this manner. However, the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in this manner. However, the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had discontinued it for fear of it becoming an obligation [fard] on his Ummah. ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) was aware of this and established this procedure as a sunnah for time to come [i.e as a Sunna Mua’kkadah, not a fard]. Hence, for him is the reward of all who observe it until the Day of Judgement. (Fath al-Mulhim (2:319).

This clarifies that ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) practice was in line with that of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), because Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu), for most of his caliphate, remained occupied with the important task of dealing with the apostates and those who either claimed prophethood after the Messenger’s (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) death or demanded certain radical changes in the religion, many issues that were under debate in his time were clarified during the time of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu).

3. Yazid ibn Khusayfa narrates Sa’ib ibn Yazid as saying:

They would  perform twenty rak’ats tarawih during the month of Ramadan in the time of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu), and they would recite the chapter containing a hundred or so verses [mi’in]; and during the time of Uthman bin Affan (radhiyallahu anhu) they would lean on their staffs from standing [for so long]”  [Sunan al-Bayhaqi 2:496]

The narrators of this hadith have all been rigorously approved as ‘Allama Nimawi confirms in his Athar al-sunan. This hadith is clear evidence that twenty rak’ats were observed during the time of Uthman (radhiyallahu anhu).

4. Yazid ibn Ruman relates:

The people would perform twenty-three rak’ats during Ramadan in the time of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu).  (Sunan al-Bayhaqi 2:496, Muwatta Imam Malik 1:171).

Although this is a rigorously authenticated hadith, it is mursal, or one with a broken chain. However, thos does not alter its effectiveness for a number of reasons:

(a) By consensus of the hadith scholars, mursal narrations can be used as evidence

(b) This is a hadith narrated by Imam Malik, and it is an established fact that the mursal narrations of Imam Malik in his Muwatta and alongside his mawsul narrations [i.e those with unbroken chains].

(c) There are many other mursal and mawsul narrations whoch strengthen this one; for instance; hadith 2 above.

(d) Shah Waliullah writes that Imam Shafi’i said:

The most authentic book after the Qur’an is the Muwatta of Imam Malik, and the hadith scholars are unanimous that all its narrations are authentic according to the judgement of [Imam] Malik, and all its mursal narrations reach the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in some way or the other. (Hujjatullah al-Balighah 1:106).

5. Yahya bin Sa’id narrates that:

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu) appointed an imam to lead them in twenty rak’ats.  (Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 2:393).

6. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Rafi’ narrates that:

Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu) would lead the congregation in twenty rak’ats tarawih in Madinah during Ramadan, followed by three [rak’ats] witr.  (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 2:393).

7. ‘Ata’ reports:

I found the people observing twenty-three rak’ats, which included witr.          (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 2:393)

8. Abu Khusayb narrates:

Suwayd ibn Ghafala would lead them in prayer durimg the month of Ramadan. He would perform five tarawiha [set of four rak’ats]-twenty rak’ats [in all]    (Sunan al-Bayhaqi 2:496).

9. Nafi’ ibn ‘Umar narrates:

Ibn Abi Mulayka would lead them in twenty rak’ats prayer during Ramadan.     (Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 2:393)

10. Sa’id ibn ‘Ubayd narrates that:

Ali ibn Rabi’a would lead them in five tarwihas [i.e twenty rak’ats] and three witr during Ramadan. (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 2:393)

11. Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) relates:

The Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) would perform twenty rak’ats durong Ramadan and three rak’ats witr        (Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 2:394)

This Hadith may be weak since a narrator in its chain, Abu Shayba Ibrahim Ibn ‘Uthman, has received some criticism. However, as mentioned earlier, since the Ummah has adopted the same number of rak’ats for the greater part of history, it will not be totally rejected but rather used as supplementary evidence.

