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I`tikāf in communal mosques

August 13, 2011



Respected sir

I am a lady following the Hanafī madhhab. I intend traveling for ‘umrah, inshallāh, and do i’tikāf in the last third of Ramadān by al-Masjid an-Nabawī in the Illuminated City. From my studies of the jurisprudence of my school, I have garnered the permissibility of doing so, yet I still meet opposition to it from family and friends. Would it possible for you to remove lingering doubts?


In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.
May Allah’s prayer of blessing and mercy and the salutation of peace be on our master, His beloved and the best of creation, on the pure and purified members of his family, and on the entirety of his noble companions, the bearers of light to the generations of those following them through engagement in beneficent goodness until the Day of Judgment, amīn.

a)    From Hanafī sources

Undoubtedly, one of the most blooming flowers in the jurisprudential literature of the Hanafiyyah is al-Kāsānī’s Badā’i` as-Sanā’i` fī Tartīb ash-Sharā’i`.
Hereinafter I shall quote from “The Book of I`tikāf” therein:

Al-Kāsānī mentions that the conditions of validity of the i`tikāf are traced to two categories of elements: i) The mu`takif, i.e. the person who engages in the practice of i`tikāf; and ii) the mu`takaf fīh, that is, the place where i`tikāf is carried out.

Under the first aspect, he sets out the fact that the mu`takif must be Muslim, of sound intellect, free from a state of janābah (= major ritual impurity), menstruation and post-childbirth blood. He does not require the mu`takif to have reached puberty.
In consonance with what is found in all the Hanafī classical juristic texts without exception, he does not exclude a woman from the class of possible mu`takifīn. Quite the opposite, as the reference to being in a state of ritual purity from menstrual or post-childbirth blood clearly shows the encompassment of women within the class of legitimate mu`takifīn.

As regards the second aspect, the place where i`tikāf is carried out, he asserts that it consists in the mosque, due to Allah's statement: «But do not have sexual intercourse with them while you are in retreat in the mosque» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 185). He states that the fact He described them as doing i`tikāf in the mosques, though they never used to sexually cohabit in the mosques, was in order to forbid them from engaging in such cohabitation there, and that the aforesaid is a pointer to the fact that the place where i`tikāf is validly performed is the mosque.
Al-Kāsānī then lists the different views as to whether i`tikāf is valid in every mosque, only in one where all the five compulsory prayers are regularly performed, or specifically in the Makkan Haram, in the Prophet's Mosque, Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa-Sallam, in al-Madīnah (the one where you intend going into retreat), and in Masjid al-Aqsā.
The author then proceeds to examine the proofs and champions the general position that i`tikāf is valid in every mosque.

Once he has exhausted that mas’alah, he moves on to consider the i`tikāf of a woman specifically, and has this to say:
“As for a woman, it has been mentioned in Al-Asl (= ash-Shaybānī’s mother-book referred to commonly as Al-Mabsūt, which as-Sarkhasī wrote his famous commentary on) that she only makes i`tikāf in the “mosque at her house”, without doing i`tikāf in the communal mosque.
Al-Hasan has narrated from (Imām) Abū Hanīfah that a woman was allowed to do i`tikāf in the communal mosque, just as she was free, if she so willed, to do it in the mosque at her own private residence, adding that the mosque in her house was better for her than the mosque of her residential district, and that the latter was preferable in her respect to the large communal mosque. This necessitates no discrepancy in the narrations. Rather, the juristic position is that she is entitled to do i`tikāf in the communal mosque according to both the abovementioned transmitted reports, without there being any disagreement among the followers of our madhhab in this regard (my underlining). What is set out in  Al-Asl must be construed as referring merely to the refutation of the superiority of a woman's i`tikāf in a communal mosque, and not to the refutation of the legal validity of such kind of i`tikāf for her, whereupon the two narrations are harmoniously reconciled with one another. This is our position as Hanafis.
As for ash-Shāfi`ī, he said that it was invalid for her to do i`tikāf in the mosque at her own house.
The rationale for his pronouncement is what follows: I`tikāf is an act of drawing near to Allah (qurbah) which has been specifically connected to the mosque by explicit textual authority (nass) [starting with the said Qur’ānic āyah], and “the mosque of her home” is not truly a mosque, only a name used to designate the area in her house which is reserved for the prayer, without any one of the rulings which apply to a mosque applying to such domestic area. Accordingly, this specific act of drawing near to Allah cannot be lawfully established in such private space”.
Al-Kāsānī then puts forward a counter-submission which unfolds itself as per the under-mentioned: This qurbah has been specifically associated with mosques - In respect of her person, a woman's home mosque is assigned the ruling of a mosque, as that is the ruling it possesses concerning her prayer, given that she is in need of earning the merit of communal prayer. Therefore, her home mosque is treated, ruling-wise, as if it represented a communal mosque as far as she is concerned. Prayer and i`tikāf are identical in the sense of being specifically associated with mosques. She is not allowed to do i`tikāf in her home in other than a masjid, i.e. the designated section in her house which is specifically earmarked for the prayer, as no other area in her house is assigned this ruling of being a “mosque” for her. It follows that no i`tikāf is permissible in any other area thereof (again my underlining)”. 

