Why Shias don’t pray Tarawih?

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The prayer of Tarawih is among the recommended prayers of the Sunnis performed in congregation in the nights of month of Ramadan at an estimated twenty units daily.

There exists a divergence of views between Shias and Sunnis in the matter of Tarawih:

  1. It was not prevalent during the eras of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a), Abu Bakr and initial period of Umar’s caliphate.
  2. It is a Bidah i.e. innovation.
  3. Recommended prayers i.e. Nafila are to be prayed individually.


Tarawih is the plural of the word ‘tarwih’, meaning, ‘to sit’. The recommended prayers, which were recited while sitting, for the sake of comfort and rest after the four units of recommended Ramadan prayers were referred to as Tarawih. Later, the recommended congregational prayers, which are twenty units were also referred to as Tarawih.

(Behaar al-Anwaar, vol 1 pg 363; Fath al-Baari, vol 4 pg 294; Irshaad al-Saari, vol 4 pg 694; Sharh al-Zarqaani vol1 pg 237, Al-Nihaayah vol 1 pg 274, Lisaan al-Arab)

Tarawih did not exist at the time of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a)

Sunni scholars are unable to prove the veracity of Tarawih from the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) Sunnah. All of them are unanimous that it was started by Umar b. Khattaab in the 14th Hijri during his own caliphate. It neither existed in the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) nor during the caliphate of Abu Bakr.

Umar ordered Muslims to pray Tarawih based on his whim. He admitted it was an innovation although a good one. Interestingly, he himself was not regular in the congregation but recited in solitude at home. This fact has been revealed by renowned Sunni scholars like Qastalani, Ibne Qudaamah, Qalqashqandi.

Ibne Shahaab says: The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) passed away and things continued in this manner during the reign of Abu Bakr and the first part of Umar’s caliphate.

(Saheeh-e-Bukhaari, vol1 pg 343)


Qastalaani comments: Umar called this prayer as innovation. This is because the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had not ordered its performance in congregation. It was not performed in the first part of night in the caliphate of Abu Bakr. It was not recited every night. Also, the prayers performed in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not have the same number of units.

(Irshaad al-Saari, vol 4 pg 657)

Ibne Qudaamah says: Tarawih has been related to Umar since he ordered its performance in congregation to Ubayy b. Kaab and he did accordingly.

(Al-Mughni, vol 2 pg 166 )

Al-Aini opines: Umar called it an innovation because the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has not establhished it as Sunnah. It was also not acted upon in the caliphate of Abu Bakr.

(Umdah al-Qaari, vol 11 pg 126)

Qalqashqandi adds: Among the original actions of Umar is the establishment of Tarawih with a congregational leader in the Ramadan month. This was done in the 14th Hijri.

(Masar al-Anaafah fi maalim al-Khilaafah vol 2, pg 337)

Al-Baasi, Suyuti, Sakhtewari and others have also written: The first person to establish the Sunnah of Tarawih was Umar b. Khattaab. They have also clarified that the order of performing recommended prayers of Ramazan month was an innovation from the innovations of Umar.

(Mahaazeraat al-Awaail pg 149; Sharh al-Mawaaqif)

Ibne Saad, Tabari and Ibne Asir comment: This is the event of 14th Hijri when one leader was appointed for men and another for women.

(Tabaqaat-e-Ibne Saad, vol 3 pg 281; Taarikh-e-Tabari, vol 5, pg 22; Kaamil, vol 2 pg 41; Taarikhe Umar b. Khattaab of Ibne Jauzi, pg 52)

Al-Baasi, Ibne al-Teen, Ibne Abd al-Barr, Kahlaani and Zarqaani have also mentioned this topic and Kahlaani observes the statement of Umar (this is an admirable innovation) saying: If something is an innovation then it can never be liked or be good. It will always convey the meaning of deviation.

(Subul al-Salaam, vol 2, pg 10; Al-Mujtahid, vol 1, pg 210; Sharhe Furqaani, Al Musnif vol 5, pg 264, Al Musnif vol 5, pg 264)

Origin of Tarawih

It has been narrated from Ibne Shahaab, from Urwah b. Zubair, from Abdul Rahman b. Abdul Qaari:

We went to the mosque with Umar b. Khattaab in one of the nights of Ramadan month. People were busy with their individual prayers and some with their tribesmen. On witnessing this, Umar b. Khattaab said: It would be better if I collect them under one congregational leader. Then he chose Ubayy b. Kaab for their leadership. The next night we went to the mosque and witnessed that people were reciting prayer in congregation. Umar remarked:

‘This is an admirable innovation. However if these people perform the prayer after awakening from sleep, it would be better than performing it in the early part of the night.’

