Sayyidina ibn Abbas narrated that the Beloved Messenger, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, used to pray 20 Rakah of Taraweeh by himself, followed by the 3 Rakah of Witr (every night) in the month of Ramadan. [Bayhaqi, Hadith No. 12102]
However, when Sayyidina Umar ruled as Caliph, he noticed the emptiness of the Masjids during the time of Ramadan and so he decided to gather the worshippers to perform this prayer in congregation. This strengthened community ties & reinforced the brotherhood bonds between the believers.
Sayyidina Abdur Rahman bin Abdul Qari reports, “I went out in the company of Umar bin Al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the Masjid, and found the people praying in different groups; a man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, Umar said, ‘In my opinion, I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one Qari (reciter) [i.e. let them pray in congregation]’. So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubayy bin Kaab. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their Qari. On that, Umar remarked, ‘What an excellent Bidah (i.e. innovation in religion) this is…’” [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Book 32, Hadith no. 227]
Taraweeh: 20 Rakah?
Sayyidina Sa’eeb ibn Yazid reports, “In the time of Umar ibn al-Khattab the people used to observe 20 Rakah (Taraweeh) and the Witr.” [Marifatus-Sunan wa’l Athar – Imam Bayhaqi, Vol. 4, page 42, Hadith no. 5409]
From the above narration, it is clear that under the rule & instruction of Sayyidina Umar, the Taraweeh prayer was 20 Rakah.
This was also true under the rule of other prominent Companions:
Imam Tirmidhi says: “The majority amongst People of Knowledge, (agree) upon praying 20 Rakah (of Taraweeh) as is narrated from Umar, Ali and other Companions of the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. Sufyan Thawri, Abdullah ibn Mubarak and Imam Shafi said the same. Imam Shafi said that he saw people of Makkah praying 20 Rakah (Taraweeh).” [Jami al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3, page 169, Hadith no. 806]
Sayyidina Abdur Rahman Sulami narrates that Sayyidina Ali called the reciters of the Qur’an in Ramadan and commanded one of them to perform 20 Rakah (Taraweeh) while Sayyidina Ali himself used to lead the Witr prayer. [Bayhaqi’s Sunan al-Kubra Vol. 2, page 699, Hadith no. 4620]
Imam Hassan Basri said, “Umar bin al-Khattab gathered people behind Ubayy bin Kaab in the Qiyaam of Ramadan and he led them for 20 Rakah.’” [Siyar al A’lam wal Nubalah Vol. 1, page no. 400, biography of Ubay ibn Kaab]
Regarding the above narration, Imam Nawawi has said, “Its Isnad (chain) is Sahih (authentic).” [Al-Khulasa al-Ahkam, Hadith no. 1961]
N.B. It should be noted that any reports on this subject mentioning 23 Rakah are in reference to 20 Rakah of Taraweeh plus 3 Rakah of Witr.
How to perform Taraweeh
Taraweeh prayers are a Sunnat-e-Mu’aqida, therefore they are supererogatory but are strongly recommended. It should be read after Isha prayer and before Fajr. Though one can read it individually, there is more reward if it is read in congregation.
It is a Sunnah & therefore a common but extremely beneficial practice in the Masjids, to recite the Khatam-e-Qur’an during Taraweeh – i.e. to recite the entire Qur’an throughout Ramadan by reciting it in consecutive parts during Taraweeh.
During Ramadan, the Beloved Messenger, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, would recite the entire portion of the Holy Qur’an which had been revealed at that point. In the year that the Beloved Messenger, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, passed away, he recited the entire Holy Qur’an twice.
Narrated by Sayyidina Abdullah ibn Amr, “The Beloved Messenger, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Fasting and the Qur’an intercede for a man. Fasting says, ‘O my Lord, I have kept him away from his food and his passions by day, so accept my intercession for him.’ The Qur’an says, ‘I have kept him away from sleep by night, so accept my intercession for him.’ Then their intercession is accepted.” [Tirmidhi, Hadith no. 1963]
Taraweeh is read in sets of 2 Rakah. A break is taken after every 4 Rakah, during which a special prayer is read:
Subhana zil mulki wal malakoot
Subhana zil izzati wal azmati wal haybati wal qudrati wal kibriyaa-i wal jhabaroot
Subhanal malikil hayyil lazi laa yanaamu wa laa yamoot
Subuuhun quduusun Rabbana wa Rabbul malaa’ikati war-ruh
Allahumma ajirna minan naar
Ya Mujeeru Ya Mujeeru Ya Mujeeru
Glorified is the Owner of the kingdom of the earth and the heavens;
Glorified is the Possessor of Honour and Magnificence and Awe, and Power and Greatness and Omnipotence;
Glorified is the Sovereign, the Living, Who does neither sleep nor die
O all Glorious, All Holy One, Our Lord and the Lord of the Angels, and the Soul.
O Allah save us from the (hell) fire.
O Saviour, O Saviour, O Saviour!
A break is also taken after the final Rakah of the prayer (before the Witr is performed).
This is the practice of the righteous leaders before us, since the time Sayyidina Ubayy bin Kaab lead Taraweeh under the rule of Sayyidina Umar.
The word ‘Taraweeh’ literally means to take a break or rest, in reference to these breaks after every 4 Rakah interval. There are no specified instructions regarding what should be recited during these breaks, so it is advisable to recite Zikr, Durood Sharif, make supplication or remain silent.
3 Rakah of Witr is usually performed after the Taraweeh prayer, but if one intends to perform Tahajjud (late night prayer) after Taraweeh, he may read the Witr after that.