(Numbers in brackets are footnotes that are cited at the end of the article)
Q: What is tarawih?
A: Tarawih prayers are Sunnah (1) prayers performed at night after Isha (2) Salah during the month of Ramadan. These night prayers have been emphasised in Ahadith (3) and can also be called “qiyam al layl” (night prayers).
Tarawih prayers are classed as either Sunnah mu’akkadah (emphasised Sunnah) or nafil (optional).
Q: Why should I pray tarawih?
A: There are many rewards for praying the tarawih prayers:
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever stands for prayer (the night prayer) during Ramadan with iman (faith), hoping for rewards, then all his/her previous sins will be forgiven.”(4)
Additionally, as the rewards for good deeds are multiplied during the month of Ramadan, the rewards for tarawih are even greater:
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time.”(5)
During the time of the Prophet ﷺ, the tarawih prayers were prayed in congregation for a short period of time, after which the Prophet ﷺ changed this practice and performed the prayer at home. This was done out of fear that people would start to consider it to be compulsory. During the time of Umar ibn al Khattab (the second caliph), may Allah be pleased with him, twenty rak’at (6) of tarawih prayer were led in congregation daily. These practices established by Umar ibn al Khattab came to be recognised as Sunnah, based on the hadith:
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Stick to my Sunnah (my way) and the Sunnah (way) of the khulafa ar-Rashideen (rightly guided Caliphs). Hold fast onto it with your molar teeth.” (7)
The month of Ramadan is a gift; it is our time to focus on our personal relationship with Allah. Tarawih prayers are a brilliant opportunity for us to do just that. Exhausted from the fasting and tired from the normal daily routine, we can turn to Allah and have a conversation with Him in the short time we dedicate to Him during our tarawih prayers.
Q: When do I pray tarawih ?
A: You can pray tarawih prayer after the four fard (8) rak’at of Isha salah, before the witr (9) prayer and any time before dawn. It is extremely rewarding to pray the Isha prayer, sleep or rest for a while, then wake up to pray tarawih and witr in the last third of the night.
Q: How do I pray tarawih?
A: Tarawih is prayed in sets of two rak’at each, in the same way as you would pray your normal salah. There are some narrations of the Prophet ﷺ that would support the opinion that tarawih is twenty rak’at, and some narrations that would support the opinion that tarawih is completed by praying eight rak’at. The opinion that tarawih is twenty rak’at has been narrated by all four Sunni schools of fiqh.
Abdullah ibn Umar narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Prayers at night are to be offered two by two (two rak’at at a time). If any of you fears that the time of dawn is approaching, then let him pray one rak’ah as Witr.” (10)
It is related from Abdullah ibn Abbas : “The Prophet ﷺ would pray 20 Rak’at and then witr in the month of Ramadan.” (11)
Abu Salama ibn Abd Ar Rahman (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that he asked `Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), “How was the prayer of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ in Ramadan?” She replied, “He did not pray more than eleven rak’at in Ramadan or in any other month. He used to pray four rak’at—let alone their beauty and length—and then he would pray four rak’at—let alone their beauty and length—and then he would pray three rak’at (witr).” (12)
(Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) relates what she saw of the Prophet ﷺ in her home, so the hadith is taken to mean that the Prophet ﷺ would pray some rak’at in the masjid.)
Q: What about if I just pray two rak’at?
A: If you pray two rak’at, you will no doubt be rewarded for it, as Allah does not let any action go to waste unrewarded—and of course, praying two rak’at is better than praying none. However, two rak’at would not be classed as a complete tarawih.
Some people like to recite the whole Qur’an in their tarawih prayers during Ramadan. This means if you go to a masjid, you may find that the tarawih prayers are long (usually lasting over an hour!), as they will complete approximately one juz’ of the Qur’an in one day. This is a great way to complete the recitation of the Qur’an in your salah during the month of Ramadan, so it can be highly rewarding. However, remember that it is not compulsory to complete the twenty rak’at with congregation every day and that you should always do actions according to your own ability, without comparing to others.
Q: What if I only know two suwar (13) of the Qur’an by heart?
