Due to the current lockdown situation, would it be permitted for men to perform i’tikaf in a dedicated salah area at home?
The various Sunni Schools of Islamic law are, more or less, in agreement that the i’tikaf (spiritual retreat) of a man is only valid if observed in a mosque. The difference of opinion amongst them is only in relation to the i’tikaf of a woman.
The Shafi’i jurist, Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi (may Allah have mercy on him) states, “The i’tikaf of a man is not valid except in the mosque/masjid due to the statement of Allah Most High: “Do not have sexual intimacy with them [wives] while you are observing i’tikaf in mosques”, which indicates that i’tikaf is only permitted in the mosque.” (Nawawi, Al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhaddhab 8/6)
Similarly, Imam Ibn Qudama (may Allah have mercy on him), the great jurist of Hanbali and comparative fiqh, states, “The i’tikaf of a man is not valid (la yasihhu) except in the mosque. We are not aware of any difference of opinion between the scholars in this matter…” (Al-Mughni 3/189)
From the Maliki School, Imam Hattab (may Allah have mercy on him) states, “I’tikaf is valid in any mosque. Ibn Rushd said that observing i’tikaf in the mosque [i.e. designated prayer-area] of the house is not valid according to Imam Malik, neither for men or women.” (Mawahib al-Jalil fi sharh Mukhtasar al-Khalil 3/241)
As for the Hanafi School, Imam Haskafi (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his Al-Durr al-Mukhtar that it is not valid for a man to observe i’tikaf in other than a mosque, and that remaining in a mosque is one of the conditions for the validity of i’tikaf.
Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him), the renowned jurist of the school, explains further in his Radd al-Muhtar that i’tikaf may be observed in any mosque wherein the five daily prayers are performed. As for a mosque wherein the five daily prayers are not performed, there is a difference of opinion within the Hanafi scholars regarding its permissibility. Many learned jurists – such as Imam Tahawi – are of the view that i’tikaf may be observed at such a mosque, though not preferable. The most virtuous i’tikaf is that which is observed in the Sacred Mosque (al-masjid al-haram) [in Makka], then in the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) [in Madina], then in Al-Masjid al-Aqsa [in Al-Quds], then in the Jami’ Mosque [where Friday prayers are offered] if there is one, otherwise one’s local mosque. (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 3/429 and Ahkam I’tikaf p 30)
The above citations from the four major Sunni Schools of Islamic law indicate that there is a scholarly consensus on the fact that i`tikaf for men is only valid in a place technically defined as a mosque/masjid. Only a handful of scholars, such as Muhammad ibn Umar ibn Lubaba from the Maliki School, considered it to be valid in other than a mosque, which was deemed as an isolated (shadh) position by other Maliki scholars. (Fath al-Bari 4/319 and Al-Fiqh al-Maliki wa Adillatuh 3/163)
1) The main proof for the necessity of observing i’tikaf in a mosque is the statement of Allah Most High, “And do not have sexual intimacy with them [wives] while you are observing i’tikāf in mosques.” (Qur’an 2:187)
Imam Ibn Qudama (may Allah have mercy on him) states, “The fact that Allah Most High specifies i’tikaf with the mosque indicates that i’tikaf is something that should be observed exclusively in the mosque. Had i’tikaf been permitted in other than mosques, the prohibition of sexual intimacy would not have been specified to mosques, since it is prohibited unrestrictedly (mutlaqan).” (Al-Mughni 3/189)
Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his acclaimed commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, “The manner of substantiation (wajh al-dalala) from the verse is that had i’tikaf been permitted in other than a mosque, the prohibition of sexual intimacy would not have been specified with the mosque. This is because sexual relations are prohibited during i’tikaf by consensus. As such, citing the “mosque” indicates that i’tikaf cannot be observed except within it.” (Fath al-Bari 4/319)
2) Allah Most High says, “Purify My House for those who are to circumambulate (make tawāf) and those who observe i’tikaf, and those who bow down or prostrate themselves [in prayers].” (Qur’an 2:125)
The above verse also signifies that i’tikaf is to be observed in the house of Allah, which includes the two Sacred Mosques and all other houses of Allah.
3) Sayyida A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “I’tikaf is only valid in a mosque wherein prayers are performed.” (Sunan Abi Dawud 2135)
In light of the above, the i’tikaf of men is only valid in a mosque. It is preferable to observe it in a mosque wherein jumu’a and the five daily prayers are performed, though it is also permitted – within the Hanafi School – to perform it in a mosque where daily prayers are not performed. I’tikaf is technically not valid for men in a musalla (prayer hall) or a designated prayer area at home.
