As we approach the last ten days of this blessed month, our discourse on Ramadan continues; focusing onacts of worship that make this particular period of Ramadan most rewarding. Muslims are generally exhorted by the Prophet (SAW) to intensify their acts of devoution during the last ten days of Ramadan. A night that is worth a thousand months falls within this period. It is called ‘Laylatul-Qadr’, meaning ‘The Night of Power’.A detailed discussion of Laylatul-Qadr will, inshaAllahu, come up on this page next week. I’tikaf, which involves seclusion in a mosque for the purpose of engaging in focused and painstaking worship of Allah (SWT) is another form of devoution recommended to be observed by Muslims during this period. No restrictions are place on a Muslim as to which particular form of worship to engage in during the last ten days of Ramadan. It is nonetheless profitable if a Muslim diversifies his devoutions.
Some of the acts of worship recommended for Muslims to occupy themselves with include tilawah (recitation the holy Qur’an), observing nafilah (superogatory) prayers, seeking for forgiveness from Allah, asking for favours, glorifying Allah through Tasbih (saying ‘Suhana-llah’), or Takbir (saying Allahu Akbar), or Tahlil (saying ‘La ilahaila-llah’), orTahmid (saying Alhamdulillah), or similar invocations of glory and gratitude to Allah (SWT). Aisha (RA) once asked the Prophet (SAW) about what to recite on the Laylatul-Qadr night. The Prophet (SAW) replied, ‘Say: O Allah! You are Pardon; You like Pardon; Pardon me’, which Arabic version reads as: ‘Allahumma Anta Afwun, Tuhibbul-Afwa, Fa’fuanni’.
A Muslim who observes I’tikaf is called Mu’takif in Arabic. I’tikaf aims at isolating the heart of a Mu’takif from everything except Allah (SWT). In order for a Muslim to get closer to Allah (SWT), he deserts all worldly activities while in I’tikaf. The seclusion enables him to disconnect his mind from the worldly things which the eyes of man naturally covet. All the thoughts and devotions of a Mu’takif are focused on Allah (SWT). And like the Prophet (SAW) mentioned in the thirty-eighth hadith of Annawawi’s collection of forty traditions, a Mu’takif would continue to get closer to Allah (SWT) with voluntary acts of worship so much so that ‘He (SWT) becomes the hearing with which His servant hears, the seeing with which he sees, the hand with which he takes (things), and the foot with which he walks’. May Allah (SWT) put us among those to attain this spiritual elevation during this Ramadan.
Scholars are united in their opinion that I’tikaf must be observed only in a mosque where Friday (Jumu’at) prayer is conducted. This is to avoid a situation where the Mu’takif would have to leave the mosque in which he is observingI’tikaf for another mosquefor the sake of observing the Jumu’at congregational prayer. However, a Mu’takif may wish to observe I’tikaf in any mosque if he intends to spend only few days in seclusion, which do not include Friday. It is most preferable that a believer spends ten days in I’tikaf. The least number of days for a Mu’takif to remain in seclusion is a day and a night.
The time to enter in to I’tikaf is usually before sunset of the day the Mu’takif desires to begin the seclusion. While in seclusion, the Mu’takif is prohibited from visiting the sick, attending funeral prayers, having conjugal relationships, and from buying and selling. Engaging in any of these acts vitiates the I’tikaf. A Mu’takif is not required to engage in extensive studies or writing. A worshipper in I’tikaf is encouraged to engage much in voluntary prayers, recitation of the holy Qur’an and the glorification of Allah’s most beautiful names.
A Mu’takif, whilein seclusion, should avoid entering in to his family house (if it is close by) or interacting with his family members. His interaction with the outside world should be reduced to the barest minimum except for reasons of answering the call of nature or attending to a very important matter. He must however return to his I’tikafpoint immediately after attending to such exigencies. A Mu’takif who remains in I’tikaf until the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal (i.e. Eid el-Fitr day)is required to proceed directly from the mosque in which he observed I’tikaf to the Eid praying ground and would not return to his family until he had offered the Eid prayers along with other worshippers.
It is important to clarify here that it is needless, as practiced by some Muslims, to insist on observing I’tikaf in a mosque located outside a worshiper’s immediate environment. It has become habitual of some Muslims to travel over long distances to Abuja in order to observe I’tikaf at the NationalMosque. Others travel from their towns or villages to the capital of the states in which they reside to also observe I’tikaf. These trips are actually unnecessary because Allah (SWT) does not give preference to the worship by Muslims in one mosque over another except if the worship were in any of the three holiest mosques which are: the holy mosque of Ka’abah in Makkah, the holy mosque of the Prophet (SAW) in Madinah and the holy mosque of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
Asides of these three holy mosques, no extra rewards are attached to the observance of I’tikafor other forms of worship in any selected mosque. The Prophet (SAW) is reported to have said that “A prayer observed in my mosque is one thousand times better (in reward) than a prayer offered in all other mosques except the holy mosque of Ka’abah (in Makkah); and a prayer observed in the holy mosque of Ka’abah is one hundred times better (in reward) than a prayer offered in my mosque”. This prophetic tradition puts the three holy mosquesearlier mentioned far above every other mosque in the world.
Besides the risks associated with traveling, the choice of observing I’tikaf in a specific mosque outside one’s community is not without added financial burden. The free meals usually served at the National Mosque in Abujaor other mosques in different cities across the country isn’t enough a justification to warrant traveling to observe I’tikaf in selected local, national or regional mosques. May Allah (SWT) accept all our devoutionsin this holy period of Ramadan, amin. Ramadan Kareem!