The Tarâwîh Prayer: Praiseworthy Sunnah or Blameworthy Innovation?
One of the most blessedpractices in the month of Ramadan is the standing in the prayer during thenight. It is narrated that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny,said:
((Whoeverprays 8 units in the night and the odd prayer (al-witr), and continues to do so until they meet Allah, Allah willopen 12 doors of Paradise for them and theywill be able to enter whatever door s/he wants)).
He, peace be upon him and hisprogeny, is also reported to have said:
((Whoeverincreases his prayers in the night, his face will be beautified in the day)).
Of course, this applies toany night but even moreso, the nights of Ramadan.
It is in this blessed monththat our sincere acts of worship are multiplied in their reward, and ourstrivings are made witnesses for us on the Day of Judgment. That withstanding,we should want our prayers in the night and our other acts of worship to countfor us and not against us. The only way to ensure that our acts of worship areaccepted is that they must be in accord with Divine Revelation. There is noother way that the slave can be sure of Allah’s acceptance except that s/heenters through the door of the Qur’ân and the Prophetic Sunnah. Allah has made known to His slaves that which He acceptsfrom them and that which He rejects through these two sources of DivineRevelation. Therefore, how we pray in the night during Ramadan and outside ofRamadan should be weighed against the Prophetic precedent.
During this month, we areinundated with questions concerning the voluntary prayer known as tarâwîh. First, we should clarify whatis meant by tarâwîh prayer. The tarâwîh prayer refers to “the voluntaryprayers prayed in congregation in the mosques during the month of Ramadan.”
Regarding the Propheticprecedent as established in the Sunnah,it is that the tarâwîh prayer isinvalid. Any voluntary prayer during Ramadan is prayed alone in one’s home and not in congregation in the mosques. This view is supportedby the narrations of the Generality, the statements and opinions of the imamsof Ahl al-Bayt, and that of thejurists and scholars of the Generality.
Regarding the narrations ofthe Generality, it is narrated in Ŝahîhal-Bukhâri and Ŝahîh Muslim onthe authority of Zayd bin Thâbit:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and hisprogeny, constructed a small room (with a palm leaf mat). The Messenger ofAllah, peace be upon him and his progeny, came out and prayed in it. Some mencame and joined him in his prayer. Then, they came for the prayer again thenext night, but the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, delayedand did not come out to them. So they began raising their voices and knockingon the door with stones. He came out to them angry (mughďabân) and said: ((You are still insisting until I thought thatthis prayer might become obligatory on you. The prayer is to be in yourhomes (‘alaykum bi salâŧi fi buyûtikum),for the best prayer of a person is the one which is offered at home, except theobligatory prayers)).
This report is an explicitstatement by the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, that thenon-obligatory prayers are to be performed at home—this includes what is calledtarâwîh prayer. This Prophetic Sunnah was carried out until the deathof the Prophet and up until the later part of the Caliphate of ‘Umar binal-Khattâb.
The origin of thecongregational tarâwîh prayer in themosques is mentioned in another report in Ŝahîhal-Bukhâri in which it is said on the authority of Abu Hurayra:
Ibn Shihâb [i.e. az-Zuhri] said: “The Messenger ofAllah, peace be upon him and his progeny, died and the people continued observingthat. It continued like that during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the earlydays of ‘Umar's Caliphate.” ‘Abdur-Rahmân bin ‘Abdul-Qâri said: “I went out with‘Umar bin al-Khattâb one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the peoplepraying in different groups. A man would pray alone or a man would pray with alittle group behind him. So, ‘Umar said: “In my opinion it would better togather them behind one reciter.” So, he made up his mind to congregate them behindUbay bin Ka’b. Then on another night I went again in his company and the peoplewere praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar said: “What an excellent innovation(bid’a) this is! But the prayer whichthey do not perform but sleep at its time, is better than the one they areoffering now!” He meant the prayer in the last part of the night.