As for the country being under lockdown and the various mosques/masajid remaining closed for the general public, one should keep in mind that observing i’tikaf for the entire last ten days of Ramadan, in the Hanafi School, is a strongly emphasized communal sunna (sunna mu’akkada ala ‘l-kifaya). This means that even if one person in each community was to observe it, it is sufficient in fulfilling the Sunna. As such, it can be accomplished with the imam, mu’adhin and/or some other personal observing i’tikaf in the mosque. (Tahtawi ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 1/473)
As for the rest of the male members of the community, there is no harm – rather encouraged – to self-isolate (khalwa) in a designated prayer-area of the house and spend time in worshipping Allah Most High and connecting with Him. If one (a) has the intention that one would have performed i’tikaf in a mosque if available and (b) hopes that Allah accept this retreat in its place, then it is not far-fetched from the mercy of Allah that one may receive the reward and benefits of i’tikaf, In Sha Allah. However, it will not be technically deemed as i’tikaf per se, and thus the various rules of i’tikaf shall not apply.
As for whether females may observe i’tikaf at home, there is a difference of opinion amongst the Sunni Schools of Islamic law.
1) The reliable positions within the Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali Schools is that a woman is like a man, in that her i’tikaf is also not valid except in the mosque. It is not permitted for a woman to observe i’tikaf in her designated prayer-area at home. (See for the Maliki School: Mawahib al-Jalil 3/241, for the Shafi’i School: Al-Majmu’ sharh al-Muhaddhab, and for the Hanbali School: Al-Mughni 3/189)
Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his Al-Majmu’, “It is not valid for men or women to observe i’tikaf except in the mosque. It is not valid in the mosque of a woman’s house or the mosque of a man’s house, which is the area designated for prayer. This is the official position of the [Shafi’i] Maddhab” (Al-Majmu’ 6/505)
These schools cite the same evidences which were mentioned above in relation to the i’tikaf of men, since they do not differentiate between men and women. In addition, there is a report in which Sayyiduna AbdAllah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) was asked about a woman who vowed to observe i’tikaf in the mosque (prayer-area) of her house. He replied, “This is an innovation, and the most disliked of actions in the sight of Allah are innovations. There can be no i’tikaf except in a mosque wherein prayers are established.” (Fath al-Bari 3/170)
2) According to the Hanafi School and the older (qadim) position of Imam Shafi’i (though Imam Nawawi deems it week), it is permitted and valid for a woman to observe i’tikaf at home by remaining in her designated prayer-area, with intention. In fact, it is somewhat disliked (makruh tanzih) for women to observe it in the mosque. If an area within the house has not been previously designated for prayer, then she may designate an area prior to the commencement of i’tikaf, and i’tikaf must accordingly be performed therein. (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 3/429)
The Hanafi School’s position is based on the fact that the place for a woman to observe i’tikaf is that which is superior and better for her in order to offer her daily prayers – as is the case with men. For women, praying in the designated prayer-area at home is superior and more virtuous than praying in the mosque, whilst praying in the mosque is better for men.
Sayyiduna AbdAllah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “A woman’s prayer in her room is better [and more rewarding] than her prayer in her courtyard, and her prayer in her small storage room [within the room] is better than her prayer in her room.” (Sunan Abi Dawud 570 and Sunan Tirmidhi 1173)
Umm Humayd, the wife of Abu Humayd al-Sa’idi (may Allah be pleased with both), came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I would like to pray with you.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “I know that you like to pray with me, but your prayer in your room is better for you than your prayer in your courtyard, and your prayer in your courtyard is better for you than your prayer in [other locations of] your house, and your prayer in your house is better for you than your prayer in the mosque of your people [i.e. your local mosque], and your prayer in the mosque of your people is better for you than your prayer in my mosque.” So, she ordered for a prayer-area to be prepared for her in the furthest and darkest part of her house, and she would pray there until she met Allah Most High. (Musnad Ahmad 26550, Sahih Ibn Hibban 5/595 and Sahih Ibn Khuzayma 3/95)
As such, Imam Sarakhsi (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his Al-Mabsut, “When a woman observes i’tikaf in the designated prayer-area of her home, then that area for her [in terms of virtue and rules] is similar to what a congregational mosque is for a man.” (Al-Mabsut 2/132)
The great Hanafi jurist Imam Kasani (may Allah have mercy on him) explains further by stating that both prayer and i’tikaf are worships that are specific to the mosque. However, a woman’s designated prayer-area in the house is effectively treated as a congregational mosque for her in terms of prayer, so it would be treated as a mosque equally for i’tikaf. This is the reason why she is only permitted to observe I’tikaf in the designated area, and not elsewhere in the house. (Bada’i al-Sana’i 3/17)
In light of the above, a woman who follows the Hanafi School may observe optional (nafl) i’tikaf in the designated prayer-area within the house, as well as the Sunna i’tikaf of the entire last ten days of Ramadan. This is permitted, regardless of whether there is a lockdown and mosques are closed to the public, or otherwise.
As for those who follow the Maliki, Shafi’i or Hanbali schools, i’tikaf is only valid in a mosque – for both men and women. However, for women, this is subjected to certain conditions such as proper separation between men and women. For example, in the Shafi’i School, Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) states that a woman who is not permitted to attend the mosque for congregational prayers, is not permitted to observe i’tikaf therein (Al-Majmu’). As such, one should learn the details of these rules prior to observing i’tikaf.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam