To the less-informed
Muslims, Tarāvīh prayer is additional, almost obligatory prayer prescribed
specially for the holy month of Ramadān. Anybody who does not say them in
congregation, it is generally believed, loses a good share of the Ramadān’s
blessings. As a result, Muslims throng the mosques for the Ishā’ prayer and
make sure that they manage to endure twenty additional rak‘ah every night.
The Huffāz, however, gifted with the extraordinary ability of briskly
uttering the Message of God in the most incomprehensible manner, squeeze
long passages into as short duration as possible. Completing the recitation
of the Holy Book at least once during these prayer is also considered an
important part of this formality, making the Huffāz a highly sought-after
group as the Ramadān approaches near.
The reality, however, is that the
Tarāvīh prayer is neither obligatory nor is it supposed to be said by all
means after Ishā in congregation. It is, as is evident from the Sunnah of
the Prophet (sws), nothing but Tahajjud, the late-night prayer, allowed for
the common Muslims to be said in the early part of the night during the
Ramadān. The Prophet (sws) it appears, never said this prayer in the earlier
part of the night. In one of the Ramadān night’s, however, he came out into
the mosque to say his Tahajjud prayer and did so thrice in successive
nights. He was joined in by his followers, who grew in number each
successive time. On the fourth night, an even larger number waited vainly --
only to see him at the Fajr prayer. He informed his followers that he had
deliberately kept himself from saying prayer in the mosque, lest people
should take it as binding on them.
It appears that people who were not
used to saying Tahajjud regularly (as is evident from the Qur’ān that there
was a group which did not) and some others who perhaps found praying in the
later part of the night during the Ramadān impracticable because of the
time-involving task of preparing Sehrī, got permission from the Prophet (sws)
to say it in the early half. It seems, moreover, that people formed many
small groups to say this prayer in congregation. The practice continued till
the caliphate of ‘Umar (raa), who found the plurality of congregational
prayer led by the loudly reciting Imāms, scattered in the confines of the
mosque, much to the dislike of his sensitive religious taste. He lost no
time in asking the people to pray behind one Imām. Later, one night,
impressed on witnessing the disciplined congregation behind a single Imām,
he remarked: ‘What a fine innovation is this!’ Of course, the statement was
induced by the fact that even though the arrangement was apparently an
innovation, it was, nevertheless, in complete consonance with the Sunnah of
the Prophet (sws) -- his practice which continued for three days running.
‘Umar (raa) is also reported to have remarked on that occasion thus: ‘That
(the prayer which is said alone in the later part of the night) is indeed
superior to the one they are saying instead’.
We may conclude from the above that
the Tarāvīh prayer has no distinct status -- it is only the Tahajjud prayer
allowed to be said earlier during the Ramadān. As such, it is clearly not
binding on the Muslims, though the blessings of the Ramadān clearly add to
its significance. Tahajjud, the night prayer, however, is far more
preferable, whether in Ramadān or otherwise. A Muslim should therefore try
to say these night prayer regularly at least in the Ramadān and recite the
Qur’ān slowly and clearly to facilitate maximum understanding while praying.
If, owing to some difficulty which may include the fact that very little of
the Qur’ān is committed to memory, Tahajjud is not possible, then he should
seek to find a mosque to say his Tarāvīh prayer after Ishā where the Imām is
doing justice with the Book of Allah with proper recitation.
Completing the recitation of the
Qur’ān at least once in these night prayer is, of course, no religious
obligation. The Qur’ān can be completed many times by reciting it on
occasions other than prayer.