One fine afternoon, some eleven years ago, I decided to stay aloof in that secluded corner of my village mosque, for the next ten days of Ramzan-ul-Mubarak, the 9th month of the Lunar calendar. This regular practice, the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), is called E’tikaf in Arabic. It was during the last few days of the Prophet’s first E’tikaf, in the cave of Hira that Gabriel descended and asked Muhammad (PBUH) to read - “Iqra”. It was laylat-ul-Qadr, the night of destiny.
Spiritually, it is a highly enriching exercise, an excellent practice to control unwanted desires and impure thoughts. Gathering oneself to stay in Allah’s abode, Khanai Khuda, and engaging in special prayers is undoubtedly a rewarding act. The last messenger of Allah was very particular about it. He would regularly sit for E’tikaf in Mecca and Medina.
It is not obligatory, but a highly sought practice. Away from the material world, we renew our relationship with Almighty, the lord of the universe. We feel some supernatural force cuddling us inside the tranquil environs of Masjid as if angels are dancing, that unexplainable serenity. The freshness enveloping a Mu’takif is a spiritual retreat. The fragrance of heaven can be felt. The main purpose of E’tikaf is to shut off worldly distractions and focus on worship. This temporary world is full of temptations and it does affect our hearts. The key to E’tikaf is to turn around your heart and return to the supreme Almighty. This scholarly practice has a unique significance. The objective is to hammer your heart & plead in private. You will feel that Allah’s Noor will soothe your nerves. The aura and ambiance of the House of Allah will have a different feeling on your mind and body.
Talk to God in private in Tahajjud (pre-dawn prayers). These private conversations please benevolent God and the creator bestows us with the best of everything. Magic and miracles happen when we talk to God in the dead of the night while the world is sleeping. E’tikaf allows us to exert more to get closer to the divine power. It strengthens our shield against the malice of this “temporary bus stop” bound to be destroyed. This “me-time” helps us reflect on our eternal destination.
We change the annual routine and come out of our comfort zones for over a week (Ashra), eat less, minimise the interactions, and like a true devotee, invest ourselves in a profitable trade with Allah. We all make mistakes. Evil follows us like a shadow. E’tikaf is to supplicate honestly and fall in love with the creator. Once we fall for our lord, the world submits itself. Our dreams are fulfilled.
Before Torah was revealed to Prophet Moses, he also performed E’tikaf for 40 days (Chilla). Even Jesus Christ performed E’tikaf. The reward for this special solitude is overwhelming. Confining to the corner, as Kashmir’s revered saint, Sheikh Noor-u-din did, in remote woods, reciting Quran and abstaining from evil deeds, becomes a great act of worship.
Since it is a voluntary act, only a handful of devotees, should perform it and give chance to others the following year. In many seminaries, thousands perform E’tikaf. In my humble opinion, it doesn’t reflect correct understanding. In a huge gathering, listening to high-decibel speeches is not what E’tikaf stands for. E’tikaf is an Arabic word that literally means “to isolate yourself” or adhere to something strictly.” The focus should be on spiritual awakening in Khalwat - solitude. To attain salvation, we need to be just with Allah.
Without any distractions, we meditate in private, this is the best rehearsal of detoxification. We energize our souls during practicing this Sunnat-e-Muqadah. It is to reflect on our life. It gives us a sense of calm, peace & balance that is beneficial for our emotional well-being and overall health. It is always relevant in this worried and tense world.
To deepen our understanding of the sacred force and eliminate jumbled thoughts crowding and stressing us, E’tikaf enhances the coping mechanism. Scientifically speaking, when we are under intense stress, the cortisol hormone is released from our bodies. One harmful effect it produces is the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. It can induce fatigue, disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure & contribute to cloud thinking. E’tikaf is an antidote to it.
This self-inquiry period explicitly aims to help us develop a stronger understanding of ourselves. Once we gain greater awareness of our thoughts, we can steer them towards more constructive patterns. If E’tikaf enhances your creative bent of mind, reduces negative emotions, helps you focus, and makes you more tolerant, why not?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.