Usually, after a long year of hard work, studies and all such other commitments which generally drain our energy we tend to seek a calm and relaxing holiday to recuperate our energy and stamina. This is done with the intent of preparing for the following year and its forthcoming potential pressures and worrying responsibilities.
Likewise, due to our involvement in the daily mundane activities of life, our connection with Almighty Allāh, focus on the everlasting life of the hereafter, adherence to the Sunnah of Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم tends to dwindle. Therefore, just as our body demands a get-away to revitalize, likewise we need to revitalize our soul spiritually. For this purpose, Allāh Ta’ālā has made available the best retreat possible, during the best time of the year…and that is: I’tikaf during the last ten days of Ramaḍān.
What is I’tikāf?
‘I’tikāf’ is to seclude oneself in the Masjid, with the express intention (Niyyah) of ‘I’tikāf’.
Types of I’tikāf:
According to the Hanafi school of thought, I’tikāf may be of three different types:
- Wājib I’tikāf (obligatory)
I’tikāf becomes compulsory when a person makes it obligatory upon himself. For example, when a person makes a vow to Allāh Ta’ālā that if a certain wish of his is fulfilled, he shall perform so many days of ‘I’tikāf’, in this case, the moment his wish is fulfilled, I’tikāf becomes compulsory. Or a person may just make an unconditional vow, whereby he makes I’tikāf obligatory upon himself for a certain number of days; this becomes Wājib for him from that moment onwards.
- Sunnah I’tikāf
This was the general practice of Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم . It means to seclude oneself in the Masjid for the last ten days of Ramaḍān.
- Nafl I’tikāf
For the third category i.e. Nafl I’tikāf, no special time and no specific number of days are fixed. A person may make a Niyyah (intention) for any number of days at any time, even for his whole life.In view of the above, it is advisable that everyone entering the Masjid to join the congregational prayer should, on entering the Masjid, make the Niyyah of ‘I’tikāf’, in that case it means that as long as he remains busy with Salāh, Dhikr, listening to lectures or sermons, he also receives reward for the I’tikāf. The virtues and rewards of I’tikāf are limitless as indicated by the fact that Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم always performed I’tikāf.
The example of the Mu’takif (person sitting for I’tikāf) is that of a person who, having gone to a certain place to appeal for something, remains there until it is granted. When someone comes begging at our door and then refuses to leave until he is granted his request even the person with the hardest heart will eventually give in. How much more Merciful is Allāh Ta’ālā, and when someone persistently sits at His door, what doubt can there be in the fulfillment of his wishes.
Allāmah ibn Qayyim (Raḥimahullah), in explaining the significance of I’tikāf writes that the actual aim is to divert the heart away from everything except Allāh Ta’ālā, and to achieve the closeness of Allāh, thereby forming a complete spiritual connection with the Creator. All worldly connections are thus cut off, for the sake of gaining Allāh’s attention and pleasure; all thoughts, desires, love and devotion are focused towards Allāh Ta’ālā only. As a result, an attachment and bond with Allāh is attained – a love and friendship that will be the only support in loneliness of the grave.
Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم said: “The reward for performing I’tikāf during the last ten days of Ramaḍān is equivalent to two Hajj and two Umrah. (Bayhaqi)
Imām Zuhri (Raḥimahullah) has mentioned that since Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم migrated to Madīnah Munawwarah, every Ramaḍān he would observe I’tikaf during the last ten days of Ramaḍān until his demise.
Amongst the objectives of I’tikaf is also to seek Laylatul Qadr (the night of power) and to spend it in the servitude and glorification of Allāh Ta’ālā. It is because of the great virtues of this night that Allāh states:
“The Night of Al‑Qadr is better than a thousand months (i.e. worshipping Allāh in that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months, i.e. 83 years and 4 months)”
Sayyidinā Abu Sa’eed Khudri (r.a) reports that Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم once performed ‘I’tikāf’ in a tent (inside the Masjid) for the first ten days of Ramaḍān. Thereafter, he extended it to the middle ten days. Thereafter, he placed his head out of the tent and said: “Verily in search of ‘Laylatul Qadr’ did I perform I’tikāf for the first ten days and then I extended it to the next ten days for the same purpose; then I was told that this night is in the last ten days; so those with me should also continue the I’tikaf. Indeed, I have been shown that night and then made to forget which one it shall be. And verily I saw myself prostrating to Allāh with my forehead in mud on the morning after that night. Therefore, seek ‘Laylatul Qadr’ among the last ten nights of Ramaḍān; seek it among the odd ones.”
