The legality of the Tarawih prayer:
The specific prayers during the month of Ramadan, which are known as tarawih, are sunnah for both men and women, and they are to be performed after the obligatory 'isha and before the performance of the witr. They should be prayed in sets of two rak'at each. It is allowed to pray them after witr; though, this is not the best thing to do. They may be performed until the end of the night.
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would encourage people to perform the special prayers during Ramadan without commanding them as obligatory and he said: "Whoever prays during the nights of Ramadan [tarawih] with a firm belief and hoping for reward, all of his previous sins would be forgiven." This is related by the group.
'Aishah says: "The Prophet offered salah in the mosque and many people prayed with him. The next day he did the same and more people prayed with him. Then the people gathered on the third night but, the Prophet did not come out to them. In the morning, he said to them: 'Surely I saw what you did, and nothing prevented me from coming out to you, save that I feared that [that prayer] would be made obligatory upon you.' And that was during Ramadan." This is related by the group except for at-Tirmidhi .
The number of rak'at of Tarawih:
'Aishah reported that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would not pray more than eleven rak'at during Ramadan or otherwise. This is related by the group.
Ibn Khuzaimah and Ibn Hibban have recorded in their sahihs on the authority of Jabir that the Prophet prayed eight rak'at and the witr prayer with the companions. Then, the next day, the people waited for him but he did not come out to them.
Abu Ya'la and at-Tabarani record, with a hasan chain, from Jabir that Ubayy ibn Ka'b came to the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam and said: "O Messenger of Allah, I have done something last night," (i.e., during Ramadan). The Prophet said: 'And what was that, O Ubayy?' He said: The women in my house said, 'We don't recite Qur'an [well or much] so can we pray behind you?' I prayed eight rak'at and the witr prayer with them.
The Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam was pleased with that and did not say anything." This is the sunnah that has been related from the Messenger of Allah and nothing besides that is authentic. It is also true that during the time of 'Umar, 'Uthman, and 'Ali the people prayed twenty rak'at, and this is the opinion of the majority of the jurists of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools as well as that of Dawud.
At-Tirmidhi says: "Most of the people of knowledge follow what has been related from 'Umar and 'Ali and other companions of the Prophet, [i.e., that they prayed] twenty rak'at. And this is the opinion of al-Thauri, Ibn al-Mubarak, and ash-Shaf'i. And so I found the people of Makkah praying twenty rak'at." Some of the scholars are of the opinion that the sunnah is eleven rak'at, including witr, and it is also preferred to pray the remainder [of the twenty rak'at] .
Al-Kamal ibn al-Hamam says: "The evidence indicates that the sunnah of the twenty rak'at is what the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam himself did and then he stopped out of fear that it would become something obligatory (for his followers), therefore, the rest of the rak'at are only preferred. It is however, confirmed that he only prayed eleven rak'at, including the witr, as is stated in the two sahihs. According to the scholars, the sunnah is eight rak'at while it is preferred to pray twelve rak'at."
Praying tarawih in congregation:
It is allowed to pray tarawih of the month of Ramadan in a congregation just as it is allowed to pray them on an individual basis. The majority of the scholars, however, prefer to pray them in congregation. The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam, as stated earlier, prayed tarawih in congregation with the Muslims but he discontinued since he feared that it would be made obligatory.
'Umar was the one who convoked the Muslims to pray tarawih behind one imam. Abdurahman ibn Abdulqari reports: "One night during Ramadan, I went with 'Umar to the mosque and the people were praying in different groups. Some were praying by themselves and others were praying in small groups. 'Umar said: 'I think it would be better if I gathered them under one imam .' Then he did so and appointed Ubayy ibn Ka'b as the leader of the prayer. Then I went out with him on another night and all the people were praying behind one imam and 'Umar said: 'What a good innovation (bid'ah) this is,' but, it is better to sleep and delay it until the latter portion of the night." The people (however) prayed it at the beginning of the night. This is related by al-Bukhari, Ibn Khuzaimah, alBaihaqi, and others.
The recitation of the Qur'an in tarawih:
There is no particular sunnah regarding the recitation during salat at-tarawih. It is related that some people of the early generations would pray with two hundred 'ayyahs or so and the people would be leaning on staffs due to the protracted standing during the salah. They would not leave their prayers until shortly before dawn and some of them would rush their servants to prepare food for them fearing that dawn may break soon. They would recite al-Baqarah in eight rak'at and if they would complete it in twelve rak'at, they would consider their prayers to have been very short.
Ibn Qudamah says: "Ahmad said: 'Recite of the Qur'an what is easy for the people and do not be hard upon them, especially during the short nights [i.e., during the summer].'"
[On the same subject], Al-Qadi says: 'It is not preferred to recite less than the entire Qur'an during the month: in this way, the people will be able to hear the whole Qur'an. Do not recite more than one reading of the Qur'an as this may be hard upon the people. [While reciting], consideration should be given to the condition of the people. If the people concur that they would prefer a long recital, that would be best.' Likewise, Abu Dharr said: 'We prayed with the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam until we feared that we would miss the pre-dawn meal. And the imam would recite two hundred 'ayyahs.'"
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