The following article was published in the community News & Views of January 1996. It has since been circulated almost every year during the month of Holy Ramadhan.
I ask you all to have the following perspective in view when reading this article.
(1) In the US University and college campuses MSA's are very active. Every MSA becomes even more active during the holy month of Holy Ramadhan. All Muslim students come together at Iftar time and break their fast together as a group. It gives a great sense of solidarity among Muslim students in the American and European campuses. However, soon after the Isha prayers, the group separates. The Sunni students regroup for the TRAWEEH prayers while the Shia students go back to their dorms. It is natural for those Sunnis who have never come in contact with the Shia Muslims to ask the Shia as to why don't they participate in the TRAWEEH prayers. This article gives a very brief but comprehensive answer to that basic question.
(2) I ask my Sunni brothers not to take this article trying to demean their FIQH, Not at all. This is just an effort to explain a basic difference between the groups. It is a FIQHI difference not a difference in basic faith. I believe that not all Sunnis will one day become Shia neither will all Shia become Sunnis. The differences are their and they will last. However, let us try to understand each other and work and live with each other by being a little more tolerant towards each other by accepting what we are without labeling any one as KAFIR or FASIQ.
(3) Having said all that, let me add this post-script. Lately some Sunni institutions have tried to show (falsely) that mention has been made about TARAWEEH in the Hadith literature. However noble that effort may be towards legitimizing something which is a bidah (whether you call it bidaht-e-Hasan or not), it is baseless. There is a Hadith in Bukhari (and in other books too) that the Prophet of Islam (SAW) did special NAFL prayers in the middle of the night. The Arabic term used here in the HADITH is FI JAWF-IL-LAYL. The exact translation of this term in the English language is IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Some Sunni writers have tried to prove that this Hadith is actually about TARAWEEH. Nothing could be further from the truth. This Hadith is about NAMAZ-E-SHAB also known as TAHAJJUD. It is this prayer which is eleven Rakat that is done in the middle of the night. It is not specific to Ramadhan. It is done or can be done all year round. And TARAWEEH is not done in the Middle of the Night; it is done after Isha before the midnight sets in.
Community News & Views Vol.4 No.9 January 1996 ISSN 1067 5523
ALL ABOUT TARAWEEH/TARAWIH PRAYER:
A great majority of our Sunni brothers perform the Taraweeh Salat every evening after Isha prayer during the month of Ramadhan. We, the Shia Muslims don't. Many of the Sunni brothers do not know that (according to their own ulema) Taraweeh is Mustahab, but the great majority of them perform it as if it was as Wajib as the Holy Ramadhan fasting itself.
In 1983 when I was in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi scholar, answering a question in the local English newspaper, gave the following details of how this special prayer was introduced in Islam.
Soon after the death of Hazrat Abu Bakr in the 13th year of Hijra, Hazrat Umar took control of the Islamic State as the second Khaleefa. In the Ramadhan of 14 Hijra, while he was going round the streets of Madinah, he noticed people performing supererogatory prayers (Nafl) here and there, a few of them in various places. A bright idea dawned upon him. He decided to bring all the Muslims together in a congregation and commanded them to recite one thirtieth of the Holy Quran every night. This way, the entire Holy Quran was recited by each and every Muslim man at least once in the month of Ramadhan. A few days later, as he was going round again, he saw the various congregations and was very pleased. He is reported to have said at the sight: O! What a beautiful bidah (innovation) I have established.
The Saudi scholar writing this did not mention his source references. But we have confirmed that the establishment of Taraweeh Salat was done by Hazrat Umar ibn Khattab in the 14th year of Hijra as stated in "Tareekh-ul-Khulafa" by Jalal-uddeen Suyooti (d. 911 Hijra) and Murooj-uz Zahab by Masoodi (d.346 Hijra).
Of course, there are some slight differences between various Sunni sects in how this special prayer is performed. The Hanafi do Twenty Rakat every night, and after the recital of sura Al-Hamd, nearly one-twentieth of each Juz is recited. The others perform eight rakat of prayer every night and in each one nearly one eighth of a Juz is recited. The end result is that one full Juz of the Holy Quran is recited every night.
Although I have not seen this anywhere in writing, but I have a feeling that it was because of Taraweeh that the Holy Quran, which was compiled by our Holy Prophet (SAW) into verses (Ayat) and chapters (Suras), was divided into 30 equal parts and each section named a Juz (Para in Farsi).
As I said earlier, we the Shia do not do this prayer although we are supposed to perform an extra 1000 Rakat of supererogatory salat during the month of Ramadhan (as prescribed in Mafateeh-ul-Jinan and other books) and we also recite Holy Quran at least once over.
Our rejection of Taraweeh is not out of spite. We do not do it for two reasons; one is purely jurisprudential (Fiqhee) and the other logical (Aqlee).
(1) All our religious teaching is either taken from the Holy Quran or from the Ahlul Bayt (peace be unto them all). Hazrat Umar's (or anybody else's for that matter) statements and acts have no value for us in matters of worship or law. Taraweeh is not mentioned in the Holy Quran. It was not done by the Holy Prophet (SAW) in his lifetime and it was never done by any of our Imams neither did they ever speak about it.
(2) When the Prophet of Islam (SAW) compiled the Holy Quran as we see it today, he (SAW) also made statements giving the attributes of each chapter (sura). In this, he gave details about which verses and suras should be recited as part of salat. Some are recited in pairs like al-Feel (ch. 105) and Quraysh (ch. 106). Only those suras are supposed to be recited in salat which express Allah's Power and Majesty etc. It is quite obvious that some verses are not meant to be recited in salat, like those describing the laws of divorce and menstruation. Although we do not understand Arabic, those who do will agree that every verse cannot be recited in salat. So, we do recite the entire Holy Quran in the month of Holy Ramadhan and we do perform supererogatory prayers but not as Taraweeh.
By: Syed-Mohsin Naquvi