Where to perform I’tikāf
The most virtuous place for I’tikāf is the Masjid al-Harām in Makkah Mukarramah, and then Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah Munawwarah, and then Baitul Muqaddas. Thereafter, comes the Jāmiah Masjid in one’s own city, and last but not least, the Masjid nearest to one’s home.
The above applies to menfolk. As for the womenfolk, they should perform I’tikāf in the prayer room (Masjid set aside in their homes). However, if no such demarcated place exists, any one room or part of the house should be set aside for this purpose. I’tikāf is thus in fact an easier task for women. Domestic duties can be performed by daughters or servants under her supervision. The woman in I’tikāf is still rewarded for all those tasks. It is so unfortunate that, in spite of this relative ease, our womenfolk still remain deprived of the blessings of I’tikāf.
A virtuous Ḥadīth
Sayyidinā Ibn Abbās (r.a) relates that Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم said: “The person performing I’tikāf remains free from sins, and he is indeed given the same reward as those who do righteous deeds (in spite of not having done these deeds) as a result of having been secluded in the Masjid.” (Ibn Mājāh)
This Ḥadīth highlights two great benefits of I’tikāf. First, one avoids sin. The environment around us is full of temptations and very often one falls prey to sin inadvertly. To commit sin in the blessed month of Ramaḍān is indeed tantamount to depriving ourselves of the untold promised bounties of our Creator. Through I’tikāf, one completely avoids the temptation to sin.
Secondly, it would appear outwardly that, when one is secluded in the Masjid, one is apparently at a disadvantage by not being able to perform certain good deeds like attending funeral prayers, burials, visiting the sick, etc. Therefore, according to this Ḥadīth, one is rewarded for these deeds in spite of not performing them. What a great favour from Allāh Ta’ālā! How great is Allāh’s bounty!
Rasūlullah صلى الله عليه و سلم said: “whoever stays awake in the worship of Allāh Ta’ālā on the following nights shall enter Jannah:
- Laylatul Tarwiyah (the night after the seventh of Dhil Hijjah)
- Laylatul Arafah (the night after the eight Dhil Hijjah)
- Laylatun Nahr (the night after the ninth day of Dhil Hijjah)
- The night preceding Eidul Fitr
- The Night preceding the 15th of Sha’ban.
The Jurists of Islam have written that it is “Mustahab” (desirable) to remain in Ibādah on the nights of both Eids. Imām al-Shāfi’ī (Raḥimahullah) is reported to have said that prayers are answered on the nights preceding Friday (the night of Jumuah), the nights of the two Eids and on the night preceding the fifteenth of Sha’bān.
What to do in I’tikāf?
- Recite the Quran Sharīf abundantly; if one cannot recite the Qurān, I’tikaf is the ideal opportunity to start learning
- Engage in the remembrance of Allāh Ta’ālā
- Recite Durood Sharīf abundantly
- Participate in collective activities, such as lectures, Ta’leem, Dhikr etc.
- Try to read each Salāh with the Takbīr al-Tahrīmah ( first Takbīr)
- Perform optional Salāh such as Tahajjud, Ishrāq, Chāst, Awwābīn etc..
- Learn a few extra Surahs of the Qurān Sharīf
- Learn the basic Masā’il of Deen, such as the Masā’il of Tahārah, Salāh, Zakāh etc.
- Beware of unnecessary socializing
- Beware of backbiting, slandering, etc.
- Do not inconvenience other Mu’takifīn ( people performing I’tikāf)
One cannot possibly enumerate all the great advantages and benefits of I’tikāf. In actual fact, what takes place in I’tikāf is that the heart is drawn away from everything else except the Creator, while the soul is actually laid at His door-step. At all times, one remains in the state of ‘Ibādah’, even when asleep; one is still in His worship striving for His proximity.
Allāh says : “Whoever draws near to Me (the length of) one hand, then I draw nearer to him (the length of) two hands, and whoever draws near to Me by walking, I draw nearer to him by running.”
Alhamdulillah, we are extremely blessed to have Masājid catering for I’tikāf throughout our respective countries. We should all endeavour to take utmost benefit, even if it is a few nights or the weekends only.