Taraweeh Salaah, as explained by the scholars of Islam is one which is performed exclusively in the Holy month of Ramadhan. It is done after the Isha (Salaah) and before the witr (Salaah) during the nights of Ramadhan and brings about a tremendous amount of blessings as it falls under the act of ‘establishing the month of Ramadhan with (Ibadah) worship’. About this, the Messenger of Allah (S.A) has stated, ‘Whoever fasts the month of Ramadhan with (firm) faith and the hope of receiving rewards, all his previous sins shall be forgiven. And whoever stands in the month of Ramadhan with (firm) faith and the hope of receiving rewards, all his previous sins shall be forgiven’. (Bukhari from the hadith of Abu Hurairah R.A).

This tradition establishes the fact that standing in salaah and performing additional and extra acts of worship in the blessed month of Ramadhan are indeed very virtuous and rewarding acts of worship.

In another tradition, the believers are further exhorted and encouraged to increase their acts of Ibadah (worship) in the blessed month of Ramadhan. The tradition states that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘When the first night of the Holy month of Ramadhan enters, the satans and rebellious jinns are chained. The doors of Hell are locked and not a single one remains open. The doors of Jannah (Paradise) are then opened and not one from among them remains closed. An announcer then makes the following announcement, ‘O seeker of good! Come forward (and do as much good as possible) and O seeker of evil! Decrease your evil. And for Allah, there are many who are emancipated (freed) from the fire of Hell, which occurs every night’. (Recorded by Tirmizi and Ibn Majah with a good sanad).

The tradition shows that Allah has ordered the closing of the doors of Hell and has commanded all the doors of Paradise to remain wide open. These are done as an encouragement to all believers to increase their good actions in the blessed month. In addition, they are openly addressed as ‘seekers of good’ and then told that they should advance in doing a great amount of good actions.

In view of these traditions, it is clear that the establishment of the Taraweeh salaah brings about the rewards of standing in the month of Ramadhan and also enables one to fulfill the requirement of increasing his good deeds, as highlighted in the second tradition.

Besides the above, it is also evident that the performance of Taraweeh salaah is established from the action of the Messenger of Allah (S.A). Aishah (R.A) reports that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) performed salaah one night and the people performed it with him. He then performed it on the next night and the people increased (in their numbers to perform it with him). When they (the people) gathered on the third night or the fourth night, he the Messenger of Allah (S.A) did not come out (to perform the salaah with them). On the next morning, he said to them, ‘I saw what you did and nothing prevented me from coming (to perform salaah with you) except that I fear that it may be made compulsory upon you. And this was in Ramadhan’. (Bukhari, Muslim).
In another tradition narrated by Abu Zarr (R.A) he said, ‘We fasted with the Messenger of Allah (S.A) in the month of Ramadhan and he did not stand with us (in performing any optional salaah) until there remained seven nights (for the month to complete). He then stood with us in salaah until one third of the night passed. When it was the sixth (remaining) night, he did not stand with us. When it was the fifth (remaining) night, he stood with us until a half of the night had passed. I then said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, it will be good if you had continued to perform optional salaah for us for the rest of the night’. Upon this, he (the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘Certainly when a person performs salaah with the Imam until he (the Imam) comes to a completion and finishes, then he (the person) receives the rewards of standing for the entire night’. Abu Zarr continues by saying, ‘so when it was the fourth night (remaining), he (the Prophet (S.A) did not stand (with us). When it was the third night (remaining), he gathered his family members and the ladies and other people and then stood with us (in salaah) until we feared that Al-Falaah will miss us. The narrator from Abu Zarr asked, ‘What is Al-Falaah?’ He (Abu Zarr) said, ‘Suhoor’ (i.e. Sehri). Abu Zarr continued by saying ‘that the Prophet of Allah did not stand with them for the remaining nights of the month’. (Recorded by Abu Dawood, Tirmizi, Nasaa’I, Ibn Majah, Ahmad. Imam Tirmizi said that the Hadith is good and sound).

