Iʿtikāf (Arabic: الاعتكاف) is a mustahab (recommended) worship in Islam that consists of at least three days of fasting in a masjid. Although there is no specific time to perform I'tikaf during a year, the last ten days of Ramadan, as the Prophet (s) did so, is the most recommended days to do it.
Literal and Technical Meaning
I'tikaf is derived from " 'a-k-f " (عکف) which mostly means adhering to, devoting to or dedicating to something as a sign of honoring. Derivatives form this word has been used in the Qur'an in this meaning. In spite of that, "'Akif" (عاکف) (Q 22:25; meaning resident) and "Ma'kuf" (معکوف) (Qur'an 48:25; meaning forbidden) are two derivatives from the same root used in the Qur'an.
In Sufism, I'tikaf means emptying your heart from worldly concerns and submitting yourself to your Lord. Hence I'tikaf means staying and residing, it also means staying and not getting away from God's threshold so that he forgives you.
I'tikaf before Islam
Although Muslims learned how to perform I'tikaf from their Prophet, there was a ritual similar to I'tikaf prevalent amongst Arabs before Islam. For instance, it has been narrated that 'Umar b. al-Khattab asked the Prophet (s) that he had vowed during the Ignorance era to stay in Masjid al-Haram for a night and the Prophet (s) told him to fulfill it.
The Prophet's I'tikaf
There is no information whether the Prophet (s) performed I'tikaf in Masjid al-Haram before Hijra (emigration to Medina). However, in his first year in Medina, he performed I'tikaf in the first ten days of the month of Ramadan, the next year in the second ten days and afterward in the last ten days of the month of Ramadan. A tent was set up for him in the mosque during these days.
Rulings and Conditions
There is no special time for I'tikaf. However according to hadiths, the Prophet (s) did it in the month of Ramadan; thus this month is the best time for it, especially the last ten days. Based on these hadiths, I'tikaf during these days is very Mustahab (highly recommended) although it remains Mustahab in other times. Nowadays, holding the ritual of I'tikaf during Ayyam al-Bid of the month of Rajab is very prevalent in Iran.
According to Shi'a jurisprudence, duration of I'tikaf must not be less than three days (from the dawn of the first day to the sunset of the third day). If the I'tikaf is Mustahab (the performer did not make compulsory by making vow or oath) Mu'tkif may quit it before the sunset of the second day. But after the sunset of the second day, finishing it to the end of the third day is obligatory (Wajib). The same ruling is applied to the sixth, ninth, twelfth day and so on.
According to some hadiths, Masjid al-Haram, al-Masjid al-Nabawi, Masjid al-Kufa and the mosque of Basra are the only places for I'tikaf, but according to some others, every Masjid al-Jami' (the main and usually biggest mosque of a city) or every mosque that a just Imam has performed Jum'ah or Congregational prayer in it is suitable for I'tikaf.
Based on hadiths, Shi'a jurists (faqih) have different opinions here. Most of the earlier faqihs supported the first group of hadiths while in the following centuries this speciality were doubted. For instance, al-Shahid al-Awwal and al-Shahid al-Thani said that limiting the place of I'tikaf to the Four Mosques, is a very weak opinion. Moreover, some faqihs allowed I'tikaf in every mosque with the intention of Rajāʾ (hoping to receive a probable reward rather than the assured one, because the faqih is not sure whether this act is really Mustahab or not). Nowadays most of contemporary faqihs permit performing I'tikaf in Masjid al-Jami' and some other important mosque of each city.
Fasting is one of the necessary conditions of I'tikaf according to Shi'a's fiqh. Therefore, Mu'takif should fast during the I'tikaf and If someone couldn't fast -- such as, passenger, sick people, Ha'id (a woman during her Menstruation), Nufasa' -- or did not fast deliberately, his/her I'tikaf is void. Also, since fasting is haram (forbidden) in Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, I'tikaf in these Eids and from two days before these Eids, so that the third day of the I'tikaf coincide with the Eid, is void.
Maliki and majority of Hanafis consider fasting as a necessary element for I'tikaf too (rest of Hanafis say fasting is not compulsory in Mustahab I'tikaf). On the other hand, Shafi'i and Ahmad b. Hanbal - in the most famous narration from him - basically believe that fasting is not a condition at all.
Staying in Mosque
Leaving the mosque during I'tikaf is not permitted. However there are exceptions such as: participation in Salat al-Jum'a, participation in funeral (tashi'), giving testimony, visiting a sick and preparing food and water. Even in these cases, Mu'takif must not sit while being out of the mosque and must not walk in shade as much as possible.
