QUESTION: What Is the Ruling on Tarawih and how many Rakahs is it?
ANSWER: The Tarawih prayer is Sunnah which was prescribed by the Messenger of Allaah [peace and blessings be upon him] and it is reported in the two Sahihs on the authority of Aishah [RA], that the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] prayed in the Masjid one night and some people prayed with him. Then he prayed on the next night and the people had become numerous, then they gathered on the third night or the fourth night, but the Messenger of Allaah [peace and blessings be upon him] did not come out. Then in the morning, he said; "I saw what you did, and nothing prevented me from coming out to you except that I feared it would become an obligation upon you" [Bukhari]
As for the number of Rakah, it is eleven according to what has been reported in the two Sahihs on the authority of Aisha [RA]. She was asked how the prayer of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] was in the month of Ramadan, and she said: "He did not pray more than eleven Rakah, neither in Ramadan, nor in any other month" [Bukhari] If one prayed thirteen Rakahs, then there is no objection, according to the words of Ibn Abbas [RA]: "The prayer of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] was thirteen Rakah. That is the night prayer. [Muslim]
Eleven Rakah is what has been confirmed from Umar Ibn AI- Khattab [RA], as reported in AI-Muwatta with a chain that is authentic. If one prayed more than this, then there is no problem, according to the words of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] when he was asked about the night prayer, he said: "Two, two" [Bukhari]. He did not define a number. A number of different forms have been reported from the Salaf, and there is room from choosing in the matter. But it is preferable to restrict oneself to what has been reported from the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him], which is eleven Rakah or thirteen Rakah, It has been not reported authentically from the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] that he or any of the caliphs that they prayed twenty-three; rather what is confirmed from Umar [RA], is that he prayed eleven Rakah, since he ordered Ubayy bin Kab and Tamim Ad-Dari [RA] to lead the people in eleven Rakah prayer. [Muwatta].
This is what was deemed proper by such as Umar [RA], that his way in this matter be that of the Messenger of Allaah [peace and blessings be upon him]. We are unaware that any of the Companions [RA], prayed more than twenty-three Rakah; indeed it IS clear that the opposite is the case. And we have already mentioned the saying of Aisha [RA] As for the consensus of the Companions [RA], there is no doubt that it is an evidence, because among them are righteous caliphs whom the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] ordered us to follow, and because they are the best of generations from this [Muslim] nation.
Ask Those Who know You should know that the difference of opinion regarding the number of Rakah in Tarawih and the like is a matter which it is permissible to exercise Ijtihad. It is undesirable that it should be a cause of differing and schism between the people, especially since the Salaf differed in the matter. There is nothing in the matter to prevent the exercise of Ijtihad.
How fine is the saying one of the scholars, when a person differed with him in his Ijtihad in a matter in which it was permissible: By contradicting me, you have agreed with me, for both of us consider that it is obligatory to follow what one see to be the truth, since it is permissible to exercise Ijtihad. We ask Allaah, the Most High that He grant us all success in attaining that which He loves and is pleasing to Him.
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited