The Month of Ramadan
by Mufti Taqi Usmani
- Philosophy of Ramadan
- The Merits of Ramadan
- How to Spend Ramadan
- What Should be Avoided in Ramadan
- Rules of Fasting
- Fast of Qada'
- Laylatul Qadr
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is called "Ramadan" and it is the most meritorious month of the whole year. Since there are many specific rules peculiar to this month, we would like to deal with its characteristics in a rather detailed manner under different sections.
Philosophy of Ramadan
The Holy Qur'an has expressly told us that the basic objective for which man is created by Allah (swt) is that he "worships" Him:
And I did not create Jinn and human beings except that they should worship Me.
The word used by the Holy Qur'an for the worship is "ibadah" which has a much wider sense than "worship." In English, the word "worship" normally indicates to some specific acts or rituals meant exclusively to show one's reverence to his Creator. But the word "ibadah" is not restricted to such acts or rituals, rather, it embodies any act done in submission to Allah's commands and to seek His pleasures. Therefore, many acts which seem to be mundane in nature are included in the word of "ibadah" like earning one's livelihood throughhalal (permissible) means and in order to fulfill one's obligations towards his dependants.
However, 'ibadah is of two kinds. At the first place there are acts meant exclusively to worship Allah, having no worldly objective, like salah, fasting, etc. These are direct acts of 'ibadah while the other kind of 'ibadah includes the acts which are primarily mundane, but they are converted into an 'ibadah when they are performed in full conformity with Shari'ah and with an intention to discharge one's obligations. Therefore, these acts are treated as 'ibadah in an indirect manner. It is obvious that the direct acts of 'ibadah should be superior to the indirect ones.
Now, while prescribing very few acts of direct 'ibadah in one's daily life, like the salah which is performed five times a day, Islam has left its followers mostly with the indirect acts of 'ibadah like eating, drinking, earning the livelihood and association with one's wife, children, parents, relatives, friends and other human beings. But the primary nature of these acts being mundane, one becomes so absorbed in their worldly pleasures that their material aspects prevail on their spiritual aspect. Therefore, these acts have less spiritual strength than the direct acts of worship.
Since the direct acts of 'ibadah are very few in one's daily life as compared to the indirect ones, his spiritual progress becomes slow visa vis his material progress. The month of Ramadan has been designed to maintain a balance between material and spiritual aspects of the human life. This month is meant to maximize the direct acts of 'ibadah and to minimize the pure mundane activities, so that one may accelerate his spiritual progress to make up the distance and to repair the spiritual loss one may have suffered through his deep involvement in the mundane activities during the year. The days of Ramadan are designed ot keep fast which is an act of 'ibadah for the whole day, and depriving oneself from any material food for many hours, it lessens the bad spiritual effects, if any, of the material pleasures. The nights of Ramadan, on the other hand, are spent in offering Tarawih and waking up for tahajjud and suhur, reducing the time of one's sleep much less than in the normal days. Moreover, apart from the prescribed acts of worship, one is supposed to offer as much optional (nafl) 'ibadah in this month as he can. In this way the level of one's spiritual activities in this month is raised up much higher than in other days of the year.
This philosophy of the month of Ramadan makes it clear that this month should be devoted to the direct acts of worship as far as possible. That is why the reward of the virtuous acts in this month has been multiplied. This is to encourage the Muslims to the maximum possible acts of 'ibadah.
The Merits of Ramadan
The Holy Prophet has mentioned the merits of Ramadan in a large number of ahadith. Some of them are reproduced here with translation:Salman, the Persian (ra) has reported the following: The Holy Prophet addressed us on the last day of Sha'ban wherein he said:"O men, a great, blessed month has cast its shadow upon you. It is a month which contains a night far better than one thousand months, a month that Allah has made it obligatory to fast therein and made in commendable to stand up praying in its nights. If someone seeks Allah's nearness by offering an optional act of worship in this month, it will be as rewarding as to offer an obligatory worship in other days, and if someone performs an obligatory act of worship in this month, it will carry as much reward as the reward of performing seventy obligatory acts of worship in other days. It is the month of patience and the reward of patience is Jannah (paradise). It is a month of sympathy, a month in which the provision for a believer is increased. If someone provides another person with food to make iftar (terminate one's fast by eating or drinking something), it will cause forgiveness to his sins and freeing his neck from hell and he will be awarded the same thawab as the fasting person will be rewarded for his fast, without decreasing his own thawab."
The companions of the Holy Prophet said, "O Messenger of Allah, every one of us does not have enough food to offer for iftar to another fasting person." The Holy Prophet said, "This thawab will also be given to a person who offers to a fasting person one date or a drink of water or a little milk for his iftar. And this is a month the first part of which is the forgiveness from Allah and the last part of which is liberation from hell. If someone relaxes the burden of work from his slave in this month, Allah will forgive him his sins and will free from the Fire. In this month you should do four acts frequently. Two acts are such that you will please your Lord through them and two are such that you can never claim to be need-free of them. As for the two acts you please Allah through them, they are: to bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and to seek forgiveness from Allah. And the two acts you can never be need-free of them are: to pray Allah to give you the Jannah and to seek refuge to Allah from the Fire. And if someone serves a drink to a fasting person, Allah will make him have such a drink from my canal (the Kauthar) that he will never get thirsty after it until he enters Jannah."
This hadith gives us a detailed account of the peculiar merits of the month of Ramadan and of what we should try to do in it. The upshot of the hadith is that one should not restrict himself to fasting in this month; rather, he should maximize the number of his virtuous acts and take this opportunity to seek forgiveness for his sins and to secure as much thawab as he can, by offering the nafl acts of worship including charitable acts.
In another hadith, reported by Abu Hurairah (ra) the Holy Prophet has said:My ummah has been given five characteristic honours in the month of Ramadan which have not been given to any other ummah before.
- The smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk.
- Fishes (in the water) keep praying Allah to forgive the fasting persons until they make iftar.
- In every day of Ramadan, Allah decorates the Jannah and addresses it saying, "It is not too far that my righteous servants shall throw away the burdens (of the worldly life) and shall proceed towards you."
- The rebellious satans are shackled in this month, and they cannot do in it what they do in other days (i.e. instigating men and women to commit sins).
- In the last night of this month, they (the fasting persons) are granted amnesty.
In a hadith narrated by 'Ubadah ibn al Samit (ra), the Holy Prophet is reported to have said:Ramadan has come to you. It is the month of blessing in which Allah envelops you (with His kindness). He makes His mercy descend upon you, He forgives your sins and accepts your prayers. Allah witnesses you when you race one another (in virtuous deeds) in this month and becomes proud of you before His angels. Therefore, show Allah the best of deeds from your side, because unfortunate is that person who deprives himself from Allah's mercy in this month.
These ahadith are sufficient to explain the great merits Allah has invested this month with.
How to Spend Ramadan
The month of Ramadan is the season of divine blessings. It is the onth of purification. It is meant for annual renovation of the inner spiritual qualities. It is a golden opportunity for every Muslim to strengthen his 'Iman, to purify his heart and soul and to remove the evil effects of the sins committed by him.
This month invites a Muslim to minimize his other mundane involvements and maximize the acts of worship. One should plan his schedule for this month, before-hand, so as to spare maximum time for 'ibadah. Here is a brief list of the acts which should be carried out in Ramadan with due care:
- To offer every prayer with jama'ah [in congregation] in a masjid;
- To rise up a little earlier than the exact time of suhoor [time before Fajr spent having breakfast] and to offer the salah of tahajjud. There is no prescribed number of the tahajjud prayer; yet, it is better to pray 8 rak'at;
- To offer the nafl [voluntary] prayers of Ishraq (two rak'at after sunrise), Duha (four rak'at which may be performed at anytime after Ishraq before noon) and Awwabin (six rak'at after Maghrib);
- The recitation of the Holy Qur'an. No specific limit has been prescribed, but one should recite as much of it as he can;
- Dhikr or Tasbeeh, specially the following recitations:
Apart from reciting these words, one hundred times each, at a particular time, they may also be continued frequently throughout the day, even if one is engaged in some light work, when walking and when in bed.
