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Ramadan Tarawih Vigil Prayer, A Detailed Analysis

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by Mathabah.org

By Shaykh Omar Subedar – Mathabah Foundation

Observing the Taräwëh prayer during the blessed nights of Ramaźhän is an extremely virtuous act. Many benefits have been enumerated in various hadëths regarding its observance. Amongst them is; whoever stands [in prayer during the nights of] Ramaźhän with ëmän and hope [in Allah’s reward], all his past sins will be forgiven. [Bukhäri: 2009]

It is important to note that a person shall only be entitled to the benefits mentioned in the hadëths when he performs the prescribed ritual completely and correctly. Incorrect and incomplete acts of worship are never rewarded by Allah.

Today the taräwëh prayer has become an extremely controversial and confusing matter for many Muslims throughout the world, particularly in respect to the number of its raka’ät. While many argue that it is 20 others are adamant that it is only 8 thus leaving the average Muslim confused. In order to determine which view is correct it is imperative that we analyze all the prophetic narrations related to this matter. However before exploring this avenue it is important to first resolve whether the taräwëh prayer and the tahajjud prayer are the same ritual or not because the argument over the number of its raka’ät really stem from this particular point.

The Difference between Taräwëh and Tahajjud                                       

When conducting a basic study of the Qur’än and hadëth we find that both prayers are really separate rituals. The tahajjud prayer is a prayer that was prescribed for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his followers in Sura Al Muzammil during the early days of Islam. At first they were required to stand in prayer for at least half the night. Allah instructed, “Arise [to pray] the night except for a little. Half of it or subtract from it a little. Or add to it and recite the Quran with measure.” [73:2-4]

However Allah later relieved the believers of this obligation and announced towards the end of the sura, “So recite what is easy [for you] of the Quran,” [73:20].

Ibn Kathër has interpreted this verse as; “Without any limitation of time. Rather you may stand [in prayer during the night] for whatever period of time is easy [for you].”

This shows that tahajjud was a prayer that was practiced in the early days of Islam during the Makkan period; an era in which the only obligation the Muslims had was to pray. This prayer was observed year-round and was not restricted to a particular month during the year.

Regarding the taräwëh prayer or the night prayer of Ramaźhän, this was introduced by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم during the month of Ramaźhän after its fasts were made compulsory in the second year of the migration. This is confirmed through the following hadëth;

Abu Salmän narrated, “My father told me that Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Allah has made the fasts of Ramaźhän compulsory for you and I have introduced standing [in prayer throughout its nights] to you. So whoever keeps its fast and stands [in prayer] during its [night’s] with ëmän and anticipation of reward, he will exit his sins (i.e. be absolved of them) in a manner that he will resemble the day his mother gave birth to him.’” [Nasa’ië: 1603]

This hadëth clarifies that this prayer differs from the tahajjud prayer, which the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his companions’ رضى الله عنهم observed throughout the years prior to the compulsion of fasting.

The number of raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer

 ‘Ä’isha’s رضى الله عنها Hadëth

Today a growing number of Muslims are under the impression that the taräwëh prayer consists of only 8 raka’ät based on the following hadëth:

Abu Salama ibn Abdur Rahman reported that he asked ‘Ä’isha رضى الله عنها about the Messenger’s prayer during Ramaźhän. She explained, “Whether it was Ramaźhän or any other month, Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم would not pray more than eleven raka’ät. He would pray four [raka’ät] and do not ask about their beauty or length. Then he would pray four [raka’ät] and do not ask about their beauty or length. Then he would pray three [raka’ät of witr].”     [Bukhäri: 2013]

This narration has been recorded by Imam Bukhäri in his Jäme’ Al Sahëh in the ‘Book of the Taräwëh Prayer’. It is for this reason many people have assumed that Imam Bukhari has attempted to establish the number of raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer through his hadëth. However was that really his motive? And does this hadëth refer to the taräwëh prayer that was observed by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم? These questions can only be answered by a person who has studied Imam Bukhäri’s work and has thoroughly understood his methodology.

In his Jäme’, Imam Bukhäri establishes a title in the beginning of a chapter, in which he normally makes an assertion and then presents authentic hadëths to support it. It is due to this that scholars have stated, “The fiqh of Imam Bukhäri is found in his titles.” In short, if a person would like to truly understand why Imam Bukhäri has recorded a hadëth in a particular chapter of his book, he should check the title of that chapter.

‘Ä’isha’s رضى الله عنها aforementioned hadëth has been recorded in a chapter titled; The virtue of he who stands [in prayer during the nights of] Ramaźhän. From this very heading we understand that by no means has the Imam attempted to establish the number of raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer, as is generally assumed. Had this been the case he would have composed a suitable title for it just as he has done in Chapter 10 of the Book of Tahajjud. There he has titled the chapter, ‘How the prayer of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was and the number of [raka’ät] he prayed during the night’. In this particular chapter Imam Bukhäri has presented a total of four hadëths through which he establishes the number of raka’ät the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم prayed in tahajjud.

One would then wonder as to what virtue the Imam has attempted to establish through the aforementioned hadëth. When carefully studying his work we find that this very hadëth has been recorded in the 16th chapter of ‘The Book of tahajjud’ under the heading The Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم standing [in prayer] during the nights of Ramaźhän and (in) other months’. This clearly shows that the prayer discussed in ‘Ä’isha’s رضى الله عنها hadëth is the tahajjud prayer of our beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, which differs from the taräwëh prayer. Through this chapter the Imam has proved that the tahajjud prayer was observed year-round by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and that the number of its raka’ät was consistent.