Both the above traditions show that the performance of Taraweeh salaah was indeed a Sunnah (practice) of the Messenger of Allah (S.A) himself and was not a sunnah (practice) of Umar (R.A). The act which was established from Umar (R.A) was that he gathered the people under one Imam. Before this, they used to perform the Taraweeh in separate groups and the people would be inclined to the reciter who had the best voice. Seeing this, Umar said, ‘I see that the people have taken the Quraan as songs and melodies. By Allah, if I have the ability, I shall certainly change it’. Having said this, only a short time passed that Umar (R.A) ordered Ubai (R.A) to lead the people in salaah’ (i.e. Taraweeh). (Recorded by Imam Bukhari in the chapter ‘Khalq Af’aalil Ibaad’).

The tradition of Abu Zarr mentioned before also shows that the Taraweeh salaah was performed in Jamaat (congregation) by the Prophet (S.A). This is further established from the following tradition, which makes it clear that the Prophet (S.A) endorsed the performance of Taraweeh salaah in Jamaat (congregation). The tradition states that Tha’laba bin Abi Malik Al-Qurazi said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (S.A) came out one night in the month of Ramadhan and saw some people performing salaah in a corner of the masjid. Upon this, he asked, ‘What are these people doing?’ Someone replied, ‘O Messenger of Allah! These people do not know the Quraan and Ubai bin Ka’ab is reciting the Quraan (in salaah) and they are performing salaah with him’. The Prophet (S.A) then said, ‘They have done good and they have done the right thing’. And he did not dislike this for them. (Recorded by Baihaqi with a good sanad).

It is therefore evident from the above mentioned traditions that the performance of Taraweeh salaah is extremely virtuous and rewarding and believers are encouraged to perform it in the month of Ramadhan. It is further established that the Prophet (S.A) himself performed the Taraweeh salaah and also endorsed its performance in Jamaat (i.e. in congregation). In this regard, the celebrated scholar, Ibn Qudama (died 620 AH) wrote, ‘The first person to establish the Taraweeh salaah was the Messenger of Allah (S.A) and its connection to Umar bin Khattab was due to the fact that he gathered the people under Ubai bin Ka’ab, who performed the salaah for them’. (Al Mughni).

Having been established as an important form of Ibadah (worship) in the blessed month of Ramadhan, a Muslim is required to know how many rakaats the Taraweeh salaah comprise of.

Based upon that which is unanimously held by the scholars of the early era of Islam, (they state that) no specific number of rakaats of Taraweeh has been highlighted in the traditions (which speak about the Taraweeh of the Prophet (S.A)). In other words, although the Messenger of Allah had performed optional salaah during the nights of Ramadhan (referred to as Taraweeh), no fixed amount has been recorded by any companion pertaining to that which they had read with him on the given nights.

In this regard, Allama Subki writes, ‘know that it has not been narrated as to how many rakaats the Prophet (S.A) read on those nights. Was it twenty or less? (Sharh Minhaaj).

Allama Shawkani has written, ‘The Sunnah has not narrated it’. (i.e. the amount of rakaats and its specification with fixed recitation). (Nailul Awtaar).

In a like manner, Allama Jalaludeen Suyuti has stated, ‘The scholars have differed with respect to the amount of rakaats in the Taraweeh salaah. If this was evident through the action of the Prophet (S.A), they would not have differed (Al-Masabeeh).

Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah has also written, ‘Whoever thinks that in the standing for Ramadhan (i.e. the Taraweeh salaah) there is a fixed and specific amount from the Prophet (S.A) which one cannot increase nor decrease, he has committed a mistake’ (Fatawa Ibn Taimiyah).

Besides the above mentioned scholars, there are many others who have all written that no fixed and specific amount of rakaats of Taraweeh have been established from the statement or action of the Prophet (S.A).

It is interesting to note that while the Hadith of Aishah (R.A) is known and accepted to be sound, reliable and authentic; none of the great and accepted scholars have used it to establish with firmness that Taraweeh salaah is performed as only eight rakaats.

This is mainly due to the fact that the great scholars of Hadith and Fiqh from the former and latter generations have understood the hadith of Aisha (R.A) to be connected to a “Qiyaamul Lail” ‘Standing by night’ which occurs during the whole year (referred to as Tahajjud) and not to that which was specially performed in the month of Ramadhan (being referred to as Taraweeh). The Hadith of Aisha (R.A) states that she was asked ‘how was the salaat of the Prophet (S.A) in Ramdhan? She replied that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) would not exceed above eleven rakaats in Ramadhan nor out of Ramadhan. He would perform four rakaats, do not ask about its beauty and length. He would then perform another four, do not ask about its beauty and its length and he would then perform three’. (Bukhari)

As mentioned here, the above tradition speaks generally about a salaat which is not confined to the month of Ramadhan, as Aisha (R.A) herself said, ‘he never exceeded eleven in Ramadhan and out of Ramadhan’. This goes to show that Aisha (R.A) referred to the Tahajjud Salaah which was read through the year and not the taraweeh which was read only in the month of Ramadhan. Traditions show that the Prophet’s standing by night in Tahajjud was done in the last third of the night, and his standing by night in Tawaweeh started from the first third and went on for half of the night and at times until the end of the last third. From Aisha’s tradition, it is evident that he read eight rakaats in Tajajud which will normally be preformed in the last third of the night. If this be the case the question is ‘how much did he read when he performed rakaats from the first third of the night, until half the night and at times for the full night in the month of Ramadhan?’

Aishah (R.A) herself gives a brief account of the state of the Ibadah (worship) of the Prophet (S.A) in Ramadhan, she said, ‘The Prophet (S.A), when the last ten days entered, would strengthen his waist cloth (i.e. the garment for the lower half of the body), he would remain awake for the entire nights in worship and would wake up his wives’. (Bukhari)

In addition, scholars of Hadith have mentioned that the hadith of Aishah (R.A) (which speaks about eight rakaats) cannot be used to show a fixed amount of rakaats (of the night) which the Messenger of Allah did not exceed.

This, they say is due to the fact that Aishah (R.A) herself has narrated that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) would sometimes perform thirteen rakaats besides the two rakaats of Fajr. (Abu Dawood from the tradition of Abdullah bin Abi Qais)

In another tradition recorded by Imam Bukhari, Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A) has narrated that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) performed twelve rakaats as Tahajjud salaah, after which he performed the witr. (Bukhari).

While explaining the different amount of rakaats, Hafiz Ibn Hajar has stated, ‘The correct view is that every thing which Aisha (R.A) has mentioned from the different amounts is based upon the different times and different states’. (Fathul Baari).

It is therefore evident that due to the differing amount of rakaats (the Prophet (S.A) performed in Tahajud) which are all established in authentic traditions, it cannot be said that he never performed more than eight.

While eight rakaats cannot be said to be Tarawaeeh salaah, (since a fixed amount is not evident from the traditions), we see that during the time of Umar (R.A), the Muslims practiced the performance of twenty rakaats as Taraweeh which was endorsed by the great sahabas of the Prophet (S.A).

As mentioned by Ibn Qudama and Imam Bukhari, the action of Umar (R.A) with respect to Taraweeh salaah was simply to gather the people upon one Imam, Ubai bin Kaab.

In this regard, many authentic reports have been narrated with regards to the practice of the Shabahs and Tabieen during the Khilafat of Umar (R.A).

Some of these reports are:-

Yazeed bin Khaseefa narrates from Sa’ib bin Yazeed that during the time of Umar (R.A), the people (Muslims) used to stand for twenty rakaats in Ramadhan (i.e. in the Taraweeh Salaah). (Baihaqi with a sound sanad and Maalik with many strong supporting reports).
Imam Maalik has narrated from Yazeed Bin Ruman that he said, “The people during the time of Umar (R.A) used to stand for twenty three rakaats (including the witr) (in the month of Ramadhan)’. (Muatta of Imam Malik).

