Spiritual Retreat [Iʿtikāf] and its Rulings

In Islam, spiritual retreat [Iʿtikāf] is one of the highly supererogatory acts of worship, particularly in the Holy month of Ramadan, which is guided by some rules and regulations. In this article, we shall examine the rulings of spiritual retreat [Iʿtikāf] based on the religious verdicts [Fatwas] of His Eminence, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani [May Allah prolonged his authorities] as documented in his treaty titled “The Islamic Law”. However, it is pertinent to mention the ruling numbers are edited and arranged here sequentially.

Ruling 1: Iʿtikāf is one of the recommended (mustaḥabb) ritual acts of worship (ʿibādāt) that becomes obligatory (wājib) by means of a vow (nadhr), covenant (ʿahd), oath (qasam), and suchlike. A valid Iʿtikāf is when one stays in a mosque with the intention of attaining proximity to Allah (qaṣd al‑qurbah). And the recommended precaution (al‑iḥtiyāṭ al‑mustaḥabb) is that the stay should take place with the intention of performing ritual acts of worship, such as prayers (ṣalāh) and supplications (duʿās).

Ruling 2: There is no particular time for performing Iʿtikāf; rather, whenever it is correct (ṣaḥiḥ) to keep a fast (ṣawm) during the year, performing Iʿtikāf at that time is also correct. The best time for performing Iʿtikāf is the blessed month of Ramadan, more so during the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan.

Ruling 3: The minimum length of time for Iʿtikāf is two nights and three days; less than that is not correct. There is no maximum limit. There is no problem in including the first or the fourth night in the intention of Iʿtikāf. If a person is a muʿtakif [the term given to someone who is performing Iʿtikāf] for five full days, he must also be a muʿtakif on the sixth day.

Ruling 4: The starting time for Iʿtikāf is the time of morning (ṣubḥ) prayers on the first day, and, based on obligatory precaution (al‑iḥtiyāṭ al‑wājib), the finishing time for Iʿtikāf is the time of Maghrib prayers on the third day. For a valid Iʿtikāf to take place, a period equivalent to three days will not suffice; i.e. one cannot be a muʿtakif after the time of Ṣubḥ prayers on the first day [and stay in the mosque until the same time on the fourth day] even if he compensates the time lost from the first day on the fourth day; for example, he stays in the mosque from the time of afternoon prayers (Ẓuhr) of the first day until the time of afternoon prayers on the fourth day.

Conditions for the Validity of Iʿtikāf

Ruling 5: The following are the conditions for a valid Iʿtikāf.

One: The muʿtakif must be a Muslim.

Two: The muʿtakif must be sane (ʿāqil).

Three: Iʿtikāf must be performed with the intention of attaining proximity to Allah: A muʿtakif must have the intention of attaining proximity to Allah in the same manner that was mentioned regarding ablution (wuḍūʾ). Iʿtikāf must be performed from start to finish with a sincere intention to attain proximity to Allah.

Four: The duration of the Iʿtikāf must be a minimum of three days: The minimum duration of Iʿtikāf is three days; less than three days is incorrect. However, there is no maximum limit

Five: A muʿtakif must fast during the days of Iʿtikāf: A muʿtakif must fast during the days of Iʿtikāf. Therefore, Iʿtikāf performed by someone who cannot [legally] fast [during those days] – such as a traveller who does not intend to stay somewhere for ten days, a sick person, a woman in menstruation (i.e. a ḥāʾiḍ), and a woman who is experiencing lochia (nifās) – is not correct. Furthermore, on the days of Iʿtikāf, it is not necessary to fast especially for performing Iʿtikāf; rather, it is acceptable for one to keep any fast during Iʿtikāf, even a fast that one has been hired to keep (istījārī), or a recommended fast, or a lapsed (qaḍāʾ) fast.

While a muʿtakif is fasting – i.e. from the time of ṣubḥ prayers until the time of Maghrib prayers – everything that invalidates (i.e. makes bāṭil) a fast also invalidates Iʿtikāf. Therefore, a muʿtakif must refrain from intentionally (ʿamdan) doing the things that invalidate a fast.

Six: Iʿtikāf must be performed in one of ‘the four mosques’ or a jāmiʿ mosque: It is correct to perform Iʿtikāf in Masjid al-Ḥarām, Masjid al-Nabī (Ṣ), Masjid al-Kūfah, and Masjid al-Baṣrah. Similarly, it is correct to perform Iʿtikāf in the jāmiʿ mosque of every town, except when the religious leadership (Imāmah) of that mosque is in the hands of a person who is not dutiful (ʿādil), in which case, based on obligatory precaution, Iʿtikāf is not correct. A jāmiʿ mosque is one that is not particular to people of a specific locality, area, or group; rather, it is a place where people of different areas and localities of the town gather and frequent. The legality (mashrūʿiyyah) of Iʿtikāf performed in any mosque other than a jāmiʿ mosque is not established; however, there is no problem in performing Iʿtikāf in other mosques with the intention that it being a desirable act is probable. As for performing Iʿtikāf in a place that is not a mosque –for example, in a place that is a ḥusayniyyah3 or only a prayer room – it is not correct and has no legal basis.

Seven: Iʿtikāf must take place in one mosque: It is necessary that Iʿtikāf be performed in one mosque. Therefore, one Iʿtikāf cannot be performed in two mosques, whether they are separate from each other or joined together, unless they are joined together in a manner that they are commonly considered one mosque.

