Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: In our city, there aren’t any “formal” mosques. We have several rented prayer spaces (musalla). Is the spiritual retreat (i`tikaf) valid there? What can we do to attain the reward of the sunna of i`tikaf?
Answer: Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits. May Allah reward you generously for your high intention and aspiration.
The spiritual retreat (i`tikaf) is a communal emphasized sunna, and it was from the regular habit of the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk) to enter into i`tikaf for the last ten days of Ramadan. [Bukhari]
(1) There is scholarly consensus that i`tikaf is only valid in a “masjid.” [Ibn al-Mundhir, Kitab al-Ijma`, Ibn Qudama, Mughni]
(2) A musalla (prayer hall) isn’t valid to perform i`tikaf in.
(3) In the absence of a masjid to perform i`tikaf in, one can perform a retreat (khalwa) in a prayer hall (musalla). If one has the intention that (a) one would have performed i`tikaf in a mosque if available and (b) hopes that Allah accept this retreat in its place, then one should be hopeful of full reward and benefit of i`tikaf.
Reminder: It is recommended for the person in i`tikaf to busy themselves in prayer, recitation of Qur’an, remembrance, seeking forgiveness, and supplication.
Many scholars also considered seeking knowledge to be praiseworthy in i`tikaf, including Abu Hanifa and Shafi`i. Others considered it a time for devotion rather than study, including Malik and Ahmad. [Rahmat al-Umma] Some joined between the two positions, that it is praiseworthy to seek spiritually-inspiring and uplifting knowledge and reminders–rather than formal “seeking of knowledge.” And Allah knows best.
The Spiritual Retreat (i`tikaf)
And Allah knows best.
wassalam, Faraz Rabbani