How many rakats is Tarawih Prayer?
Qn67: Regarding Tarawih prayer, should we pray 11 or 23 rak’ats and should we follow the Imam who prays more than this?
Ans.67: Firstly what is authentic upon the authority of the hadeeth of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam reported by ‘Aaysha (radhi Allaahu ‘anha) as well as other hadeeths is that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to pray 11 rak’ats (units of prayer) or 13 rak’ats since we find in ‘Aaysha’s saying that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam didn’t exceed 13 rak’aats in Ramadhaan or other than Ramadhaan. So due to this the Scholars (Muhaqiqeen) say that it is sufficient as it was the prayer of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and that reaches the level of excellence as far as following his way; this is not from the point of prohibition to pray more rakats – the Scholars agree that it is better to make Ikhtisaar that is to limit yourself to 11 or 13 rak’aats just like the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to do.
Secondly, we come to the period of the Companions and those who followed the Companions and they are the Successors who came after them until our time today and we find that the Muslims pray more and have increased upon the prayer of the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to the point which has reached 23 rak’aats and there are some who pray less than that. So this extra number that those people pray is due to the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Umar (radhi Allaahu ‘anhu) which is mentioned in the Sahihayn (Bukhari and Muslim) that the Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam wa asked while he was on the mimbar (pulpit) about the Night Prayer and he answered that it is two and two, and if a person fears the morning coming in then he should pray one as a Witr prayer. So this could be questioned by anyone who might say that this hadeeth of Ibn ‘Umar, which is brought as proof of increasing the number of rak’aat in the Tarawih prayer compared to that which is known to have been prayed by the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is merely a general hadeeth whereas the hadeeth of ‘Aaysha (radhi Allaahu ‘anha) is clearer. So when there seems to be a conflict between texts, then we reject the general until it gets clarified. So here we find that what the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam prayed is clarified by the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Umar against that which is in the hadeeth of ‘Aaysha (ra) and Ibn ‘Abbas (ra).
In answer to the point that some people make, saying that increasing the number of rak’aat is an innovation using the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Umar as proof, I say that it is upon the Muslim that he understands the text according to the understanding of the Salaf as-Saalih and they are the Companions of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and the Imams that followed after them from the Successors and those who followed the Successors and those that were similar to them from the great generations. We find from them that it was widespread that they would increase on what the Prophet Sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to pray without any dislike from anybody. The second point is that I do not know to this hour, anybody who says that the increasing of rak’aats to the Tarawih prayer (compared to what the Prophet Sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to pray), or any other prayer from the optional prayers, is a bid’ah (innovation) except for Shaykh Naasir-ud-Deen al-Albani (rahimahullaah) and we say that indeed he is a sign from the signs of the Sunnah and he is an Imaam from the Scholars of Islaam in our time as is acknowledged by our current great scholars and from amongst them is the Shaykh, our father, the Imaam, the great Scholar, the Atharee Shaykh ‘Abdul-‘Azeez bin Baaz (rahimahullaah) as well as the Faqeeh, the Imaam Shaykh bin ‘Uthaymeen (rahimahullaah); except that this statement of Shaykh Al-Albani is a weaker saying because of what has preceded from the actions of the Scholars of the Muslims from the past and they would increase on the actions of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – and Allaah Knows Best.