I’tikaaf means to devote oneself for the worship of Allah by secluding oneself in a part of the House of Allah (Masjid) with the intention of i’tikaaf.
I’tikaaf affords us the opportunity to purify the self by deeply reflecting on ones spirituality and exerting in worshipping Allah. It may sound easy but this is not an easy task for many. Every hour must be spent in the obedience of Allah, no time wastage or useless talk nor sleeping unnecessarily. Therefore sincerity is of utmost importance.
I’tikaaf can be performed for any duration of time at any time of the year, as long as the intention for i’tikaaf is made. So it can be a few hours to a few days.
Rasoolullaah (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) first made i’tikaaf in the cave of Hiraa well before he was appointed a Nabi (Messenger). He spent days pondering over the idolatry and life of the Pre-Islamic Arabs in the Age of Ignorance, strengthening his bond with His Creator.
It was on a night of seclusion on the Night of Power, that Angel Jibraeel (Gabriel) appeared before Rasoolullaah (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) with the first revealed verses, instructing him to “Read”.
Rasoolullaah (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) continued to seclude himself for i’tikaaf during the last ten days of Ramadaan every year.
Hence, i’tikaaf is mustahabb (liked) at any time and also a practice of Rasoolullaah (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam), but it is better in Ramadaan, especially in the last ten days of Ramadaan.
It was proven that the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) observed i’tikaaf during ten days of Shawwaal as well. This is agreed upon.
However is more emphasised in Ramadaan, because of the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah (RadiyAllaahu ‘anhu): The Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) used to observe i’tikaaf for ten days every Ramadaan, and in the year in which he passed away he observed i’tikaaf for twenty days. [Bukhaari].
The best i’tikaaf is at the end of Ramadaan, because the Rasoolullaah (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) used to observe i’tikaaf for the last ten days of Ramadaan until he passed away. [Agreed upon].
An-Nawawi said in al-Majmoo’ (6/501):
I’tikaaf is Sunnah according to consensus, and it is not obligatory unless one vowed to do it – also according to consensus.
He also said (6/514):
The best i’tikaaf is that which is accompanied by fasting, and the best of that is in Ramadaan, and the best of that is the last ten days.
Shaykh Ibn Baaz said in Majmoo’ al-Fataawa (15/437):
Undoubtedly i’tikaaf in the mosque is an act of worship, and (observing it) in Ramadaan is better than at other times. It is prescribed in Ramadaan and at other times.
A woman may achieve the same means by secluding herself in a portion of her home, devoting herself to worship, with the sole intention of i’tikaaf.
Pondering over our ways, repenting and truly being connected to Allah in this month of Qur-aan indeed is a blessing. I’tikaaf is a time to really soul-search, to hope and pray for the recognition of Allah while exerting in prayer, to leave the world behind… For 10 days it is just YOU and your Lord. Allaahu-Akbar! How blessed are we that we can enjoy a privilege that was once held by past Prophets, Messengers and warners! For those who are blessed with this opportunity, grab it. It might be your last time that you have been accepted to have this priceless spiritual time with your Maker.
Don’t forget the oppressed all over the world. Ask, ask and ask of Him. Allah never tires of listening and His treasures never diminish in giving what we request. He is Most Merciful of those who show Mercy.