Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ramadan Misconceptions - I'tikaf

I'tikaf means sleepover at the masjid. Activities may include icebreakers, upbeat pseudo-lectures (let's call them "talks") about topics ranging from irrelevant to obscure, discussion about what it's like to be Muslim, what Ramadan means to you, 15 minutes of "alone time" where you can read Qur'an or "discuss" something important with your friends ("chit-chat"), and then pray Tahajjud in jamaa'at at 4am before going home to pray fajr and then sleep. Food is provided--pizza and sodas. Alternately, you may make a private i'tikaf (hold up, I feel redundant) by bringing a bed into the masjid and just sleeping there.

Sad story, but true. When did i'tikaf evolve into "spend the night hanging out at the masjid?" I don't know when that happened, because it had to be before I was ever Muslim. I came on the scene last Ramadan and attended a so-called i'tikaf for college sisters. There was one for brothers at the same time, that was actually in the masjid, while the sisters were in the school building. And, unfortunately, it felt very much like I described above.

Now, while I don't really have a problem with those activities, per se, though they are a little shallow, the problem I do have is that it doesn't even begin to resemble what an i'tikaf really is. So why call it an i'tikaf? That's my problem, that's my objection. I wasn't really on the lookout for more i'tikafs geared for my age group this year, I'll admit that much. When I heard about a so-called i'tikaf "for women" a few nights ago, I though ok, maybe I'll go, maybe it will be women who are mature and serious about it, and I can actually be in real i'tikaf for some of the night. I told the sister who brought it up, "If it's ibaadah, I'll go... not if it's just chit-chat." And alhamdulillah.

There were hours alloted for actual reflection, dhikr, individual salaat or reading Qur'an, rather than just minutes, as above. There were two group activities--at the outset, there was a lecture by one sister about what an i'tikaf is in the first place and talking about humility, and then there was Salaat al-Tasbeeh in jamaa'at. The rest of the time was non-interactive.

So what is an i'tikaf? The word means seclusion. Secluding oneself--that means being alone, to think and reflect. So in the last 10 days of Ramadan, we can make intention for i'tikaf and go to the masjid and enter the state of seclusion, as an act of worship. And treat it like worship. The sister insisted against the idea that women can make i'tikaf in their homes, she said that it must be in the masjid, and that the wives of the Prophet (saws) (raa) would make i'tikaf in the masjid. I point that out because I had recently been told that it was acceptable (even advisable) for women to actually perform i'tikaf at home, instead of the masjid!! So we all know I'm not a scholar, but one thing which makes no sense to me (and I hope it never does make sense to me) is why tell women they should do it at home, because some opinions are that they can, when in fact even the wives of the Prophet saws were known to make i'tikaf in the masjid instead of at home? You're scratching your head too? Okay.

At any rate, i'tikaf means seclusion, and seclusion in the masjid, as ibaadah, as worship, for which we should have the intention to please Allah swt and worship Him and focus on Him.

InshaAllah I will spend even more time at the masjid in these last few days to read even more Qur'an. I thank Allah for the time and ability to do so.

No comments: