Imāms should respect the Qur’ān when leading the Tarāwīḥ Prayer
All praises be to Allah and may the blessings and salutation be upon his messenger Muhammad.
The greatest favour bestowed upon humanity is the revelation of the Qur’ān as it is the only way human beings can be in continuous touch with their Creator. People can easily measure their level of attachment to their Lord by measuring their level of attachment to the Qur’ān - recitation, study and contemplation of it. This divine writ was not revealed to be a book of hymns for aural enjoyment, but instead as a book of guidance, for Allāh says in the Qur’ān, “(This is) a Book (the Qur’ān) which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its verses, and that men of understanding may remember.” As the Qur’ān is the unique and inimitable speech of Allāh, reciting it is a tremendous act of worship. However, its reward and comprehensive benefit can only be achieved once we put into practice what we understand. In fact, not putting enough attention to understanding the Qur’ān is condemned as Allāh the Most High says, “Do they not then think deeply about the Qur’ān, or are there locks upon their hearts (from understanding it?)” Many early scholars also condemned those who read the Qur’ān without putting enough effort into understanding it, for example, it is narrated from Ibn Masʽūd that he said, “Do not scatter it (i.e., recitation of the Qur’ān) like the scattering of cheap dates, and do not ramble with it like the rambling of poetry. Stop at its marvels and stir your heart with it. None of you should let his concern be to reach the end of the chapter.”
The way many Imāms recite during the Tarāwīḥ prayer is inexcusable and should be condemned in the strongest of ways by the people of knowledge, and in fact, any individual who respects the words of God. These Imāms recite the Qur’ān as if they are competing with the allocated time in order to finish the set amount and be rid of a heavy burden placed on their shoulders. In listening to some of them it is extremely difficult to make out what they are saying, whilst simultaneously, they make constant mistakes. There are reports of some mosques completing both twenty rak‘ah (units) of the Tarāwīḥ prayer and a whole juz’ of the Qur’ān in thirty minutes. This means that each rak‘ah takes ninety seconds in which one page of the Qur’ān is recited! What justification can such Imāms (and consequently the committees of such mosques) possibly give?
I would like to pose the following question to individuals who legitimize such conduct and deem it acceptable: Imagine that you are standing before God and that He is looking at you while you are praying, do you think Allāh is happy seeing and hearing His words read in this manner without giving them their due rights in terms of recitation and contemplation? Furthermore, I wonder if any of these Imāms or committee members are bold enough to allege that the Prophet would endorse this kind of prayer.
This kind of recitation is exactly what has been condemned by many of the scholars of the early generation. In fact, of one the characteristics of the Khawārij, a deviant sect, the Prophet informed us of is that their recitation of the Qur’ān will not go beyond their throats, i.e., they only pay lip-service to it; we should be very concerned not to have this trait within us. It was reported that Abῑ Jamrah, a scholar of the second generation, informed Ibn ʽAbbās that he recited very quickly and read the Qur’ān in three days, Ibn ʽAbbās replied by saying. ‘That I recite al-Baqarah in a night and reflect on it and reciting it slowly is more beloved to me than to recite in the manner you mention.’
Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allāh have mercy on him) summarised what the Muslim has to do in order to remedy the hardness of his heart with the Qur’ān. He said, ‘There is nothing more beneficial for the heart than reading the Qur’ān with contemplation and reflection. The Qur’ān encompasses all the levels of the travelers, the conditions of the workers, and stations of those possessing knowledge. It is the Qur’ān that generates love, desire, fear, hope, repentance, reliance, pleasure, entrustment, gratitude, patience and the rest of the different states that are life to the heart and perfection of it. Likewise, it repels all the rebuked characteristics and actions that cause the corruption and ruin of the heart. If people were to possess a realization of what the recitation of the Qur’ān with contemplation contains, they would devote themselves to it at the expense of everything else. When the person reads it with reflection and he comes across an āyah (verse) that he is in need of for curing his heart, he repeats it, even if he does so a hundred times or the whole night. Hence, to recite a single āyah of the Qur’ān with contemplation and reflection is better than reciting the Qur’ān to completion without any contemplation. It is also more beneficial for the heart and more conducive to attaining īmān (faith) and tasting the sweetness of the Qur’ān.’
The Prophet used to read in a very slow style and stop at verses that mention paradise or the hell fire. Once he repeated the verse where Allāh says ‘If You punish them, they are Your slaves, and if You forgive them, verily You, only You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise’ for the whole night. Muhammad Ibn al-Kaʽb al-Quraẓῑ (d. 120H) preferred to read Sūrah al-Zalzalah and al-Qāriʽah and repeat them a number of times over reading the whole Qur’ān in a very hasty way. Imām Abū Ḥanῑfah once kept repeating Sūrah al-Zalzalah for the whole night.
Many of our acts of worship (ʽibādāt) have lost their spirit and have been transformed into meaningless ritual images where the focus is on completing them irrespective of whether they leave an impact on our souls or not and if they were perfected or at least performed in a truly satisfactory manner. That is why our worship does not change us for the better; our commitment to the dīn (religion/way of life) of Allāh is very weak and our willingness to sacrifice for the sake of Allāh is even more so - our morals and manners are not improving. Many of us want to be rid of the Tarāwīḥ prayer, no matter how it is offered. Humility, tranquility and reflection are insignificant elements for such Muslims. This is the opposite of what Allāh wants from us; we have removed the very elements from our acts of worship that have been purposely placed there to better us and focus instead on quantity rather quality - for those of us who have any focus at all.
I believe it is time we should put a stop to this and mend our relationship with the Qur’ān as Allāh has commanded: “O mankind! There has come to you a good advice (i.e. the Qur’ān) from your Lord, and a healing for that (diseases of ignorance, doubt, hypocrisy and differences, etc.) in your breasts, - a guidance and a mercy for the believers.”
I call upon committee members and Imāms to seek the pleasure of Allah and not the pleasure of their congregation. I call upon Muslims to advice such Imāms and committee members who do not manifest enough respect to the Qur’ān and to consider appointing other Imāms who recite according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). We should also remember that completing twenty Rak’ah or even the whole Qur’an during Tarāwīḥ is not compulsory, yet listening to it attentively and reciting it with moderate speed is. If the Tarāwīḥ prayer has to be completed in a specific time, then the amount set to be recited should be reduced so that a better quality of worship is achieved.
I ask Allah to guide us all to follow His Book and the Sunnah of his Messenger and to pardon our shortcomings for He is the Oft-Forgiving Oft-Pardoning.
Sūrah Ṣād, 38:29
Sūrah Muḥammad, 47:24
Reported in various places such as Akhlāq Ḥamalah al-Qurʽān by al-Ājurrῑ and al-Baghawῑ in his Tafsῑr.
Sūrah al-Mā’idah, 5:118
Reported by Ibn Abī Shaybah and Aḥmad in his Musnad.