Forbidden Acts in I'tikaf
Sexual activities - even kissing -, using perfumes, selling and buying - except for food and other necessary things - and arguing about worldly affairs are forbidden to the Mu'takif. Some of the above-mentioned activities void the I'tikaf and also cause Kaffara (atonement).
Works about I'tikaf
I'tikaf as an important jurisprudential topic was a subject of some individual and independent works. Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi'i and Dawud b. 'Ali al-Isfahani, from Sunni school and Abu l-Fadl al-Sabuni and al-Shaykh al-Saduq from Shi'a are some of the most famous faqihs who have authored independent writings about I'tikaf.
Among the mid and recent Shi'a works, these could be mentioned:
- Al-I'tikafiyya: written by Mu'in al-Din Salim b. Badran al-Basri (alive in 626/1229).
- Al-I'tikafiyya or Ma' al-hayat wa safi l-furat: written by Lutf Allah al-Miysi al-'Amili (d. 1033/1624) which is published recently by the effort of Rasul Ja'fariyan.
- Al-Kafaf fi masa'il al-I'tikaf: written by Mulla Muhammad Ja'far Shari'atmadar Astarabadi (d. 1263/1847). A copy of it is preserved in the library of Ayatollah Mar'ashi Najafi in Qom.
- Al-I'tikafiyya: written by Sayyid Muhammad 'Ali Mar'ashi Shahristani (d. 1290/1873). Aqa Buzurg Tihrani reported that he found copies of it in some personal libraries.
- Rāghib, Mufradāt, p. 355.
- See: Qurān, 2: 125; 7: 138; 20: 97; 26: 71.
- Rāghib, Mufradāt, p. 355.
- Jurjānī, al-Taʿrīfāt, p. 25.
- Mālik, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, vol. 1, p. 314.
- Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 3, p. 105-110; Ibn Māja, Sunan ibn Māja, vol.1, p. 563.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 4, p. 175.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 4, p. 175.
- See: Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Rawḍat al-Bahīyya, vol. 2, p. 149; Jazīrī, al-Fiqh ʿala l-madhāhib al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 582.
- Muḥaqiq al-Ḥillī, Sharāyiʿ al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 216.
- Ibn Rushd, Bidāyat al-mujtahid, vol. 1, p. 314.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 4, p. 176; Mufīd, al-Muqnaʿa, p. 363.
- See: Ṣadūq, al-muqniʿ, p. 18; also see: Sayyid Murtaḍā, al-Intiṣār, p. 72; Ṭūsī, al-Khilāf, vol. 2, p. 272.
- Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Rawḍat al-Bahīyya, vol. 2, p. 150.
- Khomeini, Taḥrīr al-wasīla, vol. 1, p. 305.
- Mālik, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, vol. 1, p. 315; Muḥaqiq al-Ḥillī, Sharāyiʿ al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 215.
- See: Samarqandī, Tuḥfat al-fuqahāʾ, vol. 2, p. 372; Shaykh Niẓām al-Dīn, al-Fatāwa l-Hindīyya, vol. 1, p. 211.
- See: Shāfiʿī, al-Umm, vol. 2, p. 107; Ibn Hubayra, al-Ifṣāḥ, vol. 1, p. 170; also see: Marwzī, Ikhtilāf al-ʿulamāʾ, p. 75.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 4, p. 178; Ibn Rushd, Bidāyat al-mujtahid, vol. 1, p. 317; Muḥaqiq al-Ḥillī, Sharāyiʿ al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 217.
- Ibn Hubayra, al-Ifṣāḥ, vol. 1, p. 171; Muḥaqiq al-Ḥillī, Sharāyiʿ al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 219-220; Jazīrī, al-Fiqh ʿala l-madhāhib al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 585-587.
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- See: Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 375-389.
- See: Āghā Buzurg, al-Dharīʿa, vol. 2, p. 230.
- See: Āghā Buzurg, al-Dharīʿa, vol. 2, p. 229; Mudarrisī Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Muqaddamiʾī bar fiqh-i Shiʿa, p. 338.
- Āghā Buzurg, al-Dharīʿa, vol. 2, p. 229-230.
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- Ibn Rushd, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad. Bidāyat al-mujtahid wa nihāyat al-muqtaṣid. Beirut: n.p. , 1406 AH- 1986.
- Jazīrī, ʿAbd al-Rḥmān al-. Al-Fiqh ʿala l-madhāhib al-arbaʿa. Beirut: n.p. , 1406 AH- 1986.
- Jurjānī, ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-. Al-Taʿrīfāt. Cairo: n.p. , 1357 AH- 1938.
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