A spiritual retreat: Itikaf in Ramadan

​​Abdul Muqtadir, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada

Meaning of the word i‘tikaf

I‘tikaf is a spiritual practice in Islam where a person secludes themselves in a mosque for a period of time, typically during the last ten days of Ramadan, to focus on their bond with Allah, worship and spiritual reflection.

The word I‘tikaf means to stay in one place, restrain oneself, or remain in a specific location for the purpose of devotion. Thus, in the Five Volume Commentary, in light of i‘tikaf, we read:

“عاکفین (who remain for devotion) is the plural of عاکف which is derived from عکف. They say عکف فی المکان i.e. he remained confined to a place, sticking to it. الاعتکاف and العکوف are words denoting a specified form of religious service in which the worshipper stays within the precincts of a mosque for a number of days which he passes in prayer and devotion (Aqrab & Mufradat).” (Five Volume Commentary, Vol.1, p. 219)

Spiritual seclusion before Islam

In the Holy Quran, in light of the commandment given to Prophet Abrahamas and Ishmaelas, we read:

وَاِذۡ جَعَلۡنَا الۡبَیۡتَ مَثَابَۃً لِّلنَّاسِ وَاَمۡنًا ؕ وَاتَّخِذُوۡا مِنۡ مَّقَامِ اِبۡرٰہٖمَ مُصَلًّی ؕ وَعَہِدۡنَاۤ اِلٰۤی اِبۡرٰہٖمَ وَاِسۡمٰعِیۡلَ اَنۡ طَہِّرَا بَیۡتِیَ لِلطَّآئِفِیۡنَ وَالۡعٰکِفِیۡنَ وَالرُّکَّعِ السُّجُوۡدِ

“And [remember the time] when We made the House a resort for mankind and a [place of] security; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of Prayer. And We commanded Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], ‘Purify My House for those who perform the circuit and those who remain [therein] for devotion and those who bow down and fall prostrate in Prayer.’” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.128)

Further, regarding Mary, mother of Jesus, we read:

وَاذۡکُرۡ فِی الۡکِتٰبِ مَرۡیَمَ ۘ اِذِ انۡتَبَذَتۡ مِنۡ اَہۡلِہَا مَکَانًا شَرۡقِیًّا فَاتَّخَذَتۡ مِنۡ دُوۡنِہِمۡ حِجَابًا ۪۟ فَاَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡہَا رُوۡحَنَا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَہَا بَشَرًا سَوِیًّا

“And relate [the story of] Mary [as mentioned] in the Book. When she withdrew from her people to a place to the east, And screened herself off from them, then We sent Our angel to her, and he appeared to her in the form of a perfect man.” (Surah Maryam, Ch.19: V.17-18)

Another example of spiritual seclusion can be seen in the life of the Holy Prophetsa prior to prophethood. The Holy Prophetsa used to retreat to cave Hira, which was located on a mountain just outside the Haram area in Mecca. The cave of Hira was a secluded place where he would spend long periods of time in deep contemplation, meditation, and spiritual reflection. 

When to sit for i‘tikaf

The Holy Prophet’ssa usual practice during the last 10 days of Ramadan was to sit in a mosque for spiritual reflection, i.e., i‘tikaf. However, in the year he passed away, he extended this practice to 20 days of i‘tikaf. (Sahih al Bukhari, Kitab al-i‘tikaf, Hadith 2044).

Hazrat Abdullah ibn Umarra narrates:

كَانَ رَسُولُ اللّٰهِ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَعْتَكِفُ الْعَشْرَ الأَوَاخِرَ مِنْ رَمَضَانَ‏.

“The Holy Prophetsa used to practise i‘tikaf in the last ten days of the month of Ramadan.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-i‘tikaf, Hadith 2025)

Then, Hazrat Aishara, the wife of the Holy Prophetsa, narrates:

أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَانَ يَعْتَكِفُ الْعَشْرَ الأَوَاخِرَ مِنْ رَمَضَانَ حَتّى تَوَفَّاهُ اللّٰهُ، ثُمَّ اعْتَكَفَ أَزْوَاجُهُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ‏

“The Holy Prophetsa used to practise i‘tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan till he passed away and then his wives used to practise i‘tikaf after him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-i‘tikaf, Hadith 2026)

Further, we find a narration of Hazrat Abu Hurairahra:

كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَعْتَكِفُ فِي كُلِّ رَمَضَانَ عَشْرَةَ أَيَّامٍ، فَلَمَّا كَانَ الْعَامُ الَّذِي قُبِضَ فِيهِ اعْتَكَفَ عِشْرِينَ يَوْمًا‏.‏

“The Holy Prophetsa used to perform i‘tikaf every year in the month of Ramadan for 10 days, and when it was the year of his demise, he stayed in i‘tikaf for 20 days.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-i‘tikaf, Hadith 2044)


