In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy
Imaam Ibnul Qayyim (rahimahullaah) stated that the righteousness of the heart and its steadfastness upon the path leading to Allaah’s (good pleasure etc) depends on its complete devotion to Allaah and concentrating in (seeking the good pleasure etc) of Allaah [The Most High]. And that because the heart will not be put in order except by turning completely to Allaah (in obedience, submission etc); but excess food and drink, excess intermingling with the people and excess speech and sleep are among (those things) that increase the heart in decay, distracts it in every way and severs it from its path of (obedience) to Allaah [The Most High] – either weakening it or hindering it, or stopping it (from this goal); therefore the Mercy of the [All-Mighty, The Bestower of Special Mercy to the believers] necessitates that He legislates fasting for His (believing) servants that which will (divert them) from excess food and drink, and rid the heart of the intrusions of desires, which hinders it from its path (of obedience) to Allaah.
Allaah legislated (fasting) in accordance with what is of benefit for the servant, so that the servant is benefited in his worldly life and afterlife – neither hindering him from what will bring about well-being for him in this life and the next. And Allaah legislated I’tikaaf for them, whose purpose and spiritual (aim) is make the heart devoted to Allaah, completely concentrating on (worshipping) Allaah, diverted from busying oneself with the people and busying oneself with the (worship) of Allaah alone, so that the person’s entire concern is directed to (worshipping) Allaah – his mind focused entirely in the remembrance of Allaah, all his thoughts directed at seeking after the pleasure of Allaah and that which will bring him closer to Allaah. This close attachment to Allaah becomes a replacement for seeking closeness to the people, whilst he worships Allaah with such close attachment, in order that he may be closely attached to Allaah on that day of loneliness in his grave when there will be no close one, and no other one will be a source of happiness other than Allaah. This is the greatest purpose behind I’tikaaf. [Ref 1]
A Brief Discussion by Shaikh Albaani (rahimahullaah)
This section is based on a book of the Shaikh (rahimahullaah) titled: Qiyaamu Ramadhaan’. The details can be found in the link at the end of this article on ref 2.
The Shaikh (rahimahullaah) stated that I’tikaaf is a Sunnah (i.e. a recommended Sunnah) during Ramadaan and on other days during the year. The proof is established in the statement of Allaah (The Most High): [وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ – while you are in I’tikaf (i.e. confining oneself in a mosque for prayers and invocations leaving the worldly activities) in the mosques (2:187)]
Authentic Ahaadeeth Regarding I’tikaaf:
The Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) once performed I’tikaaf in the last ten days of Shawaal. Also Umar (radiyallaahu ‘anhu) said to the Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) that he made an oath in the Days of Ignorance (i.e. before Islaam) that he would perform Itikaaf for one night in Masjid Al-Haraam, so the Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) said to him: ‘’Fulfil your oath’’. So Umar performed I’tikaaf for one night.
I’tikaaf is given greater emphasises during Ramadhaan. Abu Hurairah (radiyallaahu-anhu) said that the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) used to make Itikaaf for ten days in every Ramadaan. But during the year in which he passed away, he performed Itikaaf for twenty days.
However, the best time to perform I’tikaaf is the last part of Ramadaan because the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) used to perform I’tikaaf during the last ten days of Ramadaan up until Allaah took his soul.
Conditions to Be Fulfilled Before Starting I’tikaaf:
First Condition: It has to be performed in a Masjid because Allaah (The Most High) said:
[ وَلَا تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ – And do not have intercourse with them (your wives) while you are making Itikaaf in the Masaajid. [2:187]
Aa’isha (radiyallaahu-anhaa) stated that the Sunnah in relation to I’tikaaf is that the performer of I’tikaaf should not exit the Masjid, except for some need he has to fulfil. Neither should he visit a sick person nor touch his wife, nor engage in sexual intercourse with her. And I’tikaaf is not valid except when performed in a Masjid in which the five daily congregational prayers are established.
And the Sunnah in relation to the one performing Itikaaf is that he should be observing the fast (on that day he is performing) I’tikaaf.