12. It has been narrated from Shutayr ibn Shakl (a companion of ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhu)) that

He would lead them during the month of Ramadan in twenty rak’ats [tarawih] and three rak’ats witr           (Sunan al-Bayhaqi 4:496)

13. Muhammad ibn Ka’b al-Qurazi says,

The people would perform twenty rak’ats in the Month of Ramadan during the caliphate of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). They would lengthen the recitation and perform three rak’ats witr        (Qiyam al-layl 91)

14. A’mash reports that

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) would perform twenty rak’ats [tarawih] and three rak’ats witr         (Qiyam al-Layl 91)

All of these reports mention the rak’ats of tarawihas being twenty and no less.

THE OPINIONS OF VARIOUS JURISTS AND SCHOLARS

The author of Bidayat al-Mujtahid, Ibn Rushd, writes:

Imam Malik (in one of his opinions), along with Imam Abu Hanifah, Shafi’i, Ahmad and Dawud al-Zahiri, has preferred that the tarawih performed in the month of Ramadab be twenty rak’ats excluding witr. Ibn al-Qasim reports from Malik that he preferred thirty-six rak’ats with three rak’ats witr [according to another of his opinions]                 (Bidayat al-Mujtahid 210).

The great hadith master Imam Tirmidhi presents a detailed report on the various opinions surrounding this issue:

The knowledgable people have disputed over the number of rak’ats to be performed for tarawih during Ramadan. Some say forty-one rak’ats including witr: this is the opinion of the people of Madinah and such is their practice. However, the opinion of the majority is that tarawih is twenty rak’ats, and this opinion is more in agreement with the narrations of ‘Ali, ‘Umar and the other Companions of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), and it is also the opinion of Sufyan al-Thawri, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak and Imam Shafi’i. In  fact Imam Shafi’i states, “I found the people of my city, Makkah, performing twenty rak’ats.” Imam Ahmad states, “There was various reports to be found concerning tarawih, but no exact number is confirmed.” Ishaq states, “We prefer forty-one rak’ats, according to what has been narrated from Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu)”           (Sunan al-Tirmidhi 1:166)

In such a detailed analysis of the opinions, there is not even a mention of tarawih being eight rak’ats, even as a weak opinion.

3. In his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, ‘Allama Qastalani writes:

Imam Bayhaqi has reconciled the various narrations and concluded that initially the Companions performed eleven rak’ats for tarawih, after which they performed twenty with three rak’ats witr. The scholars accepted the agreement on twenty rak’ats during the time of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) as a consensus .

4. In the Maliki fiqh text, al-Anwar al-sati’a, it states:

We say that twenty rak’ats of tarawih following the ‘Isha prayer is an emphasized [mu’akkada] sunna during the month of Ramadan, with salaams to be made on every second rak’a [i.e to be performed in two rak’a units].

5. Ibn Qudama writes:

It is reported from ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) that he appointed an imam to lead the people in twenty rak’ats tarawih during Ramadan                (al-Mughni)

This narration proves that the practice of twenty rak’ats continued on into the time of ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhu).

6. The great Shafi’i scholar Imam Nawawi writes:

The number of rak’ats in tarawih remained twenty, since this was constantly accepted century after century.

7. It is reported in the Mirqat al-mafatih that Hafiz Ibn Hajar said:

The Companions reached a unanimous decision that tarawih was twenty rak’ats                (Mirqat al-Mafatih 3:382)

8. Ibn Taymiyyah states:

This is the opinion most Muslims follow [i.e of tarawih being twenty rak’ats]              (A’zami in his Rak’ate tarawih 92)

9. Shaykh Mansur ibn Idris al-Hanbali writes:

Tarawih is twenty rak’ats during Ramadan.

10. Asad ibn ‘Amr reports that Imam Abu Yusuf said:

I asked Abu Hanifa regarding tarawih and concerning ‘Umar’s role in it. He informed me that tarawih is an emphasized sunna. It is not  something ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) established through his own preference or innovated, but he established it based on some evidence or information he possessed from the Messenger’s (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam)          (I’la al-sunan 46).