- Prayers and supplications: No particular prayer is prescribed. One can pray for everything he needs both in this world and in the Hereafter. However, the supplications of the Holy Prophet are so comprehensive that they encompass all that a Muslim can need in his life and after his death. It is, therefore, much advisable to pray Allah Almighty in the prophetic words used by the Holy Prophet .
There are several books where these prophetic supplications have been compiled. Here is the name of two books which should be kept by every Muslim in his home and be used for praying daily:
- Al-hisnul-Hasin by Allamah al-Jazri
- Munajahate-Maqbool by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi
- Sadaqah (charity): Apart from paying zakah, which is obligatory, one should also pay optional sadaqah in Ramadan according to his best ability. It is reported in authentic ahadith that the Holy Prophet used to pay special attention in Ramadan to look after the poor and to help them financially. Therefore, a Muslim should give as much money in sadaqah as he can afford.
What Should be Avoided in Ramadan
All sinful acts should be avoided completely during the month of Ramadan. Although the sinful acts are totally prohibited in Shariah, whether in Ramadan or at any other time, but their prohibition becomes more severe in this month. It is evident that every Muslim avoids certain lawful acts, like eating and drinking, during the fasts. If he continues to commit sins in Ramadan, it will be a mockery to avoid lawful things and yet be engaged in unlawful acts never allowed in Shariah. Thus, the abstinence from sins becomes all the more necessary in this month.
Specially the following acts should be avoided totally:
- Telling a lie;
- Gheebah or backbiting, i.e. condemnation of a person in his absence;
The Holy Prophet has particularly forbidden from it when one is in the state of fasting. He has directed us that, if someone wants to quarrel in Ramadan, we should tell him that we are fasting, hence we are not prepared to indulge in any quarrel.
- Eating unlawful things;
- Earning through unlawful means;
- Any act which may harm a person without a valid cause;
- Burdening one's servants or employees with a toilsome job beyond their ability, without providing them facilities to carry it out.
In short, one should try his best to refrain from all kinds of sins, and protect his eyes, ears, tongue and all other organs from indulging in an unlawful activity.
Once a Muslim spends the month of Ramadan in this way, he will insha Allah, find himself equipped with a spiritual strength which will facilitate for him to conduct a good Islamic life in accordance with the pleasure of Allah.
Rules of Fasting
Fasting in the days of Ramadan is obligatory (fard) on every Muslim. The one who does not believe it to be obligatory is not a Muslim, and the one who, without a valid excuse, does not fast in a day of Ramadan is a sinner.
"Fast" means "to refrain from eating, drinking and having sexual intercourse throughout the day, right from the break of dawn upto sunset, with a clear intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah." If somebody refrains from food, drink and sex for any reason other than seeking the pleasure of Allah, it cannot be called a "fast" in the terminology of the Shariah. It is thus necessary that there should be an intention which is called the "niyyah".
For the fasts of Ramadan it is advisable that the "niyyah" be made in the night, i.e. before the commencement of the fast. However, if a person had no intention of keeping fast before dawn, he can also make "niyyah" in the morning at any time before midday, i.e. about 11/2 hours before Zawal (noon). But this rule is applicable only for the fast of Ramadan and for the nafl (optional) fasts. As for fasts of qada' it is always necessary to make niyyah before dawn.
Since the niyyah means intention, it is an act performed by one's heart. It need not be pronounced in words. However, it is also permissible to express this intention in spoken words, but those who take it as 'necessary' to pronounce the words or "niyyah" are not correct.
Acts Nullifying the Fast
Acts nullifying the fast are of two kinds. In the first place, there are some acts which not only nullify the fast, but also make one liable to both qada' and kaffarah. The number of these acts is only three, namely:
- Eating something;
- Drinking something;
- Having sexual intercourse.
These three acts are liable to kaffarah when they are committed deliberately after one has started a fast, provided that the person committing them knows that they render the fast broken.
