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A'tikaaf is from the root word "Akafa" to adhere,
cling, stick or keep. It means to engage and to devote something, to a thing, be it good
or bad. Allah (SWT) States in the Holy Qur'an: "...What are these images to which ye
are (so assiduously) devoted?" (Al-Qur'an 21:52)
In Shari'ah it means to engage in a retreat in the Masjid and stay there with the
intention of seeking nearness to Allah the Almighty, and His reward.
The majority of Muslim scholars agree that A'tikaaf is permissible, for the Messenger of
Allah (PBUH) observed A'tikaaf in the Month of Ramadan during the last ten days. In his
last Ramadan he observed it 20 days, as is related by Bukhari and others. Besides, his
companions and wives observed it during his lifetime and after.
A'tikaaf can be either Sunnah or obligatory, wajib. The Sunnah A'tikaaf is when a Muslim
volunteers to seek nearness to Allah, and to imitate the Messenger by observing this kind
of 'Ebadah, and the Sunnah is meritorious in the last ten days of Ramadan.
The obligatory A'tikaaf is the one when a believer makes it obligatory on himself, by
invoking a conditional vow, such as saying: I am vowing in the Name of Allah to engage in
retreat; or if Allah cures my sick relative, I will engage in A'tikaaf. In Bukhari, the
Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: "Whoever vowed to obey Allah, should obey him."
In the same hadith, Umar (RAA) told the Messenger (PBUH), "I vowed to engage in a
night retreat in the Sacred Masjid, and the Messenger responded, "Fulfil your
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Time Of Retreat
The mandatory retreat can be observed according to the vow of the vower. If he vowed to
retreat a day or more, it becomes necessary for him to fulfil it. But voluntary retreat
has no time limit. It may be done by staying in the Masjid with the intention of A'tikaaf
for short or long periods of time, and the person will be rewarded so far as he remains in
the Masjid. If he leaves the Masjid and returns, he should restate his Niyyah (intention).
The one who is in retreat may cut off his A'tikaaf, when he feels like it, before the time
that he had intended. 'Aishah (RAA), the Messenger's wife, said: "Whenever the
Messenger intends to engage in retreat he will pray his Fajr, then he begins his
A'tikaaf." She continued, "One day the Messenger intended to engage in retreat
the last ten days of Ramadan, and he ordered
his pouch to be built. When I saw that, I asked for my own tent to be built, and the rest
of his wives asked for the same thing. After Fajr prayer, he looked at the tents, `what do
you intend with this righteousness?' So he asked his tent and his wives to be removed,
then he delayed his A'tikaaf to the first ten days of Shawwal." (Bukhari) This report
is an indication that it is permissible to disengage from the retreat after starting.
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The Prerequisites of Retreat
For a retreat to be valid, the observer must be Muslim, must have reached puberty, and
must be pure from Janabah, (major defilement, menstruation, and post-childbirth bleeding).
People who are impure cannot engage in A'tikaaf.
The Pillars Of Al-A'tikaaf
There are two pillars for A'tikaaf: intention, and staying in the Masjid.
Niyyah or intention has been discussed earlier, but regarding staying in the Masjid, Allah
"...But do not associate with your wives while you are in retreat in the masaajid...
"(Al-Qur'an 2:187) This verse prohibits two things: marital relationships during
A'tikaaf because this contradicts the spirit of devotion, and observing A'tikaaf in any
place but a Masjid. Thus, any believer man or woman who desires to observe A'tikaaf may do
so only in a Masjid as we see the Messenger's wives were building their tents in the
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Masjid In Which A'tikaaf Can Be Held.
Some scholars are of the opinion that any mosque in which the five daily prayers are
observed can be used for retreat. However, this opinion is based on a weak hadith. Imam
Malik and Shafi'e and others said A'tikaaf is permissible in any Masjid because the verse
is general, and did not single out or specify any particular Masjid.
