Salaat-ut-Taraaweeh has been named with this name because the worshippers take a break after each four Rak’ah so they take a Tarweehah (break) and the plural is Taraaweeh. This Salaah is a form of Qiyaam-ul-Layl (night prayer) except it has been specified in the month of Ramadhaan so it represents Qiyaam-ul-Layl in Ramadhaan. The Hukm (ruling) for this prayer is that it is Mandoob and Mustahabb and whoever prays it with Imaan and Ihtisaab (anticipating Allah’s reward) then all of his previous sins will be forgiven as Abu Hurairah (ra) related: “The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم used to exhort (his Companions) to pray (at night) during Ramadan without commanding them to observe it as an obligatory act, and say: He who observed the night prayer in Ramadan because of faith (Imaan) and seeking his reward (from Allah), all his previous sins would be forgiven” as recorded by Muslim, Maalik, Abu Daawood and Nasaa’i.
His statement: “Without commanding them to observe it as an obligatory act (Ghareemah)” is clear in indicating that it is Mandoob and not Waajib and ‘Aa’ishah Umm-ul-Mu’mineen (ra) narrated: “That the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم prayed one night in the mosque and people also prayed along with him. He then prayed on the following night and there were many persons. Then on the third or fourth night (many people) gathered there, but the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم did not come out to them (for leading the Taraaweeh prayer). When it was morning he said: I saw what you were doing, but I desisted to come to you (and lead the prayer) for I feared that this prayer might become obligatory for you” as recorded by Al-Bukhaari, Muslim, Abu Daawood and Maalik.
So here the words: “feared that this prayer might become obligatory for you” indicate decisively that it is not Waajib and as such remains Mandoob.
It is permissible (Jaa’iz) to perform this Salaah in Jamaa’ah (congregation) and it is for sure permitted to pray individually which is the origin in the Tatawwa’ (nonobligatory) prayers and if it is prayed in a Jamaa’ah in the house then this is the best, and then the next best is to perform it in Jamaa’ah in the Masaajid, then in the house individually and lastly in the Masjid individually.
Zaid Bin Thaabit (ra) related: “The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم made an apartment with the help of the leaves of date trees or of mats. The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم went out to pray in it. People followed him and came to pray with him. Then they again came one night and waited (for him), but the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم delayed in coming out to them. And when he did not come out, they cried aloud and threw pebbles at the door. The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم came out in anger and said to them: By what you have been doing constantly, I thought that it (prayer) might become obligatory for you. So you must observe prayer (optional) in your houses, because the best prayer of a person is in his house except for the obligatory prayer” as recorded by Muslim and Al-Bukhaari.
An-Nasaa’i related it with the following Lafzh (wording): “That the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم made for himself a room out of mats in the Masjid and the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم prayed in it in the nights until the people gathered towards him, then he lost his voice (i.e. was not heard) one night and the people thought that he was asleep. So some of them began to clear their throats beckoning him to come out to them. So he said: From what I saw you continuing in doing I feared that it (the prayer) would be made obligatory upon you and if it was made obligatory for you, you would not keep up with its performance. So O People! Pray in your houses because the best prayer of a person is in his house except for the obligatory prayers”.
So this Hadeeth indicates that the performance of the Taraaweeh in the houses was better than in the Masjid.
Abu Dharr (ra) related: “We fasted with the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم in Ramadhaan and he did not pray anything with us from the month at night until only seven (nights) remained. So he stood in prayer with us until a third of the night had passed and on the sixth (from the end) he did not pray with us. On the fifth (from the end) he stood in prayer with us until half of the night had passed so I said: O Messenger of Allah what if you prayed Naafilah with us this night? He said: That the man who prays with the Imaam until he leaves is rewarded for praying the whole night. He said: Then on the fourth night (from the end) he did not come out and on the third night (from the end) he gathered all of his family, women and people and he stood in prayer with us until we thought that we would miss the Falaah. He said: I asked: What is the Falaah? He said: It is the Sahoor. And then he did not stand in prayer with us for the remainder of the month” as recorded by Abu Daawood, Ahmad, An-Nasaa’i, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Khuzaimah.
In this Hadeeth: Until seven remained means the twenty-third night, sixth means the twenty-fourth night in which he did not lead them, fifth means the twenty-fifth night in which he led them, fourth refers to the twenty-sixth night in which he did not attend and the third night refers to the twenty-seventh night of Ramadhaan in which all the people were gathered which alludes to it being the best of the nights.
