How many bowings (raka’at) should be prayed in the night prayers of Ramadan (taraweeh)?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The majority of scholars maintain that night prayer in Ramadan consists of twenty bowings and others said that is consists of eleven, thirteen, or thirty six bowings. There is a valid scholarly difference of opinion on the specific number, so we should not let this issue cause division among the Muslims.
Ibn Qudamah writes:
وَالْمُخْتَارُ عِنْدَ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ فِيهَا عِشْرُونَ رَكْعَةً وَبِهَذَا قَالَ الثَّوْرِيُّ وَأَبُو حَنِيفَةَ وَالشَّافِعِيُّ وَقَالَ مَالِكٌ سِتَّةٌ وَثَلَاثُونَ وَزَعَمَ أَنَّهُ الْأَمْرُ الْقَدِيمُ وَتَعَلَّقَ بِفِعْلِ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ
The preferred view of Abu Abdullah Ahmad ibn Hanbal, may Allah have mercy on him, is that there are twenty bowings. This was said by Ath-Thawri, Abu Hanifa, and Ash-Shafi’ee. Malik said it is thirty six bowings. He considered it to be the traditional method and he depended upon the practice of the people of Medina.
Source: Al-Mughni 1/456
فَصَلَاةُ التَّرَاوِيحِ سُنَّةٌ بِإِجْمَاعِ الْعُلَمَاءِ وَمَذْهَبُنَا أَنَّهَا عِشْرُونَ رَكْعَةً بِعَشْرِ تَسْلِيمَاتٍ وَتَجُوزُ مُنْفَرِدًا وَجَمَاعَةً
The night prayers of Ramadan are a prophetic tradition (sunnah) by the consensus of the scholars. Our view is that there are twenty bowings with ten invocations of peace (tasleem) and it is permissible to pray it individually or in congregation.
Source: Al-Majmu’ 3/526
The righteous predecessors (salaf us-salih) practiced twenty bowings in the night prayer of Ramadan but some scholars preferred to practice eleven bowings as this was done by the Prophet.
Abu Salama reported: I came to Aisha and I said, “O mother, tell me about the prayer of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him.” Aisha said:
صَلَاتُهُ فِي شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ وَغَيْرِهِ ثَلَاثَ عَشْرَةَ رَكْعَةً بِاللَّيْلِ مِنْهَا رَكْعَتَا الْفَجْرِ
His night prayer during the month of Ramadan and at other times consisted of thirteen bowings including two for the dawn prayer.
Source: Sahih Muslim 738, Grade: Sahih
However, these eleven bowings were not made obligatory. In general, the night prayer is to be performed in units of two bowings with a final single bowing as the witr prayer.
Ibn Umar reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah about the night prayer. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
صَلَاةُ اللَّيْلِ مَثْنَى مَثْنَى فَإِذَا خَشِيَ أَحَدُكُمْ الصُّبْحَ صَلَّى رَكْعَةً وَاحِدَةً تُوتِرُ لَهُ مَا قَدْ صَلَّى
The night prayer is performed two by two. If you worry that dawn is approaching, then pray a single bowing as that will be your witr prayer.
Source: Sahih Bukhari 946, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
Therefore, whoever prays the night prayers according to any of the methods adopted by the righteous predecessors is correct and is following the Sunnah. Some congregations may prefer to pray many bowings with a shorter recitation or to pray less bowings with a longer recitation.
Ibn Taymiyyah writes:
والتراويح إن صلاها كمذهب أبي حنيفة والشافعي وأحمد عشرين ركعة أو كمذهب مالك ستا وثلاثين أو ثلاث عشرة أو إحدى عشرة فقد أحسن كما نص عليه الإمام أحمد لعدم التوقيف فيكون تكثير الركعات وتقليلها بحسب طول القيام وقصره
As for night prayer in Ramadan, if it is prayed according to the school of Abu Hanifa, Ash-Shafi’ee, and Ahmad with twenty bowings, or according to the school of Malik with thirty six bowings, or with thirteen or eleven bowings, then he has done well as mentioned by Imam Ahmad for there is no reason against it. So whether to increase or decrease the bowings depends upon the length of the prayers.
Source: Al-Ikhtiyarat Al-Fiqhiyyah 1/57
As such, we should not fall into extremism by causing arguments during Ramadan or even accusing those who follow another opinion of “innovation” in Islam.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.