By Ghulam Ghaus, New Age Islam
23 July, 2014
The Arabic word I’tekaaf means to stay in a particular place. In Islamic theology, the term has the connotation of staying in a mosque for prayers, invocations, leaving the worldly activities for a particular time period. I’tekaaf is believed to enhance intimacy with Allah Almighty, spiritual growth, introspection and reformation.
I’tekaaf is generally practiced during the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramadan. This noble pursuit was first experienced by the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was in solitude at the cave of Hira, when he got Divine Revelation of the holy Qur’an during Ramadan. The prophet (peace be upon him) exemplified a noble practice and spiritual democratization for common people to follow: solitude in mosque. This came to be known as I’tekaaf The holy Quran gives concept of I’tekaaf, “And do not have sexual relations with them (your wives) while you are in I’tekaaf in the mosques” (2:187). This verse gives paramount importance to the practice of I’tekaaf. That is why sexual relations with wives during this noble act are totally forbidden. The importance of being in the mosque with the expressed intention of I’tekaaf is that a person gets a chance to explore in peace the past attitudes of his life, realize his sins to repent while being much close to Allah Almighty in remembrance. He reaches the state of peace to encourage his humane behaviour, defeat his baser self or ego and formulate certain good plans for the forthcoming days, seeking the blessings of Allah Almighty in the achievement of the set goals.
The greater goal of I’tekaaf is to attain hearts’ rectitude through directing its love solely towards Allah Almighty, his holy prophets and their obedience. It aims to free people from their preoccupation with anxieties and evil desires circulating around the world. During I’tekaaf, one should think of how to attain pleasure of Allah Almighty and what will cause nearness to Him. I’tekaaf is intended for devoting to Ibadah (prayers) that includes performing Nawafil prayers, Invocations, reciting the holy Qur’an, understanding Ahadith, seeking self-introspection, and self-purification from evil acts. Mostly it is done to find out the ‘Night of Quadr’ (Night of destiny or Power).
The question arises as to what is the philosophy of seclusion. Why should a person practice seclusion? This is irrefutable truth that negative egos (Nafs) of the people always instigate them to do evil deeds as mentioned in the holy Qur’an:
“And I do not (claim) absolution of myself. Certainly, the self commands much evil except the one on whom my Lord bestows mercy. Surely, my Lord is All-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful”. (12:53)
From this verse we know that human self is of baser nature. Thus nobody should be contented with it but rather he should seek mercy of the lord for saving himself from evil activities.
I’tekaaf can be observed for a few days at any time period of the whole year. However, it is Sunnat-e-Mu’akkadah to perform I’tekaaf in the last ten days of every blessed month of Ramadan as is proved from the following Hadiths:
Hadhrat Ayesha Siddiqah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to engage in I’tekaaf i.e. private devotions in the mosque during the last ten nights of Ramadan till he met his Lord. (Sahih Bukhari, Vol 1, Page 271 - Sahih Muslim, Vol 1, Page 371)
Hadhrat Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to engage in I’tekaaf in the mosque in the last ten days of Ramadan. But, one year he omitted the I’tekaaf. so he engaged in I’tekaaf during twenty nights the following year. [Sunan Abi Dawood, Vol 1, Page 334]
Three Types of I’tekaaf
There are three kinds of I’tekaaf: Imperative (Wajib), Mandatory Recommendation (Sunnat-e-Mu’akkadah) and Directory Recommendation (Sunnat-e-Ghair Mu’akkadah) or Commendable (Mustahab).
Wajib: if someone makes a “Minnat” (vow), uttering the words of vow for example, “If Allah Almighty fulfils a certain wish of mine; I will perform so many ....days of I’tikaf”. In this case, the moment his wish is fulfilled, it is imperative for him to observe I’tikaf from that moment onwards. During this I’tikaf, fasting is necessary.
Sunnat-e-Mu’akkadah: one should make intention of I’tikaf, entering the mosque on the 20th of Ramadan before sunset and stay there till the end of Ramadan. This I’tekaaf is “sunnat-e-Kifayah” i.e. if even one person observes I’tekaaf in a town; everyone will be free from this religious duty. Otherwise, all shall be accountable for neglecting it. Fasting is also pre-requisite for this I’tekaaf.
“Mustahab” and “Sunnat-e-Ghair Mu’akkadah”: It can be observed for a short while. Fasting is not necessary for it, just an intention of I’tikaf when entering the mosque would be sufficient. As long as he is inside the mosque, he will get the virtue of I’tikaf. (Fatawa-e-‘Alamgiri, Vol 1, Page: 197)
Any of the types of I’tekaaf mentioned above can help in maximizing vital life energy so as to enhance closeness to Allah Almighty, self-purification and spiritual development. But unfortunately, despite living in this age of greatest science and technology, we have are so enslaved to time that we may not get an opportunity to observe I’tekaaf in order to weigh ourselves, purify our corrupt soul. Yet if we do I’tekaaf, we can shift into a new paradigm, develop our moral attitude and see the world by sight of peace and love.
A regular columnist for New Age Islam, Ghulam Ghaus is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background. He has completed the classical Islamic sciences from a Delhi-based Sufi Islamic seminary Jamia Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Zakir Nagar, New Delhi with specialization in Tafseer, Hadith and Arabic. He completed his Alimiat and Fazilat respectively from Jamia Warsia Arabic College, Lucknow and Jamia Manzar- e- Islam, Bareilly, U.P. He has graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M.A in Arabic from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.