I’tikaf is an Islamic religious practice that Muslims perform during Ramadan. I’tikaf means to stay in a mosque for a period of time while you are fasting. On these days, Muslims stay in mosques and leave everything they have in the world for just a few days to spend their time praying and worshipping Allah. This religious practice is highly recommended by the holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) and the Shiite Imams.
I’tikaf is one of the most important Islamic ways of worshipping Allah that the Holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) himself had done every year at a mosque. In this regard, Imam Sadiq (AS) said:
The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) would stay in the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan and people would set up a tent made of fur and put it in the mosque for him. The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) would prepare himself for I’tikaf and he wouldn’t use his bed during those times. (1)
The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) even couldn’t stand missing I’tikaf even for one year. Imam Sadiq (AS) said:
The Badr Battle was in Ramadan and due to this fact, the Messenger (PBUH & HP) couldn’t perform I’tikaf that year. Therefore, the next year, the holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) stayed in the mosque for twenty days: ten days for the contemporary year and ten days in exchange for the previous year. (2)
About the reward that Allah gives us in return, the Holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) said:
I’tikaf on Ramadan is equal to making Hajj and Umrah (another kind of pilgrimage to Mecca) twice. (3)
The one who performs I’tikaf is called Mu’takif. Regarding the things that Mu’takifs should do while staying in mosques, Imam Ali (AS) said:
Mu’takifs should be thinking about Allah and reciting the holy Quran and praying all the time in the mosque. [Mu’takifs] must not talk about worldly issues, say poems, buy and sell things, participate in funerals, visit ill people, stay with a woman in private (to avoid sexual desires), say rude words or argue with others and the more they avoid talking with people, the better it would be for them. (4)
Performing I’tikaf is not wajib but it is mustahabb. It means that it is not a mandatory act but doing it is thoroughly recommended (mustahabb).
You can perform I’tikaf every time it is possible for you and for the mosque you want to stay in, although there are times that are recommended by Shiite religious scholars.
Al-Shahid Al-Thani, one of the greatest Shiite scholars claimed: “[I’tikaf] is mustahabb and so recommended, especially in the last ten days of Ramadan because the Prophet (PBUH & HP) had done so”. (5)
In this regard, Imam Sadiq (AS) mentioned:
The Messenger performed I’tikaf in the first ten days of Ramadan. The next year, he did it in the second ten days and at last, he did it in the third ten days of Ramadan and after that he did so every year. (6)
Note: you cannot perform I’tikaf during the days that fasting is forbidden such as Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr.
Performing I’tikaf in four mosques, namely Masjid al-Haram (Mecca), Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Medina), Masjid Al-Kufah (Iraq), and the mosque of Basrah (Iraq), is highly recommended but you can perform it in every main mosque of your city. Of note that you cannot perform I’tikaf in every mosque but it should be the main mosque of the city where most people gather. (7)
If you want to perform I’tikaf correctly, you must fast during your stay in the mosque. Without fasting, your I’tikaf cannot be accepted.
It is mandatory to stay in the mosque for at least three days, and obviously, you can stay longer if you like, but some scholars believe that you must stay for the third day as well if you stay two days longer. For instance, if you stay five days, you will have to stay on the sixth day, as well; and if you stay eight days, you will have to be there on the ninth day, too. (8)
You cannot leave the mosque during I’tikaf, and if you do, your I’tikaf will not be accepted. Although, in critical situations like testifying in court for another Muslim or finding necessary food and supplies, you can leave the mosque and come back as soon as possible.
Acts listed below are Haram and forbidden during I’tikaf:
The original purpose of I’tikaf is that we get closer to Allah by talking to him and praying. During I’tikaf, we must concentrate on our bond with Allah in a way that nothing can distract us. Due to this fact, the things mentioned above are forbidden during I’tikaf as they may make us forget about Allah and focus on our material life. During this short ceremony, it’s time to forget about this world and think about Allah instead.
