In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
I`tikaf is a recommendable act that brings one closer to Allah. It can be practiced any time throughout the year but it is strongly desirable in Ramadan, especially during the last 10 days of this blessed month.
`A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported:”The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to perform i`tikaf in the last 10 days of Ramadan until he passed away; then his wives performed i`tikaf after he died.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The idea behind i`tikaf is helping Muslims devote themselves exclusively to worship at least for a few days a year. Therefore, i`tikaf should be performed in a mosque so that Muslims can be in complete devotion to worship and be away from the affairs of this world, which can distract one’s heart from the worship.
Responding to your question, Dr. Rajab Abu Mleeh, a Ph. D. holder and a Shari`ah consultant to IslamoOnline.net, stated,
According to the majority of scholars, i`tikaf is a sunnah (a deed recommended by the Prophet) that can be performed any time throughout the year, yet it is more desirable during the last 10 days of Ramadan. However, if a Muslim vows to perform i`tikaf, he or she is obliged to fulfill that vow. Some scholars hold the view that it is permissible to perform i`tikaf for a short period of time, even one or two hours, with the intention of getting closer to Almighty Allah.
The Malikis, Shafi`is, and Hanbalis are of the view that it is not permissible for a woman to perform i`tikaf in her own musalla (Prayer room) at home. They cite Allah’s saying, ( And touch them not, but be at your devotions in the mosques [i.e. while being in the state of i`tikaf]. ) (Al-Baqarah 2:187).
They also refer to the incident where `Abdullah Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) was asked about a woman who vowed to perform i`tikaf in her own musalla at home. He then (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “This is a bid`ah [innovation in religion], and the most odious act in the sight of Allah is introducing innovations [to the religion]. Hence, there is no i`tikaf except in the mosque, where the (five) Prayers are performed.”
The musalla at home cannot be regarded as a mosque, whether in reality or when a Shar`i ruling is established. Moreover, if this act was permissible, the Mothers of the Believers (i.e., the Prophet’s wives) would have performed it even once.
On the other hand, the Hanafis hold the opinion that it is permissible for women to perform i`tikaf in their own musalla at home. They opine that the place of i`tikaf for women is that preferred by them when they perform their daily Prayers, because, unlike men’s Prayer, women’s Prayer at home is better than their Prayer in the mosque. Accordingly, the place of i`tikaf for women should be their own musalla at home. Abu Hanifah and Ath-Thawri stated, “She [i.e., a woman] can perform i`tikaf in her own musalla at home. It is better for her to do so, as her Prayer at home is better than [her Prayer] in the mosque.”
Also, it was narrated that Abu Hanifah said that it is not acceptable for a woman to perform i`tikaf in the mosque, where congregational Prayers are held, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) abandoned the i`tikaf in the mosque when he saw the tents of his wives pitched inside the mosque; he then said to them, “Is it righteousness that you intended by doing so?”
In addition, as a woman’s own musalla at home is the most preferred place for her to offer Prayers; hence, her place of i`tikaf [(which is the musalla] ) is like the mosque for men where men are to perform i`tikaf.
Accordingly, we see that women can perform i`tikaf in the mosque, as the mosque is the best place for devotion to worship and remembrance of Allah — unlike the house, which does not have the spiritual atmosphere of the mosque. However, if a woman’s husband does not want her to perform i`tikaf in the mosque or she has young children to take care of, she is allowed to perform i`tikaf in her own musalla at home. According to some scholars, such a woman’s i`tikaf at home can be intermittent; that is, she can come out of her musalla and move in her house or go out if she needs to do so.
Finally, if a woman has a sincere desire to please Almighty Allah, she should know that the reward of fulfilling the rights and needs of her husband and children can be equal to, and even greater than, that of i`tikaf. That is the grace of Almighty Allah, which He bestows on whom He wills, and Allah is the Enricher and All Aware.