Taraweeh prayers

The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) led his companions in prayer (Taraweeh) for several nights, and then on the third or fourth night he did not come out to them. When morning came He (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Nothing prevented me from coming out to you except the fact that I feared that it would be made obligatory for you.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari]

Commentary:

It is prescribed to offer the night prayers in Ramadan in congregation or individually, but it is better to do it in congregation than to do it individually. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) led his companions in offering these prayers in congregation for several nights. It is proven in al-Sahihayn (Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim) that the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) led his companions in prayer (Taraweeh) for several nights, and then on the third or fourth night he did not come out to them. When morning came He (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Nothing prevented me from coming out to you except the fact that I feared that it would be made obligatory for you.”(Sahih al-Bukhari)

According to the version narrated by Muslim He (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “But I feared that night prayers would be made obligatory for you and you would not be able to do them.”

Offering Taraweeh prayer in congregation is something that is established by the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam). The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) stated the reason why he did not persist in offering this prayer in congregation, which is that he feared that it might be made obligatory. This reason ceased to be applicable after the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) died, because when he (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) died, the wahy (revelation) ceased and there was no longer any worry that it might be made obligatory.

Once the reason, which was the fear of it being made obligatory, disappeared with the cessation of the wahy (revelation), then the fact that it is Sunnah to offer this prayer in congregation resumed.

Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allah have mercy on him) said in ‘Al-Tamheed’:

“This indicates that praying qiyaam in Ramadan is one of the Sunnahs of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and is recommended and encouraged. It was not introduced by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (radi Allahu anhu), rather he revived something that the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) loved and approved of. Nothing stopped him from doing it regularly except the fear that it might be made obligatory upon his ummah (nation). He (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was kind and compassionate towards his ummah. ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) knew from the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) that the obligatory duties would not be increased or decreased after his death (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), so he revived this practice and enjoined it upon the people. That happened in 14 AH, and ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) has the honour of being the one who revived this Sunnah.”

After the death of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), the Sahaabah (radi Allahu anhum) prayed Taraweeh in small groups and individually, until ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) united them behind a single imam.

It was narrated that ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Abd al-Qaari’ said: I went out with ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (radi Allahu anhu) one night in Ramadan to the masjid, and the people were scattered, with one man praying by himself and another with a group of men following his prayer. ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) said: “I think that if I gather them behind one reader, it will be better.” Then he decided to unite them behind Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radi Allahu anhu). Then I went out with him on another night, and the people were praying behind their reader. ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) said: “What a good innovation this is. But the prayer that they forget about and sleep is better than the one they are offering.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said in ‘Majmoo al-Fataawa’, when refuting the view of those who quoted ‘Umar’s words “What a good innovation this is” as meaning that innovation (bid’ah) is permissible:

With regard to qiyaam (night prayers) in Ramadan, the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) introduced this to his ummah, and he led them in prayer for a number of nights, because at his time they used to pray in congregation and individually. But he did not persist in leading them in one congregation, lest that be made obligatory for them. When the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) died, sharee’ah was established (and would not change after that). When ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) became caliph, he united them behind one imam, Ubayy ibn Ka’b, who united the people in one congregation on the orders of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him). ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) was one of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, of whom the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “I urge you to adhere to my Sunnah and the way of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after me; cling tightly to it.” So what he did was Sunnah but he said, “What a good innovation this is,” because it was an innovation in the linguistic sense, as they were doing something that they had not done during the life of the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), i.e., gathering to do this, but it is Sunnah in the shar’i sense.”

It says in ‘al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah’:

“From the time of ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu), the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the Muslims regularly offered Taraweeh prayer in congregation. ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) is the one who united the people in offering the prayer behind a single imam.

Asad ibn ‘Amr ibn Abi Yoosuf (may Allah have mercy upon him) said: I asked Abu Haneefah (may Allah have mercy upon him) about Taraweeh and what ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) did. He said: Taraweeh is a confirmed Sunnah, and ‘Umar (radi Allahu anhu) did not base his decision on speculation and he was not introducing bid’ah (an innovation). He did not enjoin it except because of what he knew from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). ‘Umar introduced this and gathered the people behind Ubayy ibn Ka’b (radi Allahu anhu) and he offered this prayer in congregation, at the time when the Sahaabah – the Muhaajireen and Ansaar (radi Allahu anhum) – were still alive, and no one among them objected to that, rather they helped him and agreed with him, and also enjoined it.”

And Allah knows best!

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