Itikaf, an Arabic term means staying in a mosque with the intention of worship for a certain number of days devoting oneself exclusively to acts of worship day and night and staying away from worldly things. It is one of the significant typical activities during the month of Ramadan and was regularly performed by our lovely Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the last ten days in Ramadan. Aisha (Ra) reported that this way: "He (Muhammad pbuh) used to perform itikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan until Allah (swt.) took him." (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 1, hadith no. 271). As it was regularly observed by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) each year in the month of Ramadan, it is considered as ‘sunnah mu'aqadah' (continuously practised action of Prophet Muhammad pbuh). The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did not only perform this ibadah but also asked his companions both male and female to do it. (See: At-Tarhib and at-Targhib, vol. 1, p. 96). Therefore, it becomes one of the popular activities during the month of Ramadan.
Among the two other types of I'tikaf such as wajib (compulsory) and nafl itikaf, i'tikaf in the last ten days of the month of Ramadan is mostly common and popular in our society and this type is considered as sunnah i'tikaf. The i'tikaf is performed in those days with an intention to get the benefit of the most significant night ‘laylatu al-Qadr'; the night of luck which is better than a thousand months. (See: al-Qur' an, Surah al-Qadr, 97:3).Itikaf has also been indicated in the Qur'an as it was also an act of previous Prophets and Messengers of Allah (swt). The Qur'an says: "And We enjoined Ibrahim and Isma'il saying, ‘Purify My House for those who visit (it) and those who abide (in it) for devotion, those who bow down (and) those who prostrate themselves." (Surah al-Baqarah, 2: 125).
Perhaps the most significant virtue of i'tikaf is mentioned in a hadith which states our Prophet (pbuh) to have said, "He who observes the ten days i'tikaf during Ramadan will obtain the reward of two Hajj and two Umrah." (Sunan Bayhaqi). In another hadith, it is stated that "Whosoever for Allah's sake did even one day i'tikaf, Allah would keep him away from Jahannam by trenches." (See: At-Tarhib and at-Targhib, vol. 1, p. 96).
However, it is disheartening to observe in our society that the committee of mosque limits the number of i'tikaf performers in their mosques. It should not be like that at all. It, moreover, is the duty of the committee members of any mosque to invite and motivate people as many as possible to perform this very significant ibadah. A very little number of our women perform i'tikaf during the month of Ramadan. It is also our duty to develop an environment for performing their i'tikaf in a good and safe place of their own houses or in any mosque. It should be kept in our mind that Islam does not distinguish between man and woman in any ibadah. Therefore, we must try to get the maximum benefit of any ibadah by both male and female.
The writer is a scholar in Islamic studies and researcher on Islamic views on contemporary issues.