The Tarāweeh Prayer and Witr in Ramadān: Its Virtues, its Number and the Various Reported Combinations

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The Virtues of the Night Prayer in Ramadān (Tarāweeh)

From the virtues of this month is that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) legislated for us to pray the Tarāwīh prayer―and this prayer is particular to Ramadān. It is performed in congregation, in the Masjid just as the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) prayed it with his Companions (radiyallāhu ‘anhum), in a congregation at night. Then he left off leading them in congregation out of fear that it would be taken as an obligation, and they would not be able to fulfil it. Then after his death, the Companions, and the Rightly Guided Caliphs established it once more―they performed the Tarāwīh prayer in the Mosques. And the Muslims have continued that tradition till this day.

It is an established Sunnah and a distinguishing sign of Islam. The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated: “Whoever performs the night prayer during Ramadān with faith and hoping for reward, then his previous sins will be forgiven.”[1]

And he (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated: “Whoever stands with the imām in the night prayer up until he has finished, his previous sins will be forgiven.”[2]

He (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) also said: “Whoever stands to pray in the Night of Decree (Laylatul-Qadr) with Imān (faith) and hoping for reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.”[3]

All of these narrations establish the tradition of performing the Night Prayer in Ramadan, which in turn indicates the excellence of this month. Allah made the Night Prayer optional in its nights and fasting obligatory in its days―both righteous deeds and both acts of goodness.

Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated: “The best prayer after the obligations is the Night Prayer (Salāt Al-Layl).”[4]

He (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) also said: “O people, spread salutations among yourselves, feed the people food, keep the family ties, and pray through the night whilst the rest of the people are sleeping―and you shall enter Paradise in peace.”[5]

The Night Prayer in Ramadān was later referred to as Tarāwīh, but in the time of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), it was referred to as Tahajjud, and Qiyām Al-Layl, and Salāt Al-Layl and Witr. So, Tarāwīh is the word we use for the Night Prayer in Ramadan.

Regarding the Tawāwīh prayer, Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) stated: “Allah’s Messenger went out in the middle of the night and prayed in Mosque, and the people prayed behind him. Then the following morning, the people spoke about it…” (Al-Bukhāri no. 924, Muslim no. 761) Through this, the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) established the Sunnah of the night prayer in Ramadān and in a congregation.

The Number of Rak’ahs

The scholars have differed over the number of rak’ahs for the Tarāwīh prayer. However, what seems to be most correct is that the Tarāwīh is eight rak’ahs and then three rak’ahs for Witr. This is proven from the hadīth of Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) who said: “Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) did not increase upon eleven rak’ahs (in the night prayer) in Ramadān or outside of it.” (Muslim no. 738, Al-Bukhāri no. 1147) This narration shows that term Tarāwīh refers to the Night Prayer in Ramadan that also includes the Witr. Ibn Hajr (rahimahullāh) stated: “Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) was the most knowledgeable concerning the practice of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) at night.” (Al-Fat’h 4/54) Meaning, she knows what he prayed and the number he prayed.

Furthermore, Kuraib, the freed slave of Ibn ‘Abbas (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā), said: “I asked Ibn ‘Abbas: ‘How did the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) pray at night?’ He said: ‘He prayed eleven rak’ahs including Witr.'” (An-Nasā’ī no. 687)

And Jābir bin Abdillāh (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said: “When Prophet led the people in Prayer during the night in Ramadān, he prayed eight rak’ahs and the Witr.” (Ibn Hibbān in his Sahīh, no. 920, At-Tabarāni in As-Saghīr, p. 108, Ibn Nasr in Qiyām al-Layl, p.90)

Witr and Tarāwīh

The least rak’ahs in the Night Prayer is one for Witr, and the most one should pray is eleven. The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated: “Whoever loves to make Witr with one rak’ah, let him do so.”[6] 

And I have already mentioned the hadīth wherein Abu Salamah bin Abdur-Rahmān said: I asked Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā), “How was the Night prayer of Allāh’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) during the month of Ramadān?” She replied, “Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) never exceeded eleven rak’ahs in Ramadān or in the other months.”[7]

A person can also make night prayer with three rak’ahs due to the saying of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), “Whoever loves to make Witr with three rak’ahs, let him do so.”[8]

One can pray Witr with just one tasleem (i.e. the salām) at the end due to what has been reported by At-Tahāwi, that ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) made Witr with three rak’ahs and he did not make the tasleem until after the last Rak’ah.