So there we have it! Theauthor of the congregational tarâwîhprayer is ‘Umar, not the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny. Ifsomething is termed an innovation, it cannot be termed a sunnah, for they are opposites! Not only that; but ‘Umar even admittedthat the prayer in the last part of the night [i.e. delaying the prayer to prayit at home] is even better than the congregational prayer in the mosques!
The opinion of the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt is very clear concerningthis matter. It is narrated in AmaliAhmed bin ‘Isa that Imam al-Hasan bin Yahya bin al-Hussein bin Zayd bin‘Ali, upon them be peace, said:
((Theconsensus of the Progeny of Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings beupon him and his progeny, is that the tarâwîhprayer is not from the Sunnah of theAllah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, nor that ofAmîr al-Muminîn [i.e. ‘Ali bin AbiTâlib]. Rather, ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib used to prohibit that. According to them, itis better to pray it individually. Similar is the case with the other sunnah prayers, except the obligatoryprayers which is better to pray in congregation)).
In the book Al-Jâmi’ al-Kâfi, which is a compendiumof the jurisprudential opinions of the imams of Ahl al-Bayt, it is narrated on the authority of al-Qûmisi:
Iasked al-Qâsim bin Ibrâhîm, uhpb, about standing in voluntary congregationalprayer during Ramadan, and he said: “It is unknown.” He narrated on theauthority of Ali, upon him be peace, that he used to prohibit that.
Also in the same text, it isreported:
‘Abdullahbin al-Hasan, upon him be peace, used to pray with his family in his houseduring the nights of Ramadan like one would pray tarâwîh in the mosques.
Imam al-Hâdi ila al-HaqqYahya bin al-Hussein, upon him be peace, said:
Youasked about what was narrated on the authority of the Prophet, peace be uponhim and his progeny, that he prayed tarâwîhone night in Ramadan and then commanded the people to go to their houses.Some of the people have narrated and mentioned this. However, we do notconsider any of this authentic. It wasn’t one night or two nights. We do notknow of it on his authority nor have we narrated it. It has not reached us thathe, peace be upon him and his progeny, prayed tarâwîh with the people one night or two, one hour or two, or oneunit or two. Not one of our scholars has ever narrated that. Not one of ourancestors has related that on the authority of the Prophet, peace be upon himand his progeny. If there was anything to it and it was from him, it would havebeen narrated from our ancestors on the authority of their ancestors on theauthority of their grandfathers. Since they did not fail to mention anythingfrom him, that which they came with is authentic on his authority.
We may also add that it is notonly the opinion of Imam Ali and the Ahlal-Bayt, upon them be peace, but it is also the opinion of some Companionsand jurists of the Muslim Community. Imam al-Bayhaqi narrated in his Sunan that when ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar wasasked about praying in the mosques for tarâwîh,he said: “Pray in your homes.” Al-Bayhaqi also narrated that Ibn Umar used topray the tarâwîh in his house. IbnAbi Shayma narrated in his Muŝannafthat Ibrahim an-Nikha’i used to not pray along with others during Ramadan. Thesame opinion was held by al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Alqama and al-Aswad. Badrudînal-A’ini said in his commentary of Sahîhal-Bukhâri called ‘Umdat al-Qâri:
Mâlik,ash-Shâfi’, and Rabi’a held to the view that the prayer in the house is betterthan the prayer with an imam [i.e. in the mosques]. This is the view of Ibrâhîm[an-Nikha’i], al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Alqama and al-Aswad.
In the chief book of Mâlikijurisprudence, the Mudawwana, whenImam Mâlik was asked about praying during Ramadan, he said:
Ifone has the strength, it is preferred to me that one prays in his house.Not everyone has the strength to do that.
