I`tikaf is the seclusion and staying in the mosque with the intention of becoming closer to Allah. This was the practise of the Prophet SAW, during the last ten days of Ramadhan especially. He would do it during other months as well. It is a unique form of worship in which a person gives up all his activities, abandons his attachments, associations and routines and enters the mosque for a specific period of time.
I’tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan is sunnah Kifayah. Al-Bukhari and Muslim record from 'Aishah that during the last ten days of Ramadan, the Messenger of Allah would wake his wives up during the night and then remain apart from them (that is, being busy in acts of worship). A narration in Muslim states: "He would strive [to do acts of worship] during the last ten days of Ramadan more than he would at any other time."
Aisha reported that with the start of the last 10 days of Ramadhan, the Prophet SAW used to tighten his waist belt (i.e. work hard) and used to pray all the night, and used to keep his family awake for the prayers. [Bukhari]
RULES GOVERNING I'TIKAF
1. In each mosque, at last one person should sit in I’tikaf. If he does so, the requirement of Sunnah is fulfilled for the whole locality. However, if no person performs I’tikaf, the whole locality is responsible for not observing the Sunnah. Therefore, the residents of locality should make sure that some person is performing I’tikaf in their mosque. If no such person is available, they should prepare someone to do so.
2. The time of this I’tikaf commences immediately after the sunset of the 20th day of Ramadhan. Therefore, a person who wants to sit in I’tikaf, must enter the mosque before sunset on that day, so that sunset takes place while he is in the mosque.
3. The main requirement for a valid I’tikaf is that one remains in the limits of the mosque throughout the period of I’tikaf and never comes out of it, except for the necessities like easing oneself by attending the call of nature.
4. The “limits of the mosque” for the purpose of I’tikaf are restricted to the places meant for offering salah and determined as such by the founders of the mosque or by its administration. Therefore, the places like the place of ablution, toilets etc., are not included in the “limites of a mosque” for the purpose of I’tikaf. Therefore, if a person enters these places without the aforesaid necessity, his I’tikaf shall terminate.
5. One can go out of the mosque during I’tikaf only for the following needs:
(i) To answer the call of nature.
(ii) To make obligatory ghusl, i.e. in the state of impurity (janabah) (It should be remembered that it is not allowed during I’tikaf to go out of the mosque for having a non-obligatory bath, like the bath of Friday etc.)
(iii) To bring food where no other person is available to bring it. In this case it is allowed either to bring food to the mosque or to have food elsewhere outside the mosque.
(iv) To offer the jum’ah prayer, if no jum’ah prayer is offered in the same mosque in which he is sitting in I’tikaf.
(v) To move to another mosque in the event of a serious danger to one’s life or property.
6. It is advisable that a person performing I’tikaf avoid all unnecessary activities and spends the most of his time in the acts of worship, like salah, recitation of the Holy Qur’an or making dhikr or tasbeeh. However, it is makruh to remain silent totally.
7.The following acts result in terminating the I’tikaf:
(i) To leave the mosque even for a moment without the aforesaid needs.
(ii) To remain outside the mosque after fulfilling the aforesaid needs.
(iii) To have sexual intercourse, or emission through some other intentional acts like kissing, cuddling etc., which are totally prohibited in I’tikaf.
(iv) Any act which breaks one’s fast, like eating, drinking etc. (Since fasting is pre-condition for a valid masnun I’tikaf, the I’tikaf is automatically terminated by breaking of the fast).
8. If the I’tikaf is terminated for any reason, it becomes obligatory on the relevant person that he makes qada’ of the I’tikaf for one day only (He needs not to perform I’tikaf for ten days.). For example, started a masunu I’tikaf on 21st night of Ramadan with intention to sit in I’tikaf for ten days, but on 25th of Ramadan he came out of the mosque mistakenly or unconsciously, his I’tikaf is thus terminated. Now, he has to make qada’ of one day only. He needs not to repeat the I’tikaf for ten days, nor for five days. He is required to make qada’ only for one day. Therefore, he can discharge this obligation by starting I’tikaf for one day, either in the same Ramadan, or after Ramadan by keeping a nafl fast, or in the next Ramadan. If he elects to perform qada’ in the same Ramadan, he can sit in I’tikaf before the sunset of 25th Ramadan (in which his I’tikaf was terminated) and observed I’tikaf up to the sunset of 26th. His obligation will be discharged. Then, he is at liberty either to go home or to continue his I’tikaf as nafl (and not as a sunnah or wajib.)