By presenting this very hadëth in the ‘Book of the Taräwëh Prayer’, Imam Bukhäri has attempted to prove that the reward for the taräwëh prayer is equivalent to the reward of the tahajjud prayer. This is understood by the chapter’s title. This does not imply that the two prayers are the same as there are many good deeds that are equivalent to one another in reward however by no means are they considered to be the same ritual. For example the reward for sitting in the masjid and waiting for saläh is equivalent to the reward of being engaged in saläh, as the following hadëth points out;

“…So when he enters the masjid he will be in the state of saläh as long as saläh keeps him [from leaving the Masjid].” [Bukhäri: 477]

It is common knowledge that no one considers these two actions to be the same ritual.

An interesting point to note is that none of the authors of the Sihäh Sitta (The six authentic compilations of hadëth) have used this hadëth in reference to the taräwëh prayer.

  • Imam Muslim has recorded this hadëth in his Sahëh, Book 6, Chapter 17; The night prayer and the number of the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم raka’ät during the night…’ and not in Chapter 25; Exhorting [people] to stand in [prayer during the nights of] Ramaźhän and that [prayer] is [called the] Taräwëh [prayer].
  • Imam Mälik has recorded it in his Mu’atta, Book 7, Chapter 2; The Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم[method of] praying in witr, and not in Book 6, Chapter 2; What has been recorded pertaining to standing [in prayer during the nights of] Ramaźhän.
  • Imam Abu Däwōd has recorded it in his Sunan, Book 5, Chapter 26; The Night Prayer, and not in Book 6, Chapter 1; Standing [in prayer] during the [nights of the] month of Ramaźhän.
  • Imam Tirmidhë has narrated this hadëth in his Jäme’, Book 2, Chapter 208; What has been recorded pertaining to the description of the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم prayer at night’ and not in Book 6, Chapter 81; What has been narrated pertaining to standing [in prayer during the nights of] the month of Ramaźhän.
  • Imam Nasa’ië has recorded it in his Sunan, Book 20, Chapter 36; Why witr is [observed] with three [raka’ät], and not in the Chapter 4 of the same section; Standing [in prayer during the nights of] the month of Ramaźhän.

In conclusion, none of these eminent scholars of hadëth have considered this narration to be connected with the taräwëh prayer. They have however unanimously considered it to be connected with the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم tahajjud prayer. Hence this hadëth cannot be used to determine the number of raka’ät the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم observed while praying taräwëh.

Jäbir’s رضى الله عنه Hadëth

Some people resort to the following hadëth to prove that the number of raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer is eight:

Jäbir ibn ‘Abdullah reported, “Ubay ibn Ka’b رضى الله عنه came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and said, “O Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم something happened to me last night, in Ramaźhän.”

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم asked, “What happened, O Ubay?”

Ubay explained, “Some women in my house expressed, “We cannot recite the Qur’än, hence we shall pray behind you.” Subsequently I led them [in prayer] for eight raka’ät and then led the witr prayer.”

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم looked like he was happy and did not say anything.” [Ibn Hibbän: 2540]

They contend that this hadëth clearly displays the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم consent over observing eight raka’ät of taräwëh. The problem with this hadëth however is that it is unauthentic. Isa ibn Järiah, the individual who reported this account from Jäbir, is a narrator who has been heavily criticized by many hadëth scholars and has been labeled as weak. Yaĥyä ibn Ma’een said about him, “His narrations are not strong,” and in another place he expressed, “He has many ‘Manäkeer’ (i.e. hadëths in which the narrator is unreliable and his reports contradict the narrations of authentic narrators).

Imam Nasa’ië, Abu Däwōd, ‘Uqaylë, Ibn ‘Adë and Ibn Jawzë have all rendered him weak. Imam Nasa’ië and Abu Däwōd have gone as far to say, “He is a Munkir Al Hadëth” (a term used to label narrators weak).

Ibn ‘Adë stated, “His narrations are insecure [from weakness].”[1]

One may argue that Ibn Hibbän has listed him in his book, ‘Al Thiqät – The authentic ones’ and has recorded his hadëth in his Sahëh (compilation of authentic narrations) therefore he must be reliable. The reality is that Ibn- Hibbän is renowned for being lenient in authenticating narrators as Sheikh Abdul Fattäh has written in his commentary of ‘Al Raf’ wa Al Takmël’. Hence his authentication will not be given any weight, especially when it contradicts the criticism issued by multiple scholars.

Ibn Abbäs’s رضى الله عنهما Hadëth

As for those who assert that the taräwëh prayer consists of 20 raka’ät, they cite the following hadëth:

Ibn Abbäs رضى الله عنهما reported, “The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم would observe 20 raka’ät and witr during [the nights of] Ramaźhän. [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah: Chapter 227 Hadëth no. 13]

Unfortunately this hadëth is also weak because of Ibrähëm ibn Uthmän being in its transmission chain. Yaĥyä ibn Ma’een has heavily criticized him and has labeled him as unreliable.

In conclusion, there is no authentic hadëth available that reports the exact number of raka’ät observed by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم in the taräwëh prayer. Hence in such circumstances one must examine the actions of his loyal companions in order to obtain some guidance.

‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه Conduct

There are approximately six narrations that describe ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه method of observing the taräwëh prayer. However before analyzing them all, it is important to be aware of the structure of their transmission in order to fully understand them from an authenticator’s standpoint.

Firstly, ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه practice has been reported by another Sahäbë named Sä’ib ibn Yazëd. Sä’ib reported his account to three of his students;

1) Härith ibn Abdur Rahman
2) Yazëd ibn Khusayfa
3) Muhammad ibn Yusuf

Yazëd ibn Khusayfa then reported this to three of his students

1) Ibn Abe Dhi’b
2) Muhammad ibn Ja’far
3) Imam Mälik ibn Anas

Muhammad ibn Yusuf reported this account to many of his students with variations in the number of raka’ät. Amongst them are;

1) Imam Mälik

2) Ibn Isĥäq

3) Däwōd ibn Qays.

Däwōd ibn Qays then reported it to Abdur Razzäq, the author of the famous ‘Al-Musannaf’. A diagram is given below to make all the lines of transmission clear;

Ramadan Tarawih Vigil Prayer, A Detailed AnalysisNow that the entire transmission chain structure of Sä’ib ibn Yazëd’s reports are clear we go on to examine all his available reports one by one;

  • Mälik reported from Muhammad ibn Yusuf, who reported from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd who said, “`Umar ibn Al Khattäb instructed Ubay ibn Ka’b and Tamëm Al Dāri to lead people in prayer for eleven raka’ät. The reciter would recite the suras that consisted of 100 verses. Eventually we had to lean on canes due to the length of the prayer. We would only turn away from the prayer at the arrival of dawn. [Mu’atta Imam Mälik: 249]

Apparently this report is authentic because every narrator in its transmission chain is strong and reliable, however when analyzing the reports of Muhammad ibn Yusuf’s remaining students, we find that a total different story is being told. Häfiżh Ibn Hajar writes in Fat’h Al Bäri;

  • “Muhammad ibn Nasr reported with a transmission chain leading to Muhammad ibn Is’häq, who stated, “Muhammad ibn Yusuf reported to me from his grandfather, Sä’ib ibn Yazëd who said, “During ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه time we would pray 13 raka’ät in Ramaźhän.”

Ibn Is’häq said, “This is the most solid narration I have heard in connection to this matter. It coincides with ‘Ä’isha’s رضى الله عنها hadëth on the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم prayer during the night”

Here we find a clear contradiction between the two accounts. In the first narration Muhammad ibn Yusuf relates eleven raka’ät to Imam Mälik while in the second narration he reports thirteen raka’ät to Ibn Is’häq. Some scholars have attempted to reconcile the two reports by claiming that the additional two raka’ät reported by Ibn Is’häq are really the two raka’ät of the Fajr Sunna. This reconciliation can be deemed somewhat acceptable however the matter becomes problematic due to another narration;

  • Abdur Razzäq reported from Däwōd ibn Qays and others, who have reported from Muhammad ibn Yusuf, who narrated from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd that ‘Umar رضى الله عنه gathered people during Ramaźhän [to pray taräwëh] behind Ubay ibn Ka’b and Tamëm Al Dāri for twenty one raka’ät. They would recite [suras that consisted of] one hundred verses and leave at the arrival of dawn.[Al Musannaf: 7730]

In this narration Muhammad ibn Yusuf narrated twenty one raka’ät to Däwōd ibn Qays and other students. Some scholars have attempted to discredit this account by presenting the following two arguments;

  1. It contradicts the previous report by trustworthy reporters of eleven raka’ät.

This, in reality, is an invalid argument. By studying the principles of hadëth we find that when a reporter’s account of a particular event contradicts other reports and every one of those reports are irreconcilable then they are all discarded and termed as Mudh’tarab. Here Muhammad ibn Yusuf has reported 11 raka’ät to Imam Mälik, 13 raka’ät to Ibn Is’häq and 21 to Däwōd ibn Qays. All their chains of transmission are authentic thus making it difficult to give preference to one report over the other. Therefore, due to such conditions, we would have no choice but to term these narrations as Mudh’tarab and disregard them all, especially when Muhammad ibn Yusuf’s contemporaries are all relating 20 raka’ät as we will reveal in detail.

  1. Abdur-Razzāq is the only narrator who has this wording.

This is another incorrect statement. It is clear stated in his chain that more than one person has narrated this number from Mohammad ibn Yusuf. Abdur-Razzāq himself has mentioned that he reported this account from Däwōd ibn Qays and OTHERS, who have reported it from Muhammad ibn Yusuf.

Some people have tried do defame Abdur-Razzāq by claiming he is a defective reporter because he became blind in his latter years. Consequently he obtained dubious reports from others. They also allege that it is uncertain whether this particular report has been narrated before or after his confusion therefore it cannot be accepted.

It is true that Abdur Razzäq became blind in old age however this happened long after he compiled his book Al Musannaf. The hadëth we are currently debating is recorded in this very compilation. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the famous imam of fiqh and a student of Abdur-Razzäq pointed out, “Whoever heard [a hadëth] from the book(s) of Abdur Razzäq then that [narration] is the most accurate.”

In conclusion this particular hadëth is authentic but it cannot be used as evidence; not because of the unwarranted criticism aimed at Abdur Razzäq by certain individuals, but rather due to the irreconcilable numbers reported by Muhammad ibn Yusuf which have made his reports problematic and unreliable.

Interestingly Imam Mälik himself does not practice the narration of 11 raka’ät even though he is the very one who related it from Muhammad ibn Yusuf. He rather claims that the taräwëh prayer is 41 raka’ät!

Sä’ib ibn Yazëd’s second student is Yazëd ibn Khusayfa. His report has been documented and narrated by Ibn Abe Dhi’b, Muhammad ibn Ja’far and Imam Mälik. Their reports are as follows;

4)    Ibn Abe Dhi’b reported from Yazëd ibn Khusayfa, who reported from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd who said, “People would stand in [prayer] during ‘Umar ibn Khattāb’s رضى الله عنه time in the month of Ramaźhän for twenty raka’ät.” He also added, “They would recite [suras that consist of] 100 verses and lean on their canes in the days of ‘Uthmän ibn ‘Affän رضى الله عنه due to the intensity of the prayer.” [Sunan Al Bayhaqë: 4617]

5)    Muhammad ibn Ja’far narrated, “Yazëd ibn Khusayfa reported to me from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd who said, “We would stand [in taräwëh] during the time of ‘Umar ibn Khattäb for twenty raka’ät with witr’.” [Ma’rifat Al Sunan wa Al Aathär, Bayhaqë]
6)    Ibn Hajar said, “Imam Mälik narrated through a transmission chain that leads to Yazëd ibn Khusayfa who reported twenty raka’ät from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd. [Fat’h Al Bari]

Upon observing these narrations one will notice that all of Yazëd ibn Khusayfa’s reports are consistent in reporting twenty raka’ät unlike the inconsistent numbers narrated by Muhammad ibn Yusuf. However some people have stepped forth to criticize Yazëd ibn Khusayfa after doing a ‘comprehensive background check’ on him and have thus uncovered several elements of weakness in him. They are;

  1. Imam Ahmad has pointed out that Ibn Khusayfa’s reporting is ‘Munkar’.

Before debating this point let’s just take a look at what has been written about Yazëd in the books of ‘Rijaal’. Imam Mazzi has written the following about Yazëd in Tah’dhëb Al Kamäl;

  • Abu Bakr ibn Athram reported from Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Hātim and Nasa’ië (that Yazëd is) trustworthy.
  • Abu Ubaidullah Al Aajuri reported from Abu Däwōd that Imam Ahmad said, “Yazëd is a Munkir Al Hadëth.”
  • Ahmad ibn Sa’d ibn Abu Maryam reported from Yaĥyä ibn Ma’een that Yazëd is trustworthy and an authority.
  • Muhammad ibn Sa’d said, “Yazëd was a worshipper, an ascetic, a frequent reporter of hadëth and was trustworthy.”

From this information we learn that a total of 5 scholars have authenticated Yazëd and have labeled him as trustworthy. They are;

  1. Ahmad ibn Hanbal
    2. Abu Hātim
    3. Imam Nasa’ië
    4. Yaĥyä ibn Ma’een
    5. Muhammad ibn Sa’d

On the other hand only one person has criticized him; Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. His criticism contradicts the authentication he has issued along with other great scholars. It is based on this that Dr. Bashār ‘Awād Ma’ruf has written, “This [criticism] is not confirmed from Ahmad.”

He further writes “In ‘Elal (a book written by Imam Ahmad’s son) Abdullah has stated [about Yazëd ibn Khusayfa], “I only know good things about him,” and this is clear authentication!”

In conclusion Yazëd ibn Khusayfa is a trustworthy, authentic narrator. The criticism aimed at him by Imam Ahmad is to be discarded, especially when he is one of the many scholars who have authenticated him. Consequently Yazëd’s report will not be rejected but rather it will be accepted and shall serve as a strong piece of evidence.

Some people have argued that Ibn Khusayfa’s report is Shādh [2] because Muhammad ibn Yusuf is a stronger narrator than him. Häfiżh Ibn Hajar has described Muhammad as trustworthy and meticulous while he has only described Ibn Khusayfa as trustworthy. Now because Ibn Khusayfa’s report of twenty does not coincide with Muhammad ibn Yusuf’s report of eleven it shall be considered unreliable.

By studying the works of Häfiżh ibn Hajar we find the total opposite of what has been alleged. The following statements are found about each individual in Häfiżh’s famous work, Tah’dhëb Al-Tah’dhëb, an abridged version of Imam Mazzi’s Tah’dhëb Al Kamäl;

Muhammad ibn Yusuf

  • Yaĥyä ibn Sa’ëd said, “Muhammad ibn Yusuf is more trustworthy than Abdur Rahmän ibn Hamëd and Abdur Rahmän ibn ‘Ammär. He was lame and a writer.”
  • Sadaqa ibn Faźhl said, “Yaĥyä ibn Sa’ëd used to praise him and give him preference over Muhammad ibn Abu Yaĥyä.”
  • Bukhäri said, “Yaĥyä ibn Sa’ëd was like him.”
  • Ibn Ma’een said, “Yaĥyä told me, ‘I have not seen any shaykh resemble him in reliability’.”
  • Ibn Ma’een, Ahmad and Nasa’ië said, “[He is] trustworthy.”
  • Mus’ab Al Zubairë said, “He was a noble man and he came to Madina.”
  • Ibn Hibbān has mentioned him in [his book] Al Thiqät.