11. Imam Ghazali (rahimahullah) writes:

Tarawih is twenty rak’ats, its method is well known, and it is an emphasized sunna                (Ihya ‘ulum al-din 1:139)

12. Sayyid ‘Abd al Qadir Jilani writes:

Tarawih is a sunna of the Mesaenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and is twenty rak’ats             (Ghunyat al-Talibin 567)

13. Imam Nawawi says,

Let it be known that tarawih is a sunna by agreement of all the Muslims, and it is twenty rak’ats            (Kitab al-adhkar 83)

14. Ibn Taymiyyah says:

It has been established that Ubay ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhi) would lead the people in twenty rak’ats of tarawih throughout the month of Ramadan, after which he would perform three rak’ats of witr. Hence, most scholars have taken twenty rak’ats to be sunna, as Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu) performed this number amidst the Emigrants [muhajirin] and Helpers [ansar] and none refuted him.                (Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah 23:112)

Other important points to be noted

First, it has to be fully comprehended that the amount of rak’ats for any prayer is not something which can be made up and established through one’s own intellect and reasoning. It has come from Allah and His Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). Hence, the scholars state that whenever anything of this nature (i.e which has not established through human reasoning alone) is reported by a Companion, it will be considered as being directly acquired from Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam).

According to the agreement of the hadith scholars, all the Companions are considered trustworthy and legally upright [‘adul]. It cannot be believed that they would introduce a new concept into the religion which is contrary to the principles of Shariah.

Hence, even though there are no marfu’ [directly related from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam)] hadiths to be found concerning the number of rak’ats in tarawih, the decision of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) of tarawih being twenty rak’ats is accepted. It is believed, as explained by Imam Abu Hanifa [see hadith 10 above], that the number was acquired from the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and not something ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) established through his own desire.

Second, once the unanimous agreement concerning the number of rak’ats was reached, not a single Companion of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was reported to have refuted it. The Companions had performed tarawih with the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) (during the few days he performed it in congregation) and who were present at the time of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu), also did not refute his decision.

‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) did not even receive criticism from the wives of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), who constantly observed the Messenger’s (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) tarawih prayer at home after he had abandoned performing it in congregation. This indicates that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) must have performed twenty rak’ats, and it was because of this fact that the Companions supported ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) decision to set the tarawih prayer at twenty rak’ats.

Third, ‘Allama Halabi has made a very noteworthy point as to why the number of rak’ats of tarawih may have been set as twenty. He states:

The sunna and nawafil [supererogatory] prayers are supplementary prayers which make up for any defiencies that may have been left in the obligatory [fard] prayers. The obligatory prayers of the day, along with three rak’ats of witr, total to twenty rak’ats. Hence, it is appropriate to have twenty rak’ats of tarawih, so that there is a balance between the two types of prayers, i.e between the rak’ats of the obligatory prayers and the rak’ats of the supplementary nafl or sunna prayers.

ANALYZING THE NARRATIONS CONCERNING EIGHT RAK’ATS

Those who claim that the tarawih to be eight rak’ats try to establish this opinion in two ways. One way is by claiming that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed eight rak’ats, and the other is by claiming that ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) also ordered only eight rak’ats to be performed; hence, their rejection of ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) decision establishing twenty rak’ats. We will now look at the narrations which they have used to substantiate these two claims.

1. It is reported form Abu Salama (radhiyallahu anhu) that

he asked ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) regarding the prayer of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) during Ramadan. She explained, “The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) would not perform more than eleven rak’ats neither in Ramadan nor out of it. He would perform four rak’ats, and do not ask of their beauty and length, followed by another four, and do not ask of their beauty and length, after which he would perform three [witr].” ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) continued, “I asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), do you sleep before you perform the witr,’ he replied, ‘O A’isha, my eyes sleep, but my heart does not        (Sahih al-Bukhari 1:154)

This hadith is probably the most widely used in claiming that tarawih is only eight rak’ats. However, there are a number of reasons why this hadith cannot stand as evidence:

(a) The prayer mentioned in the hadith is clearly not tarawih but rather the tahajjud [night-vigil] prayer. Abu Salama’s (radhiyallahu anhu) inquiry was regarding whether or not the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed any extra rak’ats of tahajjud during Ramadan. ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) answered by stating that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) would perform no more than eight rak’ats (tahajjud) throughout the year, regardlesa of what month it was.

