I’tikaf, The Spiritual Retreat 1

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وأله: من اعتكف إيماناُ وإحتساباُ غٌفِر له ما تقدم مِن ذنبه؛

The Messenger of Allah (blessings of Allah be upon him and his family) has said: “The persons who secludes himself (in the Masjid in I’tikaf) in true faith and hope (for the reward of Allah), all of his previous sins shall be forgiven.”(1) 

One of the greatest traditions of Islam, the spark of which has recently been reignited in the hearts of the youth, is that of I’tikaf. This is a tradition which has been in Islam from the first days of the revelation and is also something known and recognized in other Divine religions sent by Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) and practiced by them – more or less:

وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِلنَّاسِ وَأَمْنًا وَاتَّخِذُوا مِنْ مَقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَنْ طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ.

“And when We made the House a pilgrimage for mankind and a (place of) security, and said, ‘Appoint for yourselves a place of prayer on the standing-place of Ibrahim [Maqam-e-Ibrahim].’ And We enjoined Ibrahim and Isma’il saying: ‘Purify My House for those who visit (it) and those who abide (in it) for devotion, those who bow down (and) those who prostrate themselves.’”.(2)

The great Masajid of Islam located in cities such as Makkah, Madinah, Kerbala, Najaf, Samarrah, Kadhamain, Qum, Isfahan, Mashad and other major Muslim cities have hosted this spiritual retreat for over 1,400 years primarily in the “White Nights” of Rajab – the 13th, 14th and 15th, and more specifically in the month of Ramadhan – that too primarily in the last 10 nights of the blessed month.

Since the life of the transient world keeps us busy for the whole year in studies, work, business, traveling and other such things and causes us to be negligent of the next life, we may sometimes think that these thing are the sole purpose in life and thus, we end up forgetting our true goal – Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him). Thus, it is for this reason that I’tikaf is referred to as “The spring of life in a world struck with the drought of negligence of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him).”

It is the negligence of ourselves and our Creator which is given a fresh breath of life in this short three day period of I’tikaf. In addition, we can once again find ourselves and our Lord and return back to Him now (spiritually return back to Him) before we are forced to return back to him by the separation of the soul from the body in a state of complete negligence of Him.

The period of I’tikaf is the best time to force one’s self to sit and think and reflect on the self and the world around; the period of the I’tikaf is the best time to forget the worries of the transient world and to return to the soul and the Creator of the soul; the period of the I’tikaf is the best time to return back to Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) in true repentance for our sins committed through the year and to concentrate on the Words of Allah in the Qur’an, the prayers and supplications used to call upon Him and all of those things which are related to Him and His Sacred Essence.

I’tikaf is not a three day holiday from work or school; it is not a time to sit in the Masjid in complete ignorance of one’s self and his spiritual surroundings; it is not the venue to pass one’s time in idleness. I’tikaf is not the act of sleeping and snoring in the Masjid and killing time… Truly, I’tikaf is a three day spiritual retreat to build the self; it is the act of leaving one’s personal house to be in the service of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) and to recognize one’s self in Allah ’s house (the Masjid) while at the same time, being a guest in the House of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) – eating His food which He has sent and being around His servants which He has guided.

Definition of I’tikaf

The literal definition of the word I’tikaf is to stay in a particular place, however in the definition of the faith of Islam , this word means to stay in the Masjid for a particular time period in the worship of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) while maintaining certain conditions, which shall be covered later on in this article.

In the state of I’tikaf, a person can stand, sit, sleep, etc… and there is not one particular ‘form’ that this retreat must be carried out in (unlike the Salat which has a specific form to it). What is important in this period is to obey the commandments of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him), to refrain from the things which He has prohibited (both in life in general and in this three day sojourn) and to be in the service of Him.

Conditions of I’tikaf

There are a few conditions for the person who wishes to partake in the Divine blessing of I’tikaf:

Intelligence (‘Aql)

Thus, the person must not be mentally unstable;

True Faith (Iman)

Thus, although a Non-Muslim can perform the I’tikaf and it may be correct from the point of view of the outer actions, however to earn the Divine Reward, he or she must be a true believer;

Intention (Niyyat)

I’tikaf must be performed for the purpose of seeking closeness to Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) and not to show off or due to societal or family or peer pressure;

Fasting (Sawm) During I’tikaf

The person who is not able to fast, for whatever reason, is deprived from the Divine grace of being able to perform I’tikaf. He or she may still gain a reward from Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) for having the intention to perform this act of worship, however cannot directly participate in this act as will be mentioned.

Therefore, if a person is a traveler or one who is not able to fast due to some danger to his life, he cannot partake in I’tikaf. However, if the traveler who wants to perform the I’tikaf makes an oath that he will fast for three days on a trip, then he can perform the I’tikaf even though his Salat may be prayed as that of a traveler. In addition, if one needs to perform any sort of fasting whether it be obligatory, recommended, a penitence for a missed fast, on behalf of someone else, etc… then one’s I’tikaf will be correct with the performance of this type of fast.

Permission

One must have the permission of the person whom he needs to gain permission from to carry out this act (guardian, husband, etc…) to ensure the correctness of the I’tikaf. Place: One must stay inside the Masjid for the entire period for his I’tikaf to be correct (the rules of this will be explained in more detail later…).

Continue in the next article: ( I’tikaf, The Spiritual Retreat 2 )

NOTES:

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1. Kanzul Ummal, Hadith 24007

2. The Holy Quran 2:125