Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question: Assalamu alaykum
How was the Tarawih prayed during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his successors (may Allah be pleased with them)?
Answer: Assalam ‘alaykum. Jazakum Allah khayr for your question. May Allah increase in you in knowledge and guidance.
The Tarawih prayer during the month of Ramadan, consisting of 20 cycles of prayer, is a sunna of the Prophet ﷺ. After the Prophet’s passing away ﷺ, the Companions continued to pray Tarawih each night of Ramadan, but not as one congregation. Sayyidna Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) later enjoined the people to gather as a unified congregation to pray the Tarawih prayer, and this was continued by the Righteous Caliphs after him and down to this very day.
Tarawih during the time of the Prophet ﷺ
The Prophet ﷺ prayed the Tarawih prayer in congregation and individually at home. It is related in al Bukhari, from Zaid ibn Thabit, that,
‘The Prophet ﷺ took a room made of date palm leaves mats in the mosque. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ prayed in it for a few nights till the people gathered [to pray the Tarawih prayer behind him]. Then on the 4th night the people did not hear his voice and they thought he had slept, so some of them started humming in order that he might come out. The Prophet ﷺ then said, ‘You continued doing what I saw you doing till I was afraid that this [Tarawih prayer] might be enjoined on you, and if it were enjoined on you, you would not continue performing it. Therefore, O people! Perform your prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what is performed at his home except the compulsory congregational) prayer.’
The Prophet ﷺ continued to pray the Tarawih prayer at home, and the companions continued to pray individually. This continued during the reign of Sayyidna Abu Bakr and the beginning of Sayyidna Umar’s caliphate (May Allah be pleased with them).
Ibn Shihab, sub-narrating on a hadith from Abu Huraira, said, ‘Allah’s Messenger ﷺ passed away and the people continued observing that [the Tarawih prayer individually), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of ‘Umar’s Caliphate.’ [al Bukhari]
Tarawih during the time of Sayyidna Umar
As mentioned, at the beginning of Sayyidna Umar’s rule, the people would offer Tarawih individually, but some would also pray in different groups in the masjid. Sayyidna Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) noticed this and decided that it would be better to perform the prayer as one larger congregation, the unified congregation being more in the spirit of Islam. This was the beginning of the congregational Tarawih as we know it now.
Abdul Rahman ibn Abd al Qari narrates, ‘I went out with Umar ibn al Khattab in Ramadan to the masjid and the people there were spread out in groups. Some men were praying by themselves, whilst others were praying in small groups. Umar said, ‘By Allah! It would be better in my opinion if these people gathered behind one reciter.’ So he gathered them behind Ubayy ibn Ka’ab. Then I went out with him another night and the people were praying behind their Qur’an reciter. Umar said, ‘How excellent this new way is!’ [al Bukhari, al Muwatta]
During the reigns of Sayyidna Uthman and Sayyidna Ali
The third righteous Caliph, Uthman, and the fourth righteous Caliph, Ali (May Allah be pleased with them) continued the practice of praying the 20 cycles of Tarawih prayer in congregation, followed by the three cycles of the Witr prayer. This practice, which was agreed upon by the Companions, The Followers, and all subsequent generations, has continued ever since.
The validity of such practice is established by the words of the Prophet ﷺ, ‘Allah will not cause my ummah to agree on misguidance. The hand of Allah is with the group.’ [al Tirmidhi], and further corroborated by the words of the great Companion Ibn Mas’ud (May Allah be pleased with him), ‘Whatever the Muslims deem to be good is good in the eyes of Allah, and whatever they consider bad is bad in Allah’s view.’ [Musnad Ahmad].
I pray this clarifies things for you.
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.