One of the most blessed practices in the month of Ramadan is the standing in the prayer during the night. It is narrated that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, said:
((Whoever prays 8 units in the night and the odd prayer (al-witr), and continues to do so until they meet Allah, Allah will open 12 doors of Paradise for them and they will be able to enter whatever door s/he wants)).
He, peace be upon him and his progeny, is also reported to have said:
((Whoever increases his prayers in the night, his face will be beautified in the day)).
Of course, this applies to any night but even moreso, the nights of Ramadan.
It is in this blessed month that our sincere acts of worship are multiplied in their reward, and our strivings are made witnesses for us on the Day of Judgment. That withstanding, we should want our prayers in the night and our other acts of worship to count for us and not against us. The only way to ensure that our acts of worship are accepted is that they must be in accord with Divine Revelation. There is no other way that the slave can be sure of Allah’s acceptance except that s/he enters through the door of the Qur’ân and the Prophetic Sunnah. Allah has made known to His slaves that which He accepts from them and that which He rejects through these two sources of Divine Revelation. Therefore, how we pray in the night during Ramadan and outside of Ramadan should be weighed against the Prophetic precedent.
During this month, we are inundated with questions concerning the voluntary prayer known as tarâwîh. First, we should clarify what is meant by tarâwîh prayer. The tarâwîh prayer refers to “the voluntary prayers prayed in congregation in the mosques during the month of Ramadan.”
Regarding the Prophetic precedent as established in the Sunnah, it is that the tarâwîh prayer is invalid. Any voluntary prayer during Ramadan is prayed alone in one’s home and not in congregation in the mosques. This view is supported by the narrations of the Generality, the statements and opinions of the imams of Ahl al-Bayt, and that of the jurists and scholars of the Generality.
Regarding the narrations of the Generality, it is narrated in Ŝahîh al-Bukhâri and Ŝahîh Muslim on the authority of Zayd bin Thâbit:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, constructed a small room (with a palm leaf mat). The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, came out and prayed in it. Some men came and joined him in his prayer. Then, they came for the prayer again the next night, but the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, delayed and did not come out to them. So they began raising their voices and knocking on the door with stones. He came out to them angry (mughďabân) and said: ((You are still insisting until I thought that this prayer might become obligatory on you. The prayer is to be in your homes (‘alaykum bi salâŧi fi buyûtikum), for the best prayer of a person is the one which is offered at home, except the obligatory prayers)).
This report is an explicit statement by the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, that the non-obligatory prayers are to be performed at home—this includes what is called tarâwîh prayer. This Prophetic Sunnah was carried out until the death of the Prophet and up until the later part of the Caliphate of ‘Umar bin al-Khattâb.
The origin of the congregational tarâwîh prayer in the mosques is mentioned in another report in Ŝahîh al-Bukhâri in which it is said on the authority of Abu Hurayra:
Ibn Shihâb [i.e. az-Zuhri] said: “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, died and the people continued observing that. It continued like that during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar's Caliphate.” ‘Abdur-Rahmân bin ‘Abdul-Qâri said: “I went out with ‘Umar bin al-Khattâb one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups. A man would pray alone or a man would pray with a little group behind him. So, ‘Umar said: “In my opinion it would better to gather them behind one reciter.” So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubay bin Ka’b. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their reciter. On that, ‘Umar said: “What an excellent innovation (bid’a) this is! But the prayer which they do not perform but sleep at its time, is better than the one they are offering now!” He meant the prayer in the last part of the night.
So there we have it! The author of the congregational tarâwîh prayer is ‘Umar, not the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny. If something is termed an innovation, it cannot be termed a sunnah, for they are opposites! Not only that; but ‘Umar even admitted that the prayer in the last part of the night [i.e. delaying the prayer to pray it at home] is even better than the congregational prayer in the mosques!
The opinion of the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt is very clear concerning this matter. It is narrated in Amali Ahmed bin ‘Isa that Imam al-Hasan bin Yahya bin al-Hussein bin Zayd bin ‘Ali, upon them be peace, said:
((The consensus of the Progeny of Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, is that the tarâwîh prayer is not from the Sunnah of the Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, nor that of Amîr al-Muminîn [i.e. ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib]. Rather, ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib used to prohibit that. According to them, it is better to pray it individually. Similar is the case with the other sunnah prayers, except the obligatory prayers which is better to pray in congregation)).
In the book Al-Jâmi’ al-Kâfi, which is a compendium of the jurisprudential opinions of the imams of Ahl al-Bayt, it is narrated on the authority of al-Qûmisi:
I asked al-Qâsim bin Ibrâhîm, uhpb, about standing in voluntary congregational prayer during Ramadan, and he said: “It is unknown.” He narrated on the authority of Ali, upon him be peace, that he used to prohibit that.
