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The I’tikaf Experience

30 The Review of Religions – November 2003 O my Lord, make my entry a good entry and then make me come forth with a good forthcoming. And grant me f rom Thyself a helping power.” (Ch.17: V.81) As I woke up on the morning of Saturday 16th December 2000, this prayer was on my lips. By Maghrib that day, I was to retreat to the Fazl Mosque, London for I’tikaf. I was filled both with jubilation and trepidation. On the one hand, I felt honoured I was one of eight selected to sit I’tikaf this Ramadan. This was a chance to sever all worldly engagements and dedicate 10 nights and days exclusively to the worship of Allah Almighty. On the other hand, having done I’tikaf for the first time the year before, I knew it was no easy sojourn. Nevertheless, as a firm believer in the efficacy of prayers, I kept on repeating this prayer throughout the day. I arrived at the Mosque just before Maghrib and I felt a surge of excitement. This is the first Mosque built in the UK for the worship of the One and Only God. This is the Mosque that has, since the arrival of Hadhrat Amir-ul-Momineen, Khalifat-ul- Masih IV(ru), become the beacon of light that illuminates the whole world. This is the Mosque that would be my abode for the Devoting oneself wholly to God, especially during the last ten days of Ramadan, can be as rewarding as it is challenging. This article is an account of a person who did just that during the month of Ramadan in 2000. First published in the Ahmadiyya Bulletin UK in January 2001, it inspired some to undertake the spiritual exercise. It is abridged and republished here mainly for the benefit of our wider non-UK readership. A glossary is published at the end of this article. The I’tikaf Experience By Bockarie Tommy Kallon, London, UK 31The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience next 10 days. I sat in a corner and raised my hand in supplication. ‘My Lord, my Allah, here I am at Thy service. There is none worthy of worship save Thee. Here I am at Thy service…’ After Iftari, we got our brief from Secretary Tarbiyyat (religious education) UK, Dr Shabir Bhatti and the Amir Mu’t a k i f e e n , Mubashar Zaffar Sahib. Some religious and general house rules were explained to us. We were to spend all our time in the remembrance of Allah, prayer and recitation of the Holy Qur’an. This meant unnecessary conversation had to be eschewed, for which reason we would have our meals separate from others who broke their fast at the Mosque taking care to remain in a persistent meditative state. After putting up our sheets around our surrounding areas to maintain solitude, I sat reflectively in my modest creation of blue cloths, 9 feet long and 6 feet wide. This simple tent was so much more than that. It was the place where ample tears would be shed in prayer, where a thousand supplications would be made, where greater union with the Divine would be sought. This humble tent was my own little equivalent Cave Hira. A ‘Life’ in a Mu’takif’s Day Right from the inception, I kept a diary that chronicled my daily activities. Having done I’t i k a f before, I had established an involved routine. Generally, after breaking the fast around 4 pm and after Maghrib prayers, I would read the Holy Qur’an till 5 pm when I would say 2 raka’ats of Nawafil (voluntary) prayer and sleep till 6 pm when we had our meal. After dinner, I would continue reading the Qur’an until it was time to lift the sheets for Ishaa and Tarawih prayers. Another 2 raka’ats of Nawafil were offered. Tarawih prayers normally concluded around 9pm after which it was my time to memorise verses of the Holy Qur’an. This was one of my most enjoyable moments. It was so peaceful, no phone calls or other 32 The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience distractions of daily life that made this task arduous. The lights went off at 10 pm but I would continue till midnight with my bedside lamp imprinting verse after verse on my subconscious mind. This was a daily practice but for one of the nights when Maulana Ataul Mujeeb Rashed Sahib, Imam of the London Mosque, gave us a selection of prayers of the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) and Promised M e s s i a h( a s ) which we were to learn and incorporate in our prayers for ourselves and the Jama’at. At midnight, I