Linda Sarhan has taken several college level courses in Islamic studies and is an experienced Islamic studies writer.
What Is Itikaf?
Muslims consider Itikaf to be a type of spiritual retreat. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, many Muslims spend their days and nights at the mosque (masjid) to ensure that they are there for whichever night Laylat al-Qadr occurs. This practice is known as itikaf. Literally translated, it is an Arabic word that means "to isolate oneself and to stick or adhere to something."
The following hadith passage—record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)— is narrated by Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam):
“The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) used to practice Itikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan till he died and then his wives used to practice Itikaf after him.” [Hadith No. 2026, Book of Itikaf, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3]
Three Types of Itikaf
- Sunnah: This is the itikaf performed during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
- Nafl: Itikaf can be performed any day or night of the year. This is considered to be a nafl (voluntary) act.
- Wajib: If you have made a vow to perform itikaf, then it is compulsory (wajib) that you do so. This could be making a vow to Allah, such as through niyyat (intention) to perform itikaf, or a vow based on a condition. This means saying or thinking: "If this thing happens, I will make itikaf for certain number of days."
Whosoever for Allah’s sake did even one day's Itikaf, Allah would keep him away from Jahannam (hellfire) by trenches.
— Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), [Tabarani]
What Are the Virtues of Itikaf?
To understand the virtues of itikaf, one needs to understand its purpose and why it is a suggested practice, whether during Ramadan or at another time. The main purpose of itikaf is to remove yourself from distractions and focus solely on the worship of Allah, as Allah created us to do.
Renewing Your Relationship With Allah
Itikaf is a time to renew your relationship with Allah without the distractions of daily life. It is like a spiritual retreat to renew and energize your soul. In fact, another purpose of itikaf is so that you may fall in love with worshiping Allah such that you will carry that feeling with you once your itikaf is over. In other words, it helps strengthen your faith in Allah and helps to further perfect your worship of Him.
The Heart Is the Core of Deeds
The core of all deeds is the heart, as the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said:
“In the body there is an organ which if it is sound, the entire body will be sound, and if it is corrupt, the entire body will be corrupt. That organ is the heart.” [Bukhari 52 and Muslim 1599]
In this hadith, the message speaks of the heart as the core of our actions. This world has many temptations, trials, and tribulations. It can influence the actions of our hearts. Itikaf allows you to take a timeout from the world and focus on constant worship of Allah—to remind us that we are here to worship and please Allah. It helps us keep our hearts good and on the straight path as we go out in the world. Itikaf can help strengthen one's shield against the tricks and temptations of shaitan (evil spirits).
As narrated by Abu Huraira:
"The Prophet used to perform Itikaf every year in the month of Ramadan for ten days, and when it was the year of his death, he stayed in Itikaf for twenty days." [Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 33, Number 260]
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He who observes the ten days Itikaf during Ramadan will obtain the thawab of two Hajj and two Umrah. [Bayhaqi]
— Ali Ibn Husain, narrating from his father the words of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam)
What Is the Time and Duration of Itikaf?
Varying opinions exist on the time and duration of itikaf, depending on which school of thought you follow.
For nafl and wajib itikaf, it is agreed that the duration depends on your intent and can begin at any time of the day or night. So if you plan or vow to Allah to be in itikaf for one day, then do so for one day; if for two days, then do so for two days, etc. Some scholars say that if one cannot do the entire 24-hour period, it is permissible for a person to make the intention for the set amount of time for itikaf.
During the last 10 nights of Ramadan, many try to spend the entire time in itikaf so they will not miss out on the rewards of Laylat al-Qadr. It is not known which night Laylat al-Qadr will occur, except that it will occur on an odd number night. Some choose to spend their days and nights in itikaf only on the odd number days of the last 10 days of Ramadan, making their itikaf intentions with each time they enter the masjid.
When Should You Begin Your Itikaf?
As far as when a person should begin their itikaf, there seems to be a variance in opinion as well. A few hadiths mention that the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would begin his itikaf at the time of Maghrib prayer, and many hadiths mention that he would begin his itikaf at the time of Fajr prayer. So it depends upon the believer and their intentions. Here is an example of one hadith's mention, narrated by Aisha:
If the intention is to do so, itikaf could last only a few hours. For example, it is encouraged, but not mandatory, to be in a state of itikaf during the time of Fajr until the sun rises and to be in a state of itikaf from Maghrib until the end of Isha prayer.
And do not have relations with them as long as you are staying for worship in the mosques. These are the limits [set by] Allah, so do not approach them. Thus does Allah make clear His ordinances to the people that they may become righteous.
— [Surat al-Baqarah 2:187]
What Are the Conditions of Itikaf?
- Being Muslim: The first condition to performing itikaf is that the person must be Muslim. Also, note that children who have not reached an age of discernment (sin at-tamyiz) do not participate in itikaf. The child must be able to eat, dress themselves, and wash themselves without assistance. For those who follow the Hanafi school of thought, this is typically around the age of seven for boys and nine for girls.
- Must be of sound mind: This means that a person must be able to make reasonable and rational thoughts and decisions. To explain further, a person may not be drunk or under the influence of drugs that may alter their state of mind. Also, a person with a mental illness that prevents them from making decisions on their own should not perform itikaf.
- Niyyah: This means intention. One must have the intention to participate in itikaf for the sake of Allah, not for the sake of being seen by others. Your intention must be pure and focused on worshiping and pleasing Allah.
- Permission: Women need to ask permission from their husbands before performing itikaf.
- Performed in masjid: It is mentioned in Surat al-Baqarah 2:187 that itikaf is performed in a masjid. While some may say it is okay to perform itikaf at home, especially for women, most scholars agree that this is not the case because the Qur'an says otherwise.
- State of wudu: One must be in a state of wudu (purification/cleanliness) to participate in itikaf. If a person's wudu is nullified, such as using the bathroom, the person must wudu before continuing itikaf. Although, if during sleep, one has what is called a wet dream, one's itikaf is not nullified but one must ghusl (full-body purification) before continuing itikaf.
- Fasting: According to most schools of thought, fasting is required to perform itikaf. Itikaf is mentioned in the Qur'an in conjunction with the fasting of Ramadan. The Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would always fast during his itikaf. However, some believe that if a person has a medical condition, such as diabetes, that prevents them from fasting, it is still permissible to participate in itikaf. Please note that a medical condition differs from being ill, such as fever or nausea.
The Sunnah for the person who is in Itikaf is that he should not visit the sick or attend funerals, or touch his wife or have intercourse with her, or go out for any but the most pressing of needs. There is no Itikaf except with fasting, and there is no Itikaf except in a Masjid.
— [Abu Dawood 2473]
What Should You Bring to Itikaf?
Here is a list of things to bring to itikaf:
- Hadith books
- Books on tafseer
- Materials on tajweed
- Notebook and pencil or pens
- Change of clothing
- Food for suhoor and iftar
- Pillow and blanket (optional)
What to Do During Itikaf
- Five daily prayers: It is prescribed that all Muslims pray five daily fard (obligatory) prayers, so this is obviously expected during itikaf. It is also suggested that Muslims pray the sunnah with each fard prayer.
- Taraweeh: This is the prayer that occurs after Isha prayer during Ramadan. It can be 8 to 20 rakah (units of prayer), depending on who is leading Taraweeh. By participating in Taraweeh, you will hear/recite the whole Qur'an during the month of Ramadan.
- Nafl prayers: During itikaf, it is a good time to pray nafl (voluntary) prayers.
- Read and memorize Qur'an: Another act of worshiping Allah is to read and study the Qur'an. Don't just read the Qur'an—study the tafseer (interpretation) of the Qur'an. Also, take this time to try to memorize and focus on tajweed (proper pronunciation) as much of the Qur'an as you can.
- Read and memorize hadiths: Also, spend time learning and even memorizing sahih (authentic) hadiths. Also, reflect on their meaning and how to apply them to your daily life.
- Make du'a: Be sure to make plenty of du'a (prayer of worship). Compile a list of du'a to learn and recite daily.
- Make dhikr: Also spelled zikr, dhikr translates to remembrance. Itikaf is all about remembering Allah and raising your level of taqwa (piety/consciousness of Allah).
- Teaching and learning: Although social conversations should be kept to a minimum, there is great reward in not just learning the Qur'an and ways to better worship Allah, but also teaching and helping another person perfect their acts of worship and knowledge.
Which Acts Nullify Itikaf?
- Wrong intentions: Itikaf is supposed to be a spiritual retreat to bring one closer to Allah through devout worship for an extended period. If one is only participating in itikaf so that friends, family, and other peers may see them do so, then the itikaf is null and void and will not be accepted.
- Leaving the masjid: Once you have made the intention to stay at the masjid for itikaf, you cannot leave without a good reason. However, it was noted that the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would stick his head outside the masjid so that Aisha may comb his hair. But if you step outside completely, meaning your entire body, without a good reason, your itikaf will be nullified. If you must use the bathroom, you may leave the masjid without nullifying your itikaf. Although most masjids have food available during itikaf, if this is not the case, you may leave the masjid if you need to get food, such as for suhoor (early morning meal) or iftar (meal after sunset).
- Sexual intercourse: Although sexual intercourse with a spouse is permissible outside the duration of fasting, such as after one has broken their fast and before fajr prayer, sexual intercourse and masturbation is not allowed at all during the period of itikaf. Also, no kissing, holding hands, or other forms of pleasure from the opposite sex is permitted during itikaf. In Islam, sexual intercourse is only allowed between a husband and wife. However, if one has sexual intercourse outside of marriage, one's itikaf will not be accepted.