In such cases both qada' and kaffarah are obligatory on him. qada' means to keep another fast in lieu of the broken one. And kaffarah means to perform an act to expiate the sin of having broken the fast.
Kaffarah may be given in the following three ways respectively:
- Freeing a slave;
- Fasting for two months constantly without a break;
- Giving food to sixty persons.
Since slavery has come to an end in our days, only the latter two ways can be adopted today. But the person who has strength enough to fast for two months constantly has been bound to fast. He cannot adopt the third way, i.e. giving food to sixty persons. If he is too weak to fast for such a large number of days, he can give kaffarah by giving food to sixty persons.
In the second place, there are some acts which nullify the fast, but do not make the relevant person liable to kaffarah. In such cases only qada' is obligatory. These acts are:
- Eating or drinking unintentionally. For example, while making wudu, if a drop of water slips into the throat unintentionally, the fast stands broken, but only the qada' will be enough to compensate for the mistake;
- Dropping medicine or anything else in the nose or the ear;
- Emission of semen while touching, kissing or caressing a woman;
- Eating or drinking under the wrong impression that the dawn has not yet broken, or the sun has set, while otherwise was true.
- If someone eats or drinks while he does not remember that he is in a state of fasting, his fast is not broken. He should continue with his fast after he remembers. However, if he eats or drinks after he remembers, his fast will stand broken, and if this eating or drinking was due to his wrong impression that his fast stood broken by his first eating or drinking, he will be liable to qada' only.
Acts Rendering the Fast Makrooh
The following acts do not nullify the fast, but render it makrooh in the sense that they lessen the reward of the fast. Hence it is not advisable to indulge in any of the following acts when one is in the state of fast:
- Chewing something or tasting it with the tongue without eating it;
- Using tooth paste or tooth powder. However, cleaning the teeth with a miswak or a brush (without paste or powder) is allowed;
- Remaining in the state of janabah (major impurity) for the whole day;
- Giving blood to anyone;
- Quarrelling with someone or abusing him;
- Gheebah, i.e. to abuse or to blame someone in his absence;
- Telling a lie.
The latter three acts are absolutely prohibited even when one is not in the state of fasting, but they become all the more prohibited when one keeps fast.
Acts Which are Allowed
The following acts are allowed in the state of fasting:
- Cleaning teeth using a miswak or a brush and ears with cotton swabs;
- Applying oil or henna or color to the hair;
- Using eye-drops or kohl (surma/kajal);
- Wearing perfume or feeling it, or using lipstick or chapstick;
- Taking a shower;
- Using medicine through injection;
- Vomiting unintentionally;
- Entrance of smoke or dust into the throat unintentionally;
- Ejaculation while dreaming;
- Bleeding from the teeth unless blood slips into the throat;
- Delaying the ghusl of janabah upto the sunrise.
Cases in Which Fasting is Not Obligatory
In the following cases, it is allowed for a Muslim to avoid fasting in Ramadan and compensate it by fasting on some other days:
- If a person suffers from a disease which has rendered him unable to fast, or a competent doctor has expressed his apprehension that fasting may increase the disease, he can avoid fasting until when it is clear that fasting is no more injurious to his health. But after recovery he is under an obligation to perform qada' of all the fasts he has missed due to his sickness.
- If a woman is pregnant, and it is seriously feared that fasting may harm her or her baby, she can postpone fasting in Ramadan and may fast after delivery as qada'.
- If a woman breast-feeds her baby, and it is seriously feared that, in case she fasts, she cannot feed her baby or her fasting may harm her or her baby, she can avoid fasting in Ramadan and perform qada'.
- Fasting in Journey
The one who travels to a distance of at least 48 miles from his hometown can also postpone fasting during his journey. But if he resolves to stay in a town for more than 14 days, he is not treated as a traveller for this purpose and he is obligated to fast in the days of Ramadan. However, if he has not made up his mind to stay in a place for more than 14 days, and he is doubtful whether he will stay for 14 days or less than that, he can also avail of the concession, unless he decides to stay for the prescribed period, i.e. more than 14 days. If he remained uncertain about his stay but stayed at a place for even more than 14 days in this state of uncertainty, he will remain entitled to this concession until he resolves positively to stay for another 15 days.
Although this concession is available to every traveller who leaves his hometown to a distance of at least 48 miles, yet if the journey is comfortable and fasting is not very burdensome on him, it is more advisable for him to fast for two reasons. Firstly, because such a traveller gets more thawab (reward) in case he fasts during his journey, and secondly, because if he avoids fasting while on travel, he will have to fast after Ramadan which can be more difficult for him.
But if the journey is a difficult one, and it is much burdensome to fast in such a difficult journey, then it is more advisable for him to avoid fasting, but if fasting seems to be nearly unbearable for him, it is not lawful to keep fast in such a journey.
If someone has started fasting, then he had to travel during the day, he cannot avail of the concession during that day; rather, he will have to complete his fast unto the sunset. However, if his journey continues on to the next day, he can benefit from the concession the next day.
Conversely, if someone was on travel in the beginning of a day, and he did not keep fast for that reason and began to eat and drink but he reached his hometown during the day, he must avoid eating or drinking after reaching his hometown unto the sunset. This abstinence from eating and drinking will not be counted as a fast, and he will have to perform qada' of that day also, but he is directed to abstain from eating and drinking only to honour that part of the day of Ramadan which he has passed in his hometown.
- Fasting is prohibited for women during their monthly periods (menstruation) and during partition (i.e., normal bleeding after childbirth), but they have to perform qada' for the fasts they have missed in such a state.
- Those who are allowed a concession (of not fasting) in Ramadan can eat and drink during the day, but they should honour the days of Ramadan and should not eat and drink as far as possible at a public place or before other Muslims who are in the state of fasting.
Concession Given to a Sick Person
- Where a person is attacked by a severe disease, and a competent doctor opines that, if he continues with his fast, it will bring a serious danger to his life. In such a situation breaking of the fast is not only allowed, but it is obligatory.
- A person feels such an extreme hunger or thirst that further abstinence from eating or drinking may endanger his life. In this situation also, breaking of the fast is obligatory.
- In any situation where refraining from eating or drinking may create a serious danger to one's life, it becomes lawful to break the fast.
In all these cases, the person breaking the fast is not liable to kaffarah, but he has to perform qada' whenever the danger is removed.
Suhoor or Sehri
'Suhoor' is the meal one takes in the last hours of the night before the commencement of a fast. It is a sunnah to have suhoor. If someone has no appetite at that time, it is advisable for him to have something light. Even by having a few sips of water the sunnah of suhoor can be fulfilled. Although the suhoor can be had any time after midnight, but it is more advisable to have it in the last hour of the night immediately before the break of dawn.
The suhoor can be continued upto the break of dawn. But in order to be on the safe side, it is advisable to refrain from eating or drinking a few minutes earlier than the break of dawn. Eating or drinking after the dawn even for a single minute renders the fast void.
If one is doubtful whether the dawn has broken or not, he should refrain from eating or drinking. However, if he eats or drinks in this state of uncertainty, his fast is valid unless it is proved later that he had eaten or drunk after the break of dawn, in which case he will have to observe another fast.
Iftar means to conclude a fast after sunset by eating or drinking something. It is also a sunnah to make iftar soon after sunset, and it is makrooh to delay iftar after sunset without a valid excuse. However, if someone is doubtful whether the sun has set or not, he should not make iftar until he is sure about it, because if it is proved at any time that he had made iftar even half a minute earlier than the sunset actually took place on his horizon, his fast will be rendered nullified and void. Similarly, if the weather is cloudy, it is advisable to delay iftar for a few minutes after the time of sunset.
No particular meal is prescribed for iftar but it is advisable to make iftar using dates because the Holy Prophet generally used dates for iftar.
It is also sunnah to recite the following du'a (supplication) while making iftar:
O Allah, for You I have fasted, and in You I have placed my trust and with Your provision I make my iftar.
and after having and drinking water, it is advisable to say:
Thirst has gone; veins have become wet and the reward (of the fast) has, God-willing, been established.
