Taraweeh: The Special Evening Prayers of Ramadan
When the month of Ramadan begins, Muslims enter into a period of discipline and worship, fasting during the day, and praying throughout the day and night. During Ramadan, special evening prayers are conducted during which long portions of the Quran are recited. These special prayers are known as taraweeh.
The word taraweeh comes from an Arabic word which means to rest and relax. The Hadith indicates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) led his followers in evening prayer on the 25th, 27th, and 29th nights of Ramadan, in the time after the isha prayer. Since then, this has been a tradition during the evenings of Ramadan. However, it is not regarded as compulsory (unlike the five daily prayers), since the Hadith also documents that the Prophet discontinued this prayer because he specifically did not want it to become compulsory. Still, it is a strong tradition among modern Muslims during Ramadan to this day. It is practiced by most Sunni Muslims, for whom it amplifies the sense of individual spirituality and unity (Shia Muslims do not pray taraweeh).
Taraweeh Prayers in Practice
The prayer can be very long (well over an hour), during which one stands upright to read from the Quran and performs many cycles of movement (standing, bowing, prostrating, sitting). After each of the four cycles, one sits for a brief period of rest before continuing—this is where the name taraweeh ("rest prayer") comes from.
During the standing portions of the prayer, long sections of the Quran are read. The Quran is divided into equal parts (called juz) for the purpose of reading sections of equal length during each of the Ramadan nights. Thus, 1/30 of the Quan is read on successive evenings, so that by the end of the month the entire Quran has been completed.
It is recommended that Muslims attend the taraweeh prayers in the mosque (after 'isha, the last evening prayer), to pray in congregation. This is true for both men and women. However, one may also perform the prayers individually at home. These prayers are voluntary but are strongly recommended and widely practiced. Performing the prayer together at the mosque is said to greatly increase the feeling of unity among followers.
There has been some dispute about how long the taraweeh prayer is supposed to be: 8 or 20 raka'at (cycles of prayer). It is without dispute, however, that when praying the taraweeh prayer in congregation, one should start and end in accordance with the imam's preference, performing the same number that he performs. Night prayers in Ramadan are a blessing, and one should not argue about this fine point.
Saudi Arabia television broadcasts the taraweeh prayers live from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, now with simultaneous subtitling of the English translation.