Ahmad: Muslims are not alien to quarantine

Syed Sajid Ahmad

Going into seclusion for spiritual purposes is a yearly Islamic non-obligatory rite. Millions of Muslims, healthy adult men and women seclude themselves in the main mosque in town during the last 10 days of Ramadan. In Islamic terminology, it is called I‘tikaf, meaning to exclude, to isolate, to withdraw oneself from all worldly activities and relationships and focus exclusively on elevating one’s spiritual condition and relationship with the Creator.

This 10-day withdrawal applies to stay in a mosque while fasting, completely immersing oneself into worship and prayer day and night. Participants aim to sleep as little as possible and spend most of their time in remembrance of their Creator seeking spiritual and moral elevation.

Dividers such as hanging sheets or other means are put in place to provide a small space for privacy for every worshipper. No conversation with each other or anyone else is allowed. The devotees do not leave the area unless for washing or natural needs. They are not allowed to engage in business or trade. They may access their computer or cell phone to read the Quran, but no calling, texting or any other activity unrelated to worship is allowed.


Due to the pandemic this year, though, many may not have been able to exclude themselves in a mosque for this practice but may have made space in their homes, just like one quarantining due to the virus but with a different purpose, intention and activities during the exclusion. Without a circumstantial exception, devotion at home may not carry the same weight and effect as in a mosque.
Quran indicates that this practice has existed over millennia. “And remember the time when We made the House [in Mecca] a resort for mankind and a place of security; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of Prayer. And We commanded Abraham and Ishmael, saying, ‘Purify My House for those who perform the circuit and those who remain therein for devotion and those who bow down and fall prostrate in Prayer.’” (2:125/126)


Mary has also been mentioned to have withdrawn from people. “And relate the story of Mary as mentioned in the Book. When she withdrew from her people to a place to the east, And screened herself off from them, then We sent Our angel to her, and he appeared to her in the form of a perfect man." (19:16/17-17/18)

A person can withdraw for worship anytime during the year for any number of days, but it was a practice of Prophet Muhammad to withdraw from worldly chores during the last 10 days of Ramadan and spend time 24/7 in complete devotion.

It has been customary for Muslims to follow his example. “Say, ‘If you love Allah, follow me: then will Allah love you and forgive you your faults. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.’” (3:31/32) A known practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad is termed as Sunnah.

May our prayer and practice reflect and support our desire for an end to all pandemics present and future.

Ahmad is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion pages. He has translated, compiled and co-authored “A Gift for the Queen,” “Points to Ponder,” “Why Islam is my choice” and “Words of Wisdom.” He lives in Fargo and can be reached at

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