(Numbers in Brackets are footnotes that are cited at the end of the article)
Q: What is tarāweeh?
A: Tarāweeh prayers are Sunnah(1) prayers performed at night after Eshā’(2) Salāh during the month of Ramadān. These night prayers have been emphasised in Ahādīth(3) and can also be called ‘qiyām al layl’ (night prayers).
Tarāweeh prayers are classed as either Sunnah mu’akkadah (emphasised Sunnah) or nafil (optional).
Q: Why should I pray tarāweeh?
A: There are many rewards for praying the tarāweeh prayers:
The prophet pbuh said: whoever stands for prayer (the night prayer) during Ramadān with īmān (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 Ramadān, the rewards for tarāweeh are even greater:
The prophet pbuh said: “Whoever draws nearer (to Allāh) 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 pbuh, the tarāweeh prayers were prayed in congregation for a short period of time, after which the Prophet pbuh 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 Khattāb (the second caliph) may Allah be pleased with him, twenty rak’āt (6) of tarāweeh prayer were led in congregation daily. These practices established by Umar ibn al Khattab came to be recognised as Sunnah, based on the hadīth:
The prophet pbuh said: Stick to my Sunnah (my way) and the Sunnah (way) of the khulafā ar-Rāshideen (rightly guided Caliphs). Hold fast onto it with your molar teeth.(7)
The month of Ramadān is a gift; it is our time to focus on our personal relationship with Allāh. Tarāweeh 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 Allāh and have a conversation with Him in the short time we dedicate to Him during our tarāweeh prayers.
Q: When do I pray tarāweeh?
A: You can pray tarāweeh prayer after the four fardh (8) rak’āt of Eshā’ salah, before the witr (9) prayer and any time before dawn. It is extremely rewarding to pray the Eshā’ prayer, sleep or rest for a while, then wake up to pray tarāweeh and witr in the last third of the night.
Q: How do I pray tarāweeh?
A: Tarāweeh is prayed in sets of two rak’āt each, in the same way as you would pray your normal salāh. There are some narrations of the prophet pbuh that would support the opinion that tarāweeh is twenty rak’āt, and some narrations that would support the opinion that tarāweeh is completed by praying eight rak’āt. The opinion that tarāweeh is twenty rak’āt has been narrated by all four Sunni schools of fiqh.
Abdullāh ibn Umar narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Prayers at night are to be offered two by two (two rak’āt 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 Abdullāh ibn Abbās : “The Prophet pbuh would pray 20 Rak’āt and then witr in the month of Ramadhan.”(11)
Abū Salama ibn Abd Ar Rahmān (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that he asked `Āisha (may Allāh be pleased with her), “How was the prayer of Allāh’s Messenger pbuh in Ramadān?” She replied, “He did not pray more than eleven rak’āt in Ramadān or in any other month. He used to pray four rak’āt – let alone their beauty and length – and then he would pray four rak’āt – let alone their beauty and length – and then he would pray three rak’āt (witr).” (12)
(Aisha may Allāh be pleased with her relates what she saw of the prophet pbuh in her home, so the hadīth is understood that the prophet pbuh would pray some rak’āt in the masjid).
Depending on the opinion that you follow (or depending on how tired you are) you can choose to pray eight rak’āt or twenty rak’āt (or any even number of rak’āt), as tarāweeh is prayed in sets of two rak’āt each. You can recite any part of the Qur’ān during your tarāweeh prayers – there is no specific obligation to recite a specific part of the Qur’ān. The most important thing is that these prayers should be a means to bring you closer to Allāh, so you should try to find out the meaning of what you are reciting in your prayers and make sure that you pray calmly and with full focus. The quality of your tarāweeh prayers matters more than the quantity!
Q: What about if I just pray two rak’āt?
A: If you pray two rak’āt, you will no doubt be rewarded for it as Allāh does not let any action go to waste unrewarded – and of course, praying two rak’āt is better than praying none. However, two rak’āt would not be classed as a complete tarāweeh.
Some people like to recite the whole Qur’ān in their tarāweeh prayers during Ramadān. This means if you go to a masjid, you may find that the tarāweeh prayers are long (usually last over an hour!) as they will complete approximately one juz’ of the Qur’ān in one day. This is a great way to complete the recitation of the Qur’ān in your salāh during the month of Ramadān, so it can be highly rewarding. However, remember that it is not compulsory to complete the twenty rak’āt with congregation every day and that you should always do actions according to your ability without comparing to others.
Q: What if I only know two suwar (13) of the Quran 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 pray them in salāh.
Q: Can I hold a mushaf (14) during my tarāweeh and recite Quran 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.
Q: Where do I pray tarāweeh?
A: You can pray tarāweeh in a masjid in congregation as most masājid (15) will hold tarāweeh prayers. However, you can also pray tarāweeh at home, alone, or in congregation with family and friends. I have fond childhood memories of gathering with cousins and attempting to finish twenty rak’āt amongst laughter, tiredness and midnight snacks!
As the tarāweeh 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’āt 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 prayer alone.
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 enough so that you can concentrate as much as you can in your salāh.
May Allāh accept all our acts of worship this Ramadān.
Footnotes & Reference Information
1.Sunnah: an act that was carried out by the Prophet pbuh, it is recommended that we follow in his footsteps and get rewarded on acting upon these acts.
2.Eshā’: The last compulsory prayer of the day
3.Ahādīth: plural of hadith: Sayings of the Prophet pbuh
4. Bukhāri and Muslim
5. Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah
6. Rak’āt: plural of Rak’ah: unit of prayer
7. Abu Dawūd and Tirmidhi
8. Fardh: compulsory
9. Witr prayer: an odd number of prayers (either 1 or 3 rak’āt), prayed after Eshā’, with a special qunoot dua.
10. Bukhāri and Muslim
11. Narrated by Musnad Ibn Abī Shaybah, although this hadith has been deemed as weak.
12. Bukhāri and Muslim
13. Suwar: plural of surah: chapter of the Quran
14. Quranic scripture
16. Masājid: plural of masjid: mosque
Rumaysa is a qualified teacher with ijaazaat in hadith and has been teaching Islamic sciences for over 5 years. She has a degree in Biochemistry and has taught Science (A levels) for a number of years. She has additionally completed her Masters in Islamic Education and has written articles on a range of topics. She is a book lover, and is particularly passionate about Islamic education.