This Hadeeth is explained by a narration from Nu’aim Bin Ziyaad that he heard Nu’maan Bin Basheer (ra) saying upon the Minbar of Homs: “We stood in prayer with the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم in the twenty-third night of Ramadhaan for the first third of the night, we stood with him on the twenty-fifth towards half of the night and then on the twenty-seventh we stood in prayer with him until we thought that we would not make the Falaah. He said and we used to call the Sahoor the Falaah…” as related by Ahmad, An-Nasaa’i and Ibn Khuzaimah.
This Hadeeth indicates the preference of performing the Taraaweeh in Jamaa’ah in the Masjid in the last half of the nights of Ramadhaan i.e. the nights in which the ‘Night of Power’ is sought in which the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم prayed in Jamaa’ah with the Muslims inside the Masjid. Here we have two evidences which may seem to carry a contradiction: The first indicates that it is better to pray the Taraaweeh prayer in the houses and the second indicates that it is better to perform it in the Masjid. And by relying completely on Allah Al-Mo’een we say in this regard: That his statement in the first text: “So O People! Pray in your houses because the best prayer of a person is in his house except for the obligatory prayers” it refers to the one who wishes to pray the Tatawwa’ and the origin in the Tatawwa’ is that it is prayed individually and therefore should be performed in the house because the prayer in the house is better than the prayer in the Masjid and this is a principle (Qaa’idah) and Asl (Origin) in this matter.
So whoever wishes to perform the Taraaweeh then it is better for him to perform it in his house than in the Masjid and this has not been disagreed upon by the Fuqahaa. And as long as this is the origin then we build upon this the view that the Jamaa’ah in the house is undoubtedly better because the origin of the Jamaa’ah prayer is that it is better than the individual prayer which is an issue which has not been disagreed upon. So the one who prays the Taraaweeh in Jamaa’ah in the house has combined between the two origins and the best two acts.
As for the one who prays individually in his house then he has acted according to one origin only and likewise the person who prays in Jamaa’ah in the Masjid has also only acted upon one origin and here it is necessary to outweigh one origin over the other and the Hadeeth of Abu Dharr (ra) relates to this when it was stated within it: “on the third night (from the end) he gathered all of his family, women and people and he stood in prayer with us”. His صلى الله عليه وسلم’s gathering of his people (family) and women to pray the Salaat-ut-Taraaweeh in the Masjid on the twenty-seventh night -which is most likely the ‘Night of power’ -and not leaving them to pray in his home individually, indicates the preference of praying the Jamaa’ah in the Masjid over the praying individually in the houses and had it been the opposite then why did he gather his family and women for this Salaah (in the Masjid). So this indicates that acting upon the second origin – the Jamaa’ah in the Masjid -is better than acting upon the first origin -the individual prayer in the house -and therefore praying the Jamaa’ah in the Masjid takes the second spot and rank after the Jamaa’ah inside the house.
What remains is the issue of the individual prayer in the house and the individual prayer in the Masjid and here there is no hesitation in saying that the first is better than the second because the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم has settled this issue when he did not pray with the Muslims inside the Masjid and there was no choice for them to pray except on an individual basis and he said to them: “The best Salaah of a person is in his house except for the obligatory prayers” indicating that they should return to their houses and perform the Taraaweeh prayer there and not to pray individually inside the Masjid. It could be said here: Why is it assumed that they were praying individually in the Masjid and not praying in Jamaa’ah? So we say: They would not have prayed in Jamaa’ah whilst the Messenger of Allah was present and not leading them and he did not order them to pray it in Jamaa’ah and appoint for them an Imaam to lead them from amongst them. This is what happened and they returned to their homes and prayed there in the nights in which the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم did not come out to lead them in the Salaah and there is no text that has reached us that they convened the Salaah in Jamaa’ah in the Masjid at this time.
It could also be said that if the Salaah in Jamaa’ah in the Masjid is better than the individual Salaah in the house then why did the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم order the Muslims to go and perform it in their homes individually? Meaning why has the preferred act been preferred over the best? The answer to this is the statement of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم: “I feared that it would be made obligatory for you and that you would not fulfil it”. So he صلى الله عليه وسلم feared that the Taraaweeh Salaah would be made obligatory upon the Muslims if they continued praying it in Jamaa’ah in the Masjid and this is what prevented him from performing the Jamaa’ah in the Masjid on a continuous basis and had it not been for this reason it is likely that the situation would have been different.