I (Ibn Hajar) say, “Ibn Madënë said, “Muhammad ibn Yusuf, the lame is trustworthy,” and Ibn Shä’hën mentioned in Al Thiqät, “Ahmad ibn Sälih (the Egyptian) said, ‘He is a man of great importance.” He (also) said, “Ahmad ibn Sälih was amazed by him.” [p. 342 vol. 5, Dar Ihyä Al Turäth Al Arabi 1993]

Yazëd ibn Abdullah ibn Khusayfa

  • Athram reported from Ahmad, Abu Hātim and Nasa’i that he is trustworthy.
  • Al Aajuri reported from Abu Däwōd that Ahmad mentioned, “He is Munkir Al Hadëth,” (this point has already been discussed).
  • Ibn Abi Maryam reported from Ibn Ma’een that he is trustworthy and an authority.
  • Ibn Sa’d said, “He was a worshipper, an ascetic, a frequent reporter of hadëth and was trustworthy.
  • Ibn Hibbān has listed him in [his book] Al Thiqät.

I (Ibn Hajar) say, “Ibn Abdul Barr declared, “He was the nephew of Sä’ib ibn Yazëd and was trustworthy and reliable.”  [p. 214 vol. 6, Dar Ihyä Al Turäth Al Arabi 1993]

These two extracts clearly show that the only words of authentication used for Muhammad ibn Yusuf are ‘trustworthy and reliable’, while for Yazëd words such as trustworthy, reliable and authority have been used thus making Yazëd a stronger narrator than Ibn Yusuf according to the rules of hadëth. Likewise there is no mention anywhere in these two extracts of Ibn Hajar calling Ibn Yusuf ‘meticulous’.

Another ‘element of weakness’ allegedly found in Ibn Khusayfa is that he is not as knowledgeable of Sä’ib ibn Yazëd’s reports as Muhammad ibn Yusuf because Muhammad ibn Yusuf was Sä’ib’s nephew unlike Ibn Khusayfa. Firstly, according to the rules of hadëth relationship does not enhance a reporter’s authenticity nor does it imply that he is more knowledgeable of his relative’s reports than others. Secondly, if by chance relationship was a factor that enhanced a person’s knowledge and reliability then Muhammad ibn Yusuf would not be any more knowledgeable than Yazëd because he too was Sä’ib’s nephew as has been mentioned in the above extract. In conclusion there are really no elements of weakness found in Ibn Khusayfa at all due to which his reports should be discredited.

The third student of Sä’ib ibn Yazëd is Härith ibn Abdur Rahman ibn Abu Dhubäb, whose reports are as follows;

7)    Ibn Abdul Barr related, “Härith ibn Abdur Rahman ibn Abu Dhubäb reported from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd that the [night] prayer [in Ramaźhän] during ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه era was 23 raka’ät.” Ibn Abdul Barr then explained, “The [additional] three are considered to be the witr prayer.”

8)    Abdur Razzäq recorded in his Al Musannaf from Aslami, who reported from Härith ibn Abdur Rahman ibn Abi Dhubäb, who reported from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd, “We would finish the prayer close to the rise of dawn. The prayer during ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه era was 23 raka’ät. [Hadëth no. 7733]

These two reports coincide with the authentic and consistent reports of Ibn Khusayfa above. Here Härith has reported 20 raka’ät from Sä’ib ibn Yazëd with an additional 3 raka’ät for witr just as his contemporary, Ibn Khusayfa. This leads us to the conclusion that the correct number reported by Sä’ib is twenty and not eleven.

Some people have labeled these reports as weak due to Ibn Abu Dhubäb allegedly having a poor memory. The truth is that mixed opinions have been expressed by various scholars about his authenticity. Häfiżh ibn Hajar writes in Al Tah’dhëb;

  • Ibn Ma’een said, “He is renowned.”
  • Abu Hātim mentioned, “Darāwardi reported ‘Munkar’ narrations from him. He is not strong.”
  • Abu Zur’ah said “He is unobjectionable.”

I [Ibn Hajar] say Ibn Hibbän has listed him in Al Thiqät and has written, “He is from the accurate ones and passed away in the year 146 H…”

This clearly shows that Häfiżh Ibn Hajar considered Ibn Abu Dhubäb to be a trustworthy and authentic narrator, for he has based his verdict on Ibn Hibbän’s authentication. Therefore his narration of twenty raka’ät can be used as a reliable source. Even if one were to declare his narration weak, it would still be considered reliable due to it coinciding with the authentic and precise reports of Ibn Khusayfa. According to the principles of hadëth, if a weak report is supported by an authentic report, as is the case here, then the weak report would be upgraded to being reliable and would thus be categorized as ‘Hasan le Ghairihi’.

The people further argue that the status of the other narrators in the transmission chain is not known because Ibn Abdul Barr’s book in inaccessible today. Through this argument they are indirectly contending that this hadëth is unreliable because of this very factor. It is true that Ibn Abdul Barr’s book is not accessible however this very hadëth is found in Abdur Razzäq’s Al Musannaf with the following narrators;

1) Abdur Razzäq: An authentic narrator as we have discussed in great detail.

2) Ibrähëm ibn Muhammad ibn Abi ibn Yaĥyä Al Aslami: This is a heavily criticized reporter due to some controversial beliefs he held. An interesting point to note though is that despite his corrupt beliefs some great scholars have considered him to be a trustworthy narrator of hadëths, such as Imam Shäfi’ë. Imam Mazzee has written in Tah’dhëb Al Kamäl, “Rabë’ ibn Sulaimän said, “I heard Imam Shäfi’ë say, “Ibrähëm ibn Abi Yaĥyä was a Qadari.[3]

Rabë’ was then asked, “Then what caused Imam Shäfi’ë to narrate [hadëths] from him?”