The proponents seek tojustify the praying of tarâwîh by thefollowing report in Ŝahîh al-Bukhârion the authority of ‘Urwa bin az-Zubayr:
He was informed by A’isha, the Mother of theBelievers: “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, went outin the middle of the night and prayed in the mosque, and some men prayed behindhim. In the morning, the people began talking about it and then a large numberof them gathered and prayed behind him [i.e. that second time]. On the nextmorning the people again talked about it, and on the third night the mosque wasfilled with a large number of people. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon himand his progeny, came out, and the people prayed behind him. On the fourthnight, the mosque was overflowing with people and it couldn’t accommodate them.Then, he came out for the Morning Prayer. After completing the Morning Prayer,he faced the people, pronounced the testimony of faith and said: ((As to whatfollows: I did not fear your place, rather I feared that you may view it asobligatory)). The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, diedand it remained that way.”
This report does not provewhat our opponents surmise. First of all, the report says that the Prophet, peacebe upon him and his progeny, came out “in the middle of the night” which iscontrary to what most who pray tarâwîhdo; rather, they pray it immediately after the Evening Prayer (I’shâ). Second, according to thisreport, the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, went to the mosque topray, but it is not narrated that he commanded or encouraged those behind himto pray in congregation. Third, he discontinued praying it in the mosque untilhe died, which shows something to be abrogated (mansûkh) and not established (thâbit).One is not permitted to act upon something explicitly abrogated unless there isproof otherwise. Fourth, his, peace be upon him and his progeny, statementindicates a connection with the first report that we mentioned on the authorityof Zayd bin Thâbit. Although, there are some minor differences—which occuramongst narrators—there is seemingly a connection between the two reports,which shows that the Prophet censured anyone who prayed in congregation, and hestated the preference for prayer alone.
We say is that the prayermentioned in the reports of ‘Urwa and Zayd were actually the obligatory prayersof the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny. As we know, the Messenger ofAllah, peace be upon him and his progeny, had additional obligatory prayers hehad to offer and he was simply making them in the mosque and prayer hall. As henoticed that the people started to congregate behind him, he discontinued it totell them that he did not want them to pray behind him intending obligatoryprayers, but rather pray their supererogatory prayers at home. This is becausea person praying a supererogatory prayer cannot pray behind someone making anobligatory prayer.
The opponents also say thatthe action of ‘Umar can be considered a sunnahbecause the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, is reportedto have said: ((Follow my sunnah andthe sunnah of the rightly-guidedsuccessors after me)).
We reply with the followingpoints:
- First, there isdisagreement amongst the scholars of this hadîthregarding its authenticity.
- Second, even ifthe hadîth was authentic, it would beproblematic because our opponents say that the Prophet, peace be upon him andhis progeny, did not specifically name his successor. It would benonsensical that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, would commandthe Muslims to follow someone who he had not specifically designated as hissuccessor! There was mass confusion and disagreement not only regarding who wasto succeed the Prophet, but also who could be considered “rightly guided”!
- Third, if the Prophet,peace be upon him and his progeny, established a sunnah, it is not the duty of a successor to come after him andabrogate it with something else. Remember the narration in Ŝahîh al-Bukhâri where ‘Umar referred to tarâwîh as an “innovation.” Did not the Prophet, peace be upon himand his progeny, say: ((Every innovation is deviance and every deviance is inthe Hellfire)) and ((Every matter that is not from our matter is rejected))?!
- Fourth, even Umaracknowledged that the prayer later in the night is better than the tarâwîh with his statement: “But the prayer which they do not perform butsleep at its time, is better than the one they are offering now!”
- Fifth, if the tarâwîh was “the sunnah of the rightly-guided successors,” why did prominentCompanions, Followers, and jurists refrain from it and encourage others to doso?! Either they did not consider it to be a sunnah or they did not consider the one who instituted it to be a“rightly guided successor”!
Our opponents say that the tarâwîh prayer is the practice of Imam‘Ali, may Allah ennoble his face, because it is narrated in Musnad Imam Zayd in the chapter“Standing in the Prayer during Ramadan”:
Zaydbin ‘Ali narrated on the authority of his father—his grandfather—Ali, upon himbe peace, that he commanded that the one who stands in prayer with the peopleduring Ramadan and pray 20 units should give the final salutations after everytwo units. He should take a break (yarâwah)after four units so one could relieve oneself and repeat the ritual ablution.He should pray the odd prayer (witr)at the last part of the night while leaving.