Hence, ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) was speaking of a prayer that was performed by the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) both in and out of Ramadan, which is why she used the words “neither in Ramadan nor out of it“. She could not have been speaking about the tarawih since tarawih is not performed out of Ramadan. The question of Abu Salama (radhiyallahu anhu) therefore had to be about tahajjud which is performed throughout the year and not about tarawih.

What further supports this explanation is that there are some narrations of A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) which speak of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) increasing his worshipduring the month of Ramadan. She states:

The Messenger of Allah would exert himself [in worship] during the last ten days of Ramadan more than at any other time.        (Sahih Muslim 1:372)

This narration and many other like it indicate that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) would perform more prayer in Ramadan than in any other month, even though the rak’ats of tahajjud performed by him would remain constant throughout the year. This means that the increase in worship by him during Ramadan was through the performance of tarawih and other supererogatory prayera. Hence, the narration of ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) above is concerning tahajjud prayer remained constant in all months of the year.

(b) Imam Muhammad Ibn al-Nasr al-Marwazi, in his book, Qiyam al-Layl, has compiled many narrations under a chapter entitled , “Chapter on the Rak’ats performed by the Imam in Ramadan for Tarawih.” However, he does not mention the above hadith of Abu Salama in that chapter despite it being a rigorously authenticated hadith of sahih al-Bukhari. Like al-Marwazi, there are many other authors who, in their works, have not mentioned this hadith to be concerning tarawih.

(c) Many compilers of hadith, such as Imam Muslim, Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Maja, Ibn Khuzayma and Imam Malik (rahmatullah alayhim), have also not includee this hadith in their chapters on tarawih, despite it being such a rigorously aithenticated hadith. Instead, they mention it in their chapters on tahajjud or witr. Indeed, had this narration been in regarda to tarawih, they would have surely included it in their chapters on tarawih.

(d) Furthermore, if this hadith was concerning tarawih, then why did ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha), the narrator, not reject the consensus [ijma’] reached by ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu)? She could have informed him in some way or the other that the correct number of rak’ats for tarawih was eight. Thus, the prayer she describes in the above hadith can be none other than tahajjud.

Another narration popularly used to claim that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed only eight rak’ats for tarawih is the following:

2. Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) led them in prayer during Ramadan, he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed eight rak’ats followed by witr (Sahih ibn Hibban, Ibn Khuzayma, I’la al-Sunan 7:69:7).

The following explanations have been given for this hadith:

(a) This hadith furnished details of only one night in which the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) led the congregation in tarawih prayer. The following narration is more detailed in this regard:

Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed eight rak’ats during one night of Ramadan followed by witr. The following would be made obligatory [yuktabu] upon you.       (Qiyam al-layl 91).

There are many narrations which mention that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed the tarawih in congregation for three nights then failed to appear on the fourth night [see the narrations of ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) in Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim]. However, the above narration indicates that the congregation took place for one night only and that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) did not turn up on the second night; which means that both are concerning two different occasions.

Other differences between it and ‘A’isha’s (radhiyallahu anha) other narrations is that ‘A’isha’s (radhiyallahu anha) other narrations do not mention the number of rak’ats performed for tarawih (despite those narrations being so widely transmitted) whereas this one does. Also, the other narrations of ‘A’isha (radhiyallahu anha) mention that Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was fearful of tarawih becoming obligatory on the Umma whereas the hadith of Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu) mentions he was fearful or witr becoming obligatory. Hence, Hafiz Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani (rahimahullah) has hesitated in accepting this narration to be concerning the same incident mentioned in the other narrations (fath al-Bari 2:12).