Also in the same text, it is reported:
‘Abdullah bin al-Hasan, upon him be peace, used to pray with his family in his house during the nights of Ramadan like one would pray tarâwîh in the mosques.
Imam al-Hâdi ila al-Haqq Yahya bin al-Hussein, upon him be peace, said:
You asked about what was narrated on the authority of the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, that he prayed tarâwîh one night in Ramadan and then commanded the people to go to their houses. Some of the people have narrated and mentioned this. However, we do not consider any of this authentic. It wasn’t one night or two nights. We do not know of it on his authority nor have we narrated it. It has not reached us that he, peace be upon him and his progeny, prayed tarâwîh with the people one night or two, one hour or two, or one unit or two. Not one of our scholars has ever narrated that. Not one of our ancestors has related that on the authority of the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny. If there was anything to it and it was from him, it would have been narrated from our ancestors on the authority of their ancestors on the authority of their grandfathers. Since they did not fail to mention anything from him, that which they came with is authentic on his authority.
We may also add that it is not only the opinion of Imam Ali and the Ahl al-Bayt, upon them be peace, but it is also the opinion of some Companions and jurists of the Muslim Community. Imam al-Bayhaqi narrated in his Sunan that when ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar was asked about praying in the mosques for tarâwîh, he said: “Pray in your homes.” Al-Bayhaqi also narrated that Ibn Umar used to pray the tarâwîh in his house. Ibn Abi Shayma narrated in his Muŝannaf that Ibrahim an-Nikha’i used to not pray along with others during Ramadan. The same opinion was held by al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Alqama and al-Aswad. Badrudîn al-A’ini said in his commentary of Sahîh al-Bukhâri called ‘Umdat al-Qâri:
Mâlik, ash-Shâfi’, and Rabi’a held to the view that the prayer in the house is better than the prayer with an imam [i.e. in the mosques]. This is the view of Ibrâhîm [an-Nikha’i], al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Alqama and al-Aswad.
In the chief book of Mâliki jurisprudence, the Mudawwana, when Imam Mâlik was asked about praying during Ramadan, he said:
If one has the strength, it is preferred to me that one prays in his house. Not everyone has the strength to do that.
The proponents seek to justify the praying of tarâwîh by the following report in Ŝahîh al-Bukhâri on the authority of ‘Urwa bin az-Zubayr:
He was informed by A’isha, the Mother of the Believers: “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the mosque, and some men prayed behind him. In the morning, the people began talking about it and then a large number of them gathered and prayed behind him [i.e. that second time]. On the next morning the people again talked about it, and on the third night the mosque was filled with a large number of people. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, came out, and the people prayed behind him. On the fourth night, the mosque was overflowing with people and it couldn’t accommodate them. Then, he came out for the Morning Prayer. After completing the Morning Prayer, he faced the people, pronounced the testimony of faith and said: ((As to what follows: I did not fear your place, rather I feared that you may view it as obligatory)). The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, died and it remained that way.”
This report does not prove what our opponents surmise. First of all, the report says that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, came out “in the middle of the night” which is contrary to what most who pray tarâwîh do; rather, they pray it immediately after the Evening Prayer (I’shâ). Second, according to this report, the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, went to the mosque to pray, but it is not narrated that he commanded or encouraged those behind him to pray in congregation. Third, he discontinued praying it in the mosque until he died, which shows something to be abrogated (mansûkh) and not established (thâbit). One is not permitted to act upon something explicitly abrogated unless there is proof otherwise. Fourth, his, peace be upon him and his progeny, statement indicates a connection with the first report that we mentioned on the authority of Zayd bin Thâbit. Although, there are some minor differences—which occur amongst narrators—there is seemingly a connection between the two reports, which shows that the Prophet censured anyone who prayed in congregation, and he stated the preference for prayer alone.
We say is that the prayer mentioned in the reports of ‘Urwa and Zayd were actually the obligatory prayers of the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny. As we know, the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, had additional obligatory prayers he had to offer and he was simply making them in the mosque and prayer hall. As he noticed that the people started to congregate behind him, he discontinued it to tell them that he did not want them to pray behind him intending obligatory prayers, but rather pray their supererogatory prayers at home. This is because a person praying a supererogatory prayer cannot pray behind someone making an obligatory prayer.
The opponents also say that the action of ‘Umar can be considered a sunnah because the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, is reported to have said: ((Follow my sunnah and the sunnah of the rightly-guided successors after me)).