- Menstruation or post-childbirth bleeding: If a woman is experiencing post-childbirth bleeding or is on her menstrual cycle, she is not allowed to participate in itikaf. If a woman begins her menstrual cycle during itikaf, she must quietly leave the mosque and not return until her menstruation is finished.
- Not of sound mind: This could be due to being under the influence of a substance that would cause drunkenness or inhibit one's reasoning. It could also be an onset, whether temporary or permanent, of insanity or mental illness that interferes with one's reasoning.
- Being ill/sick: If a person is sick or becomes ill during itikaf, they must discontinue itikaf because it will no longer be valid or accepted. That person should stay home or return home to recover from illness.
- Becoming a disbeliever: If one becomes a disbeliever in Islam or associates partners with Allah in any way (placing others as Allah's equal), then the itikaf is nullified, and they need to leave the mosque.
- Arguing: It is not permissible to discuss matters of the world, such as politics, because it may cause an argument due to possible differing opinions. It is advised not to have faith-based arguments either. Although it is every Muslim's duty to destroy any falsehoods and educate in truth—be careful how it is done. There is no need to raise one's voice in anger or insult another. Faith-based discussions are permissible if done so in a calm, rational manner.
- Perfume/cologne: Perfume and cologne worn with the intent to derive pleasure from it by either the person wearing or by the people around the person are said to nullify itikaf. It isn't the wearing of perfume or cologne that nullifies itikaf; it is the possibility of committing or causing someone else to commit an act of sin. It is advised not to wear perfume at all because even if the wearer does not intend to wear it for pleasure, some people around them may derive pleasure from it, which may nullify their itikaf.
- Any sinful act: No matter how minor, all sins, both major and minor, must be avoided during itikaf. If one commits any sinful act, the itikaf is nullified.
- Business transactions: This is not a time to conduct business transactions. Itikaf is designed to focus on Allah and to leave worldly desires and dealing outside the masjid.
Stay Focused on Your Intentions and Be Free of Distractions
Remember that itikaf is not a time to catch up on sleep or socialize. It is okay to take time to sleep, but don't spend most of your time sleeping. As it is said: "Prayer is better than sleep." Prayer and other acts of worship should be your main priority. Limit sleeping to short naps.
Guard yourself from socializing in general conversation with others at the masjid. You are at the masjid with the intention of itikaf to remove yourself from worldly distractions, not bring the distractions with you. Discussing things considered an act of worship, such as helping someone memorize the Qur'an or hadiths, is alright. It is also okay to discuss tafseer of the Qur'an and hadiths.
Since itikaf is a time to focus on Allah, be sure that your interactions with others and your own actions reflect the reason for being at the masjid for itikaf. Do not waste this precious time with your creator in idle deeds. Maximize the time with sincerity, and you will notice how much closer you will be with Allah, thus giving you strength when you go back into the world beyond the masjid doors.
Finally, please note that some masjids may have additional rules, such as minimum age requirement, bedding, etc. Even still, some masjids require a registration form, especially during Ramadan. So, it is best to contact your local masjid for more details.
"And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me."
— [Surat Adh-Dhariyat 51:56]
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: In itikaf can we take bath to refresh ourselves?
Answer: Dr. Shehzad Saleem answers this question in the following video:
Question: Can I use a tablet or cell phone to read the Qur'an and Hadiths during Itikaf?
Answer: Mufti Menk points out that we are in the age of gadgets and technology. Some apps help you memorize and perfect your recitation. However, you must not be distracted by the other apps and functions of the gadget you use. Assim Al Hakeem says that we receive the same reward to read the Qur'an whether on paper or in an electronic device. Consider watching these videos from scholars:
Question: During i'tikaf, can we take regular baths and change clothes in the summer?
Answer: Dr. Shehzad Saleem answers this question in the following video:
© 2014 Linda Sarhan
Asfiya on July 18, 2020:
I loved the article.❤️ And I am not a reading person. But omg I don't think I missed a word of this article. You explain every question I every had about itikaf. Thank you. Thank you so much. jazakallah khair.
Shivanya on May 24, 2020:
Can people see our face when we are on itikaf or can we see their face for example by passing from their room to the bathroom or the kitchen or going to pick the quran of their room?
Chandrakanta on May 23, 2020:
Thanks for this it was very helpful
Zeeba on May 22, 2020:
I am in itkaaf but now I got my periods now what can I do
Syed Taj on May 22, 2020:
Can I discuss about office while in itikaf? Only if it's important?
Hira on May 20, 2020:
I am in eitikaaf but my family gets into a fight so I have to leave my place for a shorter period of time...Is my eitikaaf nullified?
Faria on May 17, 2020:
Iam sitting in itikaf today Inshallah but iam getting pains of periods what if periods occur during itikaf?