(b) The other point Mawlana Habib al-Rahman A’zami makee about this narration is that there is only one person relating it from Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu). This single narrator, ‘Isa ibn Jariya, has been strongly criticized by the scholars of hadith. Hafiz Dhahabi and Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani have recorded much criticism about him, and Yahya ibn Ma’in states that “he is not strong” [laysa bi dhaka]. Likewise Imam Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, ‘Uqayli, Saji and Ibn ‘Adi all have grave statements to make about him, either rejecting his narrations outright or labelling him as weak. Only Ibn Hibban and Abu Zur’ah have not criticized him. However, since the criticism of the former group is very severe, it will take precedence over the opinions of the latter in determining his status as a narrator.

Hence, his narrations are weak and cannot be accepted as evidence for the claim of tarawih being eight rak’ats; even more so, in that no one else has reported that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed eight rak’ats in congregation during those nights he performed it in congregation. (A’zami in Rak’ate tarawih 28).

(c) Some scholars have explained that even if the hadith were to be accepted, it would only inform as to the number of rak’ats the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed in congregation, and does not negate the posaibility that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) could have performed the remaining twelve rak’ats at home. Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu) does not negate this possibility either, bit merely informs us of the number of rak’ats that the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performed in congregation with the Companions, before retiring to the confines of his home.

There are also other narrations of Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu) on this issue which mention that the Messenger of Allah (sallalaahu alayhi wasallam) performed eight rak’ats in congregation; however, since they are all narrated through ‘Isa ibn Jariya, they are all to be classified as weak and not to be used for related as evidence.

3. Sa’ib ibn Yazid (radhiyallahu anhu) relates:

‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) appointed Ubay ibn Ka’b and Tamim al-Dari (radhoyallahi anhum) to lead the people in eleven rak’ats        (Muwatta Imam Malik 1:71)

This is the narration presented to substantiate their second claim that ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) ordered only eight rak’ats to be performed for tarawih and that there was never a consensus on twenty. However this claim is even weaker than the first due to the following reosons:

(a) This hadith has been related from Sa’ib ibn Yazid (radhiyallahu anhu) by two people- Muhammad ibn Yusuf and Yazid ibn Khusayfa. Five people have then related it from Muhammad ibn Yusuf. However, all five reports are then different from one another, even  though each one relates it from the same person. Due to its inconsistency and conflicting nature, this narration cannot stand as evidence to prove that tarawih is eight rak’ats. The different reports from Muhammad ibn Yusuf are as follows:

(1) The version mentioned above, transmitted by Imam Malik, mentions eleven rak’ats, but does not mention Ramadan.

(2) Yahya ibn Qattan’s version mentions that ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) brought the people together behind Tamim al-Dari (radhiyallahu anhu) and they would perform eleven rak’ats. It does not mention ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) issuing any specific command on the number of rak’ats, nor does it mention the month of Ramadan.

(3) The version narrated by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Muhammad simply mentions that they performed eleven rak’ats during the caliphate of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). There is no mention of any specific command or of Ubay ibn Ka’b (radhiyallahu anhu), Tamim al-Dari (radhiyallahu anhu) or Ramadan.

(4) Ibn Ishaq’s report mentions that they would perform thirteen rak’ats in Ramadan during the period of ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu). It does not speak of ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) instructions. Ubay ibn Ka’b or Tamin al-Dari (radhiyallahu anhum).

(5) Lastly, ‘Abd al Razzaq’s version describes ‘Umar’s (radhiyallahu anhu) commanded that twenty-one rak’ats be performed instead of eleven.

