Posted by: ali | January 30, 2009


Throughout my life I have noticed that during Ramadan the attendences in the masjid increase, which is undoubtibly a good thing. But I also noticed that it was mostly during ‘Isha prayer time, perhaps to pray Tarawih. I remember being part of the minority that left after 8 rakats, most people stayed for the full time. There were many things I found peculiar about how we prayed Tarawih. It seemed we could only leave after 8 rakats, otherwise we would have to stay until the end. But after each ‘As-salamu-alaikum-wa-rahmatullah’ a prayer is over, so why couldn’t I leave after 2 rakats? or 4 rakats? I found out later that I could. Furthermore, I found out that actually, tarawih in its present form did not occur during the time of the propeht (s)

Here is an article that provides sufficient evidence regarding the issue.  I am not saying to stop praying tarawhih, but to explain that it is not the way we think it is.


Why do the Shi’ah avoid Tarawih congregations?

17:79 And rise from thy sleep and pray during part of the night [as well], as a free offering from thee, and thy Sustainer may well raise thee to a glorious station [in the life to come].

Prophet Muhammad (s) said regarding the month of Ramadan:

“Whoever establishes the night prayer (Qiyam al-Layl) in it out of sincere Faith and hope for reward from Allah, all of his previous sins will be forgiven.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 3, book 32, number 226]

Why do the Shi’ah avoid Tarawih congregations?

The Ahl al-Sunnah generally consider it a sunnah to offer specific evening prayers – the Tarawih – in congregation during the holy month of Ramadan. The Shi’ah, while being commended to offer similar nawafil (recommended prayers), are not allowed to offer them in congregation. This practice of the Shi’ah is in accordance with the orders and sunnah of the Prophet (s).

Brothers and sisters from the Ahl al-Sunnah come together in Tarawih congregations during the early evenings of the month of Ramadan. They stand in prayer and recite the Qur’an, and may Allah (swt) reward them for their sincere intentions and actions. However, the word Tarawih was never mentioned by the Qur’an or the Prophet (s) to describe these extra congregational prayers during the evenings of the month of Ramadan. It is a term developed later amongst Muslims. Linguistically, the word “Tarawih” is the plural of the word ‘tarwiha’ referring to the short period of rest between every four units of the prayer. Later, the entire congregational prayers in the nights of Ramadan were called by this term.

Origins of Tarawih as a Congregational Prayer

It is a well-established fact that the Tarawih, as a congregational night prayer of Ramadan, owes its existence to the order of the second caliph, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab.

q Narrated Abu Hurayra: Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, “When Allah’s Apostle died, the people continued observing that (i.e. Nawafil offered individually, not in congregation), and it remained as such during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar’s Caliphate.” ‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Abdul Qari said, “I went out in the company of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups – a man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. Then, ‘Umar said, ‘In my opinion I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one Qari (reciter) [i.e. let them pray in congregation!]’. So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubayy bin Ka’b. Then, on another night, I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar remarked, ‘What an excellent bid’a (innovation in religion) this is; but the prayer which they do not perform, but rather sleep at its time, is better than the one they are offering.’ He meant the prayer in the last part of the night.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 3, book 32, number 227]

q “It was called bid’ah because the Prophet (s) did not use to pray it in congregation, and neither was it prayed like that in the time of al-Siddiq (referring to the first Caliph), nor in the early part of night or with these number of units.”

[al-Qastallani, Irshad al-Sari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 5, page 4]

[al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, volume 6, page 287]

q “‘Umar was the first who set the example of the night prayer of Ramadan, the Tarawih, and gathered people for it, and instructed different regions regarding it. This was during the month of Ramadhan of the year 14 (hijri). He appointed for the people reciters of the Qur’an who led the Tarawih prayer for men and women.”

[Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat, volume 3, page 281]

[al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa’, page 137]

[al-‘Ayni, ‘Umdat al-Qari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 6, page 125]

Congregation in Mosque or Individually at Home?

Offering the optional prayers individually inside the home and away from congregation in mosque is highly recommended by the Prophet (s) as it brings more blessings for the home and family and helps in the Islamic upbringing of children.

q The Prophet (s) said: “O people! Perform your prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what he performs at his home, except the compulsory (congregational) prayer.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 9, book 92, number 393]

[al-Nasa’i, Sunan, volume 3, p. 161, p. 198]

q Once Abdullah bin Mas’ud asked the Prophet (s): “Which is better; to pray in my house or in the mosque?” The Prophet (s) replied: “Do you not see how near to the mosque my house is? To pray in my house is more beloved to me than to pray in the mosque except for the obligatory prayers.”