The worshipper can also make two rak’ahs for Witr, then make tasleem, then make the additional one rak’ah, making it three. This has been reported from Abdullāh Ibn ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) that: “He used to make tasleem after the two rak’ahs in Witr, and then tasleem after another rak’ah.”[9]

Combinations in the Night Prayer (Tarāwīh)

A person can pray the Night Prayer with five rak’ahs, praying them all together without sitting for tashahhud except after the last rak’ah and then make the tasleem. The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “Whoever likes to make Witr with five rak’ahs, let him do so.”[10]

Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) stated: “The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) would pray thirteen rak’ahs in the night prayer. And from that, he would pray five as an odd number―not sitting down for tashahhud in any of that except after the final rak’ah.”[11]

And he would [sometimes] make the night prayer with seven rak’ahs and do the same as he did when he prayed five. Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) said: “The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) would pray the Witr as seven rak’ahs and would not separate between the rak’ahs with salām (i.e. tasleem) nor speech.”[12]

A person can also pray nine rak’ahs, and not sit for tashahhud except after the eighth rak’ah―then he sits and recites the tashuhhud and supplicates in it, not making tasleem, then he stands and prays the ninth rak’ah―then he sits for the tashahhud and du’ā, and makes tasleem to finish. Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) said concerning this night prayer of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam): “He would pray nine rak’ahs, and not sit for tashahhud except after the eighth. He would remember Allah, praise Him and supplicate. Then he would get up without making tasleem, stand and pray the ninth rak’ah. Then he would sit after that in tashahhud, remember Allah, praise Him and supplicate. Then he would make the tasleem that we could hear.”[13]

He can also pray eleven rak’ahs. And if he wants, he can make tasleem after every two. And then make Witr with one rak’ah at the end. This is based upon the hadīth of Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) where she said: “The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) would pray between the time of ‘Ishā and Fajr eleven rak’ahs. He would make tasleem after every two rak’ahs, and finish with one Witr.”[14]

If a person wants, he can pray four rak’ahs, then another four rak’ahs, then finish with three Witr due to the hadeeth of A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā): “Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) would pray four. Do not ask concerning their beauty or their length. Then he would pray a further four. And do not ask about their beauty and length. Then he would pray three rak’ahs.”[15] This narration can be taken to mean that he prayed four rak’ahs with one tasleem at the end―and that is what is apparent from the text.

As for praying five, or seven, or nine at one time without tasleem, then it is for the one who is praying alone or with a small congregation who choose to pray like that. As for the Mosques where the people generally pray, then it is better that the Imām makes tasleem after every two rak’ahs so as not to make matters hard for the people or cause them to doubt in their intention for the prayer.

Make things Easy for the People, not Hard

And Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated: “O people, some of you are scaring the people away. So, whoever from you leads the people in Prayer, he should keep it short, for behind him are the weak, the aged, and the people who have matters they need to take care of.”[16]

And in narration, he (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “But when a person prays alone, he may pray as [long] he wants.” That is because it is not reported from the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) that he led the Companions in the Night Prayer with seven, nine, etc in one go. Rather he only did that when praying alone.[17]

Read also: Is it allowed to hold the Mus’haf and recite from it in the Taraweeh Prayer? And how to Establish the Taraweeh at Home in Ramadān while under COVID-19 Restrictions

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[1] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1904).

[2] Al-Bukhari (no. 1901).

[3] Al-Bukhari (no. 1901).

[4] Reported by Muslim.

[5] Reported by At-Tirmidhi who graded it hasan-sahīh, and Al-Hākim authenticated it.

[6] Reported by Abu Dawūd and An-Nasā’ī.

[7] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1147).

[8] Reported by Abu Dawūd and An-Nasā’ī.

[9] Reported by Al-Bukhāri.

[10] Reported by Abu Dawūd and An-Nasā’ī.

[11] Agreed upon by Bukhāri and Muslim.

[12] Reported by Ahmad, An-Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah.

[13] Reported by Ahmad and Muslim.

[14] Reported by the four collectors of Sunan except for At-Tirmidhi.

[15] Reported by Bukhāri and Muslim.

[16] Reported by Muslim.

[17] See Majālis Shahr Ramadān, by Ash-Shaikh, Al-Allāmah, Al-Faqīh, Muhammad bin Sālih Al-‘Uthaimīn (rahimahullāh), pp. 26-28.

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