A: If you only know two suwar, you can repeat the two that you know, with the aim to learn more in order to recite them in salah.
Q: Can I hold a mushaf (14) during my tarawih and recite Qur’an looking in the book?
A: There is a difference of opinion on this. Some scholars will allow this, for example the scholars of the Shafi’ee fiqh recommend the use of a mushaf. Some scholars of the Hanafi fiqh discourage or prohibit the use of a mushaf during the prayer.
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Praying in congregation explained
Q: How do I pray in congregation at home?
For a female-only congregation:
For a congregation with a male imam:
As a muqtadi, there is no difference between following a male or female imam, and the prayer will be made in the same way. The only difference is in the formation of the rows: a male imām will stand in front of the rows of men and women (on his own), rather than between them.
* The words of the iqamah are as follows:
الله أكبر، الله أكبر
أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله
أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله
حي على الصلاة
حي على الفلاح
قد قامت الصلاة، قد قامت الصلاة
الله أكبر، الله أكبر
لا إله إلا الله
Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar
Ash-hadu anla ilaha illallah
Ash-hadu anna muhammadar-rasalullah
Hayya ‘alal falah
Qad qamatis-salah, Qad qamatis-salah
Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar
La ilaha illallah
God is the greatest, God is the greatest.
I testify that there is no God but Allah
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God
Come to prayer
Come to success
The prayer has begun! The prayer has begun!
God is the greatest, God is the greatest.
There is no God but Allah
These words will be said out loud and without pausing in between them. Listeners do not need to respond to the words, but should stand to get ready to start their prayer.
Praying at the mosque vs at home
Q: Where do I pray tarawih?
A: You can pray tarawih in congregation in a masjid, as most masajid (15) will hold tarawih prayers (when not in lockdown!). However, you can also pray tarawih at home, alone (please see above for the how to), or in congregation with family and friends. I have fond childhood memories of gathering with cousins and attempting to finish twenty rak’at amidst laughter, tiredness and midnight snacks!
As the tarawih prayer is not one of the five compulsory prayers, it is actually recommended to pray it at home so that you can vary its length according to your own concentration levels.
Q: What about if I start praying some rak’at in the masjid and complete the rest at home?
A: That is absolutely fine; you can pray some in the masjid and some at home. This is usually nice as you get to experience both types of prayer: the congregational prayer and the solitary prayer .
Q: If I pray at home, can I take a break or a nap in between, or do I have to pray it all at once?
A: Taking breaks or taking naps in between is fine. It’s important to make sure your body is rested so that you can concentrate as much as possible in your salah.
May Allah accept all our acts of worship this Ramadan.
Footnotes & Reference Information
1.Sunnah: an act that was carried out by the Prophet ﷺ; it is recommended that we follow in his footsteps and get rewarded on acting upon these acts.
2.Isha: The last compulsory prayer of the day
3.Ahadith: plural of hadith: Sayings of the Prophet ﷺ
4. Bukhari and Muslim
5. Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah
6. Rak’at: plural of Rak’ah: unit of prayer
7. Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi
8. Fard: compulsory
9. Witr prayer: an odd number of prayers (either 1 or 3 rak’at), prayed after Isha, with a special qunoot du’a.
10. Bukhari and Muslim
11. Narrated by Musnad Ibn Abi Shaybah, although this hadith has been deemed as weak.
12. Bukhari and Muslim
13. Suwar: plural of surah: chapter of the Quran
14. Quranic scripture
16. Masajid: plural of masjid: mosque
Rumaysa is a qualified teacher with ijazaat in hadith. With experience teaching Islamic Sciences for over 10 years, she completed her Masters in Islamic education and subsequently worked on developing curriculums for Islamic institutions. She also has a degree in Biochemistry and a PGCE, having taught science for a number of years. She is a book lover and writer, contributing articles on a range of topics, and is particularly passionate about female scholarship. She is a member of a Shariah panel, and works with Muslim women in the community on a range of different issues. You can sign up to her latest course on Women in the Qur’ān on Eventbrite: