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Itikaaf – how to prepare and make the most of seclusion in the last third of Ramadan

Ibn Al-Qayyim may Allaah have mercy upon him said that as the soundness of the heart and its adherence to its way to Allah depends on its full devotion to Allah The Almighty.

Itikaf refers to going into seclusion in the mosque for the sole purpose of worshipping Allah and attaching oneself and one’s heart to His worship. Itikaf provides an opportunity to the believer to get closer to Allah by temporarily freeing oneself and one’s mind from the activities and worries of this world. This provides an excellent opportunity to train oneself to disassociate temporarily from the worries of the world and to instead focus only on Allah alone.

Aisha (Ra) narrated that the Prophet (SAW) used to observe Itikaf every year during the last ten days of Ramadan (which was made fardh in 2AH) until he passed away (9 years later). Then his wives used to observe Itikaf after him (Bukhari) In the year in which he (SAW) passed away. he performed Itikaf for 20 days, which Ibn Hajr(rh) explains may have been because he knew his life was coming to an end and he wanted to show the importance of trying your utmost when nearing the finishing line.

The essence of I‘tikaaf is to be so preoccupied with the Creator to the exclusion of others. The one practicing I‘tikaaf is always busy remembering and mentioning Allah, supplicating to Him, asking Him for forgiveness, returning to Him in repentance, reciting the Quran, meditating over its meanings, praying, and contemplating his way to Allah; and this contemplation is one of the greatest purposes ofI‘tikaaf.

The one practising I‘tikaaf should avoid intermixing with others except when praying with people and other essential matters. He should be keen on fulfilling the meaning of seclusion and I‘tikaaf and consume less food and drink – only what is necessary. I‘tikaaf is not for banqueting or a replacement of a summer activity centre. Rather, one should sleep less, talk less and mind their own business. The Prophet(SAW) whom the Ummah was in great need of, did not even talk to his Companions during his I‘tikaaf. Hence, we have to follow his example. Talk as needed only during your I‘tikaaf and avoid humour and laughing and what is of no use. In particular, try to fast from your phone, social media and messages – they are some of the biggest timewasters.

Al-Aswad ibn Yazid narrates from ‘A’ishah that she said:

كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَجْتَهِدُ فِي الْعَشْرِ الْأَوَاخِرِ مَا لَا يَجْتَهِدُ فِي غَيْرِهِ

“Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to strive in the last ten days to an extent that he did not strive at any other time.” [Muslim 1175]

Ata al-Khurasaani (Allah have mercy on him) used to say: “The example of a mu’takif (one performing i’tikāf) is the example of a person stopping at the door of Allah the Almighty saying: I shall not move away until He forgives me” (Badaa’i Al-Sanaa’i, 2/273)

Stay in the masjid for the last ten nights

A person should stay in a mosque for the duration of the I’tikaf (except for certain things as described below in the prophetic sayings:

Aa’ishah reported that when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) observed I’tikaf, he did not enter the house except to relieve himself. Narrated by Muslim (297). This means limiting the time even in the toilet or kitchen area to that which is absolutely necessary.

Al-Shaafa’i and his companions said: Whoever would like to follow the example of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in observing I’tikaf during the last ten nights of Ramadan should enter the mosque before the sun sets on the night of the twenty-first, so that he will not miss any of it, and he should come out after the sun sets on the night of Eid, whether the month is twenty-nine days or thirty. It is better for him to stay in the mosque on the night of Eid so that he can offer the Eid prayer there, or go out to the Eid prayer-place if they pray Eid there Al-Nawawi said in al-Majmoo’ (6/323)

Itikaaf is an individual act

There are 3 principles to bear in mind on itikaaf:

  • Intention: You are only here for Allah’s sake and this is an opportunity for seclusion with Him (SWT), not others on itikaaf. Although you should continue to smile and treat each other as brothers, try not to get diverted from your ultimate purpose of seclusion with Allah(SWT). How many a good act start well but are corrupted during the action – one of my teachers would say, start with Bismillah and then refresh it with Lillah throughout to check your sincerity.
  • Tawbah: Turning to Allah(SWT), begging His forgiveness, talking to Him(SWT), seeking His guidance and making a promise to turn away from that which displeases Him(SWT). Use your time for reflection and planning to dedicate yourself better to Allah(SWT) and begin now with the intention to continue for the remainder of your life.
  • Increase your actions – this is the final sprint of Ramadan and actions are by their ending [Bukhari]. Set goals and then commit to exceeding them. If you want to see results at the gym, you continue to increase repetitions or weight – similarly, keep on pushing yourself to read more Qur’an, reflect more, pray more salaah, make more dua.

