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8 vs 20?


8 rakah vs 20 rakahs. This is a common debate that bombards from masajid across the globe, all the way from Alaska to Makkah and down to Sydney. Come Ramadan time and it is not farfetched to find even family members disputing about the correct number of rakahs to offer for Taraweeh prayers, the superogatory prayers after Isha during the month of Ramadan. It looks like almost everyone has a different opinion on this matter, ranging from top scholars in Saudi Arabia, where the imams in the grand masajid of the holy cities, Makkah and Madinah, offer 20 units, while most imams in most of the other masajid in Saudi offer  8 units; to different Islamic centers in USA and Europe. This conflict of opinion has also promulgated hatred and division of communities and religious organizations in some areas. Is this issue really worth dividing homes and communities over? How would the sahabas deal with conflicting opinions? What is the prophetic proof on this matter? What is the significance of unity of the ummah?

 

During the life of Prophet Muhammad, there were hardly any differences as the foundation of the religion was being laid via revelation by Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Whenever differences would arise, it was typically resolved by The Prophet. The reasoning or ijtihad utilized to resolve issues was used as training for the sahabas to deal with future issues.[1] During the time of the righteous caliphs, although the sahabah differed and debated various issues, it hardly led to discord as the caliphs utilized shura or consultations to reach a ruling. The proximity of the sahabas also played a key factor in facilitating the ease of reaching an ijma or consensus. Furthermore, the sahaba were reluctant to issue legal rulings for fear of error and redirected to better qualified sahabees.[2] Although different opinions arose, it did not lead to factionalism and once a decision was reached, it was generally accepted despite differences.

 

After the time of the last of the righteous caliphs (Ali bin Abi Talib RA), the ease of reaching consensus or ijma on issues eroded with the geographic dispersion of the sahabas and knowledgeable scholars of the ummah. It became virtually impossible to reach an ijma, so different centers of knowledge yielded religious scholars who issued verdicts, more or less independently from knowledgeable scholars in other areas. The slight variation in methodologies and differences in availability of authentic hadith led to the increase of different rulings on issues. Despite the stern warnings by the four major imams to not follow their rulings blindly, but overrule their position on an issue, if there is conflicting evidence from authentic revelation (Quran & Sunnah); later generations started following the madhabs blindly (taqleed).[3] This blind following coupled with focus on arguing and debating against focusing on the overarching goals of unity and cohesion mandated by Allah Azzawajal is the reason of the fierce arguments and global fault lines on issues like the number of units to offer for Taraweeh salah.

 

The differences should be looked in the light of Quran and authentic Sunnah, as they are the ultimate sources for deriving rulings and not only positions of a certain scholar. The root cause of the different number of rakahs for Taraweeh arises as there is no authentic narration in which Prophet Muhammad (SAW) specified the number of rakahs for Tarawih salah nor is the number specified in the few tarawih salahs that he led, before refraining from leading the salah due to fear of it becoming an obligation.[4] The following evidence, with similar narrations from other narrators, is cited to support the 20 rakahs opinion:

“It was narrated that Saa’ib ibn Yazeed said: ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allaah be pleased with him) gathered the people together in Ramadaan to be led by Ubayy ibn Ka’b and Tameem al-Daari in praying twenty-one rak’ahs, and they used to recite hundreds of verses, and they dispersed before dawn broke.”[5]

However, many renowned scholars such as Albany, who favor the 8 rakahs opinion cite the following evidence: the hadeeth of Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmaan, who asked ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her), “How did the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) pray during Ramadaan?” She said: “He did not pray more than eleven rak’ahs in Ramadaan or at other times. He would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray four, and do not ask how beautiful and long they were, then he would pray three. I said, ‘O Messenger of Allaah, will you sleep before you pray Witr?’ He said, ‘O ‘Aa’ishah, my eyes sleep but my heart does not.’”[6] This view is that prophet Muhammad is clearly noted to have prayed only a maximum of 11 or 13 rakahs of Taraweeh / Tajajjut prayer on any given night and he has instructed us to “pray as you see me pray.” Furthermore, the hadith supporting the 20 rakahs opinion is criticized as unauthentic upon careful analysis such as by Al-Suyooti and Albany.

 

There are many scholars who favor the opinion that it is sunnah to pray 8 rakahs, while holding that the hadith of Aa’ishah (RA) does not place an upper limit on the number of Rakaahs and it is ok to pray 20. At the end of the day, the worse the person might be doing is not getting the reward for following a sunnah, so it should not sow the seeds of discord in the blessed month of Muslim unity, peace and tranquility: Ramadan. I will end with a quotation from Shaik Uthaimeen on this issue: “It grieves us deeply that we find in the Muslim ummah a group which differs concerning matters in which differences of opinion are acceptable, and they take these differences as a means to cause division. Differences within the ummah existed at the time of the Sahaabah, yet they remained united. The youth in particular and to all those who are committed to Islam must remain united, because they have enemies who are laying in wait.”[7]


[1] Dr. Bilal Philips, The Evolution of Fiqh, pg. 52

[2] Dr. Bilal Philips, The Evolution of Fiqh, pg. 58-59

[3] Dr. Bilal Philips, The Evolution of Fiqh, pg. 138

[4] Muslim (1780) [3/283] and Al-Bukhari (1129) [3/14]

[6] al-Bukhaari, 1909; Muslim, 738

 

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  1. Muhammad Elijah
    December 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Assalaamu ‘Alaikum waRahmatu(A)llaahi waBarakaatuh
    Although I pray 20,I don’t disagree with those who pray 8 and yet don’t call 20 Bid’ah,because Rasool sall Allaahu ‘alaihi wasallam also mentioned Sunnah of Khulafaa-ur-Raashideen radiyAllaahu ‘anhum after His Sunnah.

  2. Muhammad Elijah
    December 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Assalaamu ‘Alaikum waRahmatu(A)llaahi waBarakaatuh
    Your ping led to my subscrption of your posts.
    JazaakAllaah.
    Keep doing Da’wah ilAllaah day and night like Nooh ‘alaihis salaam, and Du’aa at night for Hidaayah of whom you give Da’wah ilAllaah.
    May Allaah give you Istiqaamah(Perseverance upon Deen).

    Daraawardi(If I have spelled it correctly) rahimahu(A)llaah said which loosely translates as:I saw Imaam Maalik rahimahu(A)llaah and Imaam Abu Haneefah rahimahu(A)llaah in Masjid Nabawi after Salaat-ul-‘Ishaa discussing matters about Deen till Fajr in a manner that was free from any lack of calmness and lack of being dispassionate.
    May Allaah bestow on us the Hilm(Calmness and Patience) of Our Salaf(Our Righteous Predecessor Generations).

    • December 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Walikum Salaam Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu,

      Jazak Allah Khair for your kind words akhee. May Allah accept this humble effort from me and help me implement it first and serve as a reminder for others. Ameen.

      Ameen to your duas.

      Your Brother.

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