Salaatul Tarawih: Eight or Twenty Raka’ah?
By Ahmed ibn Muhammad
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
Wa Sall Allahu ta ‘ala ‘alaa Sayyidina wa Mawlanaa Muhammadin wa ‘alaa Aalihi wa Sahbihi wa Sallam
In a handout by some misguided people, there appeared the following question and answer (No. 22):
(a) Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reports that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) never prayed more than 8 rak’aats in Taraweeh, so how come nobody disapproves of 20?
(b) Is it true that Umar (Allah be pleased with him) introduced it?
(a) As regards the Taraweeh prayer – people agree that the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and the best way is 11 rak’aats. As regards any addition – then this is DISAPPROVED of and DECLARED AS A BID’AH (A bad innovation).
(b) It is not true that Umar (Allah be pleased with him) either prayed or ordered 20 rak’aats. Rather he ordered Ubayy ibn Ka’b to lead the people with 11 rak’aats (al-Muwatta 1/137, with a Sahih Isnad).
It should be said that the vast MAJORITY of the scholars of Hadith, Fiqh, and even the four Mujtahid Imams are in agreement that 20 rak’ahs are the most appropriate, followed by 3 rak’ahs of Witr.
First, it should be said that the Hadith reported from Sayyidah Aisha (Radhi Allahu Anhaa) about 11 rak’ahs is not at all to do with Taraweeh, according to the majority of scholars, but in fact concerns the number of rak’ahs of TAHAJJUD prayer! The Hadith in question is as follows:-
Narrated Abu Salama ibn Abdur Rahman that he asked Aisha (Allah be pleased with her), “How was the prayer of Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him) in Ramadan?” She replied, “He did not pray more than eleven raka’at in Ramadan or in any other month. He used to pray four raka’at – let alone their beauty and length – and then he would pray four – let alone their beauty and length – and then he would pray three rak’aat (witr).” She added, “I asked, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Do you sleep before praying the Witr?’ He replied, ‘O Aisha, My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep.'” (Bukhari, 3/230, English edn)
According to the author of “Fatawa Rahimiyyah“, Mufti Abdur Rahim Lajpuri (vol. 1, pg. 275); in his defence of 20 rak’ahs of Taraweeh: “The commentator of al-Sahih al-Bukhari and the erudite traditionist, Shaykh Shamsud-Din al-Kermani (d. 786 AH; Rahimahullah) said: ‘In the Hadith (above), the Tahajjud prayer is meant. Abu Salama’s question and Hadrat Aisha’s answer concerned the Tahajjud.’ He adds further: ‘If the Tahajjud prayer is not meant, then this tradition will be at variance with the tradition that states that the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) led twenty rak’ahs each for two nights, and in the case of such clash the tradition of twenty rakah’s which is affirmative (muthbit) shall have precedence because according to the principles of Hadith, the affirmative takes precedence over the negative (naaf)” (vide: Al-Kawakib ud-Durari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 9, pg 155-156). We say, does this not mean that people who perform 8 rak’ahs of Taraweeh, should pray 20 rak’ahs instead? Since according to the principles of Hadith, “The affirmative takes precedence over the negative in certain cases.”
A great fact that should also be noted by the reader is that the Imam’s of Hadith have placed the Hadith from Sayyidah Aisha (Radhi Allahu Anha) under the section of Tahajjud prayers, which indicates their belief that the Hadith applies to Tahajjud only. The Imam al-Muhaddithin al-Bukhari (Radhi Allahu ta’ala Anhu) has placed the Hadith from Sayyidah Aisha under at least two sections of his Sahih, first under the section of ’21: The Tahajjud Prayer at Night’ (see Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 2, chapter 15, no. 248, English ed’n) and then under the section of ’32: The Book of Taraweeh Prayers‘ (see Sahih al-Bukhari, 3/230, pg. 128 English ed’n). This means that al-Imam Bukhari believed that the prayer mentioned by Aisha was that of Tahajjud only, and since the Tahajjud prayer is performed also in Ramadan, then Imam Bukhari also quoted the same Hadith under ‘The book of Taraweeh prayers‘, but Allah knows best. Imam Muslim (Rahimahullah) has also placed the Hadith from Aisha under the Tahajjud prayer section (see Sahih Muslim 1/1607, pg. 356, English ed’n). Also Imam Malik (Rahimahullah) has placed Sayyidah Aisha’s Hadith under the Book of Tahajjud (see Al-Muwatta, Book 7, section 7.2, no. 9, pg. 5, English ed’n). Al-Imam Abi Dawud (Rahimahullah) has also placed the same Hadith under the chapter ‘On the number of Rak’ahs of the prayer at night (Tahajjud)’ (see Abi Dawud 1/1336, pg. 351, English version). Even Imam’s Tirmidhi and Nisai (Allah’s mercy be upon them) placed Aisha’s Hadith under the Tahajjud section (see Tirmidhi, vol. 1, pg. 58 and Nisai, vol. 1, pg.154).