Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: Is it permissible for me to pray eight rakats of tarawih? Twenty seems like so much.
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful
The confirmed sunna in the Hanafi school, in fact in all the 4 schools, is to pray 20 rakats for tarawih. Many great scholars consider there to be scholarly consensus (ijma`) of the Companions regarding this.
Don’t think of them as 20. Think of it simply as 5 sets of 4. It doesn’t take more than a quarter of an hour. If you cannot pray 20 lengthy rakats, pray 20 brief rakats. Also, you don’t have to pray all 20 at once, you can spread them out over the night.
The important thing is: pray them. Motivate yourself at various levels:
1. Do it out of love for Allah, and out of thanks for the gift of guidance, faith, and clarity of vision in life. Do it out of gratitude for the gift that is al-Mustafa [the Chosen One, our Prophet Muhammad] (Allah bless him & give him peace), and his sunna, which is the clear path to success in this life and the next. How do we express our thanks and gratefulness? With the worship He has demanded from us. What can one do with the Beloved’s demands but obey them?
2. Think of the great reward in this: The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Whoever stands in prayer in Ramadan, out of faith and seeking its reward, shall have all their past sins forgiven.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, and others]
3. Give yourself little ‘rewards’ as reinforcements, to get your nafs to go along, such as snacks you like, etc… Or that if you pray all 20 for three days in a row, you get yourself xyz…
4. Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) said that the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) said,
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, though there is good in both. Be avid for that which benefits you. Rely on Allah and do not deem yourself incapable…” [Muslim 4816, Ibn Majah 76, Ahmad 8436]
Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) explained that the strength in this hadith refers to, “One’s determination and ability in matters of the next life.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim]
The early Muslims (salaf) used to warn, “This matter is your deen [religion or way of life], so be careful as to whom you take your deen from.”
At the same time, if one is absolutely unable to pray 20 rakats, then one should do what one can, because, “That which one cannot do completely should not be left completely,” as the scholars explain. However, one should be remorseful, because one is leaving a confirmed sunna of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).