No doubt the prayer of Tarawih is one of the most rewarding and unifying aspects of Ramadan. It is a confirmed Sunnah which the Prophet (SAW) did regularly and encouraged the Muslims to do as he said: “Whoever prays Qiyaam (meaning Tarawih) in Ramadaan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Bukhari Hadith 37 and Muslim Hadith 760).
Now that it is few days to Ramadan and the world is still facing the pandemic of COVID-19 and all forms of gatherings are medically discouraged in order to curve the spread of the disease, one of the greatest concern of all Muslims is what is going to happen to the Tarawih prayers if our mosques remain closed and religious gatherings banned all through Ramadan? This indeed is a great concern.
On the other hand, medical personnel has already explained to us the deadly culture of the Coronavirus and how it is easily spread among people. It is therefore the duty of religious leaders to sensitize the Muslim faithful on this. Instead of telling the Muslims how great will be their loss, how empty their Ramadan will be and how cowardly their act will be by abandoning the mosque at the time of Tarawih, people should also be told that the Tarawih prayer is never compulsory and it was right from time made to be optional. If a Muslim does not pray Tarawih, there is no sin on him for that, whether he has an excuse or not, because it is not obligatory.
People should also be enlightened that the Prophet (SAW) led his companions in prayer (Tarawih) for several nights, then on the third or fourth night he did not come out for it on purpose. When it was morning he said to them: “Nothing prevented me from coming out to you except the fact that I feared that it would be made obligatory for you.” (Bukhaari Hadith 1129). And according to the version narrated by Muslim in Hadith 761 he said: “I feared those night prayers would be made obligatory for you and you would not be able to do them.” If anything, this shows how optional the Tarawih prayer is.
So if the Prophet will abandon the Tarawih on purpose with no danger in doing it, what less of abandoning it for fear of a deadly disease which can be contacted in the congregation of people? People keep on saying that the most beloved place to Allah is the mosque, so closing mosques in time of pandemic is more evil than the pandemic itself and that people are supposed to enter mosques and ask for Allah’s intervention in lifting the disease. This may be true, but Allah did not say He will not listen or answer our prayers outside the mosque. In fact, to think that it is only in the mosque that Allah will effectively answer people’s prayers is to undermine Allah’s attributes of Omniscient and Omnipresent.
If you don’t go for Tarawih because of COVID-19, it is not cowardly and it is not because your faith is weak, it is because you believe the doctors say you can easily contact the disease there and because you know that the greatest destruction is to take yourself to where you may lose your life whereas the Divine injunction says: “And you should not take yourselves to your own destruction” (Q2:195)
People should know that if they don’t go for Tarawih in congregations it is not that they are afraid of death, it is because they want save the lives of other people and the whole humanity pursuant to the saying of Allah (SWT): “Whoever saves a life, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely” (Q5: 32).
Not praying Tarawih in the mosque does not mean not praying it at all. There is no evidence to support the thought that praying it at home with your family members is less rewarding than praying it in the mosque with other people. When the Prophet didn’t show up for Tarawih in the mosque after haven led it for three days, no evidence suggested that he didn’t pray it at home either.
All these put together, a Muslim should not neglect the Tarawih prayer. If he cannot pray it with the imam in the mosque, then he should pray it at home whether or not he has the family to pray with. If he cannot pray eleven Rak’ats then he should pray as much as he can, even if it is only two Rak’ats and the Witr.
Like all other well-meaning Muslims, I believe it is painful to preach this option, but I also believe it will be more painful to be the cause of the death of people knowingly.
Allah knows best.
Assalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakaatuhu
Prince Kola Ismail Oyekola Cares.