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Sitting I’tikaf during lockdown

Question:

What do the scholars of Shariah say about doing I’tikaf during the lockdown?

Answer

Yes, Itikaf can be done this year. The Masjid and Imams national advisory board has set simple guidelines that people sitting iʿtikāf in the Masjid should follow. They involve social distancing and wearing masks (see the MINAB guidlines). Let me share with you the excellence of this spiritual exercise.

Sitting in the masjid for the purpose of worship is called iʿtikāf, the noun is derived from the Arabic verb iʿtakafa that means to isolate oneself, to devote oneself tirelessly to a task, or to go into retreat. In sharīʿah, it means to stay in the masjid with the intention of worshipping Allāh ﷻ. The masjid used for this purpose should be one in which the daily prayers are established. Women can do the retreat at home by staying in one room or in a corner of a room which is reserved for the prayer. ʿĀ’ishah, may Allāh ﷻ be pleased with her, says:

“The Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, used to go into retreat during the last ten days of Ramaḍan, he continued this practice until he died and after him his wives used to do it.”[1]

The retreat is an effective means for spiritual development since the devotee temporarily disassociates himself from worldly affairs, spending his day and night immersed in remembrance of the Allāh ﷻ, constantly praying, supplicating, reciting the Glorious Qur’an and meditating. He longs and yearns to be near his Lord. Abu Hurayra narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

 “Those in solitude have raced ahead, who are immersed in the remembrance of Allah. Remembrance has lifted their burdens and they will come on the Day of Resurrection weightless.” [2]

 The Beloved Messenger ﷺ further described two benefits for the one who sits iʿtikāf:

“The devotee is protected from committing sins and he gets the rewards of deeds like those who do them.”[3]

 The scholars have discussed the virtues and benefits of observing I’tikaf in great detail. Ibn al-Qayyim states: ‘The heart becomes attached to Allāh, one feels inner peace. The preoccupation with the mundane things of life ceases and absorption in the eternal reality takes its place, and the state is reached in which all fears, hopes and apprehensions are taken over by the eagerness to gain His nearness. Devotion to the Almighty grows instead of devotion to the world, it becomes the provision for the grave where there will be neither a friend nor a helper. This is the lofty purpose of iʿtikāf.’[4]

Shāh Walī Allāh comments on the value of iʿtikāf in these words: ‘Iʿtikāf in the masjid is a means to peace of mind and purification of the heart and it is an excellent opportunity for forging an identity with the angels and having a share in the barakah (spiritual benefit) of  Laylat al-Qadr and for devoting oneself to prayer and meditation. This is a sunnah for the pious and virtuous slaves.’

  The devotee in retreat can be likened to the beggar who sits at the gates of a king’s palace. He refuses to move until he is granted his wish, similarly this devotee is practically saying, “O Lord! Forgive my sins for I shall not go away until I am cleansed.”

It is clear to see from the beautiful words of the Messenger ﷺ how important and benefial the act of iʿtikāf is. In light of so many benefits we can not afford to miss this worship. So inspite of the lockdown, if one has the opportunity and the local masjid are able facilitate individuals in light if the Covid-guidelies, then you may sit iʿtikāf and further strenghen your Iman.

This Fatwa is written by Dr Musharraf Husain Al Azhari , Translator of The Majestic Quran

[1] Narrated in Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.

[2] Narrated in Sunan al-Tirmidhi

[3] Narrated in Sunan Ibn Mājah.

[4] Ibn al-Qayyim, I, Zād al-Mād.