Is it ok to pray tarawih alone at home? Is it better to pray it in the masjid?
The short answer is: it depends, but if you do pray it at home, make sure you are not just being lazy. Read on for more.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and his Household) performed tarawih in congregation on two or three nights, and then discontinued the jama`ah for it, out of fear that it might become obligatory. [Narrated by Bukhari and others] Later, in the caliphate of `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `Umar found people performing tarawih in small groups (gathered around individuals who had memorized Qur’an), and thought it a good idea to gather them under a single imam.(We may note that the earlier danger, of the prayer becoming obligatory, had now passed, since after the death of the Prophet, religious rulings could not be changed.) `Umar thus established a single, regular jama`ah for tarawih [Narrated by Bukhari, Malik and others], and this practice was continued by Caliph `Uthman [as narrated by Ibn Sa`d, Malik and others] and Caliph `Ali [as narrated in the Musnad of Imam Zayd ibn `Ali his great-grandson, and by others]. Thus, Sunni scholars in general maintain (and it is a minority view among the Zaydis) that it is recommended to hold congregational tarawih prayers regularly in Ramadan, as a sunnah of 3 of the 4 Rightly-Guided Caliphs with its basis in Prophetic practice. This has played an important role in the public preservation of the Qur’an, as it has been customary to complete its recitation from memory at least once per Ramadan during these congregational tarawih prayers.
After agreeing on the meritoriousness of a congregation being established for tarawih, the same scholars nevertheless differed (amongst themselves) as to how much it is stressed for every individual to participate in the congregational tarawih. According to the dominant view in the Hanafi school, the jama`ah for tarawih is sunnah `ala al-kifayah, i.e. it is enough (i.e. the sunnah is considered to be fulfilled) if a congregation for tarawih is established in the community [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar], but if a person prays it on his own (at home or elsewhere) he is not considered to be sinful or remiss.
There has been disagreement, since the early generations, about whether it is better for an individual to join the jama`ah for tarawih, or to pray on his own. While there were a number of prominent Sahabah and Tabi`in who are reported to have prayed tarawih in jama`ah, there were others who did not. In Madinah, `Abdullah ibn `Umar, the Sahabi, would pray tarawih on his own, and would advise/give fatwa similarly. After him, Salim (his son) as well as al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr and `Urwah ibn al-Zubayr (two of the Seven Great Jurists of Madinah) similarly would pray tarawih alone. In Kufah, Ibrahim al-Nakha`i, `Alqamah and al-Aswad would each lead their congregations in `Isha’ but then leave and do Tarawih on their own. Ishaq ibn Suwayd relates that there would be a row of people (called saff al-qurra’ – the Reciters’ Row) praying tarawih individually in the mosque while the jama`ah was in progress [See: Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf; Tahawi, Sharh Ma`ani al-Athar].
Two key narrations that relate to this issue are:
1. On one of the nights in which the Prophet led tarawih, someone expressed the desire for him to continue until the end of the night. The Prophet replied, “Whoever stood with the imam until he left, the standing of an [entire] night [of prayer] is written for him.” [Narrated by Tirmidhi (who judged it sahih), Abu Dawud, Nasai, Ibn Majah]
2. After the Prophet had led tarawih on some nights, and people were waiting for him the next night, he did not come out. Rather, he told them thereafter, “I was afraid that the night prayer would be made obligatory for you, and if it were made obligatory you would not [be able to] observe it. So, pray in your homes, for indeed the best prayer of a person is that [he offers] in his home, except for the obligatory prayer [which should be offered in congregation in the mosque].” [Narrated by Bukhari and others]
Scholars disagreed about how to reconcile or prioritize these narrations. The famous Hanafi scholar, Abu Ja`far al-Tahawi, reconciled them by concluding that since the second hadith explicitly says that voluntary prayer offered at home is superior, therefore, in light of the first hadith, we can expect that the one who prays tarawih at home gets more than the reward of praying the entire night.
A man, who was able to recite Qur’an for himself, asked Hasan al-Basri whether to pray tarawih alone or to join the jama`ah. Hasan told him to choose whichever option is better for him, in terms of being more conducive to awareness and a fearful heart [Narrated by Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Marwazi]. This astute reply brings out the fact that for different people, in different circumstances, one or the other option might be better.
Possible Reasons to Favor Praying Tarawih in Jama`ah
- Benefitting from listening to the recitation of the imam of tarawih, especially for those who have not memorized large portions of the Qur’an themselves.
- Getting encouragement and motivation from seeing others praying, particularly for someone who might get lazy (and thus not pray at all, or not pray as much) if they were to be alone at home.
Possible Reasons to Favor Praying Tarawih Alone
- Greater sincerity, and reducing the risk of ostentation (praying to show off)
- Practicing one’s own recitation
- (Potentially) earning more spiritual reward by praying for longer, and/or in a later portion of the night
- (For some people): being able to attend to other important business which they might not be able to do if the tarawih in the masjid lasts a long time. This might include getting enough sleep to be able to function effectively at work, depending on the person’s physical stamina and type of job. It is up to you to be honest with yourself.
It is also worthwhile to bear in mind that praying `Isha’ in jama`ah is (by consensus) more important and meritorious that praying tarawih in jama`ah.
“Whoever prays `isha in jama`ah, it is like standing half the night [in prayer], and whoever prays fajr in jama`ah it is like standing an [entire] night in [prayer].” [Narrated by Ahmad and others]
Of course, this is a general hadith, and should not be used as an excuse not to perform any tarawih/tahajjud prayer. Ramadan is a month where extra worship is strongly encouraged.
“Whoever stands [in extra prayer] in Ramadan, with faith and expectation [of reward], his previous sins are forgiven him.” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
And Allah knows best.