By Aisha (Scotland)

Every Ramadan I find myself setting new goals, increasing the intensity of my Ibadah (worship), and aiming to implement more of the Quran and Sunnah into my life. This year, however, was particularly special. With a desire to maximise my potential for reward from Allah SWT and draw nearer to Him, I made the decision to perform I’tikaf for the first time.

While my experience is difficult to express into words due to the wide range of emotions and deeply spiritual connections I felt towards Allah SWT, I want to share this journey with you and provide my top tips on how you can also benefit from this life-changing experience. I’ve also included my sample daily worship plan for you to use during your own I’tikaf.

For my sisters out there especially, I hope my experience of performing I’tikaf as a woman will inspire and motivate you to do the same.

What is I’tikaf?

I’tikaf, also known as spiritual retreat, is a Sunnah Mu’akkadah (emphasised Sunnah) in which the sole purpose is to isolate one’s self from the outside world for Ibadah, self-reflection and to focus solely on Allah SWT. The Sunnah allows for I’tikaf during any point of Ramadan, though it is emphasised during the last 10 days as the below hadith narrates. The duration spent in I’tikaf can be personalised to accommodate everyone, with a full 10 days defined as ‘Sunnah I’tikaf’ and anything less as ‘Nafl’ (voluntary) I’tikaf. A common misconception is that only men can perform I’tikaf, i.e. at the Masjid, but rather women may do so too, as did the wives of the Prophet PBUH (may Allah be pleased with them).

“The Prophet () used to practice I’tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan till he died and then his wives used to practice I’tikaf after him.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

Why I Chose to Do It

I made the decision to sit in I’tikaf after I returned from Umrah in January 2019. Prior to my Umrah experience, I was distant from faith, praying an average of ten times per week. At the time this felt like ‘enough’, but deep down I wanted to focus more on my faith.

My Umrah experience, along with worldly stresses pushed me back towards my Deen, Alhamdulilah. As the months went by and I grew closer to Allah SWT, I felt that Ramadan was the perfect opportunity for me to detach from my worries and turn my heart completely to my Lord.

Once I made the decision, I organised some time off work and began counting down the days. Due to work restraints, I was only able to perform Nafl Itikaf for three days and nights, starting from the 27th night.

As the days were approaching, I felt both excited and nervous (it was my first time!), but all the while longing for this chance to spend personal time with no one but God.

My Experience

As a woman, my I’tikaf would be taking place in my home within a designated space, free from interruption and distraction from the outside world. In my case, it was my bedroom. On the night preceding my I’tikaf, I excitedly deep-cleaned my entire room and designated an area close to my window where I laid blankets and comfy pillows surrounded by candles and an oud burner.

Just prior to Maghrib salah I performed wudu, made my Niyyah (intention) and bid farewell to my family. I eagerly began my I’tikaf with recitation of Quranic verses followed by the break of fast and Maghrib prayer.

Something which I quickly realised was the importance of varying my Ibadah with alternative methods of worship if I were to remain engaged and focussed throughout my stay. My main aim was to worship as much as possible during the night, especially during the last third, and sleep during the early hours of the morning. Of course, part of my aim was to seek Laylatul-Qadr during the remaining odd nights of Ramadan!

Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: ‘In the last third of every night our Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) (Allah (SWT) descends to the lowermost heaven and says; “Who is calling Me, so that I may answer him? Who is asking Me so that may I grant him? Who is seeking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him?”’ [Sahih al-Bukhari]

Although I felt somewhat organised with various forms of Ibadah i.e. Quran Recitation, listening to the commentary of the Quran, Dikhr, Nafl prayers, listening to podcasts and lectures, making up missed prayers and reflecting upon life, I did not have a schedule in place to plan my day. Instead, I engaged in the “Do as much as you can approach”. For this reason, Day 1 of my I’tikaf was challenging since I lacked structure. I felt tired and overwhelmed because I was jumping between various forms of Ibadah and found myself clock watching.

