Taraweeh prayers are prayed only in Ramadan, after Isha prayers.

Sunni Muslims believe it is customary to attempt a ‘khatm’ (complete recitation) of the Qur’an in Ramadan by reciting at least one juz per night in taraweeh. If someone does not know how to read Qur’an or cannot read it very well, they may recite Surahs that they know.

Taraweeh prayers are offered in Sunni Muslim communities worldwide, and they are important congregational events for both men and women. In Muslim countries where women do not attend mosques regularly, they tend to pray taraweeh at home, but can pray at the mosque as well.

History

The Prophet prayed a congregation Taraweeh for 3 nights but stopped the 4th night out of fear that people would think that praying Taraweeh in congregation was Fard (Obligatory).

“But I feared that night prayers would be made obligatory for you and you would not be able to do them.”
– Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1129. According to the version narrated by Muslim (761)

Narrated ‘Urwa that he was informed by ‘Aisha, “Allah’s Apostle went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the mosque and some men prayed behind him. In the morning, the people spoke about it and then a large number of them gathered and prayed behind him (on the second night). In the next morning the people again talked about it and on the third night the mosque was full with a large number of people. Allah’s Apostle came out and the people prayed behind him. On the fourth night the Mosque was overwhelmed with people and could not accommodate them, but the Prophet came out (only) for the morning prayer. When the morning prayer was finished, he recited Tahajjud prayer and (addressing the people) said, “Amma ba’du, your presence was not hidden from me but I was afraid lest the night prayer (Qiyam) should be enjoined on you and you might not be able to carry it on.” So, Allah’s Apostle died and the situation remained like that (i.e. people prayed individually). ”
– Bukhair, Volume 3, Book 32, Number 229:

In Caliph Umar’s time, he revived this practice to encourage praying in congregation, since he knew that there was no danger of people thinking it was Fard.

Praying in congregation

Offering Taraweeh prayer in congregation is something that is established by the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) 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 cased to be applicable after the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) died, because when he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) 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, then the fact that it is Sunnah to offer this prayer in congregation resumed.
– See al-Sharh al-Mumti’ by Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen, 4/78.

Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
This indicates that praying qiyaam in Ramadaan is one of the Sunnahs of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and is recommended and encouraged. It was not introduced by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab, rather he revived something that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) loved and approved of. Nothing stopped him from doing it regularly except the fear that it might be made obligatory upon his ummah. He (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was kind and compassionate towards his ummah. ‘Umar knew from the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) that the obligatory duties would not be increased or decreased after his death (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), so he revived this practice and enjoined it upon the people. That happened in 14 AH, and ‘Umar has the honour of being the one who revived this Sunnah.
– Al-Tamheed, 8/108, 109

After the Prophet

After the death of the Prophet ﷺ, the Sahaabah 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 (may Allaah be pleased with him) one night in Ramadaan to the mosque, and the people were scattered, with one man praying by himself and another with a group of men following his prayer. ‘Umar 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. Then I went out with him on another night, and the people were praying behind their reader. ‘Umar said: “What a good innovation this is. But the prayer that they forget about and sleep is better than the one they are offering.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1906.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said, 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.

Importance

Sunni View

Sunni Muslims regard the Taraweeh prayers as ‘Sunnah Al-Muakkadah’, a salaat that was performed by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ very consistently. Sunni Muslims believe tarawih is a Sunnah salat and may be performed at home if one is unable to attend a mosque. According to this tradition, Muhammad ﷺ initially prayed the tarawih in congregation during Ramadan but later discontinued this practice out of fear that Muslims would start to believe the prayers to be mandatory, rather than a sunnah. During the time when Umar ibn al-Khattab was the Caliph, he reinstated the practice when there was no longer any fear of people taking it as something mandatory.

Shi’a View

Shi’a Muslims do not perform Taraweeh, deeming it a Bid’ah instituted by Umar, the second Caliph. According to Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 32, Number 227, Umar initiated the practice of Tarawih after seeing the people praying in a scattered and random manner in the mosque during the month of Ramadhan.  They believe that the misunderstanding lies in the supposed proposition that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ prayed an 8 or 20 rak’aat prayer after the obligatory Isha’ prayer, when really, he was praying the 11 rak’aat prayer of Salatul Layl that is prayed after midnight, otherwise known as the Tahajjud prayer that is mentioned in the Qur’an (Chapter 17 Verse 79).

Even Aisha (whom the Shia’s do not accept Ahadith from) stated that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ never prayed more than 11 rak’aat during the month of Ramadhan. (Volume 3, Book 32, Number 230.) According to the most authentic Sunni and Shia hadith sources, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has strongly recommended praying Mustahab prayers alone, and preferrably at home, and therefore, the Shi’a disregard the claim that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ allowed the Muslims to pray Mustahab prayers in congregation, as it contradicts the widely accepted view.

The Shi’as dislike the fact that the Sunni Muslims prefer the Tarawih prayers over the proper Tahajjud prayer (that can be located in the Qur’an), for this is a far more advantageous prayer. The Shia’s also disbelieve in the practice of Tarawih as they believe it contradicts what is in the Qur’an. During the Tarawih prayers, Shia Muslims claim that the Qur’an is recited at an extremely fast pace, contradictory to Chapter 7 Verse 204, “And when the Quran is recited, then listen to it and remain silent, that mercy may be shown to you.” And Chapter 75 Verse 16, “Do not move your tongue with it to make haste with it.” Therefore, the Shi’a Muslims consider that if the Tawarih prayer is supposed to replace the Tahajjud prayer that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ ordained, is a wrong innovation that will deviate Muslims from original practice.

Time

At night after Isha prayers.

Number Of Rakahs

The total rakahs should be in even numbers, so Tarawih is prayed in sets of 2, ususally 4 or 10 sets (so 8 or 20 rakahs).

How To Pray

Either in the mosque or at home, pray in sets of 2 rakahs each.

Rules For Praying Taraweeh In The Mosque

  • It is preferable to offer the witr salah after completion of the tarawih salah, but if the witr salah is offered before the tarawih salah, or after offering some of the rak’ahs of the tarawih salah, there is no harm.
  • If a late comer for the tarawih salah finds that the Imam has stood up for witr salah when he has yet to complete some of his tarawih rak’ahs he should join in witr congregation, and should complete his remaining rak’ahs of tarawih later in his own time,
  • It is desirable to observe the pause of rest after each four rak’ahs for as long as the time taken for observing the four rak’ahs; however, if the followers find it hard and inconvenient they may observe a shorter pause.
  • It is not valid to join in the tarawih congregation before first observing the fard salah of ‘Isha, for the tarawih salah has to start after the ‘Isha salah.
  • If a person has observed his fard salah in ‘Isha in congregation, but has not observed the tarawih salah in congregation, he is permitted to offer his witr salah in congregation.

Hadith Quotes

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “The one who observes the tarawih salah at night during Ramadan with complete faith and devotion only for the sake of the recompense of the hearafter, will have all of his previous sins forgiven by Allah”
– Sahih Bukhari and Muslim

It is proven in al-Saheehayn that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) led his companions in prayer (Taraweeh) for several nights, then on the third or fourth night he did not come out to them. When morning came he said: “Nothing prevented me from coming out to you except the fact that I feared that it would be made obligatory for you.”
– Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1129. According to the version narrated by Muslim (761): “But I feared that night prayers would be made obligatory for you and you would not be able to do them.”