Abu Hurayrah said: “The Messenger of Allaah used to encourage us to pray at night in Ramadhaan, without making it obligatory. Then he said:‘Whoever prays at night in Ramadhaan out of faith and the hope of reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.’ When the Messenger of Allaah died, this is how things were (i.e., Taraaweeh was not prayed in congregation), and this is how they remained during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr until the beginning of the Caliphate of ‘Umar .”
Laylat Al-Qadr and its timing
The best night ever is Laylat Al-Qadr (Night of Decree or Power), because the Prophet said: “Whoever prays at night during Laylat Al-Qadr out of faith and the hope of reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.” [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim]
Scholars hold different opinions as to which of the nights is Laylat Al-Qadr.Some hold the opinion that it is the 21st, some say the 23rd, others say the 25th and still others say it is the 29th. Some say that it varies from year to year but it is always among the last ten nights of Ramadhaan. Most scholars, though, hold the opinion that it is the 27th.
According to Ibn‘Umar the Prophet said: “He who likes to seek that night (Laylat Al-Qadr) should do so on the 27th.” [Muslim] Ubayy Ibn K’ab said: “I swear by Allaah, it is during Ramadhaan – and He swore to that – and by Allaah, I know what night it is. It is the night of the 27th. Its sign is that the sun rises the next morning white and without any rays”.
Yet, it is preferred to seek this night during the last ten nights of Ramadhaan, as the Prophet, sllallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, strove his best in seeking it during that time. The Prophet would stay up all night during the last ten nights, would wake his wives, and then would remain apart from them to worship.
Praying Qiyaam in congregation
It is preferred to pray Qiyaam in congregation, because this is what the Prophet did himself and explained its virtues. Abu Tharr said: “We fasted Ramadhaan with the Messenger of Allaah and he did not lead us in Qiyaam at all until there were only seven days left, when he led us in prayer until a third of the night had passed. When there were six days left, he did not lead us in Qiyaam. When there were five days left, he led us in prayer until half the night had passed. I said, ‘O Messenger of Allaah, I wish that you had continued until the end of the night.’ He said, “If a man prays with the Imaam until he finishes, it will be counted as if he prayed the whole night.” When there were four nights left, he did not lead us in Qiyaam. When there were three nights left, he brought together his family, his wives and the people, and led us in Qiyaam … Then he did not lead us in Qiyaam for the rest of the month.” [Abu Daawood and others]
The reason why the Prophet did not continually lead them in Qiyaam for the rest of the month because he feared that it would then become obligatory, and they would not be able to do it.
Women can pray Qiyaam in congregation
Women can attend the prayers too, as is stated in the Hadeeth of Abu Tharr referred to above. Indeed, it is permissible to appoint anImaam just for them, apart from the Imaam of the men. It was proven that when ‘Umar gathered the people to pray Qiyaam, he appointed Ubayy ibn Ka’b to lead the men and Sulaymaan ibn Abu Hathmah to lead the women. ‘Arfajah Al-Thaqafi said: “‘Ali ibn Abu Taalib used to command the people to pray during the night in Ramadhaan, and he would appoint an Imaam for the men and an Imaam for the women. I was the Imaam for the women.”
Number of Rak’ahs of Qiyaam
The number of Rak’ahs (prayer units) is eleven, and it is preferable not to exceed this number, following the practice of the Messenger of Allaah . ‘Aa’ishah was asked about how he prayed in Ramadhaan. She said: “The Messenger of Allaah never prayed more than eleven Rak’ahs (of Qiyaam), whether during Ramadhaan or any other time. He would pray four (Rak’ahs), and don’t ask me how beautiful or how long they were. Then he would pray four, and don’t ask me how beautiful or how long they were. Then he would pray three ….” [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim]
Reciting Quran in Qiyaam
As regards reciting from the Quran during Qiyaam, whether in Ramadhaan or at other times, the Prophet did not set a limit or state what was too much or too little. His recitation used to vary; sometimes it would be long, at other times short. Sometimes in every Rak’ahhe would recite the equivalent of Chapter Al-Muzzammil (73), which is twenty verses; sometimes he would recite the equivalent of fifty verses. He used to say: “Whoever prays at night and reads one hundred verses will not be recorded as one of the negligent.”
When he was sick, the Prophet recited the seven long Chapters in his night prayers, i.e., Al-Baqarah, Aal ‘Imraan, An-Nisaa’, Al-Maa’idah, Al-An’aam, Al-A’raaf and At-Tawbah.
According to Huthayfah ibn Al-Yamaan who prayed behind the Prophet the Prophet recited Al-Baqarah, An-Nisaa’ andAal ‘Imraan in one Rak’ah, in a slow and measured tone. When ‘Umar appointed Ubayy ibn Ka’b to lead the people in praying eleven Rak’ahs in Ramadhaan, Ubayy used to recite verses by the hundreds, so that the people behind him would be leaning on sticks because the prayers were so long, and they did not finish until just before Fajr.
It is also reported that ‘Umar called the readers during Ramadhaan, and told the fastest of them to recite thirty verses, the moderate ones to recite twenty-five verses, and the slowest ones to recite twenty verses.
However, is a person is praying Qiyaam by himself, he can make it as long as he wishes; if others agree with the Imaam, he may also make it as long as he wishes. The longer it is, the better, but the Imaam should not continually spend the whole night in Qiyaam, following the example of the Prophet who said:“If any of you leads the people in prayer, let him make it short, because among them are the young and the old, the weak, and those who have pressing needs. But if he is praying alone, let him make it as long as he likes.” [Al-Bukhaari]