How do I perform Iʿtikāf (seclusion)?

Short Answer

You stay in the prayer area of a mosque and do not leave unless there is some need.

Reason for Asking the Question

Iʿtikāf (seclusion) is a virtuous act mentioned in the Qur’an but has some rules and restrictions that the questioner is unaware of.

Common Questions

Can I talk? Can I do some work?
I’tikāf means staying in the mosque to worship Allah. You are allowed to speak but it is best to keep it brief and focus on worship. You can buy and sell or do some other work, but should keep it brief. The Prophet stayed in a tent so he wouldn’t be disturbed. He did not visit the sick or attend funerals.

Can I stay in a room that is near the prayer area of a mosque, like an office, library, multi-purpose-room, or a classroom?
You must only stay in the prayer area of the mosque and not in any space that is designated to be an office, classroom, or anything else. Sometimes, spaces are shared when there are a lot of people so they end up praying in an office, classroom, or courtyard. In this case, those areas are considered a prayer area and thus part of the masjid.

Can I leave the masjid for a little while?
You cannot leave unless there is some need like using the bathroom, taking a bath, or going to get some food (if no one can deliver it to you). Leaving for any unnecessary reason invalidates your I’tikaaf.

Can I’tikaf it be done any time of the year?
Yes, but it is more recommended in Ramadan, and most recommended in the last ten nights of Ramadan. The Messenger of Allah would regularly perform I’tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan. Once he did it in the first ten days of Shawwaal, but this was to make it up because he missed it that Ramadan. In the last year of his life he did it for the last twenty nights of Ramadan, but this was probably also because he missed it the previous year due to traveling, so he was making it up.

What is the minimum duration?
The Hanafi and Maliki schools said the minimum length is one full day while the Shafi’i and Hanabli schools said the minimum length of time is a moment. I do not lean towards either view.

When do the last ten nights of Ramadan start and end?
At sunset on the night of the 21st of Ramadan. This is the night of the 20th day of Ramadan, since the new day in the Islamic calendar starts at sunset. It ends after sunset on the last day of Ramadan, and you can leave I’tikaaf then, when Ramadan is over.

Can women do I’tikaaf at home?
The majority of scholars said women, like men, are only allowed to do I’tikaf in the masjid. The wives of the Prophet did it in the masjid while he was alive and after his death. The Hanafi school said a woman is allowed to perform I’tikaf in the “mosque” of her house, which is the place she designates for prayer at home, but most scholars said that area is only described as a masjid as a metaphor and is not actually a masjid. I lean towards the majority view.

What the Qur’an and Sunnah Say

“Do not be intimate with them [wives] while you are observing iʿtikāf in mosques.” (Qur’an 2:187)

‘Aishah said: “He would not enter his house for anything except for a need when he was observing I’tikaf.” (Bukhari #2029, Muslim #297)

Safiyyah (the wife of the Prophet) came to the Messenger of Allah and visited him when he was in I’tikaf in the masjid during the last ten days of Ramadan. She spoke with him for a while, then she stood up to leave. The Prophet stood up with her to take her home. (Bukhari #2035, Muslim #2175)

‘Umar said to the Prophet : “Before Islam, I vowed to observe I’tikaf for one night at the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah)” He said: “Fulfill your vow.” So he observed I’tikaf for one night. (Bukhari #6697)

(Note: All hadiths describing specific rewards for I’tikaaf are either very weak or fabricated)

What the Scholars Said

Aishah said: “The sunnah for one who is observing I’tikaf is not to visit a sick person, attend a funeral, touch or embrace your wife, or go out for anything unless it is needed. There is no I’tikaf without fasting, and there is no I’tikaf except in a congregational mosque. (Abu Dawud #2473, sufficiently-authentic)

Imam an-Nawawi said: “The walls of the mosque, both inside and outside, comes under the same rulings as the mosque and it is obligatory to protect them and respect their sanctity. The same applies to its roof, the well inside it, and its courtyard…it is valid to observe I‘tikaaf in its courtyard or on its roof, and the prayer of one who follows an imam who is inside the mosque in these places is valid.” (al-Majmū‘, 2:207)

Imam Ibn Qudamah said: “What is meant by things that a person needs is to urinate and defecate, because every person needs to do that. Similarly, he also needs to eat and drink. If he does not have anyone who can bring him food and drink, then he may go out to get them if he needs to. For everything that he cannot do without and cannot do in the mosque, he may go out for that purpose, and that does not invalidate his I’tikaf, so long as he does not take a long time doing it.” (al-Mughni 4:466)

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymīn was asked: “With regard to a room that is inside the mosque, is it permissible to observe i‘tikaaf in it?” He replied: “That depends. The one who studies the words of the fuqaha’ in general will say that it is part of the mosque, because they say that the room that is enclosed by the walls of the mosque are part of the mosque. But the one who thinks that it was not built as part of the mosque and that it is a room for the imam, will regard it as being like the houses of the Messenger, because the houses of the Messenger had doors that opened into the mosque, but despite that they were houses and the Messenger did not go out to them [i.e., during I‘tikaaf]. So to be on the safe side, the one who is observing I‘tikaaf should not do it there. But the custom of people nowadays is that rooms that are in the mosques are regarded as being part of the mosque.” (Sharh al-Kaafi)

Imam Ibn Hazm said: “I’tikaf in the language of the Arabs means staying…any stay in the mosque for the sake of Allah with the intention of drawing closer to Him is I’tikaf… whether that is for a short time or a long time, because the Quran and Sunnah do not specify any number or length of time.” (Al-Muhalla, 5:179)

Imam an-Nawawi said: “It is not valid in the mosque of a woman’s house or the mosque of a man’s house, which is a space that is set aside for prayer.” (al-Majmu’ 6:505) 

Advice

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said: “All of this to achieve the spirit and purpose of I’tikaf, and is the opposite of what the ignorant do, where the place of I’tikaf becomes a place of gathering and meeting with people and chatting to them. This is one thing, and I’tikaf as observed by the Prophet is something else.” 

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Shaykh Mustafa Umar

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