He replied, “He used to say, ‘I would prefer that Ibrähëm fall from a distant place rather than him resorting to lying. He was TRUSTWORTHY in hadëth!’”

Abu Ahmad ibn ‘Adë said, “I asked Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa’ëd, “Do you know anyone who has praised Ibrähëm ibn Abi Yaĥyä apart from Imam Shäfi’ë?’”

He replied, “Yes. Ahmad ibn Yaĥyä Al ‘Awdi told me that he heard Hamdān ibn Asbahāni say when he asked him “Do you embrace the narrations of Ibrähëm ibn Abi Yaĥyä?”

He replied, “Yes.”

Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa’ëd then told me, “I studied the hadëths of Ibrähëm ibn Yaĥyä extensively and [it turned out that] he is not a ‘Munkir Al Hadëth’.”

Abu Ahmad ibn ‘Adë further said, “This statement is precisely correct for indeed I myself have also studied many of his narrations and I did not find any of them to be unreliable except for those that were narrated from questionable shaykhs.”

In conclusion Ibrähëm ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Yaĥyä’s narration here is reliable especially when it is coinciding with the authentic narrations of Ibn Khusayfa.

3) Härith ibn Abdur Rahman ibn Abi Dhubäb

4) Sä’ib ibn Yazëd

All these narrators are trustworthy. Thus this hadëth will also be considered reliable.

Another hadëth on ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه practice is;

9)    Mälik reported from Yazëd ibn Rōmān who said, “People would stand (in prayer) during the time of ‘Umar ibn Khattäb in the month of Ramaźhän for twenty-three raka’ät.” [Al Mu’atta: 250]

Some people have labeled this hadëth weak due to it being Mursal[4]. Although this hadëth is Mursal it does not necessarily imply that it is weak. The reason behind this is that hadëth scholars in the past have held mixed views regarding its authenticity. Shaykh Muhammad Jamäluddën has written in his book Qawä’id Al Tahdëth (The Rules of Narrating) that scholars are split into three groups on this issue;

1) Some scholars consider all such narrations weak and unauthentic.

2) Some scholars claim that all such narrations are authentic. This is the view of Imam Abu Hanëfa, Imam Mälik, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Katheer and others.

3) Some scholars have laid out certain conditions for accepting such narrations such as Imam Shäfi’ë. Imam Nawawë writes in the preface of his book Shar’h Al Muhadhab, “Imam Shäfi’ë said, “Great Täbi’ën have used Mursal narrations as evidence when;

  1. Its transmission chain is completely connected through another transmission chain…
  2. Or the narrator doing Irsäl (i.e. excluding the Sahäbë from the chain) is a person who reports from other narrators …
  3. Or the narration coincides with the statement of a Sahäbë
  4. Or the majority of scholars have passed a ruling in accordance to the information provided in the narration.

This is Imam Shäfi’ë’s general viewpoint pertaining to Mursal narrations. As for the Mursal narrations found in Imam Mälik’s Mu’atta, such as Yazëd ibn Rōmān hadëth which is currently under discussion, Imam Shäfi’ë states, “The most AUTHENTIC book after the book of Allah is Mu’atta Imam Mälik. Hadëth scholars agree that every single narration in it is AUTHENTIC according Imam Mälik’s view and those who agree with him. As for those who have other views, they state that there isn’t a single Mursal’ narration in it except that it is connected through other transmission chains. Hence its [Mursal] narrations will definitely be considered AUTHENTIC from this aspect. There were many [versions of] Mu’atta that were published in Imam Mälik’s time in which references have been provided for its narrations and it’s Mursal narrations have been connected; such as the versions prepared by Ibn Abi Dhi’b, Ibn Uyayna, Thawri and Ma’mar.” [Hujjatullah Al Bāligha]

In the light of this information it is safe to conclude that Yazëd ibn Rōmān’s narration is AUTHENTIC because firstly it is recorded in Imam Mälik’s Mu’atta and secondly Imam Shäfi’ë’s aforementioned conditions are all met.

10) Ibn Abu Shaybah reported, “Wakë’ reported to me, who reported from Mälik ibn Anas, who reported from Yaĥyä ibn Sa’ëd that Umar ibn Khattäb رضى الله عنه ordered a man to lead them in prayer for twenty raka’ät.” [Musannaf Ibn Abu Shaybah: Chapter 227 Hadëth no. 3]

Unfortunately this narration has also been criticized due a missing link between Yaĥyä ibn Sa’ëd and Umar ibn Khattäb رضى الله عنه as the former never met the latter. This causes the hadëth to be categorized as Mursal or Munqati’.[5] However this does not necessarily render this narration weak as we have just discussed in great detail. According to Imam Abu Hanëfa, Imam Mälik, Imam Ahmad and other great scholars, this narration will unquestionably be acceptable, especially when all the reporters in its transmission chain are trustworthy and authentic. This narration will also be acceptable to Imam Shäfi’ë because;

1)    Similar narrations have been reported with fully connected and authentic transmission chains such as the consistent and authentic reports of Ibn Khusayfa.
2)    Imam Mälik (one of the narrators of this hadëth) has reported the exact same information from other scholars as we have previously observed.
3)    It coincides with the report of the Sahäbë Sä’ib ibn Yazëd رضى الله عنه.
4)    The vast majority of scholars have passed a ruling about the raka’ät of taräwëh according to the information provided in this narration.

