I’tikaaf means staying in the mosque for a specific purpose, which is to worship Allah, may He be glorified. It is prescribed in Islam and is mustahabb according to the consensus of the scholars. Imam Ahmad said, as was narrated from him by Abu Dawood: “I have not heard from any of the scholars that it is anything other than Sunnah.”
Al-Zuhri, May Allah have mercy on him, said: “How strange the Muslims are! They have given up I’tikaaf, despite the fact that the Prophet, Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, never abandoned this practice from the time he came to Madeenah until his death.”
The benefits of I’tikaaf
There are many hidden benefits in the acts of worship and much wisdom behind them. The basis of all deeds is the heart, as the Messenger of Allah, Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, 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.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 52; Muslim, 1599)
What corrupts the heart most is distractions and preoccupations – such as food, drink, sex, talking too much, sleeping too much and socializing too much, and other distractions – which divert people from turning to Allah and cause the heart to be unfocused and unable to concentrate on worshipping Allah. So Allah has prescribed acts of worship, such as fasting, to protect the heart from the negative effects of these distractions. Fasting deprives a person of food and drink and sex during the day, and this denial of excessive enjoyments is reflected in the heart, which gains more strength for seeking Allah and frees it from the chains of these distractions which distract a person from thinking of the Hereafter by occupying him with worldly concerns.
Just as fasting is a shield which protects the heart from the influences of physical distractions such as excessive indulgence in food, drink and sex, so I’tikaaf offers an immense hidden benefit, which is protection from the effects of excessive socializing. For people may take socializing to extremes, until it has a similar effect on a person to the effects of over-eating, as the poet said:
“Your enemy was once your friend, so do not have too many companions,
For, as you see, most diseases come from food and drink.”
I’tikaaf also offers protection from the evil consequences of talking too much, because a person usually does I’tikaaf on his own, turning to Allah by praying Qiyaam al-Layl, reading Qur’an, making Dhikr,
reciting du’aa’, and so on.
It also offers protection from sleeping too much, because when a person makes I’tikaaf in the mosque, he devotes his time to drawing closer to Allah by doing different kinds of acts of worship; he does not stay in the mosque to sleep.
Undoubtedly a person’s success in freeing himself from socializing, talking and sleeping too much will help him to make his heart turn towards Allah, and will protect him from the opposite.