Tarawih, division, and respecting scholarly differences

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

This is in response to a long comment/question, questioning the negation of 8 rakats tarawih as being a sound position, when some hadiths [seem to] refer to it, and some scholars have stated it….

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

Jazak Allah khayr for your nasiha. It is important to respect the right of others to differ. However, there is a difference between this and considering their difference legitimate is another point entirely.

In matters differed upon between sound Sunni scholarship, there is no room for declaring anothers’ position baseless or unconditionally wrong (while believing that, “My position is right, with the possibility of being wrong, and the position taken by others is wrong, with the possibility of being right.”) We consider such differences legitimate, as they arise out of sound scholarship.

As for aberrant positions beyond the realm of sound Sunni scholarship, we respect the right of whoever it is to differ, but we do not accept these differences as legitimate: rather, without causing fitna or dissent, we caution people that such opinions are erroneous, and should not be followed. However, this task is left to scholars: non-scholars do not have the knowledge to judge sound and unsound positions.

The Case of Tarawih

The Sunni schools of fiqh are agreed that the sunna is 20 rakats, and that any less does not fulfill the sunna. Even great scholars known to depart from mainstream opinions, such as Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiyya (Allah have mercy on them), agreed.

Top authorities, including Imam Abu Bakr al-Kasani and Imam Ibn Qudama, considered the fact that the sunna is 20 rakats to be effective scholarly consensus, because the Companions validated the judgment of Sayyiduna Umar (Allah be pleased with him), and it has been followed since across the Muslim lands, from those times to our’s.

As such, we caution Muslims from following aberrant positions, as much as we caution them from listening to the fatawa of those methodologically challenged, whether extreme in their conservativeness or liberalness.

As for what the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) prayed, this was understood to relate to his night vigil prayer (tahajjud), because:

a) it is explicitly stated in the words, for A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) would not pray more than 11 rakats in Ramadan or outside Ramadan…” [Bukhari, Muslim, and others] The scholars agree that tarawih is specific to Ramadan;

b) The hadith collections themselves mention this hadith in the chapters related to night vigil prayer. [See: Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Tahawi (Sharh Ma`ani al-Aathaar), Abd al-Razzaq; of later muhaddiths: Nawawi (Riyad al-Salihin), Mundhiri (Targhib), and others]

c) The agreement of the imams of fiqh on this point, in early and late times.

As for ‘providing the evidence’, this is not the duty of the person giving or seeking legal opinions to the public. As Shaykh Muhammad al-Ya’qoubi explains: [see: www.lightstudy.org]

“Concerning the questioner’s request of a proof, I would like to say that the request is unusual and alien to the tradition of fatwa. The Mufti’s duty is to provide the ruling with a reference or without depending on the case but not to deliberate on the proofs of it.

However I would like to seize this opportunity to draw some guidelines for this questioner and others who represent a layer of the society that is known in the field of sacred knowledge as the commons or “al-‘awaamm”. When faced by a legal or problem or doctrinal misunderstanding, the job of the common is first to look for wherefrom he receives the answer, i.e. the source of knowledge, and make sure that it is authentic and trustworthy; So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know) as in surat al-Anbiyaa’. By authentic I refer to the integrity of the chain of the scholar and by trustworthiness I refer to the loyalty to the doctrine of ahlussunnah. Second, when getting the answer which may be difficult to understand, due to several reasons, the least of which is the incapability of the questioner to comprehend the answer, the questioner must listen and adhere without challenging the authority as Allah subhaanahu wata’aalaa described the believers in the Noble Qur’an (we hear and we obey).

If the questioner is ambitious to learn more about the subject raised in the question he should change from a common to a student of sacred knowledge, find a shaykh or more, and gradually and systematically develop his understanding of the deen in a circle.

The questioner should be satisfied with an answer that points out to the reliable opinion or provides the ruling and should also recognise his inability to make a judgment on this subject due the long list of requirements in the field of knowledge.

The Western culture has changed Muslims’ attitude towards any religious issues from adherence to rebelliousness, from obedience to challenge and from following authorities to questioning authorities. The result is that people now believe that every person must make his own judgment and form an opinion in a field of studies that would take a scholar twenty years to be able to tread in with cautiousness and humility. The Western culture is built on rejection of faith, irrelevance of revelation, glorification of the human and the human authority versus the Divine thus putting reason over text, which is the reason why we are witnessing this intellectual mess in the Islamic arena.”

To understand and appreciate the methodology of traditional Sunni Islam, please see the articles on Sidi Mas’ud Khan’s excellent site, www.masud.co.uk, particularly those by Shaykh Nuh Keller and Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad.

And Allah alone gives success.


Faraz Rabbani

Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) said, “Fiqh is to know one’s self: what is for it and against it.”