Is the Taraweeh prayer mentioned in the Qur’an? How did it originate? Can anyone, including the Prophet, add anything under the heading of a good bid’at? Is it obligatory to read the whole of the Qur’an in Taraweeh prayer, at such fast speed, as many imams here in Canada do, even though the people offering it cannot even follow the words, let alone understand them? (S.S. Zaidi)
No, the Taraweeh prayer is not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, but this does not make it any less significant. In fact, none of the five obligatory prayers is mentioned in the Qur’an. This does not make them any less obligatory. What we need to understand is that God may give a commandment in general terms in the Qur’an. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would then tell us how to carry it out. What he teaches us is thus made obligatory, since his role is to deliver God’s message to us. The message is not only the Qur’an. The Prophet’s teachings are part of his message. Speaking to the Prophet, God says in the Qur’an: “We have now bestowed on you the reminder so that you may elucidate to mankind all that has been bestowed on them, and that they may take thought.” (16: 44) ‘The reminder’ in this verse refers to the Sunnah or the Hadith, which is revealed in meaning but expressed in the Prophet’s own words. Its role is to explain, or elucidate, all that has been revealed of God’s message.
Thus, the Qur’anic order concerning prayer is that we must attend regularly to prayer, but neither the form nor the timings of prayer is mentioned in the Qur’an. We learned this from the Prophet. Without his explanation, we would not have known how to pray or how many times to pray each day. The same applies to many things like zakah and the pilgrimage. The Prophet commands us: “Pray like you have seen me pray.” This is the essence of prayers. No one can say that we should stick only to the Qur’an, because this will negate the Prophet’s role. God says: “Whatever the Prophet bids you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it.” (57: 7) Therefore, nothing the Prophet taught could be described as bid’at, or something introduced into the religion. It is his mission to tell us what our religion is and how we practice it. This is indeed the essence of the second part of the first article of the Islamic faith, i.e. “I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s messenger.”
Taraweeh is a special name given to voluntary night worship in Ramadan. Night worship is mentioned in Surah 73, with the order given to the Prophet and the Muslim community to stand up in prayer for most of the night, or one half, or one third of it. The order is relaxed in the last verse of the surah to make it voluntary, rather than obligatory.
It was the Prophet who started the Taraweeh prayer. He offered it the first night with a few of his companions. On the second night, a larger number joined him. On the third night, he wanted to offer it in the mosque, but saw that the mosque was full of people. Therefore, he stayed at home. People told him later that they were waiting for him so that they could join him in this prayer. He said that when he saw them all there, he feared that it might become obligatory and therefore he stayed away. Thus, it remains a voluntary prayer. In other words, if a person does not offer it, he commits nothing wrong. He will not earn its reward, but he is not accountable for any omission. God will not ask him why he did not pray Taraweeh.
Night worship generally, and Taraweeh in particular, is a means to achieve a higher standard of spirituality. Therefore, it should not be offered in such a way as if it was a heavy duty to be got rid of as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this is how it appears to be in many mosques where the community is composed of non-Arabic speaking Muslims, most of whom do not understand the Qur’an. They join it out of a desire to listen to the Qur’an in full. This, however, is not right. It is better to offer a shorter type of prayer with an explanation of the passage being recited than to listen to someone reading the Qur’an at high speed, when he himself may not know its meaning. In fact the bid’at aspect in Taraweeh is that it should include reading the whole of the Qur’an during the month of Ramadan. This is certainly not required. Moreover, a person can offer Taraweeh at home, on his or her own, reading whatever he or she knows of the Qur’an.