“Don’t you get bored?
How can you stay at home day after day?”
How often I have been asked this question!
It is mostly other married women who are curious to find out just how it is possible for me to find solace, entertainment, productive occupation, comfort and leisure at home, without needing to go out at least every other day to attend an event or partake in some activity in order to alleviate the boredom that they feel after spending only two days at a stretch at home.
Well, for starters, I don’t exactly twiddle my thumbs. I am now among a growing number of people who telecommute i.e. work from home, thanks to the Internet, which has torn down the traditional brick-and-mortar office walls to allow professionals to work from anywhere.
Furthermore, the Internet has also done away with the need for a television set, allowing viewers to pick and choose what to watch (if they want to watch something at all). Thirdly, my homeschooled children are at home with me, so it is not like I am alone and unoccupied.
Nevertheless, periodic social isolation from society in order to become closer to Allah, especially during youth, is not a totally unheard of phenomenon in Islam. At certain times, such as the last third of Ramadan, it has actually been encouraged by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
As we all enter the last third of this blessed month of Ramadan, let us revisit the benefits of the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during this period: social isolation through i’tikaf.
The Prophet used to perform three kinds of supererogatory (non-obligatory) acts of worship during Ramadan in order to come closer to Allah:
– Review of the entire Quran with archangel Jibreel,
– Standing in qiyam at night,
– I’tikaf, or social isolation in the masjid, coupled with more intense night prayers to seek Laylatul Qadr (the night of power) in the last 10 days.
Social Isolation in the Quran
We all know that when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was married to Khadjiah bint Khuwailid as a young man in his thirties, he isolated himself in the cave of Hira to get closer to Allah, weary of the shirk and moral debauchery that was prevalent in Arabian society.
In the Quran, Allah mentions in Surah Al-Kahf how a group of young boys who had believed in monotheism isolated themselves in a cave in order to escape the shirk that was rampant in their society as well.
Furthermore, Allah mentions in the Quran how Maryam bint `Imran worshipped Allah in her private chambers as a young virgin girl, keeping herself away from the moral ills that were prevalent in the society of her nation, the Bani Israel.
Her uncle, Prophet Zakariyya is also mentioned in the Quran, how he worshipped Allah in the mihrab i.e. his private prayer place alone. The ultra-powerful ruler Prophet Dawud has also been mentioned in the Quran, in how he worshipped Allah in his private chambers, whence he was once unexpectedly approached by two men seeking his judgment in a dispute.
Lastly, the reluctant, unasked-for social isolation of Prophets Yusuf, Musa, and Yunus have all been mentioned in the Quran as well, which proved to be beneficial, life-changing experiences for them in the long term.
Prophet Yusuf supplicated to Allah when high-society women were pursuing him for evil motives, to send him off to jail instead. Allah answered his dua’s and made him spend years in jail, in comparative social isolation. When he emerged from jail years later, he had been granted immense wisdom and the ability to get to the depth of matters.
Prophet Yunus found himself all alone after being swallowed whole by a whale, whence he turned back to Allah in repentance, so Allah delivered him back to dry land, alive. Undoubtedly, that must have been a very harrowing experience for him, but in the end, it was good for him to have gone through it.
Lastly, after Prophet Musa left Egypt due to persecution by the Copts, he found himself sitting alone, homeless and without provision in a foreign town, praying to Allah for any khair (good) to come his way. Eventually, this dismal and lonely situation paved the way for multiple and long-term benefits for him: he got to meet the generous and righteous Prophet Shuaib; he got employed by him for 8 or 10 years, and also got married to his pious daughter.
In light of all the above incidences of social isolation that the Quran has mentioned, which occurred in the lives of pious bygone people, whether it was intentional or ‘forced’ upon them by Allah in the form of unwelcome and unpleasant circumstances, one common factor shines through in them all: it was better for all of these pious people to socially isolate themselves from society for a time period. It brought them many benefits and blessings.
And it not only saved them from sin and vices in their societies, but also brought them extremely close to Allah in humility and faith.
Tips for Achieving Benefits of I’tikaf Outside the Masjid
The word i’tikaf is derived from the three Arabic letters: ain-kaaf-faa, which means: “keeping or cleaving to something constantly and perseveringly; to continue upon something without turning your face from it” (Lane’s Lexicon).
When Prophet Muhammad performed i’tikaf, he would remain secluded in the masjid during the last ten days of Ramadan. He would not have sexual relations with his wives at night. He would also awaken his family in order to encourage them to pray more at night during this period.
The Prophet and his companions would erect tents inside the masjid for the purpose of i’tikaf, each having their own little private space to connect closely with Allah. They would avoid getting involved in any worldly matters that are otherwise permissible for a Muslim to do, such as conducting trade.
The fiqh of i’tikaf aside, what most of us normal Muslims find conflicting about the last ten days and nights of Ramadan, is the need for them to balance their obligatory worldly affairs with achieving a more intense schedule of worship in such a manner that neither gets adversely affected.
After all, if everyone started doing i’tikaf at the masjid, no one would be left to attend to the obligatory needs of society, such as buying and selling necessities, washing clothes, cleaning up, and taking care of small children inside their homes, to name a few.
Conclusion: Prioritize and Capitalize
The key to achieving some level of social isolation coupled with more devout worship in the last third of Ramadan, is to prioritize one’s must-do chores, errands and duties according to importance, and to discard or delay anything from one’s schedule and to-do list that is not important; that can easily be tackled later, when Ramadan is over.
Time is of essence at the end of Ramadan. Because Eid is approaching, the excitement in its anticipation begins to pervade the senses, as the days and nights pass in a blur of increased night worship. It is so easy to get distracted and diverted from spending more time at the masjid, to instead wander around in the brightly lit and inviting markets, shopping malls, and restaurants at night, especially in Muslim countries, where the imminent arrival of Eid summons in more public festive fervor and frenzy.
The wise Muslim, however, realizes only too well that the true basis for joy on Eid is the quality and essence of worship that they were able to achieve during Ramadan, instead of what outfit they will get to wear to Eid prayer, and what lavish dish they will prepare to take along to the community Eid brunch.
The wise Muslim, therefore, strives hard against the natural desires of their self, and refuses to let last minute shoe/clothes shopping, cooking, and cleaning up of their house distract them from worshipping longer and harder in this time period.
They also turn off chat notifications, spend more time in solitude, and less in front of screens or in the company of people.
Every minute till the Shawwal moon is sighted, is of vital importance!