Abdul Azeez bin Rafee says that “Ubai bin Kaab (R.A) used to lead the people in Salaah in Madina with twenty rakaats and performed witr as three rakaats (Abu Bakr bin Abi Shiba has narrated it in his Musannaf).
From Ata, he says, ‘I met the people and they were performing twenty three rakaats with the witr salaah’ (Ibn Abi Shaiba).
Abul Khaseef says that ‘Suwaid Bin Ghafla used to lead us in Ramadhan with twenty rakaats (Baihaqi with a good sanad).
Nafi has narrated from Abdullah Bin Umar that Abi Mulaika used to lead them in Ramadhan with twenty rakaats. (Ibn Abi Shaiba with a sound sanad).

In Sunan Al Kubra by Imam Baihaqi, Sa’ib bin Yazeed states that during the time of Umar (R.A) the people used to perform twenty rakaats and during the time of Uthman they would lean on their sticks for support due to the long standing (Baihaqi with a sound sanad).

It should be understood that in all the previous reports, those who are mentioned as ‘the people’ or ‘ the Muslims’ during the time of Umar were non other than the Sahabas and the Tabieen, who occupied the highest seats of learning from among the salafus saaliheen (the pious predecessors). Hence, their actions and unanimity upon any aspect of Islam cannot be dismissed as being insignificant.

The great ones from among the noble companions of the Prophet (S.A) living during the time of Umar (R.A) accepted and also practiced the performance of twenty rakaats as Tarawaeeh salaah. Those who came after them from among the great Tabieen also did the same. Thus, in the blessed cities of Makka, Madina, Koofa, Baghdad, Basra and other cities, the practice of performing twenty rakaats as Tarawaeeh salaah became established by the great scholars of these places. (See Tuhfatul Ahwazi, Baihaqi, Ibn Abi Shaiba)’

It is evident that besides Umar (R.A), Uthman (R.A) and Ali (R.A) also practiced the performance of twenty rakaats as Taraweeh. (Sunan Kubra – Baihaqi).

Thus, this was the opinion held by the majority of the great scholars and other Muslims living at that time which came down to the other generations and was therefore held by the great scholars and leaders of the latter times.

In this regard the great Imam of Fiqh and Hadith like Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Ahmad, Imam Shafi, Sufyan Thawri stated that Taraweeh should be performed with twenty rakaats. Imam Malik held the opinion that it should be performed with thirty six rakaats due to the actions of the people of Madina during his time.

Imam Nawawi has written, ‘Know that the salaah of Taraweeh is sunnah according to all Muslims, and it is twenty rakaats’. (Kitaabul Azkaar).

Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah has written, “It is evident that Ubai Bin Kaab (R.A) used to perform twenty rakaats in Ramadhan with the people and he performed three rakaats as witr.

The majority of scholars have therefore seen that this is the sunnah and established practiced, since it was established amongst the Muhajir ad the Ansaar (from among the sahabahs) and none went against it. (Fatawa Ibn Taimiya)

Allamah Subki has stated, ‘Know well that it is not narrated as to how many rakaats the Prophet (S.A) performed on those nights and our mazhab is that of twenty rakaats’. (Al Minhaaj). Allamah Shami has stated, ‘Taraweeh is sunnah Al Muakaddah and it is twenty rakaats. This is the statement of the majority and upon this is the action of the Muslims, east and the west (Ruddul Muhtar).

Imam Tirmizi has also made the same statement in the following words, “And most of the people of knowledge are upon that which has been narrated from Ali and Umar and others from the Companions of the Prophet (S.A) that Taraweeh is twenty rakaats. It is the statement of Sufyan Thawri, Abdullah bin Mubarak and Imam Shafi. Imam Shafi has said, “This is what I found the Muslims and scholars of my city, Makkah doing. They were performing twenty rakaats as Taraweeh’. (Tirmizi).