In conclusion this report is undeniably acceptable and therefore can be used as evidence.

‘Ali’s رضى الله عنه Instructions and Conduct

1)    Abu Al Hasnā reported, “`Ali رضى الله عنه ordered a man to lead them in prayer during Ramaźhän for twenty raka’ät.” [Musannaf Ibn Abu Shaybah: Chapter 227 Hadëth no. 2]

2)    Abu Al Hasnā reported, “Ali ibn Abu Tälib instructed a man to lead people in prayer for five tarwëhāt (or) twenty raka’ät.”
Note: One tarwëh consists of four raka’ät. Imam Bayhaqë states, “There is weakness in this chain, and Allah knows best.” [Sunan Al Bayhaqë: 4621]

The weakness in this transmission chain is due to Abu Al Hasnā, a person who scholars claim is unknown. It should be made clear that it is Abu Al Hasnā’s reliability that is unknown and not him as an individual because three people are known to have reported from him;

  • Sharëk ibn Abdullah Al Nakhai’ë
  • Amr ibn Qais
  • Abu Sa’d Al Baqqāl

No scholar has authenticated him nor criticized him. Therefore he would be labeled as Majhōl Al Häl or Mustōr (a person whose condition is unknown). According to Ibn Hajar the ruling on such individuals is that their narration will neither be accepted nor rejected. Rather it will be put on hold until some clarification on their status is attained.

  • Hammäd ibn Shu’ayb reported from ‘Atā ibn Al Sä’ib, who reported from Abu Abdur Rahmän Al Sulami that Ali رضى الله عنه summoned the Reciters [of the Qur’an] in Ramaźhän and ordered one of them to lead people for twenty raka’ät. Ali رضى الله عنه would then lead them in witr.” [Sunan Al Bayhaqë: 4620]

Some people have pointed out that this hadëth is weak due to the following reasons;

  • ‘Atā ibn Al Sä’ib’s reports become inconsistent due to old age
  • Hammäd ibn Shu’ayb is a weak reporter. Imam Bukhäri said about him, “He is questionable.” He also said, “His reports are rejected.”

These claims are true however it should noted that according to the science of hadëth, weak hadëths do reinforce each other thus making them reliable and acceptable. Imam Nawawë said, “A weak hadëth ascends to the status of reliability when its transmission chains are multiple. Consequently it becomes acceptable and can be practiced.”[Qawä’id Al Tahdëth]

This hadëth is supported by Abu al Hasnās report thus making it acceptable. It is for this very reason that Shaykh Al Islam Häfiżh Ibn Taimiyya has used this narration in his book Minhäj Al Sunna to prove that ‘Ali رضى الله عنه had preserved ‘Umar’s رضى الله عنه practice of 20 raka’ät during his reign.. Likewise no other number has been recorded from ‘Ali رضى الله عنه. Hence it would be safe to conclude that the established and confirmed practice of ‘Ali رضى الله عنه was to observe 20 raka’ät of taräwëh during the nights of Ramaźhän.

Other Reports

  • Abdur Rahmän reported from Hasan Abdul Aziz ibn Rufai’ who said, “Ubay ibn Ka’b رضى الله عنه used to lead people in prayer during Ramaźhän in Madina for twenty raka’ät and led them in witr for three raka’ät.” [Musannaf Ibn Abu Shaybah: Chapter 227 Hadëth no. 5]

Although the link between Hasan Abdul Aziz and Ubay رضى الله عنه is missing thus making this narration Mursal, it is a reliable report. Hasan Abdul Aziz is a trustworthy and authentic reporter of hadëth and has met and reported from great Sahäbäs such as Anas ibn Mälik, Ibn ‘Umar and Ibn ‘Abbäs رضى الله عنهم. It is highly possible that he reported this account from one of them. Nevertheless we have already discussed the status of Mursal reports.

  • Abu Ja’far Al Räzi reported from Rabë’ ibn Anas, who reported from Abu Al Aaliya, who narrated from Ubay ibn Ka’b رضى الله عنه that ‘Umar رضى الله عنه instructed him to lead people in the qiyäm of Ramaźhän saying, “People fast during the day and are unable to recite well [at night], so will you recite the Qur’än for them during the night?”

He replied, “O Leader of the Believers, this [is a practice that] has never been done before.”

Umar said, “I know, however it is good.”

So he led them for twenty raka’ät.” [Al Mukhtära, Diyä Al Maqdisi]

The transmission chain of this report is weak due to Abu Ja’far Al Räzi; a reporter who scholars have criticized. Although some scholars have also authenticated him by declaring that he is trustworthy, their authentication is overridden by the criticism issued by other scholars as per the rules of hadëth sciences. Hence Abu Ja’far will be considered weak. However this report will not be deemed weak but rather reliable because it coincides with the previously established and authentic report of Umar رضى الله عنه ordering the observance of twenty raka’ät. Therefore this report will be categorized as Hasan le Ghairihi and can be used as evidence.

