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Tarawih 101: How to Perform Ramadan’s Nightly Prayers

The tarawih prayer is performed by millions of Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan! Here’s everything you need to know about how to pray it, whether alone or in congregation.

The tarawih prayer is performed by millions of Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan! Here’s everything you need to know about how to pray it, whether alone or in congregation.

One of the most popular ibadah (worship) traditions that are performed in Ramadan are the nightly tarawih prayers – usually done in congregation at the masjid, led by the imam. However for many –  either from before the pandemic or since – tarawih at the masjid isn’t always accessible or an option.

So, what exactly is the significance of this prayer? How did it start? How did the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)  pray it? Does it need to be done in the masjid or in a congregation? Can it be prayed at home? We try to answer your questions about tarawih and explain how you can uphold this tradition of nightly Ramadan prayers at home!

Understanding the Prophetic Tarawih

Tarawih is a sunnah mu’akkadah – meaning a verified sunnah that the Prophet used to do consistently. He technically used to pray qiyam ul layl (optional nightly prayers) year-round, out of devotion to Allah (SWT). It must be clarified that tarawih is essentially considered qiyam, but it was given the name tarawih – which literally means “to rest and relax” – in reference to how the sahabah (companions of the Prophet) and righteous used to literally rest every four raka’as because of how lengthy the prayer was.

Here’s what many people may not know: The Prophet Muhammad (saws) actually used to perform most of his tarawih prayers at home. Tarawih was never a nightly congregational prayer during his lifetime. In fact, in the last year (and last Ramadan) of his life, he’s said to have prayed tarawih at the masjid for three nights in a row (and each night, more and more people joined in congregation), and on the fourth night, a large amount of Muslims awaited his arrival to start the prayer, but he never came. At fajr, he said:

Nothing prevented me from coming out to you except the fact that I feared that it would be made obligatory for you.”

(Muslim)

Following the death of the Prophet, tarawih continued to be prayed individually or in small groups. It was not until later in the khilafah (leadership) of Umar (RA) that tarawih prayers began to be prayed in congregation at the masjid every night in an effort to foster more community and unity for the ummah.

The point of tarawih is worshipping Allah – whether alone or with our families/communities at the night. So if you can’t make it out to the masjid, you’re still able to pray at home, Insha’Allah

How Do We Pray Tarawih at Home?

When he was asked about night prayer, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:

Prayers at night are offered in two followed by two. Then, if you fear dawn will come, pray witr with one.”

(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

As we’re accustomed to doing in our masjids, it’s highly encouraged to pray tarawih in congregation with your family members, as the reward for praying in jama’ah (group) is multiplied. Plus, it’s great bonding for your family! If you can’t, that’s totally OK too! 

Don’t know how to pray tarawih? Here’s the simple step-by-step breakdown (as verified by my local Imam in Clifton, New Jersey):

  1. Pray Isha (four raka’as)
  2. Pray two raka’as sunnah of Isha
  3. Set your intention to start praying tarawih/qiyam. Pray the first four rak’as of tarawih (2 raka’as at a time).
  4. Take a short break.
  5. Pray the next four raka’as (again, two raka’as at a time).
  6. Here, you can either end your tarawih and move on to witr, or continue praying.
  7. Pray witr (either one or three raka’as).

According to the scholars, the Prophet (PBUH) is known to have prayed tarawih in eight, 12 and even 20 raka’as plus the three witr raka’as – so do what works for you! While there are differences of opinion on how many raka’as the Prophet (saws) prayed, all scholars agree on this: The quality of your tarawih is more important than the quantity.

What Quran and Du’a Do I Read in Tarawih?

There are no specific surahs in the Quran that you have to read while performing tarawih prayers. Typically though, imams in the masjid try to complete one juz (chapter) of the Quran every night so by the end of Ramadan, they complete the entire Quran during their tarawih prayers.

In terms of du’a, that is entirely up to you. Worshiping Allah (SWT) in the night, and especially in the last third of the night (right before fajr), is one of the best times to make du’a – and so Allah (SWT) wants you to seek Him and ask for anything and everything. Take advantage, and even try to make a du’a list so you don’t forget everything you want to ask for.

Please note: NEVER feel that you are asking too much of Allah (SWT). HE is bigger than all your problems and desires, and refraining from asking Him of something is like telling Him it’s too much for Him.

At the end of the day, Allah (SWT) loves to see His servants worship Him, and worshipping Allah (SWT) at night, away from all the distractions of the daytime, is one of the best times to increase in spirituality and in connection with Him. We all have different circumstances, and Allah (SWT) understands this. There is a reason tarawih was not made fard (obligatory), but a highly recommended sunnah.

Why Do We Pray Tarawih?

It is known that night prayer/worship has immense value and reward. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:

“Whoever prays during the nights in Ramadan out of sincere faith and seeking its reward from Allah, will have all of his previous sins forgiven.”

(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet (saws) also said:

Religion is easy; whoever overburdens himself in religion will be overpowered by it (i.e. he will not be able to continue in that way.) So pursue what is good moderately; try to be near to perfection (if you cannot attain it); and receive the good tidings (that you will be rewarded). Gain strength by worshiping in the mornings, the afternoons, and some part of the night’s last hours.”

(Al-Bukhari)

Additionally, Allah (SWT) talks about the night prayer (qiyam) many times in the Quran.

In Surat al-Muzzamil (verses 1-6), Allah (S) says:

O you wrapped in garments (i.e. Prophet Muhammad)! Stand (to pray) all night, except a little — Half of it or a little less than that, Or a little more. And recite the Qur’aan (aloud) in a slow, (pleasant tone and) style. Verily, We shall send down to you a weighty Word (i.e. obligations, laws). Verily, the rising by night (for Tahajjud prayer) is very hard and most potent and good for governing oneself, and most suitable for (understanding) the Word (of Allah).”

Whatever your circumstance, we pray that Allah (SWT) blesses you with the opportunity to stand some of your nights in worship this Ramadan and beyond. If you are unable to for other circumstances, remember, fulfilling your duties towards your children or families is also ibadah – just make it intentional. May Allah (SWT) bless us and our families, keep us safe from harm, increase us in spirituality, blessings and wisdom, and may He allow us to reach this Ramadan and be of those who are expiated of all sins, I

insha’Allah. Ameen!

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