Itikaf, variously anglicized as Itikaaf, I’tikaf, I'tikaaf or E'tikaaf, in the islamic context refers to going into seclusion in the mosque for the sole purpose of worshipping Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) and attaching oneself and one’s heart to His worship for a short period of time. During Ramadan, Itikaf is normally 10 days, but can than this or much less. Itikaf provides an opportunity to the Mutakif (one who observes Itikaf) to devote himself during this time to worship, leaving aside worldly affairs, to get closer to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) by temporarily freeing oneself and one’s mind from the activities and worries of this world. Itikaf is a Sunnah that is normally practiced during Ramadan.
The practice of itikaf is evidenced in the Quran and Sunnah, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) tells us in the Quran:
“... and We commanded Ibraaheem (Abraham) and Ismaa’eel (Ishmael) that they should purify My House (the Ka‘bah at Makkah) for those who are circumambulating it, or staying (itikaf), or bowing or prostrating themselves (there, in prayer)” [al-Baqarah 2:125]
“And do not have sexual relations with them (your wives) while you are in itikaf (i.e. confining oneself in a mosque for prayers and invocations leaving the worldly activities) in the mosques” [al-Baqarah 2:187]
It is narrated from Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا), that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to observe itikaf during the last ten days of Ramadan until Allah took his soul, then his wives observed itikaf after he was gone. [Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2026; Muslim, 1172]. This shows that itikaf can be done by both men or women.
itikaf in the mosque is an act of worship, and (observing it) in Ramadan is more rewarding though it can be done during the month Ramadan or outside of the month of Ramadan.
Ruling on Itikaf
Itikaf is Sunnah, and is not obligatory, unless you make a vow to do it, in which case it becomes obligatory for you due to the saying of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): “Whoever vows to obey Allah, let him obey Him, and whoever vows to disobey Him, let him not disobey Him.” [al-Bukhari, 6696]. and Umar (رضي الله عنه) said: “O Messenger of Allah, during the Jahiliyyah [days of Ignorance, i.e. before Islam] I vowed to observe itikaf for one night in al-Masjid al-Haraam.” He said: “Fulfil your vow.” [al Bukhari, 6697].
It is prescribed to observe itikaf in a mosque in which prayers in congregation are held, so that mutakif may take part in the congregational prayers. If the mutakif is one of those for whom Jumah, Friday prayer, is obligatory and the period of his itikaf will include a Friday, it is better for him to stay in a mosque where Jumah prayer is observed.
Fasting is not a condition of performing itikaf, though when done in Ramadan, the mutakif will be fasting.
Whilst in a state of itikaf, it is from the Sunnah that the mutakif not visit any sick person during his itikaf, or to accept any invitation, attend to his family’s needs, attend any funeral or go to work outside the mosque, because it was proven from Aishah (رضی اللہ عنھا) that: “The Sunnah for the mutakif is not to visit any sick person, or attend any funeral, or touch or be intimate with any woman, or go out for any reason except those which cannot be avoided.” Narrated by Abu Dawood, 2473].
During Ramadan, the basic goal of the Prophet’s itikaf was to seek Laylat al-Qadr, night of Decree. It is narated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (رضي الله عنه) that: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) observed itikaf during the first ten days of Ramadan, then he observed itikaf during the middle ten days in a small tent at the door of which was a reed mat. He took the mat in his hand and lifted it. Then he put his head out and spoke to the people, and they came close to him. He said: “I observed itikaf during the first ten days seeking this night, then I observed itikaf during the middle ten days. Then someone came and said to me that it is in the last ten days, so whoever among you wishes to observe itikaf let him do so.” So the people observed itikaf with him. [Muslim (1167)]
From this hadeeth we learn that:
- The basic goal of the itikaf of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was to seek Laylat al-Qadr and to prepare to spend that night in worship. That is because of the great virtue of that night of which Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: “The Night of Al‑Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months (i.e. worshipping Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) in that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months, i.e. 83 years and 4 months)” [al-Qadr 97:3].
- The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) strove to seek that night before he was told when it is. He started with the first ten days, then he observed it during the middle ten, then he continued to observe itikaf during the last ten days, when he was told that it is in the last ten days. He did his utmost to seek Laylat al-Qadr.
- The Sahabah, Companions (رضی اللہ عنھم) followed the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم), because they started itikaf and continued with him until the end of the month, because they were so keen to follow his example.
- The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was compassionate towards his companions and showed mercy to them, because he knew that itikaf was difficult for them. So he gave them the choice between staying with him or of leaving, and said: “…so whoever among you wishes to observe itikaf let him do so.”
Seeking Laylat al Qadr is the greatest aim of doing itikaf, the other aims are:
- Being alone with Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) and cutting oneself off from people if possible, so that one may focus completely on Allah (سبحانه و تعالى).
- Renewing oneself spiritual by focusing totally on Allah (سبحانه و تعالى).
- Cutting oneself off completely in order to worship Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) with prayer, dua, dhikr and reading Quran.
- Protecting one’s fast from everything that may affect it of whims and desires.
- Reducing permissible worldly pleasures and refraining from many of them even though one is able to enjoy them.
There is a hadeeth which says that “There is no itikaf except in the three mosques” referring to Masjid al Haram in Makkah, Masjid an Nabaweeh in Madeenah and Masjid al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Concering this hadeeth Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (رحمه الله) wrote in al-Sharh al-Mumti‘ (6/504): It is Sunnah to observe itikaf in any mosque in the world, not only in the three mosques, as it was narrated from Hudhayfah ibn al-Yamaan (رضي الله عنه) that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “There is no itikaf except in the three mosques.” This is a da‘eef (weak) hadeeth. From this we learn that it is permissible to do itikaf in any mosque, not just the tree mosques.