- Vasa’il ash-Shia, Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli, vol.10, pg.533
- Al-Kafi, Sheikh al-Koleini, vol.4, pg.175
- Vasa’il ash-Shia, Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli, vol.10, pg.534
- Bihar al-Anvar, Allamah al-Majlesi, vol.94, pg.130
- Ar-Rozah al-Bahiiah, Ash-Shahid ath-Thani, vol.1, pg.156
- Vasa’il ash-Shia, Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli, vol.10, pg.534
- Urvah al-Vuthqah, Tabataba’I al-Yazdi, vol.3, pg.672
- Urvah al-Vuthqah, Tabataba’I al-Yazdi, vol.3, pg.671
After introducing the axioms of Islam and finding faith in them, the next step in this life-changing journey is to accomplish certain commands as a result of those beliefs which will lead us to a life of eternal satisfaction and bliss. Now one might wonder, what relates those fundamental principles or axioms – i.e., Monotheism (Tawhid) , Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad) – to practical principles in Islam? Are they even related? If yes, how is this relationship justified? What comes next will hopefully provide an answer to these questions.
To have a better understanding of the relationship between the axioms and practical principles in Islam, we should first fully grasp the meaning of religion. Religion, in one sense, is defined as the collection of a series of fundamental and necessary beliefs -axioms- along with some practical commandments. The beliefs are the foundations, and the instructions are the means of putting the axioms into practice that may include juridical, legal, social, ethical, spiritual, and political rules and regulations.
Having the definition of religion in mind, we can consider two elements or constituent parts for it: 1. Beliefs (axioms), 2. The practical commandments and instructions (practical principles). Typically, since the instructions are devised with regard to the axioms, then these principal beliefs are considered as primary, a prior, and foundational, while the practical commands become subsidiary, ancillary, and as the pillars built on those foundations.
In addition, according to the Islamic doctrine, the prerequisite of this religion is one’s faith in the existence and Oneness of God as well as in the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and the coming of the Judgment Day; that no one deserves worshiping other than Allah Almighty, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has been chosen for Prophethood by Him as the last prophet and that this life is surely followed by another one.
The first two are, as a matter of fact, the content of what we call Shahadatain or the two testimonies, that by uttering them, one will enter the world of Muslims. But, this is only a gateway to Islam and a platform for further practices that will ultimately make one a perfect Muslim and believer.
We might suppose many kinds of relationship between the elements - Axioms and Practical principles - of religion, including the pearl and shell relationship, the innate and parallel relationship, the root and stem relationship.
One case scenario is to consider the relationship between these two constituent parts like a pearl and its shell; that is one of these parts is primary, and the other secondary, and what matters is the primary one. In other words, it is enough for one to find faith in the axioms of religion and the practical principles are only there for us to reach those axioms; that being done, they have fulfilled their purpose, and there is no need for them anymore.
Analogously, the shell does not worth anything by itself; its only importance is to keep the pearl safe. Anyone who looks for a shell is actually after the pearl in it, and once he finds it, he will throw away the shell instantly.
Another case scenario regards this relationship of parallel and innate kind. It claims that religion has three aspects: Islamic law, the path, and truth. The axioms of religion are its truth, while the law and path - which are the practical principles of religion - only provide the way to reach the truth. Thus, like the previous assumption, if someone reaches the truth, then he will no more need the law and the path.
But what is the most proper relationship between these two? This association is neither like pearl and shell nor of parallel and innate kind. While we believe in the primacy of the axioms, we don’t consider the practical principles of religion as marginal and unimportant; there is a mutual relationship between practical doctrines of Islam and theoretical knowledge of religion.
If there is any suitable way of elucidating this issue metaphorically, that would be through the relationship of the root and stem of a tree. In this kind of relationship, no part can be considered as independent of the other, they closely correlate. Believing in certain axioms necessitates the manifestation of a particular demeanor which requires the reinforcement of the belief in those fundamental principles. Similarly, every root has its own kind of stem and fruit that will grow and be nourished by the sun and ultimately fortify the root.