It is therefore clear that, for the Hanafis, her i`tikāf in a communal mosque (let alone in the Prophetic one in al-Madīnah, may Allah send the prayer of blessing and the greeting of peace on his dweller) is in order. Ash-Shāfi`ī (among others) goes just one extra degree further, and Allah knows best.

b)    Sources on comparative fiqh

Al-Jazīrī’s Al-Fiqh ‘ala’l-Madhāhib al-Arba`ah: He examines the conditions of validity of i`tikāf, and asserts that it has to be done in a mosque, and is invalid at a house or its like. He quotes the Mālikiyyah as sharing the same view of the Shāfi`iyyah regarding the impermissibility of i`tikāf in a mosque within a private house even as regards a woman, and the Hanābilah as maintaining that i`tikāf is valid in any mosque with regard to both men and women. He ascribe a ruling of light reprehensibility (makrūh tanzīhī) to a woman’s i`tikāf other than in the mosque of her house within the Hanafī madhhab, without however tracing it to any source.
In any event, at the worst it would be in your madhhab a lawful act with a tinge of dislike to it.

Ibn Rushd the grandson’s Bidāyatu’l-Mujtahid wa-Nihāyatu’l-Muqtasid: He surveys the inferences, based on activating usūl al-fiqh, from āyah 185 of Sūrah al-Baqarah we have quoted above, the bulk of jurists connecting i`tikāf to mosques on the basis that the mosque was a condition of its validity.
He follows that up by setting out what is mentioned here under:
“As for the reason of their juristic differences relating to a woman's i`tikāf, it consists in analogy (qiyās) being opposed to the transmitted textual report, since the following narration has been established, namely, that Hafsah, ‘Ā’ishah and Zaynab, all three being wives of the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, asked the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, to do i`tikāf in the mosque, and he acceded to their request when they put up their tents in it [The hadīth is agreed upon by al-Bukhārī and Muslim].
This report is proof of the permissibility of women doing i`tikāf in a mosque. As for the analogy which contradicts such report, it is the analogy of i`tikāf to the prayer, i.e. inasmuch as a woman’s prayer in her house is better than her performing it at a mosque, based on the report handed down in this regard, that would necessitate the superiority of her i`tikāf at home”.
That would bring us back to what al-Kāsānī stressed, that at the most (for those who take by such analogical reasoning) the dispute is not about validity but about the preference of one lawful option over another. In other words, the lawfulness of a woman’s i`tikāf in a communal mosque is established right across the juristic spectrum of methodologies of Ahl as-Sunnah, though one group of jurists tried to dispute the majority view that it should be practiced in a “mosque” as normally understood, and tried to advance the counter-view that doing it in her home mosque (if it existed) was by no means inferior in status, and Allah knows best.


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