Shaykh Lutfullah al-Maysi and his Treatise on Iʿtikāf

وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَأَمْنًا وَاتَّخِذُوا مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى ۖ وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ

[2:125] And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer].”

A few years ago, when preparing for an iʿtikāf, I was looking into some related jurisprudential discussions, when I came across a treatise written by Shaykh Luṭfullah al-Maysī (d. sometime between 1032-35 AH/1623-26), the Risālah al-Iʿtikāfīyyah. He himself titled his treatise as Risālah Mā’ al-Ḥayāt wa Ṣāfī al-Furāt fī Rafʿ al-Tawahhumāt wa Dafʿ Wāhī al-Shubahāt.1

This treatise is significant for a number of reasons. Shaykh Luṭfullah himself was one of many Lebanese scholars who had migrated to Iran during the Safavid period and contributed greatly to Shīʿī scholarship. Many who have been to the city of Isfahan may have heard his name as one of the major mosques in Naqsh-i Jahan Square is named after him, the Shaykh Luṭfullah Mosque.

In this treatise, Shaykh Luṭfullah is essentially trying to give iʿtikāf legitimacy and wide-spread acceptance within the Shīʿī community, since the popular position of Shīʿī jurists had been that the iʿtikāf is only valid when conducted in 4 specific mosques: Masjid al-Ḥarām, Masjid al-Nabawī, Masjid al-Kūfa and Masjid al-Baṣrah. This position is also held by some jurists today.2 This would also indicate that many Shīʿī communities that were not near the vicinities of these mosques most likely never had a culture of iʿtikāf, unless their respective jurisconsults held the view that the Jāmiʿ mosque is also a valid place to hold an iʿtikāf. Shaykh Luṭfullah was one such jurist and he used his jurisprudential position to popularize the practice of iʿtikāf in the city of Qazwin and Isfahan.

However, due to his actions, he was met with some resistance, particularly on four fronts. It is speculated that this was also partly due to him being Arab, as much of the resistance was coming from the Persians. The four areas3 on which he was challenged and the reason why he writes this treatise were as follows:

1) Why is the iʿtikāf taking place in the Masjid of the Shah? This mosque had been constructed in 1629 CE – a relatively new mosque at the time – and came to be recognized as the Masjid Jāmiʿ but was not from the four prescribed mosques.

To the first question, Shaykh Luṭfullah responds by saying that anyone who has read the narrations on the subject would know that the iʿtikāf is worship that can also be done in a Jāmiʿ mosque. Though he acknowledges that there has been a difference of opinion amongst scholars on the matter, but eventually he begins to cite traditions to defend his own position and then also mentions names of various jurists who held the same opinion as himself. Through this, he is highlighting two points: that there is no consensus on the matter that the iʿtikāf is restricted to the 4 mosques, as has been claimed by some, and secondly, he is not alone in holding this opinion.

The names he mentions are as follows:

Shaykh al-Mufīd, Ibn Abī ʿAqīl, al-Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī, al-Shahīd al-Awwal, al-Muḥaqqiq al-Thānī al-ʿAmilī and his two sons Shaykh ʿAbd al-ʿĀl and Shaykh Ḥasan al-Mumtaḥan, and his two grandsons Sayyid Ḥusayn al-Mujtahid al-ʿĀmilī al-Ṭāhir and al-Amīr Muḥammad Bāqir, al-Shahīd al-Thānī and his two sons Shaykh Ḥasan al-Awḥad and Sayyid al-Farīd al-Sayyid Muḥammad, Shaykh Bahā’ al-Millah and his father Shaykh Ḥusayn al-Ḥarithī al-Ṣamadī al-ʿĀmilī, Shaykh Luṭfullah’s own great grandfather Shaykh ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-ʿĀl al-ʿĀmilī al-Mīsī and his two sons Shaykh Ibrāhīm and Shaykh Jaʿfar, Sayyid Ḥasan al-Shafaṭī al-ʿĀmilī the student of our grandfather Shaykh Nūr al-Dīn ʿAlī al-Mīsī, and two other students of his al-Shahīd al-Thālith ʿAbdullah Shūshtarī and Mīrzā Muḥammad al-Astarābādī – and many other jurists.4

What is immediately noticeable in this list is that almost all of the scholars are from Jabal ʿĀmil in Lebanon or some other part of Lebanon, and either lived in the not-so-distant generations previous to Shaykh Luṭfullah or were currently alive at the author’s time. It therefore seems then that this exception to include the Jāmiʿ mosque to the valid places to hold the iʿtikāf was a ruling popularized by scholars of Lebanon, and in particular scholars of Jabal ʿĀmil and then through the efforts of Shaykh Luṭfullah and as well as Shaykh Bahā’ī made popular in Safavid Iran.