Interestingly in this report Ubay remarked, “This [is a practice that] has never been done before.” The reason behind this comment was that after the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had introduced this prayer, people began to observe it both individually and collectively. Neither did the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم gather everyone behind one imam to observe it nor did Abu Bakr رضى الله عنه. Umar was the first to suggest the idea as it is made clear in the following account;

Abdur Rahmän ibn Abdul Qäri said, “I accompanied ‘Umar ibn Al Khattäb رضى الله عنه one night during Ramaźhän to the Masjid and found people performing saläh in different groups. One person was performing saläh alone while another was performing it with a small group [of people] behind him. As a result ‘Umar رضى الله عنه suggested, “In my opinion, if I were to gather all these people behind one reciter, this would definitely be better!”

He then made up his mind and collected them behind Ubay ibn Ka’b رضى الله عنه. The next night I again accompanied him and [saw that] people were performing saläh behind their reciter. ‘Umar رضى الله عنه remarked, “This is an excellent innovation!” [Bukhäri: 2010]

The Consensus of the Sahäba

From the above discussion it becomes evident that all the Sahäba رضى الله عنهم observed twenty raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer. This implies that the Sahäba were of the consensus that taräwëh should be no less than twenty raka’ät. ‘Ali ibn Sultan Al Qäri has written, “Häfiżh Ibn Hajar said, “The Sahäba developed a consensus on taräwëh being twenty raka’ät” [Mirqät Al Mäfatëh p.382 vol. 3, Maktaba Haqqäniyya, Multan, Pakistan]

Abu Bakr ibn Mas’ōd Al Käsäni Al Hanafi has written, “`Umar رضى الله عنه gathered the companions of Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم during the month of Ramaźhän behind Ubay ibn Ka’b رضى الله عنه, who lead them every night for twenty raka’ät and nobody objected to this practice. Therefore this will be considered a consensus on their behalf on this issue!” [Badäi’ Al Sanäi’ p.275 vol. 2, Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, Beirut, Lebanon, 1997]

The Verdict of the Scholars of the Early Generations

An interesting point to note is that although there were differences between our pious predecessors regarding the number of raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer, the numbers they have differed over is 41 and 20. Not a single scholar from the early generations was of the view that taräwëh is 8 raka’ät. This implies that ‘Ä’isha’s رضى الله عنها hadëth was never treated as a narration on the taräwëh prayer of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم nor were the narrations of Jabir رضى الله عنه or Sä’ib ibn Yazëd رضى الله عنه in which eight raka’ät of taräwëh along with three raka’ät of witr is reported considered reliable by them. Had they been credible they would have certainly practiced it.

Imam Tirmidhë writes in his Jäme’, “Scholars have differed over [the number of raka’ät] for the night prayer during Ramaźhän. Some maintain that 41 raka’ät should be offered along with witr. This is the verdict of the residents of Madina (i.e. Imam Mälik) and this is what they practice in Madina. The MAJORITY of scholars practice upon the reports of ‘Ali, ‘Umar رضى الله عنهما and other companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم , which is TWENTY raka’ät. This is the verdict of Sufyän Al Thawri, Ibn Mubärak and Shäfi’ë. Imam Shäfi’ë expressed, “This is what I have found in our city of Makka. People observe TWENTY raka’ät.” [Book 6, Chapter 81]

The Minimum Number Permitted

In the light of all the information presented here it becomes firmly established that the Sahäba رضى الله عنهم observed twenty raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer. There is no confirmed report of any of them offering only eight raka’ät, rather it is confirmed that ‘Umar رضى الله عنه ordered them to pray twenty raka’ät. Therefore it is obligatory to adhere to this number without decreasing anything from it. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ordered, “Those of you who will live [after me] will witness significant differences. So adhere to my practice and the practice of the Rightly Guided Successors. Bite their practices with your canines [i.e. hold on to them firmly] and beware of novel matters because every innovation is an act of misguidance!” [Abu Däwōd: 4607, Tirmidhë: 2678]

In another hadëth the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم added, “…and every act of misguidance will take one to the fire [of Hell].”

This hadëth teaches us how to resolve our differences on religious matters. Since the number of raka’ät for the taräwëh prayer has become controversial today we should solve the controversy by referring to the Sunna of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his Rightly Guided Successors, which was to observe twenty raka’ät.

Had another number been confirmed from any of the Rightly Guided Successors or anyone else from among the knowledgeable companions, we would have definitely resorted to it. However since no other number is confirmed from them, as it has been established in this article, we do not consider any number less than twenty permissible.

We pray that this article serves as guidance for those who truly love the Sahäba and aspire to defend their teachings. A true defender of the Sahäba would verify reports from them and then abide by them.

May Allah guide us all to the straight path and keep us steadfast on it. Ameen

[1] Mëzän Al E’tedäl p. 374-375 vol. 5, Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al Dhahabi, Dar Al Kotob Al Ilmiyah, Beirut, Lebanon 1995

Tah’dhëb Al Kamäl p. 542 vol. 5, Abu Al Hajjäj Yusuf Al Mazzi, Al Resalah Publishers, Beirut, Lebanon 1998

[2] This is a ĥadëth that has been narrated by a reliable reporter however it contradicts the narrations of other stronger narrators.

[3] A sect who denied predestination

[4] This is a ĥadëth in which a reporter at the end of the transmission chain has been omitted.

[5] This is a ĥadëth whose transmission chain has been interrupted due to one of its narrators being omitted from it.

This answer was collected from Mathabah.org. It’s an Islamic educational institute based in Canada. The questions are generally answered by Sheikh Yusuf Badat and Sheikh Omar Subedar.