We reply by saying that thisreport does not prove what our opponents import. The first part of the reportsays: “he commanded that the one whostands in prayer with the people during Ramadan and pray 20 units should…” This indicates that Amîr al-Muminîn, upon him be peace, wasadvising someone who was already making the tarâwîhprayer to “give the final salutations after every two units…take a break afterfour units so one could relieve oneself and repeat the ritual ablution…pray theodd prayer (witr) at the last part ofthe night while leaving.” He is not advising them to pray the tarâwîh prayer; rather, he was advisingthem what to do if they prayed the tarâwîh. Perhaps he witnessed that thepeople used to prolong the prayers without taking a break and so forth.Therefore, he saw fit to advise them regarding their actions to make the prayereasier upon the Muslims. Regardless of the circumstances, this report is notsufficient in proving that Imam ‘Ali, upon him be peace, endorsed the tarâwîh prayer.
Our opponents may ask: “IfImam ‘Ali was so opposed to the tarâwîhprayer, why didn’t he advise the people not to do it?”
We say that it may have notbeen possible at that time to discontinue the tarâwîh prayer because it was during the caliphate of ‘Umar. Thismay have caused unnecessary disorder. So, for the sake of Muslim unity, hesimply advised the one who would already pray the tarâwîh. Such an action is not unique to ‘Ali, upon him be peace.There are examples in history where the Companions disagreed with the ruling ofthe prevailing order but chose instead to opt for unity rather thancontroversy.
One example is that of‘Abdullah bin Mas’ûd. Imam al-Bayhaqi narrated this incident in his Sunan al-Kubra on the authority of ‘Abdur-Rahmânbin Yazîd:
Wewere with ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ûd in a group and when we entered the mosque inMina, he said: “How many units does the Amîral-Muminîn (meaning ‘Uthmân) pray?” They said: “Four.” So they prayed fourunits. We said: “Didn’t you narrate to us that the Prophet, peace be upon himand his progeny, prayed two units, as well as Abu Bakr?” He said: “Indeed. I narratethat now; however, ‘Uthmân is the imam and I didn’t want to differ with himbecause disagreements are an evil.”
This report shows thatalthough Abdullah bin Mas’ûd held to the view that the two unit prayer in Minawas the Sunnah, he chose to act onwhat ‘Uthmân did because the latter was the caliph of the time and Ibn Mas’ûdfeared controversy. Similar is the case with Imam ‘Ali, may Allah ennoble hisface. He probably felt that during the time of ‘Umar, the issue of praying the tarâwîh was not one that required outcryas to cause a political disturbance. However, as is made clear from thenarrations of Ahl al-Bayt that wequoted above, Imam ‘Ali prohibited it from taking place during his caliphate.It is noteworthy that the Musnad ImamZayd does not report that Imam ‘Ali ever prayed the tarâwîh prayer.
Our opponents say that thereare some reports in the books of hadîththat Imam Ali, upon him be peace, actually prayed the tarâwîh prayer and/or commanded people to do it. The first one isin the Sunan of al-Bayhaqi on theauthority of Arfaja’ ath-Thaqafi, who said:
‘Alibin Abi Tâlib, may Allah be pleased with him, used to command the people tostand in prayer during Ramadan. He appointed one man as the prayer leader forthe men and another man as the prayer leader for the women. [Arfaja’ added:] I wasmade the prayer leader of the women.
The second report issimilarly narrated by al-Bayhaqi in his Sunanon the authority of ‘Ali who said:
Iwas present with ‘Umar during the prayer in Ramadan. I informed him that overthe seven heavens is a pen (haďîra)and on this pen is written: “Holy.” Living in this pen are people, and they arecalled: “Spirit.” On the Night of Power (Laylatal-Qadr), they seek permission from their Lord to descend to this world.There is no one who prays or are on the path except that they are showered withblessings. ‘Umar said: “O Abul-Hasan, we will command the people to be presentin this prayer so that they are showered with these blessings.” So, hecommanded the people to stand in prayer.
