The Decision to Pray Eight Rak`ahs of Taraweeh at IIT is Temporary
Shaikh Ahmad Kutty
Taraweeh is an important Sunnah of the Prophet (peace upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) established a precedent by performing it three nights in congregation. He discontinued it, however, out of concern that Allah could make it obligatory because of the zeal of the congregants.
Umar, the pious caliph, understood why the Prophet had chosen to discontinue taraweeh. Therefore, when there was no concern over Allah making it mandatory, he organized taraweeh prayer led by Ubayy b. Kab, the famous scholar of the Qur’an. Ubayy chose to pray twenty rak’as. The precedent thus set was then followed by most Muslims in the centuries that followed.
According to well-attested reports from Aisha, the beloved wife of the Prophet, the Prophet never prayed more than thirteen rak’as. But the Prophet never said that one could only pray thirteen. When asked about optional prayers one may pray after isha; his answer was: “One should pray it in two’s and two’s. However, if there is a fear of dawn approaching, one should close it with at least one Rak’a of Witr. “
As for the contention about the precise number of Rak’as, Ibn Taymiyya has analyzed the issue and summed it up as follows.
“We may pray twenty as is the view of Ahmad, Shafi; or thirty-three as is the opinion of Imam Malik; or eleven or thirteen (including Witr as the Prophet did it). It is all good. The number can vary according to the conditions of the worshippers. It is acceptable if they can stand long hours reading with ten rak’ahs followed by three rak’ahs of Witr. On the other hand, they can choose to pray twenty rak’as if they do so, considering the comfort level of the congregation. That has been the precedent followed by most Muslims through the centuries. It is the middle position between the eleven or thirteen and the thirty or forty, as various people hold.
However, it is wrong for anyone to state that the Prophet fixed the number of rak’ahs so that we can neither add nor subtract from it.”
Since its inception, we at the Islamic Institute have been praying twenty. Some congregants choose to leave after eight, others at ten or twelve. The same practice occurs in the Haramayn.
The recent announcement that we will start with eight was primarily due to administrative considerations and to prevent the spread of COVID infections by a sudden opening of the services since we are still not out of the woods yet.
It is only a temporary policy, and we hope to return to our previous practice of praying twenty as soon as we have some reassurances regarding health & safety.
I urge everyone to pray to Allah to heal our community and help us to get back to our routine and precedents as soon as possible.