In “al-Insaf” by Imam al-Mardawi, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah is quoted as saying that there is flexibility with regards to the different opinions on how many raka’at tarawih prayer is, and that this is what Imam Ahmad said.
As a side note, this should strengthen our understanding that there is no inkar, no unwavering fiqh construct that only one way is the right way. So whether people pray eight or twenty raka’at, let this not be a means for division as this is all good. May Allah accept our raka’at no matter the number.
Our shaykh Walid ibn Idris al-Minisi commented on this citation al-Mardawi cites from ibn Taymiyyah and adds further elaboration in today’s contemporary context saying
“هذا رد على بعض المتعصبين يزعمون أن صلاة ١١ ركعة خروج عن المذاهب الأربعة وبدعة ابتدعها السلفيون المعاصرون ، فكلام أحمد وكلام شيخ الإسلام يبين أن المذهب الحنبلي فيه سعة في عدد الركعات وأن الاقتصار على ١١ ركعة في التراويح قول معتبر داخل المذهب يحوز تقليده والعمل به .”
Translated by shaykh Ahmed Khater
Our Sheikh, may Allah preserve him, said above:
“This is a refutation of some of the extreme partisans claiming that praying eleven raka’at goes outside of the four schools and is an innovation that the latter-day Salafis came up with. Rather the words of Ahmad and Shaykh al-Islam clarify that the Hanbali madhhab has flexibility with regards to the number of raka’at and that only praying eleven raka’at in tarawih is an acceptable opinion within the school that is allowed to be followed and acted upon.”
Among the great hanafi jurists that have explained that taraweh is actually of 8 raka’at are ibnul-Humam in his Fath al-Qadir, Badru-Deen al-Ayni al-Hanafi in his ‘Umdatul-Qari, ibn Najim al-Hanafi in his al-Bahar ar-Raqa’iq, ibn Abidin in his Radd al-Mukhtar, Abul-Hasan ash-Shurunbul’ali al-Hanafi in his Maraqi al-Falah, Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Mullah Ali al-Qari, Abdul-Hayy al-Luknawi, Abu J’afar at-Tahawi, Ashraf Ali Thanvi ad-Deobandi and many others from within and outside of the deoband tradition.
Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri Deobandi writes
“Ibnul-Humam has written 8 raka’at to be sunnah and more than that as mustahab, so this saying is NOT criticizable”
[Source: Barahin Qati’iya: 18]
Generally, the Shafi’is have accepted the sunnah of the khulafa ar-Rashidun of performing 20 raka’at
However, shafi’i scholars and Imam ash-Shafi’i had made it a vital point that the number of raka’at has never been stipulated in the sunnah. To the point, this is what Imam Shaf’ee رحمه الله said after saying 20 is better
أذهب إلى عشرون ركعة قال: وليس في شيء من هنا حد ينتهي إليه؛ لأنه نافلة فإن أطالوا القيام وأقلوا السجود فحسن، وهو أحب إلي، وإن أكثروا الركوع فحسن.
There is no problem in this (prayer) and there is no limit, because this is nafil prayer, If raka’at are less and Qiyam is long then it is good and I like this view, and if there are more raka’at even that is good.
[Mukhtasar Qiyamul-Layl al-Marudhi p.222]
There exist some ikhtilaf among the Malikis, the majority of later Malikis supporting 20 raka’at. However, there is ikhtilaf between 11 (8+3witr), 20, and 36, and in one opinion, 39
Imam Abdul-Haqq ash-Shabili quotes two diverging sayings of Malik رحمه الله on the topic. In one version he quotes the stance of the majority of the people of knowledge that it is 11. He quotes Malik saying
الذي آخذ به لنفسي في قيام رمضان هو الذي جمع به عمر بن الخطاب الناس إحدىٰ عشرة ركعة وهي صلاة رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم و لا أدري من أحدث هذا الركوع الكثير
I choose 11 raka’at of standing in Ramadhan and Umar bin al-Khattab gathered people on this prayer and this is the prayer of Messenger of Allah ﷺ , and I don’t know from where people innovated these so many more Rak’ah
However, I find this report troubling in content and by juxtaposing it by other evidences because firstly, this does not sound like speech that Malik would say by declaring a non identifiable issue as bid’a UNLESS he looked at the reports relaying 8 raka’at as only authentic and the rest as lacking the strength of authenticity, which is typically how ahlul-hadith scholars from varying madhabib operated on this particular issue. Moreover, this contradicts other widely reported athar of Umar establishing 20, even thoigh there is disagreement on these reports. Lastly, this seems to contradict another citation from Malik that ash-Shabili directly quotes after citing this narration. He quotes from Ibnul-Qasim that Malik said tarawih is actually 36 raka’at.
Qadhi Abu Bakr ibnul-Arabi al-Maliki رحمه الله said:
والصحيح أن يصلي إحدى عشرة ركعة صلاة النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وقيامه ، فأما غير ذلك من الأعداد فلا أصل له ولا حدّ فيه
And the correct (view) is that 11 raka’at should be prayed. This was the prayer and qiyam of the prophet ﷺ. Any numbers apart from that has no reality in it or clear definition to it.
[عارضة الأحوذي 4/19 ح806]
Imam al-Qurtubi رحمه الله says of this
وقال كثير من أهل العلم :إحدىٰ عشرة ركعة أخذاً بحديث عائشة
A large number of people of knowledge have said that it is 11 raka’at and the evidence is the hadith of Aisha”
[Al-Mufim min Talkhis Kitab Sahih Muslim 2/390]
Contrary to modern and popular manhajification of opinion among madhabists and anti madhahibists, there is no set number that would or should warrant hereticating a diverging view and the view of 8 raka’at is just as valid and somewhat practiced in history as opposed to this new phenomenon madhabist would like to portray to the innocent bystander mustafti seeking clarification on how many they should pray, typically starting off with outrageous, egregious, or absurd statements like “realize 200 years ago, there was no two diverging opinions, everyone prayed 20 raka’at” or “anything other than 20 is a bid’a”. The shariah did not clearly define and this confine us to a specific number and even if we take into account the sahih ahadith relaying the 8 raka’at, the fact that this ibada is voluntary along with other diverging narrations entails that nobody can confine the matter to a specific number.