The third report is also narratedby al-Bayhaqi in his Sunan on theauthority of Ismâ’îl bin Yazîd, who said:
‘Ali,may Allah be pleased with him, continued to the mosque. There were lamps thereduring Ramadan. He said: “May the Light of Allah be upon ‘Umar in his gravejust as there is light on us in this mosque!”
We say that these reportscannot be used as a proof because these reports are considered inauthentic,even based upon the criteria of those held as authorities by our opponents. Oneof our contemporary scholars, Sayyid Allama ‘Abdur-Rahmân ash-Shâyim addressedthese reports in his treatise Ar-Radd al-Jalayi ‘ala Sâhib al-Qawli al-Jaliyi.
Regarding the first report,he said:
Isay that based upon the conditions of the scholars of hadîth criticism, its chain of narrators contains Arfaja’ bin ‘Abdullah ath-Thaqafi. Ibnal-Qattân said regarding him: “He is unknown.”…Also in its chain of narratorsis ‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah bin Ya’la binMurra ath-Thaqafi (i.e. Abu Abdullahath-Thaqafi). There is consensus that he is “weak.” Yahya bin Mu’în said: “‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah is weak. I heardJarîr bin ‘Abdul-Hamîd say: ‘Umar bin‘Abdullah used to drink alcohol.” Abu Nu’aym said: “I saw ‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah and it is notpermissible to narrate from him.” Ahmed bin Hanbal said: “He is weak in hadîths.” Abu Zara’a said: “He is notstrong.” Ibn Abi Hâtim said: “He is objectionable in hadîths.” The crux of the matter is that there is consensusregarding his weakness. Refer to Tahdhîbal-Kâmil and you will find this clearly. No one narrated this about Imam‘Ali except these two men.
Regarding the second report,he said:
Isay that its chain of narrators contains Sa’dbin Ťarîq al-Iskâfi al-Kûfi and there is consensus that he is “weak.” Yahyabin Mu’în said: “It is not permissible to narrate anything from him.” He saidelsewhere: “He is nothing.” Al-A’jli said in his Ma’rifat ath-Thuqqat: “He isweak in hadîths.” Abu Zara’a said:“He is a weak Kufan.” Ahmed bin Hanbal said: “Sa’d bin Ťarîq is weak in hadîths.”As-Su’di said: “Sa’d bin Ťarîq isblameworthy.” Al-Bukhâri said: “Sa’d binŤarîq is not strong.” Ibn Hibbân said: “He used to fabricate hadîths on the spot.”
Regarding the third report, he said:
Isay that its chain of narrators contains Ismâ’îlbin Yazîd as-Sakûni. Al-Halabi said in his Al-Kashf al-Hathîth: “He is an imposter (dajjâl).” Ibn al-Jawzi and Ibn Hibbân accused him of fabrication.It is not permissible to mention Ismâ’îlexcept in terms of censure.” Ibn ‘Uday said: “He is objectionable in hadîths.” Generally, whatever henarrates cannot be followed by anyone regarding its chain of narrators andregarding its text. This is only one report. We not only stand upon what youwitness, but other chains. Ibn ‘Asâkir also narrated it but I say that itschain of narrators contains Muhammad binSubîh al-Baghdâdi, and he is unknown.
Therefore, even based uponthe criteria of the hadîth scholarsof the Generality, these reports cannot be relied upon. As we mentionedearlier, the imams of Ahl al-Baytreject any narration or report that implies or states that the Prophet, Imam‘Ali, or any other imam of the Prophet’s Descendants, prayed tarâwîh or encouraged others to doso.
We therefore, call theMuslims who were charged by the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, to adhereto the Book of Allah and the Prophetic Descendants, to base their practicesupon these Two Weighty Things and pray the voluntary prayers individually intheir homes. It is by this adherence that our actions will be accepted byour Lord, insha-Allah.
Please remember the Muslimsin your supplications and donations this blessed month!