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The Real Status of Tarāwih Prayers
Dr Khalid Zaheer

To the less-informed Muslims, Tarāwihs are additional, almost obligatory prayers prescribed specially for the holy month of Ramadhān. Anybody who does not say them in congregation, it is generally believed, loses a good share of the Ramadhān’s blessings. As a result, Muslims throng the mosques for the ‘Ishaa prayers and make sure that they manage to endure twenty additional rak’ats every night. The Huffāz, however, gifted with the extraordinary ability of briskly uttering the Message of God in the most incomprehensible manner, squeeze long passages into as short duration as possible. Completing the recitation of the Holy Book at least once during these prayers is also considered an important part of this formality, making the Huffāz a highly sought-after group as the Ramadhān approaches near.

The reality, however, is that the Tarāwih prayer is neither obligatory nor is it supposed to be said by all means after ‘Ishā  in congregation. It is, as is evident from the Sunnah of the Prophet, nothing but Tahajjud, the late-night prayer, allowed for the common Muslims to be said in the early part of the night during the Ramadhān. The Prophet, may Allah be pleased with him, it appears, never said this prayer in the earlier part of the night. In one of the Ramadhān night’s, however, he came out into the mosque to say his Tahajjud prayers and did so thrice in successive nights. He was joined in by his Companions who grew in number each successive time. On the fourth night, an even larger number of Companions waited vainly---only to see him at the Fajr prayers. He informed his Companions that he had deliberately kept himself from saying prayers in the mosque, lest the people should take it as binding on them.

It appears that people who were not used to saying Tahajjud regularly (as is evident from the Qur’ān that there was a group which did not) and some others who perhaps found praying in the later part of the night during the Ramadhān impractical because of the time-involving task of preparing Sehri, got permission from the Prophet (sws) to say it in the early half. It seems, moreover, that people formed many small groups to say this prayer in congregation. The practice continued till the caliphate of Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, who found the plurality of congregational prayers led by the loudly reciting Imāms, scattered in the confines of the mosque, much to the dislike of his sensitive religious taste. He lost no time in asking the people to pray behind one Imām, Ubai Ibni Ka`ab. Later, one night, impressed on witnessing the disciplined congregation behind a single Imām, he remarked: `What a fine innovation is this!’ Of course, the statement was induced by the fact that although the arrangement was apparently an innovation, it was, nevertheless, in complete consonance with the Sunnah of the Prophet; his practice which continued for three days running. Umar is also reported to have remarked on that occasions thus: `That (the prayer which is said alone in the later part of the night) is indeed superior to the one they are saying instead.’

We may conclude from the above that the Tarāwih  prayer has no distinct status---it is only the Tahajjud prayer allowed to be said earlier during the Ramadhān. As such, it is clearly not binding on the Muslims, although the blessings of the Ramadhān clearly add to its significance. Tahajjud, the night prayer, however, is far more preferable, whether in Ramadhān or otherwise. A Muslim should, therefore, try to say these night prayers regularly at least in the Ramadhān and recite the Qur’ān slowly and clearly to facilitate maximum understanding while praying. If, owing to some difficulty which may include the fact that very little of the Qur’ān is committed to memory, Tahajjud is not possible, then he should seek to find a mosque to say his Tarāwih  prayers after ‘Ishā where the Imām is doing justice with the Book of Allah with proper recitation.

Completing the recitation of the Qur’ān at least once in these night prayers is, of course, no religious obligation. The Qur’ān can be completed many times by reciting it on occasions other than prayers.

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