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.

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]

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.

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).

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

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.

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’ raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) 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.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 49

Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Bukhari

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

49 صحيح البخاري كتاب الإيمان باب خوف المؤمن من أن يحبط عمله وهو لا يشعر

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. Abdul Haleem)
  • Your personal journal for review, reflection, dars notes and your dua list
  • Bedding (sleeping bag, bedsheet, cushion)
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, itr, comb etc.)
  • Miswaak (start using one if you havent before)
  • Towels
  • Any medicines you take regularly
  • Alarm clock / phone charger (if your alarm is on your phone)
  • Clothing
  • Bathroom slippers
  • 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.

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