The meaning of I’tikaaf is to seclude oneself in the Masjid with the express intention (niyyah) of I’tikaaf, for the remembrance of Allah, even though for a few seconds only.
OBJECTS AND ADVANTAGES OF I’TIKAAF
The reward of I’tikaaf is great. The mere fact that Rasulullah SAW always performed it is sufficient to explain the virtues that are attached to it. The example of the one that resides in the Masjid in I’tikaaf is like the person, who having gone to a high personage to appeal for his needs, remains there until it is granted. He thus says to Allah: ‘0 Allah, I have placed my humble request before You, and have faith in Your generosity, and I shall not move from here until my request is granted by You’. When someone comes begging at our door and then refuses to leave until his request is granted, it is certain that even the most selfish person will eventually accede to one’s request and how much more merciful is Allah.
Allama ibn Qayyim, on explaining the significance of I’tikaaf writes that the actual aim of this seclusion is to free the heart from everything else except Allah and to join it with Him alone, thereby forming a complete spiritual link with the Creator. All worldly connections are thus cut off for the sake of gaining Allah’s special attention and favour. All thoughts, desires, love and devotion become centred on Allah alone. As a reward for this effort Allah’s love is attained; a love and friendship that will be the only companion in the loneliness of the grave. When a person has established this relationship then who can possibly imagine the great ecstasy with which that time of the grave will be spent.
The author of Maraqi’ul Falaah writes that I’tikaaf, when correctly and sincerely performed, is a most virtuous deed. One cannot enumerate all the great advantages and benefits in it. In actual fact, what takes place in I’tikaaf, is that the heart is drawn away from everything else except Allah, the Creator, while our whole life, in reality, is laid down at His doorstep. In every moment of I’tikaaf one remains in Ibaadah. Even when asleep, one is still in His service, striving for nearness to Him. Allah says (according to the Hadith): “Whoever draws near to Me an arm’s length, then I draw nearer to him two arm lengths, and whoever draws nearer to Me by walking, I draw nearer to him by running”. It is also deduced from the various Ahaadith that one of the major objects of I’tikaaf during Ramadhan is to search for Laylatul Qadr. What better manner can there be than to remain in Ibaadah at all times, whether one is awake or asleep, to obtain the reward of over 83 years and 4 months. Furthermore, in I’tikaaf one is free from all daily tasks and thus has all the time to devote to Zikrullah (remembrance of Allah) and meditation.
VIRTUES OF I’TIKAAF
To quote all the virtues of I’tikaaf here will lengthen this chapter needlessly, however a few Ahaadith should suffice.
Ibn Abbas RA relates that Rasulullah SAW. said: “The person performing I’tikaaf remains free from sins, and he is indeed given the same reward as all those who do righteous deeds. (in spite of not having done those deeds as a result of having been secluded in the Masjid)”. By remaining secluded in the Masjid during the last ten days of Ramadhan, one completely avoids falling into unintentional evil acts, and by this seclusion if one does miss an opportunity for any good deeds such as Janaazah Salaah, attending to burials, visiting the sick etc., one is rewarded for these deeds without performing them.
Ibn Abbas RA relates in another lengthy Hadith that Rasulullah SAW said: “Whoever sets forth in the way of settling a necessary affair on behalf of his brother, that service shall be better for him than to perform I’tikaaf for ten years, and whomsoever performs I’tikaaf for a day, thereby seeking the pleasure of Allah, Allah will open three trenches between him and the fire of hell, the width of each trench being the distance between heaven and earth”. (Tabrani, Bayhaqi).
In `Kashful Ghumma’, Allama Sha’raani RA relates a Hadith wherein Rasulullah SAW said: “Whoever performs I’tikaaf for the final ten days of Ramadhan, for him is the reward of two Hajj and two Umrahs, and whoever performs I’tikaaf from Maghrib until Eshaa doing nothing else except performing salaah and reciting the Qur’aan, Allah will prepare a place for him in Jannah”.
CONDITIONS OF I’TIKAAF
The following are conditions of I’tikaaf:
- To be a Muslim.
- To be sane.
- To be Paak and in a state of cleanliness.
- To perform I’tikaaf in a Masjid (for males).
- To form the intention (niyyah) of I’tikaaf.
- To fast; for Waajib and Sunnah I’tikaaf.