After realising my approach on Day 1 was impractical, I scribbled down a rough plan to adhere to moving forward to determine if this approach worked better. The plan included Ibadah in a more logical and productive approach:

10pm Break your fast, pray Maghrib with evening Dhikr and enjoy Iftaar
11pm Pray Isha and Taraweeh
12am Dhikr with light exercise i.e. walking around room and muscle stretches
1am Tahujjud with sincere heartfelt dua
1.30am Quran Recitation
2am Suhoor and Fajr along with morning Dhikr
3am Catching up on missed prayers
3.30am Listen to Quranic Tafseer
4.30am Ishraaq Prayer (about 15 mins after sunrise)
5am Sleep!
11am Wake up, renew wudu and start your day with reflection
11.30am Quran Recitation
12.30pm Listen to podcasts – my favourite is the Qalam Institute Podcast, in particular the ‘Heartwork’ series by Ustadh Abdel Rahman Murphy
1.30pm Pray Dhuhr, recite Surah Yaseen
2.30pm Nap time!
3.30pm Quran Recitation (with reflection)
4.30pm Seek knowledge – I revised my iSyllabus Islamic studies textbooks and viewed an Islamic marriage course
5.30pm Study Hadith and how to implement into daily life
6.30pm Pray Asr and engage in dhikr
7.30pm Quran Recitation
8.30pm Dhikr with light exercise i.e. walking around room and muscle stretches
9.30pm Make fresh wudu and say a sincere heartfelt dua before Iftar time!

 

By adhering to this timetable, Day 2 was much more pleasant. I felt energised, refreshed and ready to power through my night Ibadah. I found myself embracing every opportunity to raise my hands to Allah SWT and ask for forgiveness for the mountains of sins that had accumulated from the years I had drifted from faith. “Ya Ghaffaar, You are the Ever Forgiving. Forgive me through Your Mercy, Ya Rabbul Alameen”.

(For more duas check out this article: The Ultimate Ramadan Dua List)

Each time I raised my hands and made dua, I could feel the Mercy of Allah SWT surrounding me in comfort as I poured out my heart certain that Allah SWT would accept my supplications. Peace and tranquillity encompassed me, to the point where I did not want to leave my place of prayer. Quite the opposite of what I was feeling on the day prior.

By Day 3, I embraced sitting in I’tikaf for the last moments I had. I knew that the time until Maghrib was fast approaching and I still had so much more I could offer to my Lord. I felt emotional knowing that Allah SWT chose me to worship Him in complete seclusion and upset as Ramadan and my I’tikaf experience was coming to an end.

To add to these emotions, Allah SWT allowed me to reach my goal of a Khatam-e-Quran (completion). Each letter was recited with such passion as I drew towards the Quran completion knowing that I had adhered to one of my main Ramadan goals. As I reached Surah An-Nas, the tears flowed as a sense of satisfaction and gratitude towards my Lord. Yet again, Allah SWT had allowed me another opportunity to ask for whatever I desired. My Khatam-e-Quran dua began with praising my lord, sending Salawat upon the prophet PBUH and a conversation about my needs and wants.

Imam al-Tabarani narrates that the Prophet [Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him] is reported to have said, “Whosoever prays an obligatory prayer, has an accepted supplication.  And whosoever completes a reading of the Quran, has an accepted supplication.” [ibid]

How I’tikaf Brought me Closer to Allah

Overall, the moments I spent in I’tikaf were unquestionably some of the best hours of my life. My advice would be to grab the opportunity to sit in I’tikaf, especially if you have minimal responsibilities. After having spent three amazing days in complete seclusion, I felt that my worldly stresses and hardships were non-existent in comparison to the blessings Allah SWT has given me through reflection on my time alone. I learnt that when I’m feeling downhearted and anxious, I know that I can turn to Allah SWT and have my worries eased. I know that even after falling into sin after sin, that Allah SWT is ready for my calling upon Him and to forgive me. SubhanAllah, I have never felt this close to my Lord with a permanent feeling of contentment in Allah SWTs remembrance.

Do you ever feel like you are left wondering moments after you finish making dua and question whether it will be accepted? SubhanAllah, I finished making dua and looked out of the window only to see the peaceful rain pouring down in force. I remembered the Hadith:

The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said: “There are two which will not be rejected: dua at the time of the call (to prayer) and when it is raining.” [Abu Dawud, Al-Hakim, Ibn Majah]

My heart filled with contentment and I began supplicating more with utmost sincerity and reliance on Allah SWT. SubhanAllah, sometimes you just really need a sign that Allah SWT is listening, and I certainly received it. Compared to last Ramadan, this experience has been life changing and rewarding. There is no wonder that the Quran says:

Those who believe and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest. (Qur‘an 13: 28)

I truly departed Ramadan with a clear heart and fully content in the decree of Allah SWT. Do not ever close your heart to the mercy of Allah SWT. When God is at the centre of your priority in life, you are at the centre of Allah SWTs providential care. And you will see your life change right in front of your eyes.