Fast of Qada'
Whoever has missed a fast of Ramadan is liable to compensate it with fasting after Ramadan. This fast is called 'the fast of qada''.
Fast of qada' may be observed any day during the year except for the following days:
- First of Shawwal (Eidul-fitr)
- Tenth of Thul-Hijjah (Eidul-Adha)
- Eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth of Thul-Hijjah. On these days fasting is strictly prohibited, so the fast of qada' cannot be observed on these days.
Fast of qada' should be observed as soon as possible after one has missed a fast of Ramadan. Delaying the performance of qada' without a valid reason is not desirable. If someone has missed more than one fast, he can perform qada' for all of them continuously, or with intervals. But the fasts of kaffarah should necessarily be continuous - without any interval. Any interval makes the previous fasts nullified for the purpose of kaffarah, and one has to begin the fasts all over again.
Unlike the fast of Ramadan and optional (nafl) fasts, in the fast of qada' it is necessary to make niyyah before the dawn.
If a person has an obligation to keep a large number of the fasts of qada', he should write down the exact number of the fasts due on him. He should also make a will that if he could not fast in his life time, his heirs should pay fidyah (redemption from obligation not carried out) from his left over property. The amount of fidyah for one fast is one kilo and six hundred sixty-two grams of wheat or its price. If the amount of fidyah can be paid from one-third property of a deceased person who has made a will to pay fidyah, the heirs are bound to pay it from his left over property. But if the deceased made no will to pay fidyah, the heirs are not bound to pay it from his property. Similarly, if the amount of fidyah exceeds one-third of the property left by the deceased, the heirs are not liable to pay the excess, unless they wish to do so by their free will.
Another important feature of the month of Ramadan is Tarawih. It is a special salah (prayer) consisting of 20 rak'at which is performed immediately after the 'Ishaa prayer. This salah is Sunnah mu'akkadah (repeatedly emphasized), and should not be missed. The Holy Prophet said,"Allah has made fating in Ramadan obligatory, and I have made the special prayer of Ramadan (i.e. the Tarawih) a Sunnah"
It is a Sunnah mu'akkadah 'alal-kifayah to performTarawih in jama'ah. It means that it is a Sunnah mu'akkadah for the people of every masjid to arrange for the jama'at of the Tarawih. If a person after being sure that the jama'ah of Tarawih is being held in his masjid, performs the Tarawih in his home without jama'ah, the Sunnah of the Tarawih is discharged, but he will be deprived of the great thawab (reward) of praying with jama'ah. So, one should perform the Tarawih in the masjid as far as possible.
It is also a Sunnah to complete the recitation of the whole Qur'an in Tarawih in Ramadan. It is thus advisable to request a hafidh (one who has memorized the Holy Qur'an by heart) to lead the prayer of Tarawih. However, paying any fee to the hafidh for this purpose is not allowed. If no such hafidh is available, the Tarawih should be led by any Imam, and he can recite in it whatever surahs of the Holy Qur'an he remembers.
As a general practice, the Holy Qur'an is completed in most of the masjids a few days before the end of Ramadan, on the 27th night or even earlier. In such a case, Tarawih should be continued till the last night of Ramadan with recitation of different surahs. Those who leave Tarawih after completion of the Holy Qur'an are not correct, because Sunnah of the Tarawih remains unchanged unto the last night.
The time of Tarawih begins after the performance of the obligatory (Fard) prayer of 'Ishaa. Therefore, the one who has not performed the Fard prayer of 'Ishaa cannot join the prayer of Tarawih. He should perform the Fard of 'Ishaa first, then join the Tarawih. If he missed some rak'at of Tarawih, he can complete it after the witr. For example, a person came to the masjid when the Imam has performed four rak'at of Tarawih. He should perform the Fard of 'Ishaa first, then join the jama'ah for Tarawih. If he has missed 4 or 6 rak'at of Tarawih, he should also perform the witr prayer with the Imam, then pray the four or six rak'at he has missed on his own, individually.
