This becomes an issue of dispute every Ramadan with some preferring to pray 20 Rakah and some to pray 8 Rakah! The problem arises when people start imposing one thing over the other and outrightly blaming that the other is doing wrong.
To understand this dispute and to know what is right, we need to go into the life of our prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and his teachings and also proceed to the life of Omar Bin Khattab (رضي الله عنه) during his times of caliphate.
Firstly let us get this straight that tiraweeh prayer is a voluntary or Nafl act. Hence it’s not obligatory and so if one misses he/she is not sinning but is surely missing out on a great reward. So now this salah can be read as many rakah as you can but in the sets of 2 each. So after every two rakah you end it with Taslim and then begin the next set of two. And this if you are able to, you can pray even 100 rakah of taraweeh, as sky is the limit. And also point to be noted that you can choose either to pray individually or in Jamah (congregation) but praying in Jamah is preferred and encouraged.
So coming back to the dispute, so whether you pray 8 or 20, both are right! And it actually depends on the people to choose the way they want. Personally I prefer the 8 rakah, coz the verses of the Quran are read slowly and you can understand every letter and word clearly. Whereas in 20 rakah, just because of time constraint, they are looking to finish it off rushingly. So people today at many places read it so fast that you merely are able to connect with Allah and before you realize you already are heading to Ruku and then to Sujood. So it ends up more like an exercise rather than connecting spiritually. This is my opinion and you can differ on that. And if you prefer 20, you can carry on doing it. No one is stopping you!
So now let’s understand from where did these numbers come up 8 and 20. One is from the Hadith of Ayesha (رضي الله عنها) about what our Rasool used to follow generally and the other was started by Omar Bin Khattab (رضي الله عنه) during his time of the caliphate respectively. We need to understand when many say it’s bidah what Omar did, it actually isn’t! And that people should refrain from alleging such things on the Sahabas coz our prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has spoken strictly against one who speaks bad about them.
During his time of Caliphate, he might have noticed that Muslims were inclining towards divide due to difference in opinions be it due to religion or due to socio-political reasons. Allah alone knows the best. So his intention was to join all of them together, and in doing so he revived the sunnah of the prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) of praying Taraweeh in Jamah but he fixed it at 20 rakah, taking into consideration of the old and the young who participated in it. Moreover they used to read this 20 rakah with complete peace and tranquility. And that is what is continued even today in both the Haramain (Sacred Mosque of Makkah and Medina)
Finally to end, so whatever you choose in this matter is right. Hence do not divide among each other in such matters. That’s the sad part of our Ummah today that they divide in matters which are voluntary, where you have choice to do or not. So do not demean one another and abuse or make fun of each other especially in this month of Ramadan coz we all know that our good deeds are multiplied but we forget that our bad deeds in this month are worse than any other time!
May Allah help us to prevail sense among each other and love one another for the sake of Allah.
© Dr. Nisar Ahmad bin Ibrahim
Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) prayed one night in the mosque, and the people followed him in prayer. Then he prayed the next night, and many people came. Then they gathered on the third or fourth night, and the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did not come out to them. The next morning he said: “I saw what you did, and nothing kept me from coming out to you except the fact that I feared that it would be made obligatory for you.” And that was in Ramadaan.
(Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever prays qiyaam – i.e., Taraweeh – with the imam until he finishes, it will be recorded as if he spent the whole night in prayer.”
Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Abd al-Qaari said: I went out with ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him) to the mosque one night in Ramadaan, and the people were scattered, each man praying by himself. Some men would pray and have groups of people behind them following them. ‘Umar said: “I think that if I unite all these people with one reader, it will be better. Then he resolved to gather them behind Ubayy ibn Ka’b.
Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmaan, who asked ‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), “How did the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) pray during Ramadan?” She said: “He did not pray more than eleven rak’ahs in Ramadan or at other times. He would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray three. I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, will you sleep before you pray Witr?’ He said, ‘O ‘Aa’ishah, my eyes sleep but my heart does not.’”
(Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Ibn ‘Umar narrated, a man asked the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) about prayer at night. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Prayers at night are to be offered two by two (two rak’ahs at a time). If any of you fears that the time of dawn is approaching then let him pray one rak’ah as Witr.”
(Al-Bukhari & Muslim)