From what we have said so far, it is crystal clear that practical principles require active practice whereas axioms need knowledge and firm belief. Accordingly, in the case of the axioms imitation – no matter from who - is absolutely forbidden and they should be accepted through careful investigation and precise reasoning individually, while practical principles are mainly practiced with a degree of submission to God; the main purpose of these rules is the action itself.
That is why it is said that knowing and understanding the axioms is an “individual duty” – i.e. the duty that every single Muslim is bound to perform, e.g., performing Salat - for each Muslim, while being familiar with the practical principles is a “sufficiency  duty” – i.e., the duty that will lose its obligation if a group of Muslims has performed it.
It is noteworthy that the actions and behaviors that practical principles suggest will not result in our spiritual and psychological revolution and development unless we have a thorough understanding of the axioms and have accepted them rationally. In other words, the religion is constituted of certain principles which are its intellectual basis and requires its followers to exhibit specific behaviors; these actions root back in those axioms, and the axioms are prior to them.
Let’s have a brief look at the ten practical principles of the religion of Islam:
Prayer (Salat): The performance of the daily prayer five times a day with a specific form.
Fasting (Sawm): The act of voluntarily preventing oneself from eating and drinking during a particular part of the day – from the time of Dawn Prayer (Salat al-Fajr) until Dusk prayer(Salat al-Maghrib).
The Holy Pilgrimage (Hajj): An annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by those who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.
Alms-tax (Zakat): Paying an exact amount of money that has become obligatory through the rules of Sharia in order to be used in favor of the people in need or for certain beneficial deeds in society.
Khums: A money proportional to one fifth that every person should pay based on some certain criteria.
The Holy Struggle (Jihad): Technically, a special kind of attempt, which includes sacrificing one’s life and property primarily for the sake of Allah, elevating and sustaining Islamic beliefs and standpoints. In this sense, Jihad is the act of Defending the Islamic territory against the assaults and intrusions of outsiders and invaders. Literally, this word is defined as the striving of one’s soul against the temptation of the devil and his own whim.
Enjoining what is right (al-Amr bi-l-maʿrūf): To invite other Muslims to goodness and righteousness, with regard to certain conditions and through specific manners.
Forbidding what is wrong (nahy ʿani-l-munkar): To dissuade other Muslims from doing what is wrong, sinful or immoral, with regard to certain conditions and through specific manners.
Expressing Love towards Good (Tawalla): To have a feeling of affection and love, affirmation, submission, and acceptance toward guardianship of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), and the twelve Imams.
Expressing disassociation from Evil (Tabarra): having a feeling of disassociation and dislike toward the enemies of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and twelve Imams.
 That God exists and He is one.
 It is enough for this duty to be performed by some people and then be followed by others.
Hajj literally means ‘heading to a place’. In Islamic terminology, however, it refers to the obligatory annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca with the intention of performing certain religious rites following the method prescribed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) .
In essence, Hajj is man's evolution toward Allah. It is social worship that creates a relationship between God and His creatures and has different effects on Islamic society. The performance of Hajj simultaneously signifies many things; it is a show of history, the Islamic doctrine, and that of Islamic unity and brotherhood . Hajj reinforces the religion, i.e., it makes millions of Muslims gather in Ihram; this gathering strengthens the relationship between the followers of Islam and makes their hearts grow closer.
The history of Hajj rituals goes back to the time of Prophet Adam, who was first entrusted by Allah to build the Kaaba, the House of Allah. He and his descendants were the first people to perform Hajj rites. The rites continued up until the time of Prophet Abraham who was ordered by God to rebuild Kaaba along with his son Ishmael:
“When we settled for Abraham the site of the House [saying], Do not ascribe any partners to Me, and purify My House for those who go around it, and those who stand [in it for prayer], and those who bow and prostrate” (22:26).
