Ramadan I'tikaf (Retreat)

Reading the Quran during Ramadan
A Muslim man reads the Quran during Ramadan, London. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

I'tikaf is a spiritual retreat in a mosque (masjed), usually performed during the last ten days of Ramadan. A person "making i'tikaf" will spend the evening and night in the mosque, devoting his or her time to worship and reading the Quran. The name comes from an Arabic word which means to "stick to" or "adhere" to something, as in to adhere to worship without distractions.

In many mosques, i'tikaf is done as a group.

A large group of people from the community gathers together for worship throughout the night, eats suhoor together, and then leaves from the masjed after fajr (morning) prayers.

During i'tikaf, one observes several basic rules:

  • Enter the mosque before sunset (maghrib prayer) on the day you will start i'tikaf
  • Separate one's self from worldly affairs; clear the mind of all distractions
  • Do not leave the place of i'tikaf except for genuine, urgent needs
  • I'tikaf is voluntary, unless one has vowed to do it and needs to keep his/her promises. Then it becomes obligatory on that person.
  • One may engage in conversation and visits, but the conversation should be productive and not futile
  • One must refrain from intimate contact with one's spouse during the time of i'tikaf (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:187)
  • Both men and women may make i'tikaf. It is narrated that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad continued the practice after he passed away.
  • I'tikaf is only done in the mosque. It is not i'tikaf to isolate one's self in a room of the house. For a woman to do so was described by Ibn Abbass as an "innovation."
  • The duration of i'tikaf is usually the last 10 days of Ramadan, but technically it can be done at any time of year and for any time period.
  • At the end of Ramadan (Eid), one must exit i'tikaf and attend to Eid with the community

During the time of i'tikaf, here are some suggested activities:

  • Spend time reciting and understanding the words of guidance from Allah in the Quran
  • Perform additional prayers
  • Remember and give thanks to Allah
  • Engage in small study groups with others doing i'tikaf

The purpose of i'tikaf is to purify the heart and cleanse the mind of distractions. The Prophet Muhammad said, "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” (Bukhari & Muslim).

Pronunciation

i'tikaf (' stands for a gutteral stop, an Arabic sound that does not exist in the English language)

Also Known As

retreat

Alternate Spellings

itikaf, iktikaf

Example

During the last ten days of Ramadan, many people were at the masjed performing i'tikaf.