One of the most meritorious aspects of the month of Ramadan is that it contains Laylatul Qadr, the most blessed night of the year. It is the night which Allah Almighty chose to reveal the Holy Qur'an. The Holy Qur'an has mentioned that this night is better than one thousand months. It means that the worship performed in this night brings more reward than the worship performed in one thousand months. The authentic traditions of the Holy Prophet mention that, in this night, Allah Almighty directs His special mercy towards the people of the earth, accepts the supplications made by His slaves and forgives a large number of people who repent and pray.
Laylatul Qadr falls in one of the last five odd nights of Ramadan, i.e. 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 29th. According to authentic sources, Laylatul Qadr falls in any one of these nights alternately. The purpose of this alternation is that one should spend all the five nights in worship and prayers, so that he may find Laylatul Qadr with certainty.
No special form of worship is prescribed for Laylatul Qadr. The night should be spent by offering as much nafl prayers as one can offer, in recitation of the Holy Qur'an, in dhikr and tasbeeh, in supplications and in making sadaqah (charity).
It is not advisable in this night to hold ceremonies or meetings or delivering long lectures or illuminating the masjids. This is a night meant for developing a special connection with one's Creator, for offering acts of worship in solitude and seclusion, for having constant and exclusive contact with his Lord Who is the Lord of the universe, for minimizing the diversity of thoughts and actions and for devoting oneself to Allah Almighty with his heart and soul.
This purpose can seldom be achieved in congregations and assemblies. That is why the Holy Prophet never tended to celebrate this night by lectures, meetings, illumination or even by offering prayers in jama'ah. Instead, he used to perform acts of worship individually, and in solitude.
Sayyidah 'Aishah (ra) once asked the Holy Prophet as to what du'a (supplication) she should recite in the Laylatul Qadr. The Holy Prophet taught her the following du'a:
O Allah, You are surely most forgiving and You like forgiving, so, forgive me.
The best way to benefit from the blessings of this night is to keep awake for the whole night and spend it in worship and prayers. But people who cannot do so for any reason should spare at least a considerable part of the night for acts of worship. At least 8 rak'at should be prayed after midnight as tahajjud, some part from the Holy Qur'an should be recited and the supplications of the Holy Prophet should be offered. Any dhikr or tasbeeh should be constantly recited, specially the following dhikr has numerous merits:
Glory be to Allah, praise be to Allah, there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, Allah is the greatest, there is no power nor might except with Allah, the Most High, the Great.
Even when one is not in the state of wudu, the dhikr and tasbeeh may be recited. Similarly, the dhikr may also be performed during other states, when walking or in bed.
Another unique form of worship in this month is I'tikaf in which a person gives up all his activities, abandons his attachments, associations and routines and enters the masjid for a specific period.
Islam does not approve monasticism which is based on the concept that Allah's pleasure cannot be attained without abandoning all worldly activities for ever. The Holy Qur'an has expressly condemned this concept. Islam has, instead, emphasized on earning one's livelihood through permissible means, on one's mingling with his family members and on discharging all the obligations toward his wife, children, relatives neighbors and other acquaintants. But at the same time, as explained earlier in more detail, sometimes one's deep involvement in these activities slows down his spiritual progress. In order to repair this loss, a Muslim is required to spare a time in which he separates himself from the normal routine of worldly activities and to sit in seclusion, devoting his heart and soul for pure spiritual acts. I'tikaf is a beautiful way to carry out this objective. In I'tikaf, one leaves his home and family and undertakes to remain in the masjid for a limited period. This unique mode of worship can be done any time in the year. However, it has been declared as a Sunnah mu'akkadah in the last ten days of Ramadan, because Ramadan is the most suitable time to carry out this worship. Moreover, the last ten days of Ramadan are the days in which Laylatul Qadr normally occurs and as explained earlier, its definite time is unknown. It may occur in any of the odd nights of these days. When one is in the state of I'tikaf for the last ten days of Ramadan, he can surely benefit from its infinite merits, because even if he is sleeping in the Laylatul Qadr, while he is in the state of I'tikaf, it will be credited to his account as 'worship' in the Laylatul Qadr, because each and every second in the state of I'tikaf is 'ibadah, even if one is eating, drinking or sleeping. This extraordinary privilege cannot be attained in one's home. That is why the Holy Prophet used to perform I'tikaf every year in Ramadan.
The detailed instructions and regulations of I'tikaf are explained in my book, 'The Rules of I'tikaf' and it is not proper to reproduce all of them here. However, some fundamental rules of I'tikaf are summarized here:
Some Rules of I'tikaf
- I'tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan is Sunnah 'alal-kifayah. It means that in each masjid, at least one person should sit in I'tikaf. If he does so, the requirement of Sunnah is fulfilled for the whole locality. However, if no person performs I'tikaf, the whole locality is responsible for not observing the Sunnah. Therefore, the residents of a locality should make sure that some person is performing I'tikaf in their masjid. If no such person is available, they should prepare someone to do so.
- The time of this I'tikaf commences immediately after the sunset of the 20th day of Ramadan. Therefore, a person who wants to sit in I'tikaf, must enter the masjid before sunset on that day, so that sunset takes place while he is in the masjid.
- The main requirement for a valid I'tikaf is that one remains in the limits of the masjid throughout the period of I'tikaf and never comes out of it, except for the necessities like easing oneself by attending the call of nature.
- The "limits of the masjid" for the purpose of I'tikaf are restricted to the places meant for offering salah and determined as such by the founders of the masjid or by its administration. Therefore, the places like the place of ablution, toilets, etc. are not included in the "limits of a masjid" for the purpose of I'tikaf. Therefore, if a person enters these places without the aforesaid necessity, his I'tikaf shall terminate.
- One can go out of the masjid during I'tikaf only for the following needs:
- to answer the call of nature
- to make obligatory ghusl, i.e. in the state of impurity (janabah) (It should be remembered that it is not allowed during I'tikaf to go out of the masjid for having non-obligatory bath, like the bath of Friday, etc.)
- to bring food where no other person is available to bring it. In this case, it is allowed either to bring food to the masjid or to have food elsewhere outside the masjid
- to offer the jum'ah prayer, if no jum'ah prayer is offered in the same masjid in which he is sitting in I'tikaf.
- to move to another masjid in the event of a serious danger to one's life or property
- It is advisable that a person performing I'tikaf avoids all unnecessary activities and spends the most of his time in the acts of worship, like salah, recitation of the Holy Qur'an or making dhikr or tasbeeh. However, it is makruh to remain silent totally.
- The following acts result in terminating the I'tikaf:
- to leave the masjid even for a moment without the aforesaid needs
- to remain outside the masjid after fulfilling the aforesaid needs
- to have sexual intercourse, or emission through some other intentional acts like kissing, cuddling, etc. which are totally prohibited in I'tikaf.
- any act which breaks one's fast, like eating, drinking, etc. (Since fasting is a pre-condition for a valid masnun I'tikaf, the I'tikaf is automatically terminated by breaking of the fast).
- If the I'tikaf is terminated for any reason, it becomes obligatory on the relevant person that he make qada' of the I'tikaf for one day only (he need not to perform I'tikaf for ten days). For example, A started a masnun I'tikaf on 21st night of Ramadan with intention to sit in I'tikaf for ten days, but on 25th of Ramadan he came out of the masjid mistakenly or unconsciously. His I'tikaf is thus terminated. Now, he has to make qada' of one day only. He needs not to repeat the I'tikaf for ten days, nor for five days. Therefore, he can discharge this obligation by starting I'tikaf for one day, either in the same Ramadan, or after Ramadan by keeping a nafl fast, or in the next Ramadan. If he elects to perform qada' in the same Ramadan, he can sit in I'tikaf before the sunset of 25th Ramadan (in which his I'tikaf was terminated) and observe I'tikaf upto the sunset of the 26th. His obligation will be discharged. Then, he is at liberty either to go home or to continue his I'tikaf as nafl (and not as a Sunnah or wajib).