Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Itikaf

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.
During this blessed month of Ramadan, a believer in Islam can gain reward in many ways by following our exemplary Prophet, the messenger Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Al'Mighty God be upon him). The divine guidance of the beloved Prophet affirmed attributes which were considered as noble characteristic for mankind. I’d like to elaborate on a tradition that was very significant in his life, the Itikaf, which is to gain individual growth spiritually. Henceforth, I’d like to focus on some of the virtues of this practice.

Itikaf is best translated in English as the spiritual retreat. It can only take place under certain circumstances. The places that have been highly recommended  for Muslims to observe the Itikaf is the Grand Mosque in Makkah & the Holy Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, both situated in Saudi Arabia in addition The Holy Mosque of Kufa & the Holy Mosque of Basrah which are both situated in Iraq, are also desired for Itikaf. However, those willing to take part in Itikaf and cannot be in the most favored locations, a Mosque which holds Friday prayers in any town or city is also appropriate.

Itikaf is usually performed during the last ten days of Ramadan.  A person who chooses to take part will spend the whole day and night at the mosque devoting their time reading the Quran & performing obligatory and optional prayers. In order to validate the Itikaf, it is paramount that the intention regarding the number of days the devotee will spend in the mosque be made in the beginning. In addition, following thorough with the original intention completes the act of worship. The whole Itikaf would be void if participant changes their mind or invalidate any ruling concerning the observation. The minimum duration is three consecutive days with a maximum of ten.

It is important to remember that Itikaf is an optional act of worship, however, it becomes obligatory due to the intention. There is a requirement for the devotee to be fasting during this time as well as having firm conviction in God. This will allow the heart of the devotee to be fully occupied and engrossed in the remembrance of his Lord, Most Gracious. As a result, the worshiper will be content with his Lord and not distracted with worldly matters or people. Such virtue prepares the devotee to feel the isolation of the grave, where there is no one else but God alone to accompany the thoughts of the believer. This I found to be the ultimate reward of completing an Itikaf. It is safe to conclude that the solace of one’s mind leads one towards the path of God.

"Allah's Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Al'Mighty God be upon him) used to perform Itikaf for ten days of every Ramadan, then when it was the year in which he died he performed Itikaf for twenty days." Bukhari

"Aisha the wife of Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Al'Mighty God be upon him) reported that the Prophet, used to practice Itikaf during Ramadan till he died and then his wives used to practice Itikaf after him." Bukhari

This ritual carried out by the noble Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Al'Mighty God be upon him) is not as popular today as it was during or after his legacy. Such is an indication on how the society today, especially Muslims, have become reliant on modern day conveniences. We must be clear that the Prophet himself never abandoned the practice of Itikaf. There are no Islamic scholars who deny the Itikaf as a blessed sunnah with many hidden benefits.

All deeds manifest from heart, as the Messenger of Islam (may the peace and blessings of Al'Mighty God be upon him) states:

“In the body there is an organ which if it is sound, the entire body will be sound, and if it is corrupt, the entire body will be corrupt. That organ is the heart.” Bukhaari & Muslim

The Prophet continues by explaining that the heart is corrupted most by distractions such as food, drink, sex and excessive sleeping (to mention but a few) which diverts people from the remembrance of God. So the All Mighty has prescribed fasting to protect the heart from countless negative effects of these distractions. Just as fasting is a shield which protects the heart from the influences of physical distractions such as excessive indulgence, Itikaf also offers immense benefit, mainly the protection from the effects of excessive socializing. When a person has all the means of purifying his heart by keeping away from things that can distract him from worship, experience of Itikaf will be more effective in helping him to turn towards God with humility.

“So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness. Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance and Who forgives.” Al-Nasr - The Victory verses 1-3

 “We commanded Ibrahim and Ismael that they should purify My House (the Kabah) for those who are staying Itikaf, or bowing or prostrating themselves.” Baqarah