would offer 4 raka’ats of Nawafil and retire to bed. On odd nights, I would wake up at 3 am and on even nights by 4 am latest. I would then occupy myself with Tahajjud till it was time to have our pre-dawn meal. On odd nights, I would offer 8 raka’ats of Tahajjud with extremely long Sajdah’s (prostrations) and after an interval, I would offer another 8 raka’ats this time with relatively shorter Sajdah’s . During the interval of up to an hour, I would devote myself to supplicating on behalf of all those who requested prayers. On even nights, it was just 8 raka’ats with extended Sajdah’s and the special requests. At 6 am we had Sahoor and following that Fajr and the Dars- ul-Hadith. After reading the Qur’an briefly, it was time to get some sleep till 11 am. I would o ffer another 2 raka’ats of Nawafil and then occupy myself with reading The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam or, my absolute favourite, Life of Muhammad till 12:15 pm when the Dars-ul-Qur’an commenced. Zuhr prayers followed imme- diately after the Dars and then I would read the Qur’an or other literature till it was time to raise the sheets for Asr prayers. Another 2 raka’ats would be offered just before Asr prayers. Between Asr and Iftari I undertook my daily exercise. Again this was one of my relaxing moments. Reading a book or rehearsing verses of the Quran memorised before, I 33The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience would pace up and down the Mosque between the main entrance and the prayer niche, otherwise known as the Mihrab. Just before proceeding to break the fast, I would retreat to my allocated area and raise my hands in prayer for the final few minutes of the fast. With Iftari came the conclusion of my 24- hour routine. When I was not praying or reading, many a time I found myself deep in contemplation. I ’tikaf coincided with the Christmas festive. Vast multi- tudes of mankind were making merry and engaging in many frivolous activities, totally oblivious of the purpose of life. My mind would then travel back to the time of the Holy Prophet(sa) and wonder what must have been going through his mind as he repaired to the solitary confines of Cave Hira. And then the Divine Call inviting him to the ministry as the voice articulate of this historical epoch, the persecution that ensued, his resignation and patience, his steadfastness and high resolve, his affability to the humble, his dignified bearing to the presumptuous, all of which alike evoked admiration and procured respect. Would that I could behold his countenance – a countenance wherein the awesomeness of his majesty was tempered by his amiable kindness. Would that I were one of his Companions. What would I have wanted most? To share in his privations and persecution, to stand alongside him at the Battle of Badr, to observe him in prayer, indeed to have him pray for me p e r s o n a l l y, to listen to his Tilawat, in general, to marvel at him as he discharged both his prophetic and humbler offices as a ruler, father, husband and friend. The Prayers Over the years, Hadhrat Amir-ul- Momineen has taught us how to pray and who to pray for. It is such a comprehensive list that incorporates all sections of the Jama’at. After praying for the Holy Prophet( s a ), the Promised M e s s i a h( a s ), their families and righteous followers through the 34 The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience ages and after prayers for our beloved Huzoor and his family, the success of Islam through Ahmadiyyat, the UK Jama’at and its leadership – the missionaries, the devotees of the Jama’at, the persecuted and their families, the martyrs and their families, the o ffice bearers and Jama’at workers, the auxiliary o rganisations and their leadership, Waqfe Nau children, the infirm, the unmarried, the unemployed, the newly wed, the barren, the divorced, the widowed, the orphaned, the students, the new converts, those burdened with debt, those involved with court cases, the asylum seekers, the starving and the aggrieved were all singled out for special prayers. Quite apart from this list, there were individual requests that were made well before I’tikaf started. This list was to steadily grow so that by the end of I’tikaf it ran into well over 100 names, a handful being from overseas Jama’ats. I maintained a record of all requests and, as mentioned above, I