بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والصلاة والسلام على رسوله الكريم
Last Ramadan, I wrote a piece debunking the Shiite allegation that we Sunni Muslims are guilty of an innovation in the Religion by offering the well-known Tarawih prayer in this sacred month. The gist of the Shiite argument is that Qiyam al-Layl (the night vigil prayer) is supererogatory, and it an innovation to offer supererogatory prayers in congregation. As I wrote in that article last year, the premise of this argument is false because the Prophet (peace be upon him) did indeed lead certain of his companions in supererogatory prayers. But before I cite any examples from the Hadith, I wish to bring to the reader's attention the saying of Allah Most High in the Holy Quran:
إِنَّ رَبَّكَ يَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ تَقُومُ أَدْنَىٰ مِن ثُلُثَيِ اللَّيْلِ وَنِصْفَهُ وَثُلُثَهُ وَطَائِفَةٌ مِّنَ الَّذِينَ مَعَكَ
Indeed, your Lord knows, [O My Prophet], that you stand [in prayer] almost two thirds of the night or half of it or a third of it, and [so do] a group of those with you.
In explanation of the Words "and [so do] a group of those with you" al-Fayruzabadi writes in hisTafsir:
وجماعة من المؤمنين معك في الصلاة
"A jama'a [congregation] among the Believers with you in the Salat"
يعني المؤمنين وكانوا يقومون معه
"That is, the Believers, and they stood [in prayer] with him"
Similarly, the great exegete al-Khazin wrote:
يعني المؤمنين، وكانوا يقومون معه الليل
"That is, the Believers, and they stood [in prayer] with him [in] the night"
These explanations are quite clear that a group of the Believers used to stand along with the Prophet (sall Allahu alaihi wasallam) in Qiyam al-Lail, a proof for its validity in congregation from the holy Quran itself.
As for the Sunna, sayyidina Ibn Abbas (radi Allahu anhuma) narrates:
"I stayed overnight in the house of my aunt, Maimuna, the Prophet (sall Allahu alaihi wasallam) slept for a part of the night, and late in the night, he got up and performed ablution from a hanging water skin, a light (perfect) ablution and stood up for the prayer. I, too, performed a similar ablution, then I went and stood on his left. He drew me to his right and prayed as much as Allah wished." (Sahih al-Bukhari #138)
Likewise, sayyidina Ibn Mas'ud (radi Allahu anhu) narrates:
صَلَّيْتُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَأَطَالَ
I prayed with Allah's Apostle blessing of Allah and peace be upon him, and he lengthened [the prayer]
As for the suggestion that it was the Prophet's second successor, sayyidina Umar (radi Allahu anhu), who initiated the innovation of praying the Qiyam al-Lail in congregation during Ramadan, the narration from which such a suggestion is apparently based disproves it. That is the Hadith of Abdir Rahman b. Abdin al-Qariyy, who narrates:
خَرَجْتُ مَعَ عُمَرَ بْنِ الْخَطَّابِ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ لَيْلَةً فِي رَمَضَانَ، إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ، فَإِذَا النَّاسُ أَوْزَاعٌ مُتَفَرِّقُونَ يُصَلِّي الرَّجُلُ لِنَفْسِهِ، وَيُصَلِّي الرَّجُلُ فَيُصَلِّي بِصَلاَتِهِ الرَّهْطُ
I went out in the company of Umar bin al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups. A man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. (Sahih al-Bukhari)
So even before sayyidina Umar (radi Allahu anhu) apparently organized the first Tarawih prayer, the people were offering the Qiyam al-Lail in congregation, albeit in small, multiple groups. Sayyidina Umar only organized them behind a single imam, into a single congregation. And this was his ijtihad, to which none of the other Companions objected, therefore, its validity has the backing of concensus of the Umma at that time. Of course, if the Muslims today wish to revert to praying in multiple small groups at the mosque for Qiyam al-Lail in Ramadan, that too is fine, but the general practice of us Sunni Muslims is to pray this prayer in a single congregation behind a single imam during Ramadan.