God exists with or without lockdown. His guidance is for all time. His mercy is functional in all situations. It is within this divinely given framework one can look at the voluntary practice of Taraweeh and obligatory commandment of fasting during the month of Ramadan, while we are in a state of lockdown due to conditions that none of us has any control over at this time.
“O You who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you so that you might remain conscious of God.” (2:183). It is obligatory upon believing men and women and youth over the age of puberty. However, there are following exemptions:
• People who have physical or mental illness
• Women during menstruation
• Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
• Elderly people
• People who have Covid-19 or have symptoms of this virus
• And people who due to any physical condition find it hard to sustain the fasting. However, they alone are the ones to decide because fasting is between the creator and his creation.
The lockdown will not change the nature of obligations for a healthy person. However, if one is tending an ill person and has to be present 24 hours or during the fasting time with a patient or patients, and if there is a possibility that fasting would deplete the immune system and would increase the possibility of being contagious, it should be avoided. This applies also to those who are in the medical field and are exposed to patients who have contagious diseases.
Allah says in the Quran: “O you who have attained to faith! Be fully prepared against danger, whether you go to war in small groups or all together.” (4:71)
The Quran also says the following:
“And spend [freely] in God’s cause and let not your own hands throw you into destruction, and persevere in doing good: behold, God loves the doers of good.” (2:195)
Taraweeh prayers are neither obligatory nor semi-obligatory nor the stressed Sunnah of the Prophet, even though some scholars insist on their being the stressed Sunnah. Sunnah Muakkida or Stressed Sunnah are the practices that the Prophet performed continuously and rarely left. They are not obligatory or wajib. These are also called Sunnah Huda.
In Sahih Muslim, a book on the Sunnah of the Prophet, we read Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reporting:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) recommended to people to perform prayer at night during the month of Ramadan. He did not order them or make it obligatory on them. He (ﷺ) said, “Whosoever performs prayers at night during the month of Ramadan, with Faith and in the hope of receiving Allah’s reward, will have his past sins forgiven.”
In Sunan Abi Dawud we read in the book on Fasting that Ikrimah narrated that after ascertaining the beginning of the month of fasting, the Prophet asked Bilal to announce the beginning of Ramadan to the people and ask them to offer Taraweeh prayers (prayers at ease). In Sahih Bukhari, a detailed description is offered of Taraweeh prayers
Narrated Zaid bin Thabit:
Allah’s Apostle made a small room and prayed in it. Some men came and joined him in his prayer. Then again the next night they came for the prayer, but Allah’s Apostle delayed and did not come out to them. So they raised their voices and knocked on the door with small stones. He came out and said, “You are still insisting (Tarawih prayer in the mosque and congregation). I thought that this prayer (Tarawih) might become obligatory on you (if I continue to lead you in these prayers.) So you people, offer this prayer at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is the one which he/she offers at home, except the obligatory prayer.”
Sunan Abi Dawud in its book on prayer also gives a detailed description of Ramadan’s special prayers. ‘Aishah, wife of Prophet (saws) narrated:
“That the Prophet (saws) once offered (Tarawih) prayers in the mosque and the people also prayed along with him. He then prayed on the following night, and the people gathered in large numbers. They gathered on the third night too, but the Messenger of Allah (saws) did not come out to them. When the morning came, he said: I witnessed what you did, and nothing prevented me from coming out to you except that I feared that this (prayer) might be prescribed to you.” That was in Ramadan.
The sayings of the Prophet indicate that Taraweeh prayer is not a stressed Sunnah. It is not recommended to be performed in congregation. It is an individual prayer preferably offered at home.
During the time of the first Caliph, the companions offered this prayer at home or in masjid individually or in small groups, especially when there were people who had not memorized the Quran and had difficulty in reading the Quran. Such people would join others who knew the Quran by heart and listen to their recitation. Caliph Umar during his reign asked people to pray in the congregation rather than individually or in smaller groups.
There is no evidence to suggest that the entire Quran was completely recited during the lifetime of the Prophet. The last verse revealed upon the Prophet was 80 days before his demise and neither he or his companions knew about it during the previous Ramadan.
There were not many written copies of the Quran available during the Prophet’s lifetime or that of the first Caliph. People had to rely on their memory to read the Quran in prayers. Those who had memorized the Quran or part of the Quran often led others who were not well versed with the recitation. Men and women both joined such prayers.
During the time of the second Caliph when hundreds of copies of the Quran were available to people in distant lands, the situation changed. They made use of the written words during the prayer in places where Arabic was not the language of common people.
Based on all the narrations and historical records, one can conclude that the Taraweeh prayers can be offered individually at homes with the family. The one leading the prayers can recite the verses he remembers or he can read from the Mashaf in Arabic or with the help of transliteration and the people offering behind him can check the accuracy of the recitation by looking at the Mashaf. It might be a good idea to memorize at least the 20 shorter suras of the Quran so that the one leading the Taraweeh prayers at home can recite one in each unit of the prayer. At home, the sequence of prayer will remain the same. It will be offered in the unit of two and after four units of prayer, those praying will take a short break and then will continue.
Women of a household can lead their prayers for women if they prefer it. The entire Quran does not need to be completed during the month of fasting. If it is done, it would be a reason for an additional reward. People can offer 20 or eight units depending on their stamina and endurance. Some arguments and practices justify both. The Maliki school of thought recommends 36 units and in the third century of Islam, some communities offered up to 56 units of Taraweeh prayers.
What is important to remember is that additional supplementary prayers are meant to bring people offering them to God to rediscover their true selves so that they could lead a successful and better life.