would devote an hour during the night to supplicating according to the purport of the request or in general, if the request was not specific. I would go through the list ticking off the names to ensure I have prayed for all those who requested. Many of those who requested prayers of the Mu’takifeen would bring along some food, usually a basket of fruits or Indian sweets. This became an amusing subject for us. We had so much food at a time when we were supposed to eat sparingly so as to wake up easily for Tahajjud. At the same time, we were duty bound, for blessings on the donor, to partake of some of the food. My prayers were not just limited to those who had directly requested me. There are many that I know would have asked had we spoken and all of them were remembered in my prayers. I would supplicate on behalf of all the above before praying for my nation, my family and, finally, my humble self. 35The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience The Last Day After Asr on the final day, we had a blessed audience with Hadhrat Amir- u l – M o m i n e e n . After greeting all of us, Huzur sat with us. Curiously, he addressed me first. ‘Is this your first time Kallon Sahib?’ as he a ffectionately calls me. ‘No, Huzur, I was here last year’, I replied. After he had enquired the same from all others, Huzur turned to the subject of beards. He wanted to know who had grown a beard. As usual he had a few jokes. This year, however, Huzur understandably was very b r i e f1 but last year I recall distinctly when he enquired from us as to what night we thought was Laylatul Qadr, we all put forward different nights, some even more than one night. This is why the Holy Prophet(sa) said we must ‘seek’ our Laylatul Qadr, Huzur remarked. Huzur gave us each Indian sweets, a basket of fruits and Iftari. All these were to be cherished over the next few days after Ramadan. When Huzur had departed, all M u ’takifeen returned to our allocated areas this time without the sheets. Ramadan and hence I ’tikaf, was almost over. Everyone was going through emotions as they engaged in their final supplications. Having slept only from 1:00 am to 2:30 am on the last night, I was physically and mentally exhausted but my heart was full of joy and gratitude to Allah Almighty by Whose Grace and by Whose Grace alone, I had made it through another I’tikaf. I looked across with just pride and admiration at each one of my fellow Mu’takifeen. We had been through I’tikaf together; we had been there for each other. We would share personal food gifts, wake each other up for night vigils, encourage each other even. As the clock ticked away then all I did was pray on our behalf even as Hadhrat Ibrahim(as) and his son Hadhrat Ishmael(as) prayed when they rebuilt the Holy Ka’aba: Our Lord, accept this from us; for Thou art the All- Hearing, All-Knowing. (Ch.2: V.128) 36 The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience The Blessings of I’tikaf Imam Sahib light-heartedly, and yet quite appropriately, refers to I’tikaf as ‘the spiritual MOT2’. ‘ S u re l y, there is ease after h a rdship’ (Ch.94: v. 6 ). I ’t i k a f challenges you; I’tikaf changes you. It strengthens your faith and characterises it with sincerity and devotion. You are more diligent in your worship. You are accustomed to voluntary prayers let alone the obligatory ones. Waking up for Tahajjud is no longer cumbersome. Reading the Q u r’an is a habit you crave. Attending the mosque is a practice you love. I’tikaf teaches you the beauty of prayer; it proves to you the acceptance of p r a y e r. How much can be achieved in a life without an excessive devotion to the TV, the stereo, the phone, the Internet and email, is a valuable lesson of I’tikaf. On this note, I look back in utter amazement on how much was achieved, weak and ignorant, humble and resourceless though I am, during those 10 days compared with the rest of the year. Apart from saying all daily prayers at the mosque for 10 days, I was enabled, through Divine Grace, to offer over and above that 320 raka’ats of Nawafil, 120 by way of Tahajjud and 80 by way of Tarawih, to memorise 76 verses of the Holy Qur’an and 8 prayers of the Holy P r o p h e t(sa) and the Promised M e s s i a h( a s ), participate in 10 sessions each of Dars-ul-Qur’an and Dars-ul-Hadith, and to stay I’TIKAF WAS INITIATED BY THE HOLY PROPHET(SA). HE DID IT EVERY YEAR AND IN THE LAST YEAR OF HIS LIFE HE DID IT FOR 20 DAYS RATHER THAN THE USUAL 10. THIS SHOWS HOW MUCH IMPORTANCE HE ATTACHED TO IT. THE JAMA’AT IS GROWING AT A N E X P O N E N T I A L R AT E W H I C H M E A N S G R E AT E R COMPETITION FOR PLACES. WE MUST SEIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY WHILE THERE IS RELATIVELY LESS COMPETITION NOW AND WHILE WE ENJOY GOOD HEALTH AND YOUTH. 