Ibn Rajab (raḥimahullāh) writes, “The Prophet ﷺ would reserve a mat upon which he would seclude himself from people, not mixing with or paying attention to them. This is why Imām Aḥmad (raḥimahullāh) did not recommend for the person doing iʿtikāf to mix with anyone; not even to teach them knowledge or make them recite the Qur’ān. Rather, the best thing to do is to be alone and free oneself to converse privately with one’s Lord, remember Him, and ask Him.

Compassionate with your brothers

One of the early challenges for itikaaf is getting comfortable with others you may not know or have spent much time with. This is especially testing when they may snore, speak or act in a different way to you and perhaps take the best spots in the masjid for themselves. Remember, one of the categories shaded under the Throne of Allah(SWT) on the Day of Judgement are those who love each other for His sake – this is a great opportunity to develop this attitude. Be patient, accommodating and serve others when you need to interact (e.g. eating, sleeping or making wudhu).

Bear snoring patiently and don’t make it a joke. Control your tongue – it’s the quickest and most dangerous way to burn your good deeds

If others are asleep, do not disturb them with noise or lights unless requested.

Respect the Ameer in resolving issues

Pray with the Imam until he is finished

The mutakif (one observing itikaaf) should aim to be in the first row for each prayer attending early and remaining until the Imam is finished.

Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever stands for prayer in Ramadan with the Imam until he is finished, it will be recorded as if he prayed the entire night.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī 806]

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنَّهُ مَنْ قَامَ مَعَ الإِمَامِ (في رمضان) حَتَّى يَنْصَرِفَ كُتِبَ لَهُ قِيَامُ لَيْلَةٍ

Additional nafl prayers

Al Ishraq: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: “Allah, the Exalted, says: Son of Adam, do not be fail Me in performing four Rakahs at the beginning of the day: I will supply what you need till the end of it.”  The time for performing Salah al-Ishraq commences approximately twenty minutes after sunrise and its between 2-4 rakaats in length.

Duha: (forenoon or “chasht”) prayer, also referred to as Salāt al-Awwābeen (the prayer of the oft-repentant), is prayed like most other voluntary prayers in that you pray two units and you end the prayer with the tasleem to the right and left. If you wish to pray more than two units, then you may pray as many as you wish, two units at a time. The time of Duha is after the time of Salah al-Ishraq, from mid-morning, until mid-day (Zawal). It is more virtuous to observe it after a quarter of the day has passed, and its between 2-12 rakaats in length.

There are many virtues of these prayers including:

“In the morning, every single joint of yours must pay a sadaqah (charity). Every SubhanAllah is a sadaqah, every Alhamdulillāh is a sadaqah, every La Ilaha Illa Allah is a sadaqah, every Allahu Akbar is a sadaqah, every commanding good is a sadaqah, and every forbidding evil is a sadaqah, and all this is accomplished through two rakʿahs one can pray in Duha [prayer].” [Sahih Muslim (720)]

The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever prays the Fajr prayer then sits in his place of prayer remembering Allah until sunrise, then prays two rakʿahs, shall be rewarded as if he had performed Hajj and ʿUmrah, with a reward that is complete, complete, complete.” [at-Tirmidhi (586), al-Mundhiri in at-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (1/220), and Sahih al-Jāmiʿ (6346)]

The Prophet ﷺ also said: “If anyone sits in his place of prayer when he finishes the dawn prayer till he prays the two rakʿahs of the forenoon prayer, saying nothing but what is good, his sins will be forgiven even if they are more than the foam of the sea.” [Abu Dāwūd (1287), Ibn Ḥajar in Takhreej Mishkāt al-Masābeeh (2/74), and al-Mundhiri in at-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (2/221)]

Abu ad-Dardā’ (RA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whoever prays Duha will not be written amongst the heedless (people), and whoever prays four (rakʿahs) will be written amongst the worshipers, and whoever prays six (rakʿahs), it will suffice him on that day, and whoever prays 8 (rakʿahs) will be written amongst the pious, and whoever prays 12 rakʿahs, Allah will build for him a palace in Paradise” [Its narrators are trustworthy according to al-Mundhiri in at-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (1/320) and as-Safāreeni in Sharh Thulāthiyyat al-Musnad (2/306)]

During itikaf it is a good time to pray nafl (voluntary) prayers.

Read and memorize Qur’an and ahadith

Another act of worshipping Allah is to read and study the Qur’an with reflection, contemplation, and passion. 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. Also spend time learning and even memorizing sahih (authentic) hadiths. Also, reflect on their meaning and how to apply them to your daily life.