(Saheeh-e-Bukhaari, vol 1, pg 342; Abdul Razzaaq, vol 4, pg 285)

Different opinions regarding number of units of Tarawih

More evidence of the fact that the Tarawih is a Bidah with no trace of it during the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) life time can be found in the confusion regarding the number of units of the Tarawih.

While the popular belief is 20 units, many scholars have rejected this idea:

Kahlaani, the author of Subul al-Salaam has rejected it and said: There is no correct (Saheeh) tradition regarding the 20 units. If we talk about Saheeh tradition, it is of only 11 units and the 20 units prayer is innovation.

(Subul al-Salaam, vol 2, pg 11)

Shukaani, in Nail al-Awtaar has followed Kahlani in his opinion calling it an innovation. He opines that we get a legal order for the prayers of the month of Ramadan either in congregation or in solitude. Hence, we do not find reason for limiting it to Tarawih or specific numbers or particular Sunnah prayers.

(Nail al-Awtaar, vol 3, pg 53)

Allamah Majlisi writes ��” Even though it is an excellent form of worship, confining it to a specific time and manner deeming it recommended is certainly an innovation and deviation. This is because the Sunnis state it in the nature of emphasized Sunnah and consider its performance as one of the signs of religion.

(Behaar al-Anwaar, vol.29, pg 51)

Conflict regarding number of units in the Naafilah of Ramadan month

There is conflict among the Sunnis regarding the number of units of Naafilah. The reason for this is that they do not have a clear link from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) regarding it. According to many Sunni scholars it is 20 units. However, others have varyingly recorded it to be 36 units, 23 units, 16 units, 13 units, 24 units, 34 units and 14 units.

Ibne Qudaamah says 20, Nauee records 20, Abu Hanifa 20, Shafei 20, Maalik 36, Muhammad b. Nasr Maruzi 11, Qastaani 20, Sarakhsi, Hanafi, Baghvi, Mawrudi and Juzairi as 20

(Al-Mughni, vol 2, pg 168; Al-Masboot, vol 2, pg 145; Umdah al-Qaari vol 11, pg 127; Al-Ikhtiyaar, vol 11, pg 127; Al-Tahzeeb fi fiqhi al-Shafei, vol 2, pg 368; Al-Haadi al-Kabeer, vol 2, pg 368)

According to Shia scholars it is 20 units during the first twenty nights and 30 units in the last ten nights. An additional 100 units are recited in the nights of Qadr (19th, 21st, and 23rd) which adds up to a thousand units.

Concept of congregation of recommended prayers

Shafei, for instance, considers the performance of recommended prayers in congregation as Makrooh (abominable). While others have maintained that the prayers should be performed in solitude and at home. Consequently, the matter of Tarawih is not unanimous among the Sunnis, even if the majority is inclined to reciting it in congregation.

Opinion of the Sunni jurists

Abdul Razzaaq from Ibne Umar: The recommended prayers of Ramadan month should not be recited in congregation.

He also narrates from Mujaahid that a man approached Ibne Umar and said ��” I recite the recommended prayers of Ramadan in congregation. Ibne Umar asked ��” Do you pray with the recitation? Man replied in the affirmative. Ibne Umar said ��” Then you are silent just like a donkey. Get out of here and recite the prayers in solitude at home (instead of in congregation).

(Al Masboot vol 1 pg 144)

In the second part of his book he records that Tahaawi has narrated from Moalla, Abu Yusuf and Maalik that these people were of the opinion that to the extent possible the recommended prayers should be recited in the house. Shafei says: Tarawih should be recited in solitude so as not to make it ostentatious.

Verdict of the Shia jurists regarding Tarawih

All Shia jurists without exception consider the recitation of recommended prayers in congregation an innovation. Sayyid Murtaza (r.a.) declares: As far as the congregation of the Tarawih prayers is concerned, it is without doubt an innovation. In this regard, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had forewarned:

‘O people, the recommended prayers in the nights of Ramadan are an innovation.’

(Man laa Yahzaraho al-Faqih vol 2, pg 137, Chapter of Salaat in Month of Ramadan)

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