We reply with the following points:
- First, there is disagreement amongst the scholars of this hadîth regarding its authenticity.
- Second, even if the hadîth was authentic, it would be problematic because our opponents say that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, did not specifically name his successor. It would be nonsensical that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, would command the Muslims to follow someone who he had not specifically designated as his successor! There was mass confusion and disagreement not only regarding who was to succeed the Prophet, but also who could be considered “rightly guided”!
- Third, if the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, established a sunnah, it is not the duty of a successor to come after him and abrogate it with something else. Remember the narration in Ŝahîh al-Bukhâri where ‘Umar referred to tarâwîh as an “innovation.” Did not the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, say: ((Every innovation is deviance and every deviance is in the Hellfire)) and ((Every matter that is not from our matter is rejected))?!
- Fourth, even Umar acknowledged that the prayer later in the night is better than the tarâwîh with his statement: “But the prayer which they do not perform but sleep at its time, is better than the one they are offering now!”
- Fifth, if the tarâwîh was “the sunnah of the rightly-guided successors,” why did prominent Companions, Followers, and jurists refrain from it and encourage others to do so?! Either they did not consider it to be a sunnah or they did not consider the one who instituted it to be a “rightly guided successor”!
Our opponents say that the tarâwîh prayer is the practice of Imam ‘Ali, may Allah ennoble his face, because it is narrated in Musnad Imam Zayd in the chapter “Standing in the Prayer during Ramadan”:
Zayd bin ‘Ali narrated on the authority of his father—his grandfather—Ali, upon him be peace, that he commanded that the one who stands in prayer with the people during Ramadan and pray 20 units should give the final salutations after every two units. He should take a break (yarâwah) after four units so one could relieve oneself and repeat the ritual ablution. He should pray the odd prayer (witr) at the last part of the night while leaving.
We reply by saying that this report does not prove what our opponents import. The first part of the report says: “he commanded that the one who stands in prayer with the people during Ramadan and pray 20 units should…” This indicates that Amîr al-Muminîn, upon him be peace, was advising someone who was already making the tarâwîh prayer to “give the final salutations after every two units…take a break after four units so one could relieve oneself and repeat the ritual ablution…pray the odd prayer (witr) at the last part of the night while leaving.” He is not advising them to pray the tarâwîh prayer; rather, he was advising them what to do if they prayed the tarâwîh. Perhaps he witnessed that the people used to prolong the prayers without taking a break and so forth. Therefore, he saw fit to advise them regarding their actions to make the prayer easier upon the Muslims. Regardless of the circumstances, this report is not sufficient in proving that Imam ‘Ali, upon him be peace, endorsed the tarâwîh prayer.
Our opponents may ask: “If Imam ‘Ali was so opposed to the tarâwîh prayer, why didn’t he advise the people not to do it?”
We say that it may have not been possible at that time to discontinue the tarâwîh prayer because it was during the caliphate of ‘Umar. This may have caused unnecessary disorder. So, for the sake of Muslim unity, he simply advised the one who would already pray the tarâwîh. Such an action is not unique to ‘Ali, upon him be peace. There are examples in history where the Companions disagreed with the ruling of the prevailing order but chose instead to opt for unity rather than controversy.
One example is that of ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ûd. Imam al-Bayhaqi narrated this incident in his Sunan al-Kubra on the authority of ‘Abdur-Rahmân bin Yazîd:
We were with ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ûd in a group and when we entered the mosque in Mina, he said: “How many units does the Amîr al-Muminîn (meaning ‘Uthmân) pray?” They said: “Four.” So they prayed four units. We said: “Didn’t you narrate to us that the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, prayed two units, as well as Abu Bakr?” He said: “Indeed. I narrate that now; however, ‘Uthmân is the imam and I didn’t want to differ with him because disagreements are an evil.”
This report shows that although Abdullah bin Mas’ûd held to the view that the two unit prayer in Mina was the Sunnah, he chose to act on what ‘Uthmân did because the latter was the caliph of the time and Ibn Mas’ûd feared controversy. Similar is the case with Imam ‘Ali, may Allah ennoble his face. He probably felt that during the time of ‘Umar, the issue of praying the tarâwîh was not one that required outcry as to cause a political disturbance. However, as is made clear from the narrations of Ahl al-Bayt that we quoted above, Imam ‘Ali prohibited it from taking place during his caliphate. It is noteworthy that the Musnad Imam Zayd does not report that Imam ‘Ali ever prayed the tarâwîh prayer.
