What to Do During Itikaf: Rules, Virtues, and Nullifications
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
(In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)
What Is Itikaf?
Itikaf is considered 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) in order to ensure that they are there for whichever night Laylat al-Qadr occurs. This is called itikaf. Literally translated, it is an Arabic word that means "to isolate oneself and to stick or adhere to something."
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 on any day/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 the purpose of it and why it is suggested that it be done, whether during Ramadan or outside of it. 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 to 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—record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)—the message speaks of the heart as being the core of all of our actions. This world has many temptations, trials, and tribulations. It can influence the actions of our heart. 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 heart good and on the straight path as we go out in the world. Itikaf can help one to 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]
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?
There seems to be varying opinions 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, then 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 of 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 his or her itikaf, there seems to be a variance in opinion as well. There are a few hadiths that mention that the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would begin his itikaf at the time of Maghrib prayer, and many hadiths that mention that he would begin his itikaf at the time of Fajr prayer. So it depends upon the believer and his or her intentions.
If the intention is there 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 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 around the age of nine for girls.
- Must be of sound mind: What this means is 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 who has a mental illness where they cannot make decisions on their own does 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 simply not the case at all, 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, then 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: By most schools of thought, fasting is a requirement to perform itikaf. Itikaf is mentioned in the Qur'an in conjunction to the fasting of Ramadan. The Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would always fast during the time of his itikaf. However, some believe that if a person has a medical condition, such as diabetes, that prevents him or her from fasting, that it is still permissible for that person to participate in itikaf. Please note that a medical condition differs from being ill, such as with 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 prayers with each of the fard prayers.
- 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 there are also great rewards for anyone who spends time 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 of time. 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, then your itikaf will be nullified. You may leave the masjid without nullifying your itikaf if you must use the bathroom. Although most masjids have food available during itikaf, if this is not the case, you may also 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 any other form 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 then 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 that would 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, the person 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 he or she needs 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 against not to have faith-based arguments either. Although, it is the duty to every Muslim to destroy any falsehoods and educate in truth—just be careful how it is done. There is no need to raise one's voice in anger or insult the other person. 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 is 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 have the intention of wearing it for pleasure, some people around him or her 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 kind of 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
Keep in mind that itikaf is not a time to catch up on sleep or to 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. Keep 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 to bring the distractions with you. It is alright to discuss things that would be considered an act of worship, such as helping someone to memorize the Qur'an or hadiths. 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 the month of 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]
When do you perform itikaf?
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
In itikaf can we take bath to refresh ourselves?Helpful 126
Can I use a tablet or cell phone to read the Qur'an and Hadiths during Itikaf?
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:Helpful 82
During i'tikaf, can we take regular baths and change clothes in the summer?Helpful 82
© 2014 L Sarhan