Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 187..........Part 2
On the night of the fast it is lawful for you to have sexual relations with your wives: they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. Allah knew that you used to betray yourselves, so He pardoned you and excused you. So now associate in intimacy with them and seek what God has ordained for you. Eat and drink until you discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night; then observe the Fast until night sets in. But do not have sexual intercourse with them while you are in retreat in the mosques. These are God’s limits, so do not go near them. In this way does God make His Signs clear to people so that hopefully they may guard themselves. (2:187)
The phrase “Eat and drink until you discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night” means that during Ramadan, you can eat, drink, and have marital sexual relations from after sunset until you see the true dawn. At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), there were two callings for prayers –Athans- around dawn in Ramadan. The companion Bilal used to call out for prayer when darkness still prevailed, while Ibn Umm Maktum called for prayer the instant dawn was sighted. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told his companions: “when you hear the call of ibn Umm Maktum, refrain” He –peace be upon him- was referring to stopping food, drinking, and sexual relations.
The verse continues: “then observe the Fast until night sets in. But do not have sexual intercourse with them while you are in retreat in the mosques.” This ruling regarding sexual relations was necessary to specify the ethics of behavior during a spiritual retreat. More specifically, it was to address the etiquettes of behavior while observing a mosque retreat during the last ten days of Ramadan –which was the practice and the Sunna of our beloved prophet-. God explained that intimate relations are only permitted for those couples who are not in the state of retreat for worship –I’tikaaf-. A retreat for worship is not limited to nights of Ramadan; it can be practiced anytime you choose to seclude yourself to a place for a specific time exclusively for worship.
The Scholars have differed in regards to the specifics of a retreat for worship. Some believe that a person must be fasting while in retreat. Others stipulated that I’tikaaf must be for a specific period in a mosque.
We answer that you can enjoy the immense rewards of a retreat every time you enter a mosque if you make the conscious decision to dedicate your time inside the mosque exclusively for Allah. In other words, you do not indulge in speaking about worldly matters, or preoccupy yourself with your phone or anything outside worship. Make those moments you spend in the mosque dedicated to God. Mosques are places of worship, so keep in mind that you will gain no benefit whatsoever if you spend your time in the mosque discussing worldly matters. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saw a man enter the mosque and then go from person to person asking about something he had lost. The prophet told him: ‘May God not return it to you! Mosques were not built for this!’
We find another excellent example in the companions of the prophet who used to say: ‘we take off all worldly matters from our minds and leave them at the door of the mosque just as we do with our shoes.’
Life’s troubles, hopes, and dreams occupy many hours of your day, while prayer and worship only get a few moments. Make sure these moments count! When it is time for prayer and worship, leave all life matters behind, and go into the mosque with only your faith. Sit wherever you find space, and do not step over people to get to the front row. Allah will instill blessings wherever you sit. In fact, our beloved Prophet used to sit wherever he found the nearest empty space next to the companions. This is contrary to our times, where people reserve spots for others; and often a person who comes in late starts stepping over people in order to get to the front rows. When you are in the house of God, you should not worry about where you sit, or next to whom. Rather sit wherever you find a place, and make the intention of retreat -I’tikaaf- for God alone. You are not valued by who sits next to you –whether a janitor or a governor- rather, you are valued by your faith.
This brings us back to the verse. God says: “But do not have sexual intercourse with them while you are in retreat in the mosques. These are God’s limits, so do not go near them.” A limit or a boundary is a barrier that separates two items from mixing or coming in contact. The boundaries of God are His prohibitions. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “What is permissible is clear, and what is prohibited is clear. Between these two are some gray areas. He who steers clear of these gray areas has guarded his faith, and he who wanders around them is bound to fall into prohibitions. Just like a shepherd who pastures around a king’s sanctuary, grazing right on the king’s borders. Verily, every king has a sanctuary, and Allah’s sanctuary are His prohibitions.” Our beloved prophet is advising us, just as God had advised, not to even go near God’s limits, let alone overstep them.
So, if you are in a retreat for worship in a mosque, ask your spouse not visit you. You may have no intentions of doing anything, but you should avoid any situation that may lead you to do wrong. This is similar to God commanding you to keep away from places where alcohol is served so you do not get tempted into considering a drink. In order to prevent yourself from unlawful things, you must stay away from any situation that may even lead you towards them.
The verse ends with: ‘In this way does God make His Signs clear to people so that hopefully they may guard themselves.’ A sign is something clear and marvelous. These signs -translated from the Arabic word Ayat- are miracles of the prophet that prove the truthfulness of what he conveys from God. The same Arabic word (Ayat) also refers to the verses of the Nobel Quran. They are clear and evident for all to see and examine. This verse and the previous verses have explained the legislation of fasting and the exemptions God granted us to ensure ease, not hardship. Thus, when you follow God’s teachings, you are in fact, choosing ease for yourself in this world and the next. Acting righteously, even if it may seem burdensome on the surface, will protect you against hardships of life. Likewise, those who ignore the teachings of their creator may seem to have it easy for a while but they will lead lives filled with worries and problems. God says:
But he who turns away from My remembrance, he shall surely lead a suffocating and tiresome life. And We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection. (20:124)