A.N on May 16, 2020:
How old do you have to be to sit itikaf
Saba Shahid on May 16, 2020:
What is the ruling on using mobile phone while in itikaf?
Abdul samad on May 16, 2020:
My brother sat in itikaf, on the next day after jumma prayer he was asked to leave the masjid by committee of mosque. Now he has been shifted in another mosque near the village.
I want to about the status of itikaf.
Is he in itikaf still or otherwise.
K. N on May 16, 2020:
if i have an Islamic studies exam coming up, is it permissible to revise for that during itikaf
Ariyana Rahman Zarah on May 14, 2020:
can we exercise while in I’tikaf?
Saima on May 14, 2020:
What happens if a girl starts her period while sitting itikaf
Osmen Hamid Ghori on May 14, 2020:
Hi I wanted to know if you live in a different country away from everyone you have ever known. I live in a small single flat. For food what time during itikaf can one cook for themselves. I need to know asap please. There are people in different circumstances I can't find anything that relates to me.
Ahmaad on May 14, 2020:
Can i use my phone while performing itikaf?
Ali on May 13, 2020:
Can i use my phone to read duas in itikaf
Aisha on May 13, 2020:
Can i do itikaf on a bed because i am scared that they might insects for spiders on the floor.
Moon on May 13, 2020:
Can we see in mirror during itakaf
Mehboob Kittur on May 13, 2020:
Can i do ethakhaf in my prayer room because all mosques are closed due to covid 19 is it permissible or not
Hamza Bhatti on May 12, 2020:
Can we do itikaf at home because due to covid-19 my local mosque is closed so would it be permissible to perform itikaf in a house prayer room
Riffat asghar on May 09, 2020:
Can a women during the itakaf get up and do the iftar and sahoe cooking for the family
Wajid on May 06, 2020:
I’ve made intention for E’itkaaf In Sha Allah . With current situation it’s not possible to sit in mosque . Please give some guidance.
Naba on May 04, 2020:
On the top it is the Hadith of Abu Dawood that says “...there is no itikaf except in Masjid” . The biggest obstacle for me right now is the constant confusion that will my itikaf be accepted if I perform in isolation at my home or not ?
Please guide me , thank you .
Noor on April 06, 2020:
Can i do itiqaf at my friend's house without any kind interference of any Na-mehram???
naz bajwa on June 12, 2019:
Do jinns come during itekaf?
Maryam on June 03, 2019:
Is it permissible to do worldly study during itekaf? Syllabus books?
Gull on June 01, 2019:
Why it's necessary for female to take permission from her husband for iteqaf but not for male to take permission from his wife?
Zoya khan on May 31, 2019:
Can a married women sit for itekaf without her husband permission ??becoz they are not together now.
Fakiha on May 31, 2019:
I after taking a bath accidentally went into washroom to turn off the exhaust fan .. did it nullify itekaf
Sana on May 30, 2019:
Can one read his/her schools books during itikaf?
Saidu on May 27, 2019:
Can one during itikaf sign office document brought to him in the masjid?
Aymen on May 15, 2019:
Can we meet and see off kids/nephew or neices during itikaf if they are leaving country during our period of itikaf?
Muhammad Numan on May 07, 2019:
Can we use any perfume/fragrance during itikaf??... just because we can't take bath on daily bases...
firstname.lastname@example.org on February 24, 2019:
Can I give my decisions as I am in that position;and my organisations people ask for it?
email@example.com on February 24, 2019:
Can I read daily newspaper during ittekaf ?
Shehreen on June 14, 2018:
Can i leave mosque to use my house bathroom during itikaf?
Aisha on June 10, 2018:
Can we cook and do other small household works for kids and husband
Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on June 09, 2018:
Assalamu 'alaikum wa rahmutallahi wa barakatuh Shahid Bashir.
Mufti Shafiq Jakhura says, "Just as it is permitted to send a letter to one's family and enquire of their well-being during I'tikaf it is also permissible to send a text message or communicate with one's family using modern methods of communication. One should however avoid vain and futile matter and discussion whilst in I'tikaf. One should also keep in mind the etiquette of using a cell phone and the respect and sanctity of the masjid. Impermissible content should not be seen, heard or spoken on the mobile nor should one disturb others that are in the masjid." (Jakura 2010)
Jakura, Shafiq. "Using Cell Phone During Itikaf." Albalagh. 2010. https://www.albalagh.net/qa/0133.shtml
Shahid Bashir on June 07, 2018:
I am performing itikaf and during this I have taken my cell phone with me in order to put alarms while I sleep, but today I chatted with my friend and wife on WhatsApp. Is this permissible if not then what I have to do so that my itikaf could not be nullified. Please answere .
Imad khan on June 15, 2017:
May Allah bless you.