37The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience in and around the Mosque for some 240 hours in a continual state of Wudhu. Conclusion Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me: then will Allah love you and forgive you your faults. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.’ (Ch.3: V.32) I’tikaf was initiated by the Holy Prophet(sa). He did it every year and in the last year of his life he did it for 20 days rather than the usual 10. This shows how much importance he attached to it. The Jama’at is growing at an exponential rate which means greater competition for places. We must seize this opportunity while there is relatively less competition now and while we enjoy good health and youth. I request our readership to pray that Allah grants gracious acceptance to our I’tikaf for indeed our supplications, our striving and our sacrifices are all unworthy of acceptance but for the grace of Allah. May Allah so ordain that in the coming years every mosque is filled with Mu’takifeen, humbly atoning for past wrongs and shortcomings, intent on winning His pleasure and nearness, proclaiming His g l o r y, celebrating His praise, a ffirming His Unity, invoking His choicest blessings on His Noble Prophet(sa). 1. The late Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) was at the time recovering from an ailment. 2. In the UK, an MOT is an annual certification of a vehicle’s roadworthiness. A glossary of some of the terms used in this article is printed overleaf. 38 The Review of Religions – November 2003 The I’tikaf Experience Tarbiyyat…………………………………………… Tarbiyyal Spiritual training and discipline. Also one of the administrative departments within the Community. Mutakif……………………………………………… Person who goes into retreat into the mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan. Mutakifeen………………………………………… Plural of Mutakif. Maghrib……………………………………………. One of the five daily prayers offered after sunset Ishaa…………………………………………………. One of the five daily prayers offered at night. Fajr…………………………………………………… One of the five daily prayers offered before sunrise. Zuhr………………………………………………….. One of the five daily prayers offered just after noon. Asr……………………………………………………. One of the five daily prayers offered mid afternoon. Nawafil……………………………………………… Voluntary prayers. Singular Nafl Raka’at……………………………………………… Unit of prayer. Singular Rak’at. Tarawih…………………………………………….. An extra prayer service held every evening during Ramadan. Normally the Holy Qur’an is recited from beginning to end. Jama’at……………………………………………… Community Tahajjud……………………………………………. Predawn supererogatory prayer. Sahoor………………………………………………. Predawn meal taken prior to commencing the fast. Iftari…………………………………………………. Food taken by way of breaking the fast Dars………………………………………………….. Lecture (usually on the Holy Qur’an or traditions of the Holy Prophet(sa)). Dars-ul-Hadith………………………………….. A discussion on the Traditions of the Holy Prophet(sa). Dars-ul-Qur’an………………………………….. Recitation andexposition of the Holy Qur’an Cave Hira………………………………………….. Cave where the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) used to go into retreat and from where he received the first Divine Call. Battle of Badr……………………………………. First battle fought by the early Muslims against the Meccan transgressors. Tilawat……………………………………………… Recitation of the Holy Qur’an. Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya…………………… Name given to the auxiliary youth organisation for boys/men between the ages of 15 and 40. Qaid………………………………………………….. Leader Hadhrat Amir-ul-Momineen………………. His Holiness, the Commander of the Faithful. A title used for the Head of the Ahmadiyya Community. Lailatul Qadr…………………………………….. Night of Decrees. A blessed night that occurs in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. Imam………………………………………………… A religious leader, usually one who leads the prayer service. Wudhu………………………………………………. Ablution TERM DEFINITION Glossary of Terms