Q: What is 'Salat-ut-Taraweeh'?
A: Every Ramadan Muslims around the world pray a sixth prayer called 'Salat-ut-Taraweeh'. The term Taraweeh is very odd as it is not found either in the Qur'an nor in the Hadith literatures. So where did this come from? A historical scrutiny suggests that the current form has evolved over time. Just like in the 'chinese whisper' a sentence can lose all or some of its original coherence, similarly ideas and practices can evolve to a different practice altogether in comparison to its original beginning.
According to my research on this matter, the original concept of the evolved and final product of 'Taraweeh' is the instigation and encouragement of the Qur'an to forsake a portion of the sleep (Tahajjud) and to contemplate upon the words of God. It seems this encouragement of the Qur'an led the Prophet to initiate the 'Tahajjud Salah'.
However, it remained something the Prophet and his companions engaged in privately and individually. It is many years later after the demise of the Prophet that Caliph Umar made a leadership decision to organise the scattered people in the Mosque and convert the often observed individual Tahajjud-Salah into a congregational Salah.
However, even at this stage my research suggests it is still not the 20 plus unit of prayer that we witness today nor was it referred to as Taraweeh. Therefore, it is most likely that it was at a more later date that Muslims reorganised it further and increased its units to 20 plus to harmonise it with now the longer recitations; as by now the whole Qur'an is sought to be completed within 30 days of Ramadan. Therefore, it became necessary to allow at some number of units a rest for the congregators, and thus the name Taraweeh became a well suited label to this particular prayer.
Though there has been quite a drastic shift and evolution from the original reference of this practice as I have illustrated, I do not think that if someone practices Taraweeh that they are performing something un-Qur'anic, as long as it is utilised to fulfil the original reference; which is to make an opportunity to contemplate upon the words of God. However, I have to bring to notice that from common observation of today's practices of Taraweeh, this is really not what is achieved in Taraweeh. For a start most Muslims have no bearing of a single word of the Qur'an, as Arabic is not their language. Also most Taraweeh Salah are performed at a speed where it seems only the quick ending of it is the only intention. And further, the fact that the aim is to complete the reading of the Qur'an within 30 days, proves that contemplation over its message isn't the aim or this noble aim has been overshadowed by our blind adherence of majority practices.
May Allah almighty bestow upon us the wisdom to carry out His command to ponder upon His message by way of sacrificing a portion of our sleep.
- Adam Sayid [Facebook]