When to start i‘tikaf

The Holy Prophetsa used to perform i‘tikaf from the Fajr prayer of 20th Ramadan. Hence, the following is mentioned in a hadith. Hazrat Aishara narrates:

كَانَ رَسُولُ اللّٰهِ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِذَا أَرَادَ أَنْ يَعْتَكِفَ صَلَّى الْفَجْرَ ثُمَّ دَخَلَ فِي مُعْتَكَفِهِ

“When the Holy Prophetsa wanted to perform i‘tikaf, he would perform Fajr prayer and then he would enter his place of i‘tikaf.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al Soum an Rasulullahsa, 791)

Hazrat Aishara also narrates:

كَانَ رَسُولُ اللّٰهِ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِذَا أَرَادَ أَنْ يَعْتَكِفَ صَلَّى الصُّبْحَ ثُمَّ دَخَلَ فِي الْمَكَانِ الَّذِي يُرِيدُ أَنْ يَعْتَكِفَ فِيهِ

“When the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, intended to observe i‘tikaf during the last ten days of Ramadan, he would pray Fajr and then enter the designated area where he would stay for the duration of the i‘tikaf.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i, Kitab al Masajid, Hadith 709)

Where to sit i‘tikaf

In light of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’s guidance regarding i‘tikaf, upon being asked if it was permissible to perform i‘tikaf at home, Huzooraa answered:

“As far as the masnun etikaf [according to the practice of the Prophetsa] is concerned, which is performed during Ramadan, it is proven from the Holy Quran and hadith that it cannot be performed at home for three days.

“It is evident from the practice of the Holy Prophetsa that he used to perform etikaf during Ramadan in the mosque for at least ten days. Hence, the following is mentioned in a hadith, narrated by Hazrat Aishara:

أَنَّ النَّبِیَّ  صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَانَ يَعْتَكُفُ الْعَشْرَ الْأَوَاخِرَ مِنْ رَمَضَانَ حَتّى تَوَفَّاهُ اللّٰهُ

“‘The Holy Prophetsa used to perform etikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan till he passed away.’ [Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Etikaf, Bab al-etikafi fil-eshril-awakhiri wal-etikafi fil masajidi kullihaa]

“Likewise, in the Holy Quran, where Allah the Exalted has mentioned matters related to Ramadan, there He has also given commandments regarding etikaf. He says:

وَلَا تُبَاشِرُوۡہُنَّ وَاَنۡتُمۡ عٰکِفُوۡنَ

“That is, firstly, any conjugal relationship between a husband and a wife is not permitted during etikaf in Ramadan and secondly, mosques are the places designated for etikaf. [Surah al-Baqrah, Ch.2: V.188]

“We also find further explanation of this issue in the ahadith that the etikaf of Ramadan can only take place in a mosque. Hence, Hazrat Aishara narrates:

السُّنَّةُ عَلَى الْمُعْتَكِفِ أَنْ لَا يَعُوْدَ مَرِيْضًا وَلَا يَشْهَدَ جَنَازَةً وَلَا يَمَسّ امْرَأَةً وَلَا يُبَاشِرَهَا وَلَا يَخْرُجَ لِحَاجَةٍ إِلّا لِمَا لَا بُدَّمِنْهُ وَلَا اعْتِكَافَ إِلّا بِصَوْمٍ وَلَا اعْتِكَافَ إِلّا فِیْ مَسْجِدٍ جَامِعٍ

“‘The sunnah for one who is observing etikaf is not to visit a patient, not to attend a funeral, not to touch his wife or have conjugal relationships with her, not to go out of the mosque for anything except for the most necessary reasons that cannot be avoided. There is no etikaf without fasting and there is no etikaf except in a congregational mosque.’ [Sunan Abi Daud, Kitab al-Siyam, Bab al-mu‘takifi ya‘ood-ul-mareeda]

“Thus, according to the Holy Quran and ahadith of the Holy Prophetsa, the masnun etikaf of Ramadan, as practiced by the Holy Prophetsa, is the one that is observed for at least ten days in a mosque.” (Al Hakam, Issue 137)

Virtues of i‘tikaf

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, i’tikaf is a spiritual practise in which one spends their time focusing on worship and spiritual reflection. The act of worship itself holds great significance in Islam as we are told that our very creation was for this purpose:

“And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me.” (Surah adh-Dhariyat, Ch.51: V.57)

Hazrat Ibn Abbasra narrated:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ  صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ فِي الْمُعْتَكِفِ:   هُوَ يَعْكِفُ الذُّنُوبَ وَيُجْرَى لَهُ مِنَ الْحَسَنَاتِ كَعَامِلِ الْحَسَنَاتِ كُلِّهَا ‏

“The Messengersa of Allah said concerning the person observing i‘tikaf, ‘He is refraining from sin and he will be given a reward like that of one who does all kinds of good deeds.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Syam, Hadith 1781)

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