Some versions of this narration mention eleven rak’ats, others thirteen rak’ats and one also mentions twenty-one. So, What is the reason for choosing the version of eleven rak’ats over the rest? In fact, the great Maliki jurist Ibn ‘Abd al Barr has given preference to the narration of twenty-one rak’ats and called the narrations of eleven to be an “erroneous assumption” [wahm] (Rak’ate tarawih 39). Hence, the version of twenty rak’ats has been adopted in light of these and other similar factors that only serve to strengthen its authenticity.

(b) The other narrator of this hadith from Sa’ib ibn Yazid (radhiyallahu anhu) is Yazid ibn Khusayfa, and Yazid’s two students, Ibn Abi Dhi’b and Muhammad ibn Ja’far, relate this narration from him [see hadith 3 in “The Hadiths on This Issue” above]. All versions of this narration through Yazid ibn Khusayfa are unanimous in mentioning twenty rak’ats; and Imam Nawawi, ‘Iraqi, Suyuti and others have judged its chains [isnad] to be strong and reliable.

Hence, the question is: Why would the version of Muhammad ibn Yusuf mentioning eight rak’ats be adopted, despite it being so confusing and inconsistent in its mention of the number of rak’ats, and the version of Yazid ibn Khusayfa be abandoned despite it being consistent? Justice would demand that the narrations of Sa’ib ibn Yazid (radhiyallahu anhu) through Yazid ibn Khusayfa be accepted since they are consistent and have been classified as rigorously authenticated by many scholars; and that the narrations through Muhammad ibn Yusuf, because of their confusing nature, be interpreted and reconciled with those of Yazid ibn Khusayfa.

(c) Some scholars have reconciled the various versions of Sa’ib ibn Yazid’s (radhiyallahu anhu) narration by stating that ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) initially ordered eleven rak’ats to be performed but then changed his decision to twenty after learning that it was the more correct view. Nobody refuted his decision, and twenty rak’ats continued to be performed for the most part of Islamic History.

Imam Bayhaqi, after mentioning the eleven and twenty rak’ats narrations, states:

It is possible to reconcile the two types of narrations because the Companions would [initially] perform eleven rak’ats in congregation after which they began to perform twenty rak’ats and three witr          (Sunan al-Kubra li’l-Bayhaqi 2:496)

Imam Bayhaqi (rahimahullah) makes the same point in another place in his Sunan al-Kubra. Many other scholarshave also provided similar explanations. Ibn Habib Malili writes:

It was initially [performed as] eleven rak’ats, they would prolong the recitation in them, which proved difficult on the people, so they increased the number of rak’ats and shortened the recitation. They would perform twenty rak’ats excluding witr          .            (tuhfat al-akhyar 192)

CONCLUSION

It is only recently that some people have emerged with the opinion of only eight rak’ats being Sunna for tarawih. Some have even gone as far as saying that performing any more that eight rak’ats would be considered a “reprehensible innovation” [bid’ah] (may Allah forbid).

None of them have been able to produce a single example of any masjid in the world in which a tarawih congregation of less than twenty rak’ats was held during the first twelve hundred years or more of Islam. Likewise, not a single scholar from among the pious predecessors [salafus salihin] held an opinion of eight rak’ats. Can the opinions of contemporary men be preferred over the scholarship and opinions of those who enjoyed a greater proximity to the fpuntain of Prophethood?.

Also how does one overlook the fact that over a period of twelve hundred long years, nobody had any dispute with regards to the rak’ats of tarawih being twenty? How absurd it is to call it a reprehensible innovation in religion when ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) himself reached an agreement with the Companions on that amount, and his decision was made through what he must have acquired from the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) himself. Neither the Companions nor the household of he Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) refuted him. He then remarked as to “how wonderful a practice he had revived” [ni’mat al-bid’atu hadhihi], since people had not performed it in a large congregation during the time of Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu).

It can therefore be concluded quite easily that since there has been an agreement among the four imam’s and the overwhelming majority of scholars of this Umma concerning tarawih being twenty rak’ats, it is considered the sunna amount.

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