[Ibn Majah, Sunan, volume 1, page 439, number 1378]

q Narrated Zayd bin Thabit: Allah’s Apostle (s) made a small room (with a palm leaf mat). He (s) came out (of his house) and prayed in it. Some men came and joined him in his prayer. Then again the next night they came for the prayer, but the Prophet (s) delayed and did not come out to them. So they raised their voices and knocked the door with small stones (to draw his attention). He came out to them in a state of anger, saying, “You are still insisting (on your deed) that I fear this prayer might become obligatory on you. So, O you people! offer this prayer at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is the one which he offers at home, except the compulsory (congregational) prayer.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 8, book 73, number 134]

Didn’t the Shi’ah Imams Pray Tarawih ?

Imam al-Baqir (‘a) and Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) were asked about the permissibility of praying optional prayers in congregation during the nights of Ramadan. They both narrated a tradition of the Prophet (s) where he said:

q “Verily, the offering of nafila (recommended prayers) in congregation during the nights of Ramadan is an innovation… O people! do not say nafila prayers of Ramadan in congregation…. Without doubt, performing a minor act of worship which is according to the sunna is better than performing a major act of worship which is an innovation.”

[al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, volume 8, page 45]

This view of the Imams from the Prophet’s progeny is confirmed by a scholar well-known amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah who writes:

q “The progeny of the Prophet (s) say that congregation in Tarawih is an innovation”.

[al-Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar, volume 3, page 50]

What do Sunni scholars say about praying Tarawih at home ?

q “The scholars agree on its merit, but they differ on whether it is better to pray it in one’s home individually or in congregation in a mosque.” Al-Nawawi, the famous commentator of Sahih Muslim, then goes on to list scholars who support the second and dominant view. He then writes: “Malik, Abu Yusuf, some Shafi’i scholars, and others say that it is better to pray it individually in the home”.

[al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, volume 6, page 286]


The Shi’ah always aspire to pray the night prayer – called the Tahajjud or Qiyam al-Layl or Salat al-Layl – in the last part of the nights of every month, particularly during Ramadan. They are also commended to offer additional nawafil prayers during the nights of Ramadan. However, they offer these optional prayers mostly in their homes and never in congregation. By doing so they abide by the Qur’an and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (s).



  1. Actually, Tarawih WAS practiced by the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasallam, in Jama’ah. But then he feared that doing so all the time would make it Fardh upon his followers, so out of compassion he stopped doing it. Umar ibn al-Khattab simply revived the Sunnah when he saw it to be appropriate.

    Here’s my proof:

    In the books of Bukhari and Muslim, ‘Aishah (radiAllahu anha) has been reported as saying:

    “The Messenger of Allah (sallahu alayhi wasallam) observed Taraweeh prayer in the Masjid one night and people prayed with him. He repeated the following night and the number of participants grew. The companions congregated the third and fourth night, but the Messenger did not show up. In the morning he told them, “I saw what you did last night, but nothing prevented me from joining you except my fear that it might be made mandatory on you in Ramadan.”

  2. MQ,

    This was addressed in the article, and the hadith you quoted was quoted as well. The main discussion is regarding tarawih in its PRESENT form, in which Muslims go to the masjid, a large portion of the time solely for the purpose of praying tarawih in congregation, 20-something rakats, and finishing the entire Qur’an during the month of Ramadan.

    I know some Muslims who do not pray the entire year, and even during Ramadan do not pray the obligatory 5 prayers, but will make all efforts to go to the masjid and pray this non-obligatory prayer. That, among others, is the issue I am trying to address.

  3. Well the Tarawih was done in the Masjid even in the Sunnah.

    “I know some Muslims who do not pray the entire year, and even during Ramadan do not pray the obligatory 5 prayers, but will make all efforts to go to the masjid and pray this non-obligatory prayer. That, among others, is the issue I am trying to address.”
    This I completely agree with. But the Sunnah is the Sunnah, regardless of how many Muslims mis-practice it. I know what you mean though, that Desis give so much importance to Tarawih though their fasts might be deficient during Ramadan.

    I was mostly trying to refute the Shi’a view on Tarawih, because they believe that it is BID’AH to pray it in Jama’ah – since they believe Umar, whom they hate, started it. And to say that something in the authentic Sunnah is Bi’dah, is an act of kufr, because it rejects the actions of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasallam for sectarian reasons (i.e just because it’s in Sunni books).

  4. It is bid’ah by definition (see post on bid’ah). Since the Propher (s) did not pray tarawih IN THIS PARTICULAR WAY THAT IS DONE NOW, it is bid’ah. He prayed on his own, not in a large group.

    Furthermore, Umar (r) says himself what an excellent ‘bidah’ this is

  5. […] The Middle Path […]

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