Qiyam: Ramadan's Nightly Prayer

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The Prophet of Allah, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Whoever performs Qiyam at night [throughout the whole month of Ramadan] out of sincere faith and certainty of getting rewarded by Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven." 

Qiyam literally means standing, and it is a term used to refer to the night prayer during Ramadan because it includes long periods of recitation of the Quran. Its other name, Taraaweeh, which is a term derived from the Arabic root word, Raahah, which literally means to rest, relax and use as recreation. It is so called because the believers used to extend it in length and in the number of Rak'ahs. After every four Rak'ahs they would rest (especially the elderly) for a few minutes before resuming the prayer again.

Qiyam in Congregation:

It was the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, who first established the Sunnah of congregational Qiyam the prayer in the Masjid. But he stopped it for fear that it might be made obligatory on all Muslims. If it were to happen, it can be difficult for many. 'Aa`ishah said that the Messenger of Allah went out in the middle of the night and prayed in the Masjid and some men prayed with him. In the morning, the people talked about it and then a large number of them gathered on the following night and prayed behind him, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam. The next morning, the people again talked about it and on the third night the Masjid was full with a large number of people.

The prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, came out and the people prayed with him. On the forth night the Masjid was overwhelmed with people, but the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, came out for the Fajr prayer (i.e., he did not pray Qiyam that night). When the Fajr was finished he recited the Two Testimonies of Faith and (addressing the people) said: "To proceed: your presence was not hidden from me but I was afraid lest the Qiyam be enjoined on you and you might not be able to carry it on." So, Allah's messenger died and the situation remained like that [i.e., people made Qiyam individually]."

Later, the companions performed Qiyam in congregation at the time of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab under his direction. Abdur-Rahmaan ibn Abdul-Qari said, "I went out in the company of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, one night in Ramadan, to the Masjid and found the people praying in separate groups, a man praying alone or a man praying with a small number of people behind him. So, Umar said, 'In my opinion it would better to bring these people under the leadership of one Imam.' So, he had them pray behind Ubayy ibn Ka'b. Then, on another night, I went again in his company and the people were praying the Qiyam prayer behind their Imam. To that, Umar remarked, 'What an excellent Bid'ah (innovation) this is." (Al-Bukhari) Umar meant that reviving the congregational Qiyam prayer is good for the Muslims, and since it was not kept after the few times some Muslims prayed it with the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, he saw this congregational Qiyam to be (linguistically) a 'new' thing.

The number of Rak'ahs in Qiyam:

Some scholars state that the number of Rak'ahs in the Qiyam prayer is 8 plus 3 Rak'ahs of Witr. Most of the time those who hold this opinion state that this is the only correct number, and to make Qiyam in a smaller or larger number of Rak'ahs is to be in discord with the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam. They cite as an evidence, for this opinion, the narration of 'Aa`ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, which was reported by Al-Bukhari, in which she said, "He (the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) did not pray (the night prayer or Qiyam) more than 11 Rak'ahs in Ramadan or in any other month." If anyone is to take this hadeeth as a general rule that can apply to all types of Qiyam and make the Qiyam prayer in just 8 Rak'ahs, then it should be acceptable as this would be the correct application of an authentic narration. What matters though, is that there are other narrations, which mentioned other numbers of Rak'ahs for the prayer of Qiyam some are general ones like the above narration of 'Aa`ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, others are specific to the Qiyam of the month of Ramadan.
For example there are many narrations that reported that the companions prayed the Qiyam of Ramadan in 23 Rak'ahs at the time of Umar ibn Al-Khattab. Collectively, those narrations are classed as sound (Hasan) and thus constitute evidence for those who make Qiyam of Ramadan in 23 Rak'ahs. Furthermore, in the Two Sacred Masjids (in Makkah and Madeenah), the Qiyam prayer in Ramadan has always been 23 Rak'ahs. This has been the case throughout history.

Also, in other authentic narrations, 'Aa`ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, after being asked, 'How many Rak'ahs the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, used to make in Witr? (Witr is understood here to mean the prayer of Qiyam with the odd-numbered prayer at the end); she said, "He used to make 4 and 3, or 6 and 3, or 10 and 3. He never used to pray in less than 7 (Rak'ahs) or more than 13." (Ahmad and Abu Daawood).

It is clear therefore that one can pray Qiyam 11 Rak'ahs or 23 Rak'ahs, while the predominant opinion is that they should be 11 or 13. As a way of reconciliation between both opinions, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah said that when Qiyam is prayed in 11 Rak'ahs the recitation should be long, and when Qiyam is done in 20 Rak'ahs ( in addition to the 3 Rak'ahs of Witr), the recitation can be made shorter. What he emphasized, may Allah have mercy on him, is that Qiyam is about standing for a long time in the prayer before Allah the Almighty as will be seen from the next narration on the authority of Abu Tharr. If the number of Rak'ahs is shortened the recitation is prolonged, and vice versa.

In the narration of Abu Tharr, may Allah be pleased with him, the matter of the duration of the prayer of Qiyam and its importance is explained. Abu Tharr said: "We fasted Ramadan with the Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, and he did not lead us in Qiyam at all until there were only 7 days of it left. When he, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, led us in Qiyam we stayed (in the prayer) until one-third of the night passed. When there were 6 days left, he did not lead us in Qiyam. Then when there were 5 days left, he led us in the prayer until half of the night passed. I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, I wish that you had continued until the end of the night.' He said: 'If a man makes the prayer with the Imam until he finishes (the prayer), it will be counted as if he had made the prayer all night long.' When there were 4 nights left, he did not lead us in Qiyam. Then when there were 3 nights left, he brought together his family, his wives and the people, and led us in Qiyam until we were afraid that we would miss Al-Falah. I (the narrator from Abu Tharr) asked, 'What is Al-Falah?' Abu Tharr said, 'Suhoor (the predawn meal).' Then he, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, did not lead us in Qiyam for the rest of the month." (At-Tirmithi, Abu Daawood, An-Nasaa'i and Ibn Majah).

The month of Ramadan is a month of worship, therefore much of our time and effort should be focused on that, especially with recitation of the Quran and performing the prayer. This Ramadan let us make a commitment that we will do better than we ever had done before. We ask Allah to accept all our deeds.


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