The term “Tarawih” is the plural form of “Tarwihah,” which linguistically means resting or taking a break. According to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), Tarawih prayer is a confirmed Sunnah prayer performed specifically during the nights of Ramadan.

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, people referred to it as “Qiyam Ramadan” because the Prophet ﷺ never used the term “Tarawih” in his hadiths. According to some jurists, the term “Tarawih” emerged during the caliphate of Omar ibn Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him).

The Tarawih prayer is performed after the Isha prayer until the time of Fajr. The minimum number of rakaat for this prayer is two, and there is no maximum limit, as there is no definitive evidence specifying the number of rakaat. Hence, it is not surprising that among Muslims, there are variations in its practice, with some performing eight rakaat, some twenty rakaat, some thirty-six rakaat, and some even more.

The main evidence for this prayer is an authentic hadith narrated by the Companions from Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him), 

tarawih prayer The Excellence of Tarawih Prayer and Its Spiritual Benefits

In which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, Whoever stands (in the voluntary night prayer of) Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven. (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim)

According to the observations and investigations of the scholars of hadith, this hadith is the strongest among the hadiths that explain Qiyam Ramadan.

Opinions Regarding the Number of Rakaat in Tarawih

The difference in opinion regarding the number of rakaat in Tarawih prayer stems from the question of whether Tarawih prayer is the same as night prayer (Tahajjud), or are they two distinct types of prayers? Those who consider them to be the same usually argue that the total number of rakaat for Tarawih and Witr prayers is eleven rakaat, namely eight rakaat of Tarawih and three rakaat of Witr.

This opinion is held by the Hanafi, Hanbali, and Daud adh-Dhahiri schools of thought. In their discourse, during the nights of Ramadan, the prayer performed at night is called Tarawih, and outside Ramadan, it is called night prayer (Witr prayer). Their basis is the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ from Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her):

“The Prophet ﷺ never prayed more than eleven rakaat, whether in Ramadan or at any other time.” (Narrated by Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Tirmidhi, Imam Abu Dawud, Imam Nasai, and Imam Malik ibn Anas)

On the other hand, those who distinguish between them (night prayer and Tarawih prayer) tend to say that Tarawih prayer consists of thirty-six rakaat, following the reasoning of Caliph Umar ibn Abdul Aziz (one of the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty). This is because they sought to match the reward of Tarawih prayer with the residents of Mecca, who interspersed every four rakaat with the Tawaf ritual.

According to this opinion, the eleven rakaat represent the number of rakaat of night prayer that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ performed with his Companions. After that, he completed his night prayer at home, and no one knows for certain how many more rakaat the Prophet added to his Qiyam Ramadan prayer.

However, according to other scholars who support the twenty-rakaat opinion, the eleven rakaat performed by the Prophet ﷺ cannot be used as the basis for the number of rakaat in Tarawih prayer. This is because Tarawih prayer (Qiyam Ramadan) was only performed by the Prophet ﷺ two or three times, and that too was in the mosque, not at home.

In the hadith mentioned earlier from Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her), it is explained that the Prophet ﷺ never prayed more than eleven rakaat, whether in Ramadan or outside Ramadan. Thus, the prayer performed at night throughout the year, whether in Ramadan or not, is certainly not Tarawih prayer—because Tarawih prayer is only performed in Ramadan.

To strengthen the conclusion that Aisha’s hadith pertains to the Witr prayer—not to Tarawih prayer—let us consider another narration from Aisha herself, where she said:

“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to pray thirteen rakaat at night, including the Witr prayer and two rakaat of the Fajr prayer.” (Narrated by Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, and Imam Abu Dawud)

According to this group of scholars, how could Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) narrate a hadith about the Tarawih prayer of the Prophet? Furthermore, the term “Tarawih prayer” was not even known during the time of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

The Emergence of the Term “Tarawih”

The majority opinion is that the term “Tarawih” emerged during the time of Omar ibn Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him). At that time, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims had different practices

Some prayed, while others did not. Some prayed individually, while others prayed in congregation. Some prayed many rakaat, while others prayed only a few rakaat. Some prayed in the mosque, while others prayed at home.

Seeing this phenomenon, Omar ibn Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) took the initiative to standardize the Qiyam Ramadan prayer under one imam and determined the number of rakaat to be twenty. Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) then appointed the Companion Ubay ibn Ka’b (May Allah be pleased with him) to lead the prayer.

This is what later became known as the Tarawih prayer, which means “rest,” because they took a rest after every four rakaat with two salutations. When Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) witnessed the Muslims praying Qiyam Ramadan in congregation under the leadership of Ubay, he remarked, “This is an excellent innovation.” (Narrated by Imam Bukhari)

Therefore, when Umar made his ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) and issued his decree, the people accepted it without protest. Moreover, Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) was one of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who received direct authorization from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to be followed by the Muslims after him.

Whether Tarawih prayer consists of eight rakaat, twenty rakaat, thirty-six rakaat, or even two rakaat, if it is performed based on authentic evidence, fulfilling its conditions and pillars, accompanied by sincerity, rooted in faith, and with the intention to seek the reward and pleasure of Allah, then it is all valid and correct. InshaAllah, your prayers will receive rewards from Allah.

Ultimately, these differences need not be questioned because they are only matters of subsidiary issues or the result of ijtihad, not matters of creed or foundational principles. 

What is important is that each group can respect each other’s views.

Spiritual Benefits of Tarawih Prayer

As for the spiritual benefits of Tarawih prayer, among them are:

  • Forgiveness of past sins, as mentioned in the hadith above.
  • Greater opportunity for repentance because Ramadan is a sacred month full of forgiveness and mercy.
  • There is a great chance of obtaining Laylat al-Qadr, a special night better than a thousand months.
  • If performed in congregation, it is equivalent to praying the whole night.
  • Enlivening Ramadan and enriching the mosque.
  • Strengthening discipline and perseverance in worship.
  • Can compensate for other deficiencies in worship.
  • Strengthening ties of kinship, and by maintaining ties of kinship, Allah will increase sustenance.
  • Means of acquiring knowledge, as there are usually brief lectures after Tarawih prayers.
  • Beneficial for physical and spiritual health.

Tips to Maximize the Spiritual Benefits of Tarawih

  • Always remember that Tarawih prayer is only available during Ramadan, and not everyone can experience it. Therefore, it is a very precious opportunity.
  • Always remember that with steadfastness in Tarawih prayer, the chance of obtaining Laylat al-Qadr — a noble night eagerly awaited by the Muslim community — is greater.
  • Always remember that Allah is offering a huge discount in the form of mercy, forgiveness, blessings, bonus rewards, and so on.

Let us enjoy the beauty of Ramadan with pure hearts and joy, so that we can truly fill it with all kinds of goodness, thus receiving forgiveness, mercy, and blessings from Allah. Ameen.