I hope that my words plant a seed for those who haven’t thought about sitting in I’tikaf and are a motivating encouragement for those already considering it, especially my fellow Muslim sisters! We regret sinning daily, but have you ever regretted worshipping your Lord?

Top Tips!

If you’re thinking of sitting in I’tikaf next Ramadan, whether at home or at the Masjid (I’m speaking to you too, brothers!), here are some of my top tips to help you maximise your experience.

Tip 1: For sisters – Ensure you have a quiet designated area with loads of natural light, access to fresh air and comfort. You may feel claustrophobic during the initial stages of your I’tikaf, especially if this is your first experience, so it is important to create a calming environment to aid your journey. As I mentioned above, I used candles, pillows and beautiful scents to help me get “in the zone”.

Tip 2: Between Iftaar and Suhoor, ensure you maintain an adequate water intake to remain hydrated and aid in keeping yourself awake! I’d recommend keeping a water bottle by your side and sipping on it throughout the night.

Tip 3: Try to remain focused during every minute by doing dhikr (remembrance of God). Constant Ibadah, just like anything constant, can be extremely tiring. During moments when your tiredness overcomes you, lay down on your comfy pillows, close your eyes and recite La Illa Ha Il Allah, send Salawat on our prophet (PBUH) and make dua to God Almighty.

Tip 4: Your sole focus is Ibadah, so make your prayers count! This is an excellent time to perfect your Khushoo in Salah. Prolong your sujood, take the time to recite Salah slowly and fluently. Watch how your heart feels full and a general feeling on contentment and acceptance of prayer surround your presence. I recommend the “30 Top Tips for attaining Khushoo’ in Salah” – an eBook which eloquently outlines how to perfect your prayer.

Tip 5: Arrange for different people to prepare and deliver your suhoor and iftaar so that they may gain the reward of facilitating your I’tikaf. (Note: It’s important that you do not begin engaging in worldly conversations with them as this defeats the purpose of your I’tikaf.)

Tip 6: Write down your own duas and those asked to be made by others. Often, we find it difficult to express words during dua so maintaining a diary of your duas can help facilitate. Pay particular attention to the recommended times to make dua, such as the time of breaking fast, after Salah and during the last third of the night.

Tip 7: Have a rough indicator of how much dhikr you wish to complete. A good daily target to aim for may be:

  • 1000 Subhan Allah (Glory be to Allah),
  • 1000 Al-Hamdulillah (Praise be to Allah)
  • 1000 La ilaha illa-Allah (There is no deity but Allah)
  • 1000 Allahu Akbar (Allah is Greater)
  • 1000 Astagfirullah (I seek forgiveness from Allah)
  • 1000 Salawat upon the Prophet (PBUH)
  • 1000 Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibbul ‘afwa fa’fu ‘anni (O Allah, You are al-Afuww (The Eraser of Sins and Pardoner) and you love to pardon, so pardon me)

Tip 8: Delete your social media apps and mute your messages. This is a lifetime opportunity you have been given that will fly by in no time! Keeping up with the Kardashians or checking the football scores can wait!

Tip 9: Ensure you set up an automatic charity payment for the last 10 nights of Ramadan in particular. As mentioned above, you want to ensure you spend little or no time on your phone. I’d recommend using a great site called My Ten Nights which automatically takes your chosen donation amount from your account each night. Simply set it up before Day 20 of Ramadan and you’re good to go!

Tip 10: Most of our time spent in Ibadah will be sitting down reading Quran or just some light stretching within prayers. You may feel strain on your back and legs, so I would recommend moving around and stretching a couple times per day to keep the blood flowing and your energy high. Bonus tip: if you begin feeling any pain, keep some tiger balm nearby to rub onto your body for instant relief!

Share Your Thoughts and Tips With Me!

I hope my story and tips have inspired you to spend some extra time in isolation to reflect, pray and draw closer to Allah SWT.

Have you ever sat in I’tikaf or have some tips of your own on how we can draw closer to Allah SWT whether at home or at the Masjid? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

Love this content? Get more blogs, podcast shows & free tools straight to your inbox!