Itikaf: A pious Islamic practice

Holy Ramadhan is the month of immense blessings. The concluding ashra (ten days) of Ramadhan reap maximum blessings than the preceding twenty days of it. It encompasses the Night of High Degree (Laylatul Qadr). Observing fast in the month of Ramadhan is the third pillar of imaan and is obligatory on every Muslim (except a few) . Muslims offer Taraweeh (night prayers) and other additional prayers apart from mandatory Salaat. Holy Quran is extensively recited. Charity is practiced and promoted and most pay obligatory Zakat to appreciate rewards from ALLAH SWT. In addition to all these deeds, they also observe Itikaf. Prophet PBUH used to perform Itikaf for ten days in Ramadhan, and in his last year; he performed it for twenty days. (Bukhari)

A worship to gain proximity to Allah SWT

Itikaf is a pious Islamic practice consisting of a period of retreat in a masjid with the niyyah of Itikaf for the sake of Allah SWT, for a certain number of days in accordance with the Shariah. The purpose of such stay in the masjid is worship (ibadah) and to gain proximity to Allah SWT. It is most common during the month of Ramadan, especially the last ten days. It has been designed in a way that a Muslim secludes himself from the entire world and retreats to a masjid in remembrance of Allah SWT. It was practiced before advent of Islam. Allah SWT says, “and We charged Abraham and Ishmael, (saying), Purify My House for those who perform tawaf and those who are staying (there) for worship and those who bow and prostrate (in prayer)” [Al Baqarah 2:125]. Maryam, the mother of Isa (peace be upon them) would seclude in the masjid. Allah SWT says, “Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision” [Al Imran 3:37]. No virtue about Itikaf has been mentioned in Quran or Sunnah except that the Prophet PBUH used to perform it every year in Ramadhan. And the year which he could not perform it, he compensated it with twenty days in the following year and that was the year in which he died (Bukhari, Muslim and others).

Following are some of the salient matters regarding Itikaf:

* Itikaf is Sunnah as the Prophet PBUH mentioned, “He who wishes to perform itikaf, may perform it” (Bukhari, Muslim) except if someone vows upon himself then it becomes compulsory on him.

* Itikaf can be performed anytime throughout the year, but it is best when performed during the end of Ramadhan. Prophet PBUH used to perform at the end of Ramadhan, a practice which he continued until his lifetime.

* He who wishes to perform Itikaf in Ramadhan has to enter his place in masjid after the Maghreb prayer of 21st and his Itikaf ends with the end of Ramadhan after Maghreb.

* Itikaf can only be performed in the Masjid. Women who wish to observe Itikaf should also perform it in Masjid. The wives of the Prophet PBUH used to perform Itikaf in the Masjid even after the death of the Prophet PBUH (Bukhari, Muslim)

* A person in Itikaf should not leave the Masjid for any worldly reasons until he completes his Itikaf. Albeit he is allowed to leave for eating, or to go to lavatory, or to take bath and the likes if these are not facilitated in the Masjid premises.

* The mutakif (person in Itikaf) is allowed to talk to his relatives and friends for a short time. Indulging in talk for a long time will negate the essence of Itikaf. If his wife comes to meet him in the Masjid, then he is allowed to meet her and also escort her (if required). Safiyyah RA came to meet the Prophet PBUH when he was in his Itikaf, and then he accompanied her to her house (Bukhari).

* Having sexual intercourse with wife nullifies Itikaf. Allah SWT says: “ And do not have relations with them as long as you are staying for worship in the mosques. These are the limits [set by] Allah , so do not approach them” [Al Baqarah 2:187]. Likewise going out of the Masjid for no appropriate reason and remaining outside for a long time, annuls Itikaf. These are probably the only two halal matters that in fact invalidate Itikaf. Apart from these all haram or greater sins undermines this pious ibadah.

One of the biggest advantage of performing Itikaf in the last ten days of Ramadhan is that the performer will no doubt be blessed with observance the Laylatul Qadr; a night which is better than thousand months. Ten days of life might change our soul as we seclude ourselves from the melancholic and disturbed world, and endow our soul solely for the worship and remembrance of The Almighty Lord.