Our opponents say that there are some reports in the books of hadîth that Imam Ali, upon him be peace, actually prayed the tarâwîh prayer and/or commanded people to do it. The first one is in the Sunan of al-Bayhaqi on the authority of Arfaja’ ath-Thaqafi, who said:
‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib, may Allah be pleased with him, used to command the people to stand in prayer during Ramadan. He appointed one man as the prayer leader for the men and another man as the prayer leader for the women. [Arfaja’ added:] I was made the prayer leader of the women.
The second report is similarly narrated by al-Bayhaqi in his Sunan on the authority of ‘Ali who said:
I was present with ‘Umar during the prayer in Ramadan. I informed him that over the seven heavens is a pen (haďîra) and on this pen is written: “Holy.” Living in this pen are people, and they are called: “Spirit.” On the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr), they seek permission from their Lord to descend to this world. There is no one who prays or are on the path except that they are showered with blessings. ‘Umar said: “O Abul-Hasan, we will command the people to be present in this prayer so that they are showered with these blessings.” So, he commanded the people to stand in prayer.
The third report is also narrated by al-Bayhaqi in his Sunan on the authority of Ismâ’îl bin Yazîd, who said:
‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, continued to the mosque. There were lamps there during Ramadan. He said: “May the Light of Allah be upon ‘Umar in his grave just as there is light on us in this mosque!”
We say that these reports cannot be used as a proof because these reports are considered inauthentic, even based upon the criteria of those held as authorities by our opponents. One of our contemporary scholars, Sayyid Allama ‘Abdur-Rahmân ash-Shâyim addressed these reports in his treatise Ar-Radd al- Jalayi ‘ala Sâhib al-Qawli al-Jaliyi.
Regarding the first report, he said:
I say that based upon the conditions of the scholars of hadîth criticism, its chain of narrators contains Arfaja’ bin ‘Abdullah ath-Thaqafi. Ibn al-Qattân said regarding him: “He is unknown.”…Also in its chain of narrators is ‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah bin Ya’la bin Murra ath-Thaqafi (i.e. Abu Abdullah ath-Thaqafi). There is consensus that he is “weak.” Yahya bin Mu’în said: “‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah is weak. I heard Jarîr bin ‘Abdul-Hamîd say: ‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah used to drink alcohol.” Abu Nu’aym said: “I saw ‘Umar bin ‘Abdullah and it is not permissible to narrate from him.” Ahmed bin Hanbal said: “He is weak in hadîths.” Abu Zara’a said: “He is not strong.” Ibn Abi Hâtim said: “He is objectionable in hadîths.” The crux of the matter is that there is consensus regarding his weakness. Refer to Tahdhîb al-Kâmil and you will find this clearly. No one narrated this about Imam ‘Ali except these two men.
Regarding the second report, he said:
I say that its chain of narrators contains Sa’d bin Ťarîq al-Iskâfi al-Kûfi and there is consensus that he is “weak.” Yahya bin Mu’în said: “It is not permissible to narrate anything from him.” He said elsewhere: “He is nothing.” Al-A’jli said in his Ma’rifat ath-Thuqqat: “He is weak in hadîths.” Abu Zara’a said: “He is a weak Kufan.” Ahmed bin Hanbal said: “Sa’d bin Ťarîq is weak in hadîths.” As-Su’di said: “Sa’d bin Ťarîq is blameworthy.” Al-Bukhâri said: “Sa’d bin Ťarîq is not strong.” Ibn Hibbân said: “He used to fabricate hadîths on the spot.”
Regarding the third report, he said:
I say that its chain of narrators contains Ismâ’îl bin Yazîd as-Sakûni. Al-Halabi said in his Al-Kashf al-Hathîth: “He is an imposter (dajjâl).” Ibn al-Jawzi and Ibn Hibbân accused him of fabrication. It is not permissible to mention Ismâ’îl except in terms of censure.” Ibn ‘Uday said: “He is objectionable in hadîths.” Generally, whatever he narrates cannot be followed by anyone regarding its chain of narrators and regarding its text. This is only one report. We not only stand upon what you witness, but other chains. Ibn ‘Asâkir also narrated it but I say that its chain of narrators contains Muhammad bin Subîh al-Baghdâdi, and he is unknown.
Therefore, even based upon the criteria of the hadîth scholars of the Generality, these reports cannot be relied upon. As we mentioned earlier, the imams of Ahl al-Bayt reject any narration or report that implies or states that the Prophet, Imam ‘Ali, or any other imam of the Prophet’s Descendants, prayed tarâwîh or encouraged others to do so.
We therefore, call the Muslims who were charged by the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, to adhere to the Book of Allah and the Prophetic Descendants, to base their practices upon these Two Weighty Things and pray the voluntary prayers individually in their homes. It is by this adherence that our actions will be accepted by our Lord, insha-Allah