Gain beneficial knowledge: a friend of mine would sit in every religious discourse, even if they were delivered in languages he didn’t understand. When I asked him why, he said that the angels were still present and this was a gathering beloved to Allah(SWT) so why would be absent himself from it? Don’t use this as an opportunity to talk about issues which aren’t beneficial (e.g. unIslamic politics, other people) or cause arguments and be careful who you take your deen from – find a qualified or knowledgable person, rather than your average commentator Muslim who has an opinion on everything but no sound grounding in Islamic principles.

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.

Converse with your Rubb – make du’a abundantly

Be sure to make plenty of du’a. Compile your own dua list and make these daily – in this way you will definitely make them on Laylatul Qadr inshaAllah. Reflect on your weaknesses and make promises to Allah(SWT) about how you will act after this Ramadan. Perform a self-evaluation. Revisit your intentions, revisit your deeds.

Seek out laylatul Qadr and remember what caused its knowledge to be lost:

Ubaida ibn al-Samit reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, came out to inform people about the Night of Decree in Ramadan, but two Muslim men were insulting each other. The Prophet said, “Verily, I have come out to tell you about the Night of Decree, but two men were insulting each other. Thus, its knowledge was removed and perhaps it is better for you. Look for it during the seventh, ninth, or fifth night of the last ten nights.” Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 49

عن عبادة بن الصامت أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَرَجَ يُخْبِرُ بِلَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ فَتَلَاحَى رَجُلَانِ مِنْ الْمُسْلِمِينَ فَقَالَ إِنِّي خَرَجْتُ لِأُخْبِرَكُمْ بِلَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ وَإِنَّهُ تَلَاحَى فُلَانٌ وَفُلَانٌ فَرُفِعَتْ وَعَسَى أَنْ يَكُونَ خَيْرًا لَكُمْ الْتَمِسُوهَا فِي السَّبْعِ وَالتِّسْعِ وَالْخَمْسِ

“Truly in the heart there is a certain loneliness that cannot be removed except by spending time with Allah in solitude. In the heart there is a sadness that cannot be removed except through the happiness of knowing Allah and being true to Him… In the heart there is a void that cannot be filled except through loving Allah, turning to Him constantly, always remembering Him, and being sincere to Him. Were a person to be given the entire world and everything in it, it would never fill this void.” – Ibn al-Qayyim (rh)

Stay up at night and rest

Rest is essential to ensure you are fresh and able to focus and benefit from these last moments of Ramadan – build a sleep schedule which allows you to maximise your time awake at the most blessed of times. Perhaps sleep after Ishraaq and wake for 11am and then get some more sleep between dhohar and asr (qaylula) to ensure you are full of energy during the night and rest of the day.

A’isha (radi Allahu anha) said: The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) would pray and sleep during the 20 days [of Ramadan], then during the ten [last nights] he would stay awake and tighten his belt. [Muslim]

Aisha (RA) also said: I have not known the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, to read the entire Quran in a single night, nor to spend the whole night in prayer until the morning, nor to spend an entire month in fasting, except during the month of Ramadan. [Sunan al-Nasā’ī 1641]

Set Your Goals as high as you want to earn

Fear Allah (SWT) Set your goals as high as you can.  If you want to do khatm’l-Qur’an, set a higher goal of two, three, or five.  If part of your goals is to achieve righteousness and taqwa, then you have to start making plans on how to do so by adding more good deeds to your schedule.  If part of your goals is to pray qiyam’l-layl every night in the masjid, then commit yourself.  If you fall short a little from achieving these lofty goals, insha’Allah they will still be higher than what you did last year.

Give charity remotely: Set up a repeat donation every night of this period or the whole of Ramadan. If it is laylatul Qadr it will be multiplied by 1000 months! Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was the most generous of people and he was even more generous in Ramadan when Gabriel would meet him. He would meet him every night of Ramadan to study the Quran. Thus, the Prophet would be more generous than a nourishing wind. [Bukhari, Muslim]

Pay attention to your heart

Ibn ul Qayim said:  “A servant is not afflicted with any chastisement greater than a hard heart and of being remote from God.

The heart falls ill as the body does; its cure is in repentance and a spiritual regimen. It gets tarnished as a mirror does; its polish is dhikr. It feels exposed as the body does: its robe is piety (taqwa). It hungers and thirsts like the body does: its sustenance is gnosis, love, repentance and divine service.

The heart has six places in which it roams – there being no seventh. Three of these are lowly and three lofty. The lowly are: a world that entices it, an ego that nags at it; and a foe who seductively whispers to it. These are the places where lowly spirits constantly roam. The three lofty things are: knowledge by which it gains clarity; an intellect with which it is guided; and a deity [God] to which it is devoted in worship. So these are the places wherein hearts wander.’

