The Messenger of Allah (blessings of Allah be upon him and his family) is reported to have said: "The persons who secludes himself (for Itikaf) in true faith and hope (of reward from Allah), all of his previous sins shall be forgiven." (Kanzul Ummal, Hadith 24007)
The meaning of Itikaf is to seclude oneself in the Masjid with the express niyyah (intention) of Itikaf.
Allah has indeed in his perfect wisdom created humanity in a unique way. He has made it such that from time to time His creation needs a rest. We rest at night to give our bodies time to recover. Birds retire to their nests, horses to their stables, bees to their hives etc. However there comes a time when more intensive rest or retreat is required. Sometimes due to a person's physical condition he is admitted into the hospital's intensive care unit allowing his or her body time to recover.
Likewise the soul also needs to recover from the hustle and bustle of the world, the spiritual pollution caused by evil elements of society, the rat race of wanting, desiring and acquiring more of this world and the distractions that has diverted our mind, heart and soul from the remembrance of Allah Ta'ala and His Beloved Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for the soul is the Masjid and Itikaf is the facitilty within this ICU to allow the soul to not only recover but be spiritually rejuvenated!
Itikah is indeed a Spiritual Retreat!
Inside each and every human being, a constant battle rages. It is like a battle between two wolves. One of the wolves is evil. It is full of hate, lust, and greed. His fangs drip with bitterness and strife. The other wolf is a good one. He is full of love, compassion, and honesty. He never betrays his brother. These two wolves are constantly at war. Which wolf is going to win the battle? The answer is quite obvious…Whichever one you feed.
Our soul is being bombarded by forces of good and evil. We need to feed it good so that it overpowers the evil….and I'tikaf is indeed an excellent opportunity to achieve this. Since the life of the transient world keeps us busy for the whole year in studies, work, social functions, business, travelling and other such things that causes us to be negligent of our souls and the next life, we may sometimes think that these things are the sole purpose in life and thus, we end up forgetting our true goal – Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him).
Thus, it is for this reason that I'tikaf is referred to as "The spring of life in a world struck with the drought of negligence of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him)." It is the negligence of ourselves, and our Creator which is given a fresh breath of life during Itikaf.
In addition, we can once again find ourselves and our Lord and spiritually return back to Him before we are forced to return back to him by the separation of the soul from the body in a state of complete negligence of Him. The period of I'tikaf is the best time to force one's self to sit and think and reflect on the self and the world around; the period of the I'tikaf is the best time to forget the worries of the transient world and to return to nurturing the soul and linking oneself with the Creator of the soul; the period of the I'tikaf is the best time to return back to Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) in true repentance for our sins committed through the year and to give our souls the spiritual strength desperately needed to live a spiritual and pure life in this challenging world.
Rasulullâh Sallallâhu 'alayhi wasallam always observed, I'tikâf and the Muslims have on the whole adhered to it. It has become a regular feature of the month of Ramadhân and a confirmed practice with the devout and the faithful. Hazrat Ayesha Radiallâhu anha relates that "Rasulullâh. Sallallâhu 'alayhi wasallam regularly observed I'tikâf during the last ten days of Ramadhân till the end of his life. After him, his wives maintained the tradition". (Hadith-Bukhari)
It is related by Hazrat Abu Huraira Radiallâhu anhu that "Rasulullâh Sallallâhu 'alayhi wasallam observed I'tikâf for ten days every year in the month of Ramadhân. In the year he passed away he observed it for twenty days." (Hadith-Bukhari)
3 TYPES OF ITIKAF
This *Itikaf* becomes compulsory when a person makes it obligatory upon himself. An example of this is, when a person makes a vow to Allah that if Allah fulfills a certain wish of his, he will under take to perform so many days *Itikaf*. In this case the moment his wish is fulfilled, *Itikaf* becomes compulsory. A person may just make unconditional vow whereby he makes *Itikaf* Waajib upon himself for certain number of days. This becomes a Waajib duty on him from that moment onward.
This was the general practice of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and it means to seclude oneself inside the Masjid for the last ten days of Ramadhan.
There is no special time or specific number of days for Nafil *Itikaf*. A person may make niyyah for any number of days at any time, even for his whole life.
For a detailed article on Itikaf and its rules please visit : http://eislaminfo.blogspot.com/2010/08/itikaf.html