I’tikaf or Itikaaf means to retreat in a mosque. Itikaf is a recommended Islamic practice for a certain number of days. The best time for Etikaf is during Ramadan especially in the last Ashra of Ramadan. The Prophet (P.B.U.H) used to observe Itikaf every year in Ramadan. Itikaaf is Sunnah in Ramadan and at other times of the year too as indicated by the Quran:
“…..while you are in Itikaf (i.e. confining oneself in mosque and leaving worldly acts) in the mosques” [al-Baqarah 2:187]
and Allah says in the Quran:
“and we command Ibraheem (Abraham) and Ismaael (Ishmael) that they should purify My House (The Kabaah) for those who are circumambulating it, or staying (Itikaf), or bowing or prostrating themselves.” [al-Baqarah 2:125]
The Prophet’s (P.B.U.H) Itikaf during Ramadan:
1. The Prophet (P.B.U.H) observed Itikaf in the first ten days of Ramadan, then in the second Ashra of Ramadan. Then he was told that Laylatul Qadr was in the last ten days so he observed Itikaf in the Last ten days of Ramadan.
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (R.A) narrated that: The Prophet (P.B.U.H) observed i’tikaaf during the first ten days of Ramadan, then he observed i’tikaaf during the middle ten days in a small tent at the door of which was a reed mat. He took the mat in his hand and lifted it. Then he put his head out and spoke to the people, and they came close to him.
He said: “I observed i’tikaaf during the first ten days seeking this night, then I observed i’tikaaf during the middle ten days. Then someone came and said to me that it is in the last ten days, so whoever among you wishes to observe i’tikaaf let him do so.” So the people observed i’tikaaf with him. Muslim (1167)
2. The Prophet (P.B.U.H) used to stay in the mosque the whole time, and not leave it except for a need.
Aisha (R.A) said:
“The Prophet (P.B.U.H) would not enter his house for anything except for a need when he was observing Itikaaf.” al-Bukhari (2029)
The Prophet (P.B.U.H) used to clean himself and Aisha (R.A) used to comb His hairs too. So it is permissible to clean oneself during Itikaaf and comb hairs etc.
Narrated from Aisha (R.A):
“The Prophet (P.B.U.H) used to lean his head towards me when he was observing Itikaf in the mosque, and I would comb his hair” Al-Bukhaari (2028)
4. Itikaaf of a woman
Itikaaf of a woman is valid in mosque only, as the wives of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) used to observe Itikaf in mosque. They asked the Prophet (P.B.U.H) for permission to observe itikaaf in the mosque and he gave them permission, and they used to observe itikaaf in the mosque after he died.
5. The Prophet (P.B.U.H) permitted some of his Wives to visit him during Itikaaf to talk with him.
narrated from Safiyyah the wife of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) that she came to the Messenger of Allah (P.B.U.H) and visited him when he was in i’tikaaf in the mosque, during the last ten days of Ramadaan. She spoke with him for a while, then she stood up to leave. The Prophet (P.B.U.H) stood up with her to take her home. Muslim (2175)
The Purpose of Itikaf:
Along with being a Sunnah of Prophet (P.B.U.H) Itikaaf has many aims:
1. While observing Itikaaf, a person has complete focus on Allah as he is alone with Allah and cuts himself from people
2. The person renews Himself by submitting totally towards Allah.
3. The person has more time to worship Allah as in Itikaaf he may read Holy Quran, pray Nawafil, supplicate and do Dhikr.
4. The person refrains from many worldly pleasures even though he is able to enjoy them.