Hardness of the heart comes about by four things, when the level of need is exceeded: eating, sleeping, speaking and socialising. Hearts that are attached to carnal passions are veiled from God to the extent of these attachments.

‘Seek your heart in three places: where the Qur’an is recited; in the gathering of dhikr;and in times of seclusion. If you don’t find it in these places, then ask God to bless you with a heart. For you have no heart!’ [al-Fawa’id, 142-4]

What to take with you into itikaaf

You don’t need much and this checklist covers some of the basics:

  • Your personal Qur’an and a good translation (e.g. Clear Qur’an, Abdul Haleem)
  • Your personal journal for review, reflection, dars notes and your dua list
  • Bedding (sleeping bag, bedsheet, cushion)
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, itr, comb, tissues etc.)
  • Miswaak (start using one if you havent before)
  • Tasbih/counter (for your adhkar)
  • Towels + spare toilet tissue (they tend to disappear just when you need them)
  • Any medicines you take regularly and spare glasses
  • Clothing – change of clothes, nightwear, underwear, socks, topi etc
  • Mobile + charger + earphones (to listen to Qur’an/reminder)
  • Food- cereal and milk for breakfast, foods high in protein (string cheese, nuts) – avoid too many sweet or salty foods as they can cause the blood sugar levels to quickly rise and fall sharply leading to mood swings.
  • Eye cover and ear plugs (to help you sleep) and nose plugs (to help others sleep if you snore)

Example routine

Get rest so you can maximise your ibaadah – every moment is worship. A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop

     – Benefit from the daily Fajr reminder

     – Read some Qur’an at fajr and do your morning adhkaar

     – Ishraq and Doha can be prayed in the early (first third) and late (last third) parts of the morning respectively. “Whoever prays Fajr in congregation, then sits remembering Allah until the sun rises, then prays two rak‘ahs, will have a reward like that of Hajj and ‘Umrah, complete, complete, complete.” Narrated by at-Tirmidhi (586)

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: My beloved (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) advised me to do three things, which I will not forsake so long as I live: to fast three days of each month, to pray Duha, and not to sleep until I pray Witr.

     – Get some quality sleep waking before the adhan of Dhohar

     – After Dhohar, spend time reviewing the Qur’an to be recited in taraweeh

     – Benefit from qayloolah (afternoon nap) (SAW) would say: “Take a nap at midday, for the Shaytaan does not take a nap at midday.” Narrated by at-Tabaraani – so that you are fresh for the Night Prayers

     – Use the time before asr to read
    – After asr do your evening adhkaar
    – Dua before Iftar. Break fast moderately and try to minimise ordering too much if there is already a collective iftar

     – Al-Shawkaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in Nayl al-Awtaar (3/68): The verses and ahaadeeth quoted concerning Awabeen after Maghrib indicate that it is prescribed to pray a great deal between Maghrib and ‘Isha’. Although most of the ahaadeeth are da’eef (weak), they carry some weight when taken all together, especially with regard to virtuous actions. Al-‘Iraqi said: Among the Sahaabah who used to pray between Maghrib and ‘Isha’ were ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood, ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr, Salmaan al-Faarisi, Ibn ‘Umar, Anas ibn Maalik and some of the Ansaar. Among the Taabi’een were al-Aswad ibn Yazeed, Abu ‘Uthmaan al-Nahdi, Ibn Abi Maleekah, Sa’eed ibn Jubayr, Muhammad ibn al-Munkadir, Abu Haatim, ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Sakhbarah, ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn, Abu ‘Abd al-Rahmaan al-Habali, Shurayh al-Qaadi, ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Maghfal and others. Among the imams there was Sufyaan al-Thawri. Based on this, it is mustahabb to pray between Maghrib and ‘Isha, without specifying a set number of rak’ahs.
    – Before Isha, listen to/read a juz summary 

     – Pray with the Imam until he completes if you are able. Don’t harass others if they need to rest.
    – (SAW) would sleep at the beginning of the night, then get up to pray qiyaam al-layl (8 rakaat), and he would pray as much as Allah willed that he should pray. // “With the start of the last ten days (of Ramadan), the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to tighten up his loincloth, stay up at night and keep his family awake.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

Ibn al-Jawzī (raḥimahullāh) writes, “That I benefit myself by being alone is better than me benefitting others and harming myself. Persevere and remain patient with what solitude entails, for if you were to remain in solitude with your Lord, He will open for you the door of His maʿrifah (deep awareness).”

Here are some more tips for the last 10 nights.

And here’s an Adab of itikaaf guide from Madinah Masjid for those who commit to itikaaf.

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