I’tikaaf denotes being engaged in a certain form of devotion to Allah at a certain time and place (a mosque), especially during the month of Ramadan.
Are we allowed to observe I’tikaat in any kind of mosque, like the small ones in the neighbourhood? Is I’tikaat valid if it is observed in homes? Is it a condition for the observer of I’tikaat to be fasting? What is the minimum period for a valid I’tikaat? Is there even a minimum or maximum period for I’tikaat? Is there any specific time in which I’tikaat must be observed? Is I’tikaat obligatory, optional or Sunnah?
May Allah recompense with His Choicest Blessings our ulama; they have plainly expounded all these questions.
I’tikaat is Sunnah, not obligatory. When Allah said “do not touch women when you are in our devotions in the mosques”, as we read in al-Baqarah, He means when we are observing I’tikaat. Here, the description of the mosques is not given. And needless to say that copulation even in the night vitiates I’tikaat, by the authority of the verse. Also, all major sins, like backbiting and calumny vitiate I’tikaat. But that is not what we are discussing now. We are talking now about mosques in which I’tikaat can be observed.
On this, some of the scholars are of the view that only in three mosques is I’tikaat valid: the Masjidul Haraam which houses the Ka’bah in Makkah, the Masjidun Nabawy in Madeenah, and Masjidul Aqsaa in Jerusalem. In the opinion of these scholars, I’tikaat in any other mosque outside these three is null and void, not valid at all.
Another group of scholars says I’tikaat is valid in all mosques, provided the Friday prayers are said in them, in order to avoid a situation where the observer of this devotion will have to go out to perform the Friday prayer. So, these scholars said, I’tikaat is only valid in mosques where Friday prayers are offered, and not in these ‘small’ mosques in our neighbourhoods where we offer our 5 daily prayers.
The third group of scholars says no, since the verse mentions mosques without any qualification by the Law Giver, I’tikaat is valid in all mosques whether or not Friday prayers are said in them.
What is the minimum period of I’tikaat? Those who are of the opinion that you have to fast during I’tikaat – among them is Imam Abu Hanifa – say that the minimum period is one night and a day so that you have to be in the mosque at the beginning of the next day which is before sunset. Go into the mosque before sunset with the intention of performing I’tikaat, spend the night in the mosque and commence fast the next morning. Your I’tikaat ends when you break your fast at sunset. That is the minimum – one night and a day. But they said there is no limit to I’tikaat; it could be for one month, two, three and so on.
The scholars who have not made fasting a condition for one observing I’tikaat, among them was Imam Ash-Shafi’i, said that the minimum period is any moment of time. That is why they said, for example, you can make the intention of observing I’tikaat on Friday by going to the mosque early and sitting down waiting for the time of prayer. So from the time you sit in the mosque with that intention, to when the Azaan will be called for the Friday prayer you are in I’tikaat. Therefore the period of your I’tikaat is the time you sit in the mosque to the call to prayer because the call to Friday prayers ends any other activity as Allah said:
“…when the call is made for the Friday prayers, hasten to the remembrance of Allah”…
Is the person in I’tikaat allowed to go out of the mosque for anything? Yes, to answer the call of nature, for instance, take a shower, change clothes and return immediately. He is not to linger outside the mosque in frivolous conversations or window-shopping of Islamic items displayed around the mosque. That is why the scholars put as a condition for I’tikaat that one should be prepared with his provision of what he will need during the period of his seclusion in the mosque. Also, that he should make ready for his family what will suffice his wife and children during that period so that there will not be any pressing need that will cause him to go out of the mosque because going out of the mosque vitiates his I’tikaat.
What about going out for Friday prayers if he observes I’tikaat in a mosque that Friday prayers are not said? For the scholars who establish that I’tikaaat must be observed in mosques where Jumu’ah is said, if you go out to observe Friday prayers in another mosque, your I’tikaaf is void. Because what you should have done from the onset was to observe your I’tikaaf in a Jumu’ah Masjid since you knew that Friday was part of the days of your I’tikaaf. Within this group of scholars, however, are some who permit observing I’tikaaf in a non-Jumu’ah Masjid with the condition that you will start and end your I’tikaaf before Friday, but if you include Friday among the days of your seclusion, then it is void.
Those who permit the observance of I’tikaaf in small neighbourhood mosques where Friday prayers are not performed said if you commence I’tikaaf in such mosques and Friday happens to be part of the days of your seclusion, you must go to a bigger mosque for your Friday prayer and return immediately. Going out for Jumu’ah in this case, they said, is Daruurah, and your I’tikaaf is valid.
These are some of the laws governing I’tikaaf generally.
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) used to perform I’tikaat during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
When do you start the I’tikaat for the last 10 day of Ramadan? The scholars said you should be in the mosque on the night proceeding the commencement of the 20th day of Ramadan, as sunset heralds the beginning of the next day in Islam. So, where you intend to observe I’tikaaf, go to the Jumu’ah Masjid before the Magrib prayer on the 19th day of Ramadan with the intention of being in seclusion.
When will your I’tikaat end? The scholars said, with the sunset of the last day of Ramadan, your I’tikaaf is over. You can sleep in your house on the night of the eve of Eid. Some others said no if you go out at that time your I’tikaat is void. You have to wait until you observe Fajr on Eid day before you can go home, ending your I’tikaaf.
The acceptable position is that of the scholars who aver that I’tikaaf ends by sunset of the last day in Ramadan, even though, practical observation will reveal that people who observe I’tikaaf in the Two Holy Mosques (in times gone by, before COVID-19) will not leave for their places of accommodation until after the Eid prayer. Is it because it is more convenient given the multitude of worshipers around the mosques? I think so. The trouble of going to your place of accommodation after sunset of the last day of Ramadan is much, and many will prefer to stay until they observe Eid. After all, the time for Eid prayers in Saudi Arabia is around 6:30 am. It will not mean much for one who already stayed for 10 days to spare some hours more, at least to avoid the hardship of moving amidst a large crowd of people, on his way to and from his home or hotel. Allah knows best.