QUESTION: What is the significance of the 'Taravih', which the devout say in the Ramadan?
ANSWER: To the less-informed Muslims, Taravihprayer is additional, almost obligatory prayer prescribed specially for the holy month of Ramadan. Anybody who does not say them in congregation, it is generally believed, loses a good share of the Ramadan'sblessings. As a result, Muslims throng the mosques for the Isha'prayer and make sure that they manage to endure twenty additional rak'ah every night. The Huffaz, however, gifted with the extraordinary ability of briskly uttering the Message of God in the most incomprehensible manner, squeeze long passages into as short duration as possible. Completing the recitation of the Holy Book at least once during these prayer is also considered an important part of this formality, making the Huffaza highly sought-after group as the Ramadanapproaches near.
The reality, however, is that the Taravihprayer is neither obligatory nor is it supposed to be said by all means after Ishain congregation. It is, as is evident from the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), nothing but Tahajjud, the late-night prayer, allowed for the common Muslims to be said in the early part of the night during the Ramadan. The Prophet (sws) it appears, never said this prayer in the earlier part of the night. In one of the Ramadannight's, however, he came out into the mosque to say his Tahajjud prayer and did so thrice in successive nights. He was joined in by his followers, who grew in number each successive time. On the fourth night, an even larger number waited vainly -- only to see him at the Fajr prayer. He informed his followers that he had deliberately kept himself from saying prayer in the mosque, lest people should take it as binding on them.
It appears that people who were not used to saying Tahajjud regularly (as is evident from the Qur'anthat there was a group which did not) and some others who perhaps found praying in the later part of the night during the Ramadanimpracticable because of the time-involving task of preparing Sehri, got permission from the Prophet (sws) to say it in the early half. It seems, moreover, that people formed many small groups to say this prayer in congregation. The practice continued till the caliphate of 'Umar (raa), who found the plurality of congregational prayer led by the loudly reciting Imams, scattered in the confines of the mosque, much to the dislike of his sensitive religious taste. He lost no time in asking the people to pray behind one Imam. Later, one night, impressed on witnessing the disciplined congregation behind a single Imam, he remarked: 'What a fine innovation is this!' Of course, the statement was induced by the fact that even though the arrangement was apparently an innovation, it was, nevertheless, in complete consonance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws) -- his practice which continued for three days running. 'Umar (raa) is also reported to have remarked on that occasion thus: 'That (the prayer which is said alone in the later part of the night) is indeed superior to the one they are saying instead'.
We may conclude from the above that the Taravihprayer has no distinct status -- it is only the Tahajjud prayer allowed to be said earlier during the Ramadan. As such, it is clearly not binding on the Muslims, though the blessings of the Ramadanclearly add to its significance. Tahajjud, the night prayer, however, is far more preferable, whether in Ramadanor otherwise. A Muslim should therefore try to say these night prayer regularly at least in the Ramadanand recite the Qur'anslowly and clearly to facilitate maximum understanding while praying. If, owing to some difficulty which may include the fact that very little of the Qur'anis committed to memory, Tahajjud is not possible, then he should seek to find a mosque to say his Taravihprayer after Ishawhere the Imamis doing justice with the Book of Allah with proper recitation.
Completing the recitation of the Qur'anat least once in these night prayer is, of course, no religious obligation. The Qur'ancan be completed many times by reciting it on occasions other than prayer.