VIRTUES OF PERFORMING I'TIKAF
Hadhrat Ali Ibn Husain RA narrates from his father that Rasullullah SAW said: “He who observes the ten days I’tikaf during Ramadhan will obtain the thawaab of two Hajj and two Umrah.” (Bayhaqi)
Hadhrat Abdullah bin Abbas RA reported that Rasullullah SAW said: “Whosoever for Allah’s sake did even one days i’tikaf, Allah would keep him away from Jahannam by trenches.” (Tabarani)
Hadhrat Ibn Abbas RA reported that Rasullullah SAW said, (about him who engages in i’tikaf), “that he is safe from sin and he also gets that reward which everyone (outside i’tikaf) gets for pious deeds.” (Ibn Majah)
One of the virtues of I’tikaf , is the seeking and engaging in worship seeking Laylatul Qadr. Hazrat Abu Saeed Khudri(RA) reports that Rasullullah SAW once performed I’tikaf for the first ten days of Ramadhan. Thereafter he made I’tikaf in a Turkish tent (inside the masjid) for the middle ten days. Thereafter he raised his head out of the tent and said, “Verily in search of Laylatul Qadr did I perform I’tikaf for the first ten days, then for the middle ten days…….”(Mishkaat)
WHAT DO YOU DO DURING I'TIKAF?
1) One should engage oneself in tilawat of Quran, durud and salawat upon Nabi SAW, istighfar and nafil salat.
2) He should abstain from all types of sin and guard his ears, eyes, heart, thus deriving maximum benefit from the I’tikaf.
3) The mu’takif should remember that he is the guest of Almighty Allah, therefore he should be extremely careful of his behaviour in the House of Almighty Allah.
4) The main objective of I’tikaf is to seek Laylatul Qadr, therefore the mu’takifin (brothers in I’tikaf) should exert themselves during the odd nights of Ramadhan.
HOW AND WHERE SHOULD MUSLIMAH PERFORM THEIR I'TIKAF?
According to the Shafi’es, Malikis, Hanbalis, I’tikaf can only be performed in the Masjid. Hence, men will sit in the male section whilst females will perform their I’tikaf in the female section of the masjid. It is not permissible to perform I’tikaf at home according to the above mentioned scholars. However, the Hanafi scholars state that it is permissible for females to perform their I’tikaf at home in a place which is reserved for salat. Cognizance must be taken of the fact that women must not be in menses or post-natal (nifas), similarly she must take permission from her husband to sit in I’tikaf.
VALID REASONS FOR LEAVING THE MASJID DURING I'TIKAF?
1. To answer the call of nature.
2. To pass wind.
3. To make wudhu.
4. To take an obligatory bath.
5. To proclaim the azan even if one is not the muazzin.
REWARDS FOR I'TIKAF - http://askaquestionto.us/question-answer/itikaf/what-is-the-reward-for-itikaf
ii) http://www.epondok.com.my/index.php?p=mutiarailmu/iktikaf.php ( a must read for those who can understand Malay language as its complete and comprehensive)
iv) http://the-deen.co.uk/itikaf-q-a/ (EXCELLENT site for any Q&A you have on I'tikaf)
v) http://www.missionislam.com/ramadan/itiikaf.htm (EXCELLENT commentaries on hadith)
vi) I'tikaf for Women. http://spa.qibla.com/issue_view.asp?HD=1&ID=313&CATE=183
viii) Aims of I'tikaf. http://www.muslimconverts.com/ramadhaan/itikaaf.htm