‘aa’ishah said that, “the messenger of allaah did not (ever) observe more than eleven rak‘ahs (of voluntary night prayers) in ramadhaan or any other month. first of all he would perform four rak‘ahs, and do not ask (me) about their excellence and their length. he would then perform four more rak‘ahs; and do not ask (me) about their excellence and their length. then he would perform (a final) three rak‘ahs.” ‘aa’ishah added, “i said, ‘o messenger of allaah, do you sleep before performing the witr prayer?’ he said:‘o ‘aa’ishah, my eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep.’”[al-bukhaari and muslim]
it is stated in another narration, “the prophet would pray thirteen [voluntary] rak‘ahs at night including the witr and the two rak‘ahs of fajr (i.e. the two-rak’ah sunnah prayer before the fajr prayer).”[al-bukhaari and muslim]
masrooq said that he asked ‘aa’ishah about the prayer of the messenger of allaah, , at night (i.e. the voluntary prayer) and she said, “it was seven, nine or eleven rak‘ahs besides the two rak‘ahs of the fajr prayer (i.e. the sunnah before it).”[al-bukhaari]
ibn ‘abbaas said, “the messenger of allaah would to pray thirteen rak‘ahs at night.” [al-bukhaari and muslim]
‘abdur-rahmaan ibn hurmuz al-a‘raj said, “i witnessed the people (i.e. the companions) in ramadhaan cursing the disbelievers (i.e. in the qunoot supplication of al-witr). (he added), an imam would recite soorah al-baqarah in eight rak‘ahs and if he did it in twelve rak‘ahs the people would say that he had made it easy.” [maalik]
benefits and rulings:
first: the voluntary night prayer of the prophet, , in ramadhaan was the same as in other months.
second: only the eyes, not the hearts, of the prophets, may allaah exalt their mention, sleep. therefore, the vision of prophets is true and this is one of the exclusive characteristics of prophets.
third: scholars unanimously agree that voluntary night prayers in ramadhaan as well as in other months is an act of sunnah and there is nothing specified regarding its number of rak‘ahs. so, it is permissible for a muslim to prolong recitation and decrease the number of rak‘ahs, or vice versa.
fourth: the guidance of the prophet, , with regard to voluntary night prayer is to prolong recitation, rukoo’ (bowing) and sujood (prostration) and not to pray more than eleven rak‘ahs. this is better than praying many rak‘ahs with a short time for recitation in each.
fifth: the prophet, , sometimes offered more than eleven rak‘ahs; he sometimes prayed thirteen rak‘ahs and at other times offered less than eleven rak‘ahs; sometimes he prayed seven or nine rak‘ahs as indicated in other hadeeths. however, the hadeeth of ‘aa’ishah informs us that the common practice of the prophet, , was to offer eleven rak‘ahs.
sixth: the prophet, , would utter salaam (saying as-salaamu ‘alaykum to finish the prayer) after every two rak‘ahs in the voluntary night prayer. offering four rak‘ahs with one salaam is not in conformity with his usual sunnah. this is supported by the hadeeth of ‘aa’ishah in which she described the prayer of the prophet, , as follows, “he would utter salaam after every two rak‘ahs and perform the witr prayer in a single rak‘ah.” [muslim]
the prophet, , said, “[voluntary] night prayer should be two [rak’ahs after] two [rak’ahs] .” [al-bukhaari and muslim] this hadeeth certainly does not include the witr prayer, which could be three or five rak‘ahs and with a sitting for saying the tashahhud only at the end of the last rak’ah, as stated in the hadeeth of ‘aa’ishah who said, “the messenger of allaah would observe thirteen rak‘ahs of the voluntary night prayer. five out of them constituted the witr, and he did not sit [for tashahhud] except at the end.” [muslim]
seventh: the practice of the companions and taabi‘oon (their successors) in madeenah was to prolong the prayer of taraaweeh as the great taabi‘i ‘abdur-rahmaan ibn hurmuz stated earlier.
eighth: a confirmation of thepermissibility of invoking curses against the disbelievers at the qunoot of taraaweeh prayer whether such disbelievers have a covenant with the muslims or not. they deserve this because of their disbelief. however, this is not an obligatory matter to be followed. according to the prophetic guidance, one should invoke the ruin and torment of those disbelievers who are fighting islam and the muslims and to supplicate for the peaceful disbelievers and those for whom there is hope that they would be guided to islam.
ninth: the companions and the taabi‘oon in madeenah would supplicate and invoke curses against the disbelievers in their qunoot in ramadhaan following the example of the prophet, . he used in the qunoot of nawaazil (calamities) against the peoples of ri‘l, thakwaan, banu lihyaan and ‘usayyah who treacherously killed some memorizers of the quran. the people of madeenah would do so beginning from mid-ramadhaan until its end.
tenth: invoking the curses of allaah against the disbelievers in the second khutbah (sermon) on friday is taken from the practice of the companions and most of the taabi‘oon in madeenah where they would invoke curses against the disbelievers in qunoot. after reaching this conclusion, ibn ‘abdul-barr said, “al-a‘raj witnessed a group of the companions and the great taabi‘oon (doing so), and this was the followed practice in madeenah.”