The retreater can not leave the mosque, but he can leave his tent to join the
congregational prayer and clime the minaret for adhan. But, if he steps out of the mosque,
the retreat is invalid.
The majority of scholars said if the Masjid is in a house - such as a room in a house
turned into a Masjid, it cannot be used as a place for A'tikaaf because it does not have
the name "Masjid," and it may be sold. Whereas, you can not sell a mosque,
(unless it is to be sold in order to build a new one on the same spot, or move it
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Vowing A'tikaaf In A Special Masjid
Whoever vows to engage in A'tikaaf in the Masjid Al-Haram, the Messenger's Masjid, or
Masjid Al-Aqsa, he should make it in the Masjid that he intended. But if he vows to engage
in retreat in any Masjid, he can A'tikaaf in any Masjid anywhere because no Masjid,
(except the three mentioned above), is better than another Masjid.
If he vowed to engage in retreat in Masjid An-Nabawi he can do it in Masjid Al-Haram,
because the latter is better in merit than the former.
Fasting In Retreat
If the retreater fasts, it is good, if not the retreat is still valid. In a
hadith reported earlier 'Umar (RAA) told the Messenger (PBUH) that he had vowed to observe
retreat one night during the pre-Islamic (Jahiliyah) period the Masjid Al-Haraam. The
Messenger responded "Fulfil your vow." In the hadith, there is an indication
that fasting is not necessary for A'tikaaf because `Umar (RAA) vowed A'tikaaf at night and
the Prophet told him to fulfil his vow and there is no fasting at night.
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The Beginning And Ending Time Of A'tikaaf
There is no specific time for beginning or ending A'tikaaf. Whenever one enters into the
Masjid with Niyyah, he begins his retreat. If he intends to engage in A'tikaaf the last
ten days of Ramadan, he should prepare his tent before sunset. In a hadith related by Abu
Sa`ed (RAA), the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: "Whoever intends to retreat with me
should retreat during the last ten nights (of Ramadan)." (Al-Bukhari). The first
night of the ten is the night of the 21st of Ramadan because in Islam the days begin at
sunset. However, the reports that said the Messenger (PBUH) entered his A'tikaaf place
after Fajr prayer do not mean he started after Fajr, they mean he returned to his place of
A'tikaaf at that time.
If A'tikaaf is for the last ten days of Ramadan, the observer should leave after sunset
the last day of the month, but it is preferred that he remain in the Masjid and should not
leave it until the time of `Eid. If a person intends to engage in A'tikaaf for a day, or
several days, as voluntary A'tikaaf, he will enter into his place of A'tikaaf before the
break of dawn and will leave after sunset, whether it is in Ramadan or not. If a person
intends to engage in A'tikaaf for a night or two as a voluntary act, he should enter
before sunset and leave after the break of dawn. The reason is the night begins with the
sunset and completes with the break of dawn, and the day begins with the break of dawn and
completes with sunset. If a believer intends to engage in A'tikaaf for a month he should
enter the first night of the month before sunset and leave after sunset when the month
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What A Retreater Should Engage In
It is recommended that the retreater should engage in supererogatory worship and engage
himself with prayers. He can do the recitation of the Holy Qur'an, Glorification of Allah,
Praising Allah, frequent declaration of Shahadah, Takbeer, seeking forgiveness from Allah,
invoking Allah's blessing on the Messenger of Allah, and supplications, as well as any act
of worship that will bring the servant nearer to Allah. Included in these acts of
worship is studying the books of Tafseer, hadith, the life history of the Prophets, as
well as any books on fiqh and religion. He should build a retreat (store his provisions)
in the corner of the Masjid where he or she will not disturb the regular worshippers.
He should not concern himself with what does not concern him, which is the best way to
seek nearness to Allah. In a hadith reported by Ibn 'Abbas (RAA), the Messenger of Allah
(PBUH), was delivering a sermon, Khutbah, and a man stood up but would not talk. A
companion said, "This is Abu Israel. He vowed to not stand, nor sit, nor seek shade,
nor speak, but fast." The Messenger (PBUH) said, "Command him to speak and
seek shade, to sit and
complete his fast." (Bukhari, Ibn Majah and Abu Dawuud).
