Itikaf: A Spiritual Retreat

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`Abdullah ibn `Umar, a learned Companion of the Prophet, reported that “Allah’s Messenger (Pbuh) used to stay in the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan.”
By Adil Salahi

The month of Ramadan is a special season of worship. If one attends to one’s worship with dedication and sincerity, one is certain to end the month having earned forgiveness of all one’s past misdeeds. The reward Allah gives for fasting in the month of Ramadan is greater than we can imagine because fasting is an act of worship that admits of no hypocrisy. It is not possible for any person to fast in order to deceive others. This is due to the fact that boasting about fasting is forbidden. Hence, one cannot publicize the fact that one is fasting. If one does not mention it, then other people have no way of knowing it because fasting is worship by abstention, rather than by a positive action.
Moreover, the Prophet taught us to spend part of the nights of Ramadan in worship, standing up to offer the special Prayer known as Tarawih. This means that in Ramadan we fast during the day in fulfillment of an obligatory type of worship and we stand up in prayer as a recommended act of worship.
The night of Decree is the pinnacle of this season of worship. It takes place in the last ten days of the month when a Muslim’s devotion is brought to its climax. One way of doing this is to stay in a mosque, following the Sunnah of the Prophet. That sunnah is known as i`tikaf, which means, linguistically speaking, to commit oneself to doing something to the exclusion of everything else. In a religious context, it means to stay in a mosque for worship.
All scholars agree that it is a sunnah, following the practice of the Prophet. `Abdullah ibn `Umar, a learned Companion of the Prophet, reported that “Allah’s Messenger (Pbuh) used to stay in the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan” (Al-Bukhari).
`A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife (may Allah be pleased with her), also reported that the Prophet used to stay in the mosque for the last ten days of Ramadan until he passed away, and his wives used to do the same afterwards (Al-Bukhari).
From these hadiths, we deduce that i`tikaf, or staying in the mosque for worship, is recommended for both men and women, especially during the last ten days of Ramadan. Most scholars agree that i`tikaf should be in a mosque, although the Hanafi school of thought makes it possible for a woman to practice this sunnah in the place where she normally prays in her home.
It is permissible for a man’s family to visit him in the mosque. It so happened that when the Prophet was in the midst of his stay in the mosque, his wives visited him. It is also permissible for a person who is in the middle of his stay in a mosque for worship to have his head washed and his hair combed.
A person who stays in a mosque in order to follow the Prophet’s example, may have some sleep before waking up to spend the rest of his night in worship, reciting the Qur’an or praying.
It is needless to say that i`tikaf is not easy for everyone to observe. People have to attend to their needs and continue their work. It is possible to limit one’s i`tikaf to one night, or even a portion of one night. According to scholars, one may make one’s stay in a mosque, a stay of i`tikaf at any time if one dedicates the time to worship and intends the stay for such dedication. It is needless to say that i`tikaf is highly rewarded by Allah, as every action therein involves dedication.