I have some questions regarding the Tarawih prayer that is offered during Ramadan. Did the Prophet Muhammad (sws) offer Tarawih prayer throughout Ramadan? Did he mention any specific reward for it? I read somewhere that the Holy Prophet (sws) did not offer the Tarawih prayer every day because he did not want people to think that it was an obligatory act. If this is true, what was the maximum number of days Muhammad (sws) prayed the Tarawih. Can I still go on praying the Tarawih for thirty days bearing in mind that it is a voluntary act for myself? Also please tell me what number of Rak'at one should offer.
The Tarawih prayer is actually the Tahajjud prayer that was held obligatory for the Holy Prophet (sws) and optional for the rest of the Muslims. The Prophet (sws) would always offer the prayer at home. But once he happened to offer it in the mosque. However, he never offered this prayer with 'Isha; rather at its prescribed time after midnight. Once, during a Ramadan, some Companions saw the Holy Prophet (sws) praying in the mosque at night and they joined him. The second night the Prophet (sws) again appeared in the mosque and this time the number of the Companions increased as they had learnt that the Prophet (sws) came to the mosque to offer Tahajjud the previous night; they in their earnest efforts to follow the Holy Prophet (sws) joined him in his prayer. The same happened on the third night. But the Holy Prophet (sws) did not come to pray on the fourth night. The reason being that he had noticed that the people started praying the Tahajjud in the mosque and he feared that it might be perceived as obligatory like the other five prayers.
Another important point in this regard is that the Prophet (sws) had allowed Muslims to offer this prayer before going to bed if they thought that it would be difficult for them to offer it at its prescribed time. He had said:
As we have reached the conclusion that Tarawih is in fact Tahajjud prayer, we now proceed to ascertain the number of the Rak'at. The following narrative is the most comprehensive on the issue:
Whoever among you fears that he would not be able to rise during the last part of the night (for Tahajjud) he ought to pray an odd number of Rak'ats before going to bed. However, those who are sure that they would be able to get up at that time must pray an odd number of Rak'ats then as the recitation during the last part of the night best affords concentration and therefore bears excellence. (Muslim, No: 163)
Although some other narratives tell us that he sometimes prayed thirteen Rak'ats but we believe that these two Rak'ats had been added in the same way as he would add two during other obligatory prayers, for example Maghrib, which we generally call Nafl. It should be kept in mind that Tahajjud is obligatory for the Prophet (sws) in contrast to other Muslims.
Abu Salamah b. 'Abd al-Rahman narrates that I asked 'A'ishah, wife of the Prophet (sws): 'How did the Apostle of Allah (sws) pray during Ramadan?' She replied: 'The Apostle of Allah (sws) did not pray more than eleven Rak'ats during Ramadan and other than Ramadan. He would pray four Rak'ats. Do not ask about their elegance and length! He would then pray four Rak'ats. Do not ask about their elegance and length! Then he would pray three Rak'ats'. (Bukhari: No. 1147)
As for the decision of the Caliph Umar (rta), it needs to be appreciated that he only organized the Companions who were reciting the Qur'an in their individual prayers in the mosque— he only intended to rectify the state of chaos in which no one could know who was reciting what. He however did not participate in the prayer himself and preferred to offer the prayer at its prescribed time. This is manifest from his remark as recorded in the well-known narrative about the Tarawih that 'How blessed is the act they have left for the act they are performing!'
We think that a person can go on offering the Tarawih in the present form as it affords him an opportunity to recite and listen to the Qur'an. You therefore should go on praying all through Ramadan. However, it would be an unfounded claim to say that the prayer in question must essentially be offered with the 'Isha prayer; the befitting way is to offer the Tahajjud at the prescribed time, which should always be stressed upon.
1. Answer is based entirely on Mr. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi's research on the topic.