Do we say that whoever exceeds 11 units of prayer in Taraweeh has acted contrary to the Sunnah?
And what is the ruling of one who cites the 23 units prayed in (Masjid) Al Haram as evidence for the permissibility of this increase?
The hadith of ‘Aisha (Narrated by Al Bukhaari: Hadith Number 2013) indicates that he did not exceed 11 units of prayer.
(The extra 2 units in) the reported 13 units of prayer from the hadith of Ibn Abbas and others are explained by some scholars to be the two light units of prayer that commence the Night Prayer.
Upon this, whoever exceeds 11 units of prayer has acted Contrary to the Sunnah. As for declaring it to be a bid’ah, this is questionable. Because the majority of scholars view this increase to be permissible based upon the generality of the hadith:
صَلَاةُ اللَّيْلِ مَثْنَى مَثْنَى ، فَإِذَا خَشِيَ أَحَدُكُمُ الصُّبْحَ صَلَّى رَكْعَةً وَاحِدَةً تُوتِرُ لَهُ مَا قَدْ صَلَّى
The Night Prayer is prayed two units at a time. So if one of you fears the onset of the dawn let him pray one unit in order to make the number of units he has prayed odd
[Narrated by Ibn ‘Umar in Al Bukhari 990 and Muslim 417]
They cited the generality of the hadith as evidence that a person can pray however much he wishes at night. However, the hadith of ‘Aisha restricts this generality.
مَا كَانَ يَزِيدُ فِي رَمَضَانَ وَلَا فِي غَيْرِهَا عَلَى إِحْدَى عَشْرَةَ رَكْعَةً
He ﷺ did not exceed 11 units in or outside of Ramadan
[Narrated by ‘Aisha in Al Bukhaari 2013]
Therefore whoever exceeds (11units) has acted Contrary to the Sunnah, especially if he prays it in the manner, or close to the manner prayed by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The person that prays 11 units in the prolonged manner prayed by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is the closest to the Sunnah. As for whoever prays quickly, this is not the prayer of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, even if he prays 11 units.
Declaring it to be a bid’ah requires greater examination; rather it is Contrary to the Sunnah based upon the hadith of ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her).
Care must be taken in matters of contention whereby a person says ‘Contrary to the Sunnah’ if there is nothing that shows this action to be a clear act of ‘bid’ah’; especially if there are general ahaadeeth, statements of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ or the majority of scholars involved. A person must therefore be mindful in declaring matters to be bid’ah.
We used to hear our Shaykh Muqbil say ‘Contrary to the Sunnah’ a lot. He would intentionally use this terminology in matters of fierce disagreement between the scholars; this is more respectful than saying ‘this is bid’ah’ whilst it is the view of the majority of scholars who have taken this view based upon general evidences such as ‘The Night Prayer is prayed two units at a time’ and some unauthenticated reports from the Salaf and the Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.
It was reported that ‘Umar led some Companions in a prayer containing 23 and 11 units. Shaykh AlBaani (may Allah have mercy upon him) graded all of these reports to be weak. He graded the report that ‘Umar led the people in 11 units of pray to be Sahih in which case he conformed to the Sunnah established in the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.
This is what has been authentically reported from ‘Umar. All the other reports were declared weak by AlBaani (may Allah have mercy upon him).
Shaykh AlBaani viewed an increase on 11 units to be bid’ah. However, as you have heard; it is safer to say ‘Contrary to the Sunnah’.
He is an Imam (may Allah have mercy upon him) and his views are taken.
Answered by: Shaykh Abu Bilaal Al-Hadhramy – may Allah preserve him
Answered on: 3rd Rabbi’ Al-Awal 1441 (31st October 2019)
Translated by: Abu Sufian Sami ibn Daniel Al-Ghaani