In a related report the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) stated: "No person can be called
orphan after puberty; and no person should remain silent all day and night." (Abu
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What Is Permitted Of Retreater
He may leave the retreat and go out to bid farewell to his family. Safiyah (RAA) said:
"The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was in his retreat, so I came to visit him at night. I
spoke to him, and when I was leaving he stood to bid me farewell. When we reached the door
to open, two men quietly passed and greeted the Messenger (PBUH). The Messenger told them,
"slowly, you don't need to run, she is Safiyah bint Huyayy, (my wife; don't think I
with another sister". They said in surprise: "Glory be to Allah, O Messenger of
Allah!" (for they were baffled for what he said to them.) The Messenger said,
"The Satan circulates in the human system the same way the blood circulates, so I was
afraid that Satan might throw or whisper (ill thoughts) in your heart."
(Bukhari/Muslim) The Prophet, (PBUH) left his retreat. Thus it is permissible to leave.
It is permitted to comb one's hair, shave, trim the nails, clean the body, wear one's best
clothes and use perfume. In a report by 'Aishah (RAA), she said: "The Messenger used
to be in A'tikaaf and he would put his head through the window and I would wash it for
him, while I was in my menstruation." (Muslim/Bukhari)
It is permitted for him to leave the Masjid to take care of essential
things. The scholars agreed that the retreater is permitted to leave to eat and drink and
to use the toilet, also to leave the Masjid to purify the body from Janabah and to clean
It is permitted to eat and drink and sleep in the Masjid, but extreme care should be taken
to safeguard the cleanliness of the Masjid. The person may be a party to weddings and some
legal contracts taking place in the Masjid during the A'tikaaf.
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Things That Invalidate Al-A'tikaaf
Exiting from the Masjid without any good reason, even if it is for a moment, because that
is one of its pillars.
Apostasy (riddah) for it contradicts `Ebadah. Allah (SWT), States: "But it has
already been revealed to thee as it was to those before thee,- if thou were to join gods
with Allah, truly fruitless will be thy work (in life) and thou will surely be in the
ranks of those who lose (all spiritual good)". (Al-Qur`an, 39:65)
Insanity due to madness, drugs or intoxicants, for sanity is prerequisite in all forms of
Menstruation (Hayd) and post-childbirth bleeding (Nifaas).
Martial relations. Allah States: "...But do not associate with wives while you are in
retreat in the masaajid." (Al-Qur'an, 2: 187)
Nothing is wrong with touching one's spouse provided it is free from
passion. This does not include kissing. If one kisses or touches his spouse with passion,
he or she has done wrong, for it contradicts the spirit of A'tikaaf, but the A'tikaaf is
valid provided he does not discharge semen. That is according to Imam Abu Hanifah and
Ahmed. Imam Malik, on the other hand, said in this instance, the A'tikaaf becomes invalid
because this is illegal association, even without discharge of semen. The reason for the
difference of opinion is the interpretation of the word "association"
Originally Baashara means to touch, scrape off; or to have sexual
intercourse. The point here is an Usuulul Fiqh, Islamic legal theory
question. That is, does the word that implies both actual and metaphorical have a general
implication, Aam, or not? Those who say it has a general implication, Aam, say Mubasharah
in the above verse means actual marital intercourse and any association that is less than
intercourse. Those who say it does not have a general implication say Mubasharah here
means only sexual relations. Allahu 'Alam (Allah Knows best).
Redemption Of A'tikaaf
Whoever starts A'tikaaf voluntarily and then breaks it is recommended to redeem it. But if
he vows a day, or two, then starts and then invalidates it, he must redeem it whenever he
is able, according to the majority of the scholars. If he died before making it up
redemption is not necessary. However, Imam Ahmed said: "His next of kin should redeem
it for him."
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