Second Condition: The Masjid in which he performs I’tikaaf should also be a Masjid in which the Jumu’ah prayer is established in order that he is not forced to exit the Masjid to pray the Jumu’ah prayer (elsewhere). That is because it would be obligated on him to leave the Masjid for the Jumu’ah prayer as A’ishah (radiyallaahu ‘anhaa) stated that there is no I’tikaaf except in a Masjid that establishes the Jumu’ah Salaah.
Reader: Take Note that Shaikh Albaani (rahimahullaah) at this point discusses briefly whether I’tikaaf can be performed in other than the three Masaajid – [Masjid Al-Haraam, Masjid An-Nabawi & Masjid Al-Aqsaa] and the Shaikh based his view on a hadeeth in which it is stated that there is no I’tikaaf except in the three Masaajid. The Shaikh (rahimahullaah) then stated that some of the salaf held this opinion such as Hudhaifah Ibn Al-Yamaan, Sa’eed Ibn Al-Musayyib and Ataa, but Ataa did not mention Masjid Al-Aqsaa. However, other scholars hold the view that I’tikaaf can be performed in any other Masjid in which the congregational prayers are established. Finally, the difference of opinion in this affair has been discussed by Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhaab Al-Wassaabi (rahimahullaah) and it involves affairs related to science of hadeeth etc. Shaikh Bin Baaz, Shaikh Muqbil, Shaikh Uthaymeen and others do not hold Shaikh Albaani’s view, so if you wish to look into this affair, refer to this link http://www.sahab.net/forums/?showtopic=73521 or ask a student of knowledge in your Masjid to explain the affair in detail. The students are well acquainted with this khilaaf and can easily direct you to what will suffice you based on the statements of the scholars In-Shaa-Allaah.
Third Condition: It is from the Sunnah for the one performing Itikaaf to observe fasting, as has been stated by Aa’ishah (radiyallahu-‘anhaa).
The Things Allowed For a Person in I’tikaaf
[a]He can exit the Masjid in order to fulfil a need. It is permissible for him to thrust his head out of the Masjid to be washed and combed. Aa’ishah (radiyallaahu-anhaa) said that the Messenger of Allaah (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) would thrust his head out whilst he was performing I’tikaaf and she would comb his hair. In another narration Aa’isha said that she washed it whilst there was a threshold between him and her, and whilst she was on her menses. Likewise, the Messenger would never enter the house whilst in I’tikaaf except for a need.
[b] The performer I’tikaaf can make ablution in the Masjid.
[c] He is allowed to make a small tent at the back of the Masjid.
[d]A woman can visit her husband, whilst he is performing Itikaaf. She can speak to him and the husband can accompany her to the door of the Masjid when she is leaving.
It is allowed for a woman to perform Itikaaf with her husband in the Masjid or by herself. Aa’isha (radiyallaahu-anhaa) said that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) used to perform Itikaaf during the last ten days of Ramadaan, until he passed away. Thereafter, his wives used to perform Itikaaf after he passed away. Therefore, this shows that it is allowed for women to perform Itikaaf, as long as they are allowed by their guardians. Also the place they perform I’tikaaf in should be free from temptations and free mixing with men because safeguarding against an evil takes precedence over seeking after some affair that is good.
Sexual intercourse with one’s wife will make one’s I’tikaaf null and void because Allaah said:
وَلَا تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ
And do not have intercourse with them (your wives) while you are making Itikaaf in the Masaajid. [2:187]
Ibn Abbaas (radiyallaahu ‘anhumaa) stated that if a person performing Itikaaf engages in sexual intercourse, his Itikaaf is null and void and he has to start all over again.
However, there is no [kaffaarah – expiation] obligated on him because nothing has been stated from the Prophet and his companions about it.
Ref 1: Abridged and paraphrased. Source: Zaadul Ma’aad’ with annotations by Imaam Abdul Bin Abdul Azeez Bin Baaz & Checking of the Ahaadeeth by Imaam Albaani (rahimahumallaah). Page 39. Vol 2. Publisher: Daarul Aathaar’ 1st ed. ISBN Number: 2005/9441]