After building the Kaaba, Prophet Abraham would perform Hajj every year, and this practice was continued by his son after his death. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rites were changed. Kaaba had turned into a place of idolatry, and the people had totally abandoned the teachings of their leader, Prophet Abraham until the time came for his supplication to be answered:
“Our Lord, raise amongst them an apostle from among them, who should recite to them Your signs, and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. Indeed You are the All-mighty, the All-wise” (2:129).
After a long time [i], a man by the name of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullaah was born in the very city that Prophet Abraham had made this supplication. For twenty-three years, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) spread the message of monotheism (Tawhid) – the same message that Prophet Abraham and all the other Prophets carried – the most important message of Hajj.
Not only did Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) purify the Kaaba from idols and all the defilements, but he also reinstated all the rites of Hajj and banned all indecent and shameful acts. Consequently, Kaaba became the universal center for the Muslim worshippers of the only true God, once again .
Annually, Muslims from all over the world are encouraged to participate in this great "pilgrimage" (Hajj). Everyone is considered equal. There is no discrimination on the basis of people’s race, sex, or social status.
There are secrets about Hajj exoteric rituals that are somehow beyond man’s understanding and so not easy for everyone to learn. Some steps of the Hajj rites are reminiscent of the events associated with Abraham, Ishmael, and his mother Hagar, and personify their self-sacrifice, altruism and struggle with Satan in the path of Allah . This would help us understand the philosophy behind some of the acts performed in Hajj.
The performance of Hajj begins at Miqat, a place where pilgrims should wear Ihram and from there go for Hajj or Umrah. Donning such unsewn white garments entirely distances man from material ostentations and engrosses him in a world of purity and spirituality. Clothes show individuality and distinction.
They create superficial barriers that separate man from man. The garments of Ihram, however, are the antithesis of that individualism. You join a mass and become nothing but a drop of water in an ocean that has no special identity of its own. Ihram clothing is also a reminder of shrouds that every human has to wear after death. This helps you assume your original shape as a man, just one of the “descendants of Adam” who will die one day.
Hajj is a movement that reminds us of our journey to Allah; “toward Allah is the destination” (24:42). In the state of Muhrim, There is no sex, no perfume, no shoes, no sewn clothes and headcovers for men, no face mask, no cutting of hair or nails, i.e., absolutely no signs of aristocracy or distinction; you don’t even look in a mirror to see your own image.
You don’t hunt any animal; you don’t uproot any plant. So you kill the tendencies of aggression by being peaceful to nature, and this continues until you perform all the rituals and come out of Ihram. All your selfish egos must be buried at Miqat. You witness your own body just like what it looks after death when it is being buried. By sacrificing your individuality, you focus on reality, the basic purpose for which you have been created – that is devoting yourself totally to Allah.
Positioned in the center, Kaaba is like a sun while the people are like stars traveling in their orbit of the solar system. Kaaba symbolizes the constancy and eternity of Allah. The moving circle of people represents the continuous activity and transition of His creatures.
This rite is actually the manifestation of Tawhid, the Oneness of God. The heart and soul of the pilgrim should move around Kaaba, the symbol of the House of Allah, in a way that no worldly attraction distracts him from this path. Only Tawhid should attract him. Tawaf also represents Muslims’ unity. During Tawaf, everyone encircles Kaaba collectively.
There is no individual identification of men or women, black or white, red or yellow. The movement has transformed one ‘person’ into the totality of ‘people’ establishing the universality of the Islamic community with the goal of approaching Allah. Likewise, you must reject self-centeredness and step in the way of Allah, which is the way of people. In other words, to approach Allah, you must first genuinely become involved in people’s problems. This is how you are with the people and where you may approach Allah .