Eight: Iʿtikāf must be performed with the permission of one whose permission is legally (sharʿan) required: Iʿtikāf must be performed with the permission of one whose permission is legally required. Therefore, if a woman’s staying in a mosque is unlawful (ḥarām) – for example, because she has left her house without the consent of her husband – her Iʿtikāf is invalid. In case a woman’s staying in a mosque is not unlawful but performing Iʿtikāf conflicts with her husband’s rights, the validity of her iʿtikāf – if performed without her husband’s permission – is problematic (maḥall al‑ishkāl) [i.e. based on obligatory precaution, it is not valid]. Similarly, if Iʿtikāf disturbs and annoys one’s parents due to their compassion and sympathy for him, it is necessary for him to obtain their permission. And if it does not annoy them, the recommended precaution is that he should get their consent.

Nine: A muʿtakif must refrain from doing the unlawful acts of Iʿtikāf: Someone who is performing Iʿtikāf must refrain from doing the unlawful acts of Iʿtikāf, which are as follows:

1. Smelling a pleasant fragrance;

2. Having sexual intercourse with one’s spouse;

3. Masturbating, having sexual contact with one’s spouse by means of touching, and lustfully kissing (based on obligatory precaution);

4. Disputing (mumārāh) and arguing (mujādalah) with others;

5. Buying and selling.

Doing these things invalidates one’s Iʿtikāf. In the case of an Iʿtikāf that is not an assigned obligation [i.e. it is not al‑wājib al‑muʿayyan], the obligation to refrain from these things – apart from having sexual intercourse – is based on obligatory precaution.

Miscellaneous Rulings on Iʿtikāf

Ruling 7: When one makes the intention to perform an Iʿtikāf that is not an assigned obligation, he can stipulate a condition from the outset that if a problem arises, he will leave the Iʿtikāf. Therefore, by stipulating such a condition, one can leave the Iʿtikāf if a problem arises, and there is no problem in doing so even on the third day. However, if a muʿtakif stipulates a condition that he will stop his Iʿtikāf even if no particular reason arises, the validity of such a condition is problematic [i.e. based on obligatory precaution, it is not a valid condition]. It is worth mentioning that stipulating the aforementioned condition (i.e. the condition of leaving the Iʿtikāf in the middle of it if a problem arises) before or after the Iʿtikāf has started is not correct; rather, it must be stipulated at the time of making the intention to perform Iʿtikāf.

Ruling 8: A valid Iʿtikāf is not conditional on one having reached the age of legal responsibility (bulūgh), and Iʿtikāf performed by a child who is able to discern between right and wrong (mumayyiz) is also correct.

Ruling 9: If a muʿtakif sits on a usurped (ghaṣbī) carpet and he is aware of the fact that it is usurped, he commits a sin but his Iʿtikāf does not become invalid. If someone gets to a place first and reserves it and a muʿtakif takes his place without his consent, then although he commits a sin, his Iʿtikāf is valid.

Ruling 10: If at the time of making the intention for an obligatory Iʿtikāf, one stipulates a condition of returning (i.e. a condition of leaving the Iʿtikāf in the middle of it if a problem arises) in the event that he does something that is unlawful for one to do during Iʿtikāf, it is not necessary for him to make up the Iʿtikāf nor to start it all over again.

Ruling 11: If a woman who is performing Iʿtikāf becomes ḥāʾiḍ after the completion of the second day of Iʿtikāf, it is obligatory for her to leave the mosque immediately. And based on obligatory precaution, it is necessary for her to make up the Iʿtikāf unless from the outset she had stipulated a condition of returning (i.e. a condition of leaving the Iʿtikāf in the middle of it if a problem arises).

Ruling 12: Performing an obligatory qaḍāʾ Iʿtikāf is not an immediate obligation (al‑wājib al‑fawrī). However, making it up must not be delayed to such an extent that it would be regarded as being careless in accomplishing the obligation. And the recommended precaution is that it should be made up immediately.

Ruling 13: If a muʿtakif dies in the middle of an Iʿtikāf that has become obligatory on account of a vow, oath, covenant, or the passing of two days of Iʿtikāf, it is not obligatory for his guardian (walī) (i.e. the eldest son) to make up the qaḍāʾ Iʿtikāf, although the recommended precaution is that a qaḍāʾ Iʿtikāf of a deceased person should be performed. Of course, in the event that a muʿtakif had stipulated in his will that in such a case someone must be hired from the one-third of his estate to perform Iʿtikāf for him, then the deceased muʿtakif’s will must be followed.

Ruling 14: If a muʿtakif intentionally invalidates his Iʿtikāf by having sexual intercourse, – be it during the day or at night – it is obligatory for him to give recompense (kaffārah). As for [intentionally invalidating one’s Iʿtikāf by performing] other unlawful acts, there is no kaffārah, although the recommended precaution is that one should give kaffārah.

The kaffārah for invalidating an Iʿtikāf is the same as the kaffārah for invalidating a fast of the month of Ramadan – i.e. one has the choice of fasting for sixty days or feeding sixty poor people (fuqarāʾ) – although the recommended precaution is that one should observe the sequence in giving kaffārah, meaning that one should first fast for sixty days, and if he cannot, he should then feed sixty poor people.

Ruling 15: It is not permitted to change from one Iʿtikāf to another, whether both Iʿtikāfs happen to be obligatory, like when a person has made one of them obligatory on account of a vow and the other on account of an oath; or, both are recommended; or, one is obligatory and the other recommended; or, one is to be performed for himself and the other on behalf of someone else (niyābah), or he is being hired to perform it for someone else; or, both are to be performed on behalf of someone else.

For other rulings on spiritual retreat [Iʿtikāf], the treatise “Islamic Laws” by His Eminence, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani [May Allah prolonged his authorities] should be consulted

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