بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيْم

اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْن،وَالصَّلاۃ وَالسَّلامُ عَلَی النَّبِیِّ الْکَرِيم وَعَلیٰ آله وَاَصْحَابه اَجْمَعِيْن۔

Reply to Queries Regarding Women’s I’tikaf

This is a plain and simple reply to some questions regarding women’s I’tikaf.  Imam Abu Hanifah and the Hanafi scholars in general maintain that it is permissible for women to stay in a Masjid for the purpose of I’tikaf provided there are proper arrangements allowing them to perform the ritual. But what is better for a woman is performing I’tikaf in the corner of her house designated for Salah because that place is like Masjid for her and the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) had often asked the women to perform Salah at home. In light of the Quran and the Prophetic injunctions the Ummah unanimously believes that a woman’s prayer at home is better than her prayer in a Masjid. This clearly indicates that the portion of the house designated for Salah bears the virtues of the Masjid in case of the women and for the same reason it is regarded better for them to pray at home instead of attending a Masjid.

Let’s have a look into the issue from the practical angle and examine the ground reality. As far as we know no Masjids except Masjid Haram and Masjid Nabawi make special arrangements for women to perform I’tikaf. Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly the safest country and the foremost in encouraging vitreous ways but we haven’t seen such arrangements by the management of any Masjid in the entire kingdom. This should be enough to realize what could be the situation in other countries. As for India and Pakistan,we all are well-aware of the condition in there. Moreover, people advocating staying of womenin the Masjid for I’tikaf cannot present a single example of such incident that ever took place in their own families; they cannot name a single lady from their families who ever did I’tikaf in any Masjid.

In view of the above, there are only two ways left for women intending to do I’tikaf. They should perform the ritual at home by confining themselves to the portion designated for prayer according to the opinion of a considerable number of scholars. Even if we accept for the sake of argument that women’s I’tikaf at home cannot be considered as Sunnah, the fact remains undeniable that it gives an opportunity to the women to single out few days to only worship Allah the Exalted especially during Lailat-ul-Qadr. On the other hand, if we look at those who confine I’tikaf to Masjid even for women, they practically deny their right to I’tikaf altogether as they neither let them stay in the Masjid for I’tikaf nor do they allow them to perform the ritual at home.

As mentioned before, the great scholars including Imam Abu Hanifah opine that it is better for a woman to confine herself to her fixed prayer place with the intention of I’tikaf instead of staying in the Masjid. Numerous arguments can be presented in favour of this scholarly opinion.  As we wanted to keep the reply short, it will suffice here to quote a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari.Ayesha(may Allah be pleased with her) said:

"The Prophet (PBUH) used to practice I’tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan and I used to pitch a tent for him, and after offering the Morning Prayer, he used to enter the tent." Hafsah asked the permission of Ayesha to pitch a tent for her and she allowed her and she pitched her tent. When Zainab bint Jahsh saw it, she pitched another tent. In the morning the Prophet (PBUH) noticed the tents. He said, 'What is this?" He was told of the whole situation. Then the Prophet (PBUH) said, "Do you think that they intended to do righteousness by doing this?" He, therefore, abandoned the I’tikaf in that month and practiced I’tikaf for ten days in the month of Shawwal."(Sahih Bukhari under the chapter Women’s I’ikaf, Hadith No. 1896)

The same has been repeated in Hadith No. 1897 under the chapter Pitching Tents in the Mosque.The Hadith clearly shows the Prophet’s disapproval of staying in the Masjid for his wives as he criticized their action. Some people try to interpret the Hadith saying that what angered the Prophet (PBUH) was not pitching tents in the Majid by his wives but he was actually annoyed by their showing off and pretension. Some others say the Prophet disliked it because they as co-wives vied with each otherin pitching tents. Both these interpretations are utterly rejectable. The Quran and Sunnah nowhere support their arguments. Had they done it to show off or out of mutual competition as co-wives, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) would have advised them to rectify their behaviour. The fact is the Prophet (PBUH) didn’t like it for women to stay in Masjid for the purpose of I’tikaf and therefore he removed his tent and the wives followed him. If it was their pretension or mutual rivalry that made him angry, he would have advised them to correct their intention without abandoning the I’tikaf. Thus this incident makes it clear that the Prophet (PBUH) didn’t like it for his wives to perform I’tikaf in the Masjid.

Let’s look into the Quran to know what it says regarding I’tikaf. The following verse will make the issue all the more clear in sha Allah. Allah the Exalted says:

“It has been made permissible for you the night preceding fasting to go to your wives [for sexual relations]. They are a covering for you and you are a covering for them. Allah knows that you used to deceive yourselves, so He accepted your repentance and forgave you. So now, have relations with them and seek that which Allah has decreed for you. And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset. And do not have relations with them as long as you are staying for worship in the mosques. These are the limits [set by] Allah, so do not approach them. Thus does Allah make clear His ordinances to the people that they may become righteous.”(2:187)

In the beginning it was prohibited for the Muslims to eat or be intimate with their wives if they had a sleep even for a while after breaking their fast. Some people failed to abide by the injunction and copulated with wives during the night. The verse alludes to this kind of failure on part of some individuals as it also mentions that Allah forgave them for their failure and took pity on them by repealing the prohibition of eating or having sexual intercourse anytime [whether before sleeping or after waking up] during nights of Ramadan. The ruling stipulated by the verse, however, is not absolute because sexual intercourse is not allowed for a person in the state of I’tikaf even during the night hours while it is allowed for others. On the other hand, the verse does not prohibit performing I’tikaf at home for the women instead of staying in the Masjid for the same purpose. Moreover, this much is certainly proved by numerous Hadiths that the blessed wives of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) continued to perform I’tikaf even after the demise of the Prophet (PBUH) but not a single authentic Hadith clearly states that they stayed in the Masjid for I’tikaf. The Ummah unanimously agrees that praying at home is better for a woman than praying in any Masjid even if it is the blessed Masjid of the Prophet (PBUH).So when home is like Masjid for a woman with regard to Salah, what prevents us from treating it as Masjid in respect of I’tikaf too?People who prevent women from performing I’tikaf at home should stop. If they really see nothing wrong in sending women to Masjid for I’tikaf, then charity must begin at home. However, it is widely observable that people who make Masjid a prerequisite for I’tikaf even for women hardly perform I’tikaf themselves. By wasting their energies in useless argumentation they forget the real purpose they argue about.

Mohammad Najeeb Qasmi (