After Tawaf, you have to perform two rak’at of prayer behind Maqam-e Ibrahim [ii] (Abraham's place of standing), which is a very blessed place for praying . It is the nearest point to Allah. As a matter of fact, there is nowhere on earth where you get more rewards than this place for praying. The stone has the footprint of Abraham. He stood over this stone to lay the cornerstone (Hajar al-Aswad), to reconstruct Kaaba, and to pray . By standing on the same stone, you vow to become like Abraham, the upright friend of Allah, who was uncompromising in his conviction of Tawhid .
Sa’y literally means to strive, to make an effort to reach an aim. Running between the mountains – Safa and Marwa – seven times, you act like Hagar, the mother of infant Ishmael. After Abraham left her and their son, near the valley of Mecca, Hagar had no food, no water, no shelter, neither for herself nor her child, but only uncompromising, relentless faith that the God of Abraham will not leave her and her son without sustenance.
She started looking out for water, running to the top of the mountains, Safa and Marwa. But she did not find any water. She searched again and again. After running seven times between these two mountains, she came down from Marwa to check on her infant son when she heard the sound of gushing water coming from the sand he had dug under his heels. It was Zam-Zam, a sweet and life-giving fountain of water which was a gift from Allah to the mother and son, and all those who came later. So Sa’y is physical work. It is a struggle to satisfy your needs, and a way to achieve a better life.
The name Arafat means acquaintance or cognition. There are a few beliefs for why this place has been given this name; in one of the most famous of which, it is held that Prophet Adam and his wife Eve met each other at this plain after they were separated for many years.
It was the devil (Iblis) who misled our forefather -Adam- by telling him to eat from the tree of eternity and possession and caused them to descend from Paradise . They met in Arafat once again, where they became acquainted with one another and with their sins. They made supplications to God and sought His forgiveness. It was in the center of this plain where they were forgiven by Allah. In short, Arafat represents the beginning of man’s creation, that of our forefather Adam. Here you act like Adam or Eve and seek forgiveness for yourself and your loved ones .
Pilgrims of Hajj, returning from Arafat, spend the night between the 9th and 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah at Muzdalifah in the open air. It is here they gather pebbles to hurl at the pillars of Mina (Jamarat). The shortstop at Mash’ar may remind you of your short life on this earth! That you are only a moment of this eternal time. It is for you to think, to plan, to strengthen your spirit, to prepare yourself for the battlefield to fight with the devil. The verse below best describes the philosophy behind the stop at Mash’ar:
“Then when you stream out of Arafat remember Allah at the Holy Mash’ar, and remember Him as He has guided you, and earlier you were indeed among the astray” (2: 198).
At Mina, the longest and last pause occurs. Millions of freedom-fighters who refuse to obey any power except Allah crowd here.
It has been said that Satan appeared in front of Prophet Abraham at this place three times when he wanted to sacrifice his son under God’s command. Satan tried everything to put doubt in his mind, but Prophet threw seven pebbles at him each time and made him run away. The Devil also tried to pervert the mother and the son to prevent Abraham from obeying God’s command, but they stayed firm in their resolution.
This deed became so monumental that it was made a rite of Hajj to teach us that Satan tries to misguide one sometimes through the spouse or offspring and sometimes approaches directly. Only strong faith in Allah can save us from this evil influence.
Declare monotheism by Tawaf.
Exercise the struggle of Hagar by Sa’y.
Show the descent of Adam by going to Arafat from the Kaaba.
Show the philosophy of man's creation, the evolution of thoughts from pure science to pure love, and the ascension of the spirit from mud to God by going from Arafat to Mina.
The last stage of evolution and absolute freedom from earthly desires with full submission to Allah is here, in Mina. It was at this plain that both the father and the son - Abraham and Ishmael - had surrendered to Allah, where Abraham was being tested to see whether he was capable of overcoming his personal feeling of love for his son for the sake of Allah, to check whether he was prepared to sacrifice his son. But when he was ready, his Ishmael was returned unto him unharmed:
“O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision” (37:104).
The lesson that would be learned here is if you love something more than you love Allah, then that thing has become your idol, and you must be ready to sacrifice that. You must be prepared to slaughter your worldly desires, worldly love, your Ishmael in Mina in order to be free from all worldly attachments. If you are, then slaughter a goat, sheep, ram, cow, or camel instead: “Thus do We reward the virtuous” (37:110).
“It is not their flesh or their blood that reaches Allah. Rather it is your God wariness that reaches Him. Thus has He disposed of them for your benefit so that you may magnify Allah for His guiding you. And give good news to the virtuous” (22:37).
After sacrificing an animal, you are to spurn your earthly pleasures once again by shaving or trimming your hair [iii]. You become free from whatever that stands between you and God even if it is as small as superficial beauties.
You acknowledge the Divine beauty by putting aside your pride and arrogance, and cleanse your soul and spirit from impurities. Consequently, it is by this sheer servitude to Allah that you reach absolute freedom.
When you first approached Kaaba, you had not, by then, purified yourself. You were still impure and unconscious. In Arafat, you gained consciousness. In Mina, you purified yourself. So, this is appropriate that you do the Tawaf and Sa’y in the purified state once again before you complete your Hajj and totally come out of Ihram.
It is obligatory for both men and women -either married or single- to perform Circumambulation of women (Tawaf-Un-Nisa). This shows the importance that Islam place on blissful married life and its effects on the family institution and the whole society.
Allah has made the husband promise to treat his wife well:
“Treat them (wives) kindly” (4:19).
As soon as the Ihram clothing for Hajj is donned, the husband and wife become prohibited for each other till the end of the rituals. As a matter of fact, marriage (Nikah) bounds a man and a woman into a married couple; in the same way circumambulation of women (Tawaf-Un-Nisa) and its prayer again reinstate the relationship of the couple. The mistakes they have made in the past get pardoned, and they are given a chance to start a new relationship, to be very careful in performing all their duties in their married life and family unit.
This is the latter Tawaf of the Kaaba, performed after you return from Mina. In Mina, you have defeated Satan and renewed your ties with Allah by following the footsteps of Abraham before you return home. During the rituals of Hajj, you played the roles of Abraham and Hagar. Do not replace your role-playing to something else when you return. Like Hagar, always trust in Allah. Like Abraham's fight against oppression. Like Abraham be prepared to sacrifice your Ishmael, i.e., love or desires, for the sake of your faith. That is the essence of Hajj. You return to Allah the way He wanted you to be: a slave totally dedicated to his/her Lord.
During Hajj rituals, and before Muslims return home, they defeat Satan and renew their relationship with God. They learn always to have faith in Allah and to be prepared to sacrifice their desires for the sake of Him. The rites of Hajj remind us of the Islamic axioms, i.e., monotheism (Tawhid), prophethood (Nubuwwah) and the afterlife (Ma’ad).
They also indicate the importance of unity in the Islamic community. Ultimately, Muslims return home with a reserve of knowledge and experience to share with their society. If accepted by Allah, this holy experience could remain like a glittering beam in their whole life.
The Holy Prophet said: "The daily prayer, Hajj, circumambulation, and other rites are aimed at remembering Allah. But when there is no remembrance of Him in your heart, what value will your oral remembrance have?"
Accordingly, faith is based on three important stages; acknowledgment by heart, affirmation by words, and performance of the principles.
[i]. According to some historical texts, after about more than three thousand years.
[ii]. A large stone on which Prophet Abraham stood while building the upper walls of Kaaba. It is believed that this rock was sent to Abraham from heaven along with three other rocks, the other one of which is the sacred black stone (Hajar al-Aswad).
[iii]. Women should not shave their heads; they only trim slightly at the end of the lock of hair. However Shaving the head is obligatory for men if it is the first time they are performing Hajj.