Note: Women may observe I’tikaaf in the home. It is not necessary to have reached the age of puberty to observe I’tikaaf, therefore an intelligent child (male or female) may observe I’tikaaf.
TYPES OF I’TIKAAF
There are three types of I’tikaaf:
I’tikaaf becomes compulsory when a person makes it obligatory upon himself, viz: When a person makes a vow of thanksgiving to Allah that if Allah fulfils a certain wish of his, he will perform so many days I’tikaaf. In this case, the moment his wish is fulfilled, I’tikaaf becomes compulsory, or a person may merely make an unconditional vow whereby he makes I’tikaaf Waajib upon himself for a certain number of days. This becomes a duty on him from that moment onwards. A Waajib I’tikaaf cannot be for less than one day and one night and has to be performed while fasting, irrespective of whether the fast is specifically for this purpose or not. If the niyyah is for several days then the same number of nights will also have to be spent in I’tikaaf. The I’tikaaf will thus begin before sunset and terminate at sunset after the avowed number of days have been completed. The night precedes the day in Islamic reckoning. The intention (niyyah) for Waajib I’tikaaf must be pronounced, mere mental niyyah is not sufficient. If this Waajib I’tikaaf was begun for particular days, and is nullified during the course of performing this rite, then the Qadhaa for the remaining number of days only will be observed.
This I’tikaaf was observed by Rasulullah SAW in every year of his stay at Madina Munawwarah. This I’tikaaf means to seclude oneself inside the Masjid for the last ten days of Ramadhan. This I’tikaaf is Sunnatul Mu’akkadah Alal Kifayah; that is if a few persons from the locality observe it, the rest will be exempted. If no one observes it then all the Muslims of that area will be sinful in neglecting this Sunnah. The niyyah for Sunnah I’tikaaf is that a firm intention should be made for this purpose before the sun sets on the 20th Ramadhan in the Masjid that is chosen. It terminates at sunset if the crescent is sighted on the 29th or on the 30th Ramadhan. According to some Ulama there is no Qadhaa for this I’tikaaf if it is interrupted for any reason. Others are of the opinion that the Qadhaa should be observed. Therefore, to be cautious, Qadhaa of the remaining days should be observed.
There is no special time or specific number of days for Nafl I’tikaaf. A person may form the niyyah for any number of days at any time of the year, even for his whole life. While Imaam Abu Hanifah RA states that it cannot be for less than a full day, Imaam Muhammad RA estates that there is no limit as the minimum period of time. It could even be for just a few seconds. There is no fast for this Itikaaf. It is desirable for anyone entering a Masjid to make the niyyah for I’tikaaf as long as he will remain in the Masjid. So while he is in Ibaadah he also gains the reward of I’tikaaf. It is advisable for everyone who comes to join the jamaat prayers to form a niyyah of I’tikaaf on entering the Masjid. This will mean that as long as he remains busy with salaah, Zikr, listening to religious lectures etc. he also receives the reward for I’tikaaf. There is no Qadhaa for Nafl I’tikaaf. Supposing the niyyah for an hours Nafl l’tikaaf is made and only fifteen minutes are spent in the Masjid, the I’tikaaf will terminate at the time of leaving the Masjid.
WHERE TO PERFORM I’TIKAAF
The place with the most reward for I’tikaaf is the Masjidul Haraam in Mecca. The next most remunerative is the Masjidun Nabawi in Madina Munawwarah; and then follows Baitul Muqaddas in Jerusalem. Thereafter, comes the Jaame Masjid in one’s own town; and, last but not the least, the Masjid nearest to one’s home. Imaam Abu Hanifah RA stipulates that the Masjid should be one wherein the five daily prayers are performed, while Imam Abu Yousuf RA and Imaam Muhammad RA are agreed that any Masjid according to the Shariah can be entered for I’tikaaf.
I’TIKAAF FOR FEMALES
Females should perform l’tikaaf in their homes. I’tikaaf is a much easier task for women, for in fact she remains in the confines of her room at home and receives the same great rewards of I’tikaaf. It is very unfortunate that inspite of this ease, some women still remain deprived of the blessings of I’tikaaf. Generally, this Sunnah is neglected, so much so, that many have not even heard of it!
(Extracted from a lengthy article by Ulama.)