By Femi Abbas
As from today, the 21st day of Ramadan in 1442 AH, many Muslims, around the world, will start secluding themselves in Mosques or exclusive houses.
The Arabic word I‘tikaf which means spiritual seclusion is not an Islamic invention. It has an origin that preceded the prophet-hood of Muhammad (the son of Abdullah and Aminah). It therefore preceded the revelation of the Qur’an.
Before Muhammad (SAW) became a Messenger of Allah, he had been engaging himself in I‘tikaf. He was actually in I‘tikaf, at the cave of Hirai, near Makkah, when Angel Jubril first appeared to him with the very first Qur’anic revelation. I‘tikaf was, thereafter Islamized by Muhammad’s prophetic mission which came to be named Islam.
The World’s Greatest Teacher
The world’s greatest teacher, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) will never cease to be a teacher even long after his demise. As the teacher of all teachers, he recognized communication as the most potent means of fulfilling temporal desire and attaining spiritual satisfaction. Thus, he recommended it (communication) to all Muslims as a means of communicating esoterically with Allah (their Creator).
The purpose of I‘tikaf is to completely abstain from all acts of iniquities and enhance one’s spiritual standing that can only be climaxed by Laylatul Qadr in the month of Ramadan.
With I‘tikaf, a Muslim can attain inner composure and spiritual equanimity as a way of getting absorbed in the reality of eternal bliss,
How it Became Islamized
While alive, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) regularly observed I‘tikaf in the last ten days of the month of Ramadan. And, he did it consistently for the eight years (624 CE to 632 CE) that he fasted in the month of Ramadan before his demise. And, after the Prophet’s demise, his wives and companions adhered to that prophetic tradition as a means of purifying their hearts for the attainment of spiritual peace.
How to Perform I’tikaf
I‘tikaf is mostly done in a decent Mosque but it can also be done in a clean, private house, that is free from disturbance. The latter is especially meant for Muslim women.
While in I‘tikaf, a recluse (Al-Mu‘takif), is expected to be fully engaged in certain fundamental acts of worship (‘Ibadah) such as observance of all obligatory prayers (Salawat), recitation of the Qur’an, seeking Allah’s forgiveness and glorifying Him as well as gratifying Him for all His bounties.
Features of I’tikaf
I‘tikaf is Sunnah and not obligatory. And, only Muslims who have the time and the means of meeting the conditions of seclusion can go into it. Daily paid workers who must provide for their families on a daily basis and salary earners who are not on leave are advised not to go into I‘tikaf.
Wives and children of a Mu’takif must not suffer from lack of domestic provisions just because the family bread winner has gone into I‘tikaf.
Also, women are not allowed to go into I‘tikaf leaving their husbands and children at home except with the permission of their husbands who must be ready to care for himself and the the children. But where a woman is unmarried and, has no responsibility of providing for the family, she can go into I‘tikaf with no intention of seeking a prospective husband.
I‘tikaf is not a meeting place for marital toasting. Ditto a man without wife.
Feeding and Sanitation
Muslims in I‘tikaf can cook their foods, wash their dresses and take thir baths as may be necessary. A Mu‘takif is not supposed to break I‘tikaf by going to the market in search of needed provisions.
All the needed provisions must have been taken along when going into I‘tikaf in the first place. But if a person suddenly falls sick while in I‘tikaf it becomes necessary to go to the hospital or seek healing wherever he/she can get it.
Exception to I’tikaf
Virtually all rules have exceptions. At a time of pandemic like now, when nothing is predictable, it is better and safer to avoid going into I‘tikaf in any public place like Mosque. Allah judges actions by intention.