Another point Shaykh Luṭfullah also raises in his response to the first question is with regards to the term imām ʿādil (a just Imam) that has been used in some of the traditions related to the iʿtikāf. Some traditions suggest that iʿtikāf is only valid in a mosque where a just Imam leads the prayers, and this became a point of contention amongst some jurists. Some believed that this term meant that the mosque had to be a mosque where one of the 12 infallible Imams (a) would lead prayers or had at least led the prayers at one point in time.

Shaykh Luṭfullah argues otherwise and defends the position that this is simply a reference to any Twelver Imāmī just individual who is the leader of the congregational prayer at the mosque. He says that if this really was a reference to an infallible Imam then some narrations mentioning that the mosques of Baṣrah and Baghdad were also valid places to hold the iʿtikāf could not be explained away, since no infallible Imam led any congregational prayers in these mosques. This way, Shaykh Luṭfullah sets himself up to defend the verdict that the iʿtikāf was valid even in a non-Jāmiʿ mosque, as long as the mosque held regular congregational prayers led by a just Imam.

2) Why is the iʿtikāf being done specifically in the last 10-days of Ramaḍān?

This is a rather strange criticism of Shaykh Luṭfullah and he does not explain exactly why the critic sees this as a problem. Instead, he goes on to defend the recommendation of doing the iʿtikāf during the last 10 days of Ramaḍan, which is not very difficult to do given the numerous reports mentioning this.

So why did the critic have a problem with the last 10 days of Ramaḍan? From Shaykh Luṭfullah’s response, I’m speculating that perhaps the critic was arguing that there is no reason to limit the recommendation of the iʿtikāf to the last 10 days given that the Prophet (p) had performed the iʿtikāf during the first 10 days, the middle 10 days and as well as the last 10 days of the month of Ramaḍān. In other words, the ruling should be that the iʿtikāf is recommended during any of these three periods in the month of Ramaḍān and the last 10 days do not have any specialty. Although, the response of Shaykh Luṭfullah makes it appear that the critic was against the validity of the iʿtikāf during the last 10 days of Ramaḍān, especially since the Shaykh considers the critic’s position as of one who is a rejector of one of the necessities of religion (inkār li-ḍārūrī al-dīn).

In any case, Shaykh Luṭfullah responds to the critic by referring to reports which explain that the Prophet (p) performed the iʿtikāf during the second 10 days of Ramaḍān because of him missing the iʿtikāf during the last 10-days of the month during the previous year. It is reported in a number of traditions that the Prophet (p) missed the iʿtikāf due to the Battle of Badr, which took place in the month of Ramaḍān, and made up for it during the following year by doing 20 days of iʿtikāf. Shaykh Luṭfullah also believes that the iʿtikāf was not obligatory on the Prophet (p) as a primary ruling, rather he must have done have a vow or something similar which then made it obligatory on him (p – and hence the reason for why he (p) had to perform its qaḍā’.

As for the performance of iʿtikāf in the first 10-days of Ramaḍan, Shaykh Luṭfullah does quote a tradition, but does not really comment on it or argue whether it is also recommended to perform the iʿtikāf during those days. Since other traditions explicitly mention that the Prophet (p) only did that once and for the remainder of his life he only performed the iʿtikāf during the last 10 days of Ramaḍān, it is possible that Shaykh Luṭfullah did not believe in the recommendation of iʿtikāf in the first 1o days, and at best it was just a permissible.

3) Why had there been an alcove roof-covering installed for the iʿtikāf within the mosque?

A third criticism he responds to is as to why he sets up an alcove roof-covering (qubbah) and a tent (khaymah) inside the masjid. Although not explicitly mentioned in the treatise, this criticism is most likely rooted in another discussion in jurisprudence that has to do with construction and building anything inside a mosque, once the mosque has been built and is ready to be used as a place of Ṣālāt and worship. As per the opinions of classical jurists, once a mosque had been built and was ready for use, it was not allowed to construct anything within it – such as a minaret.5

It appears that the critic may have likened the installing of the shade and tent as similar to the construction of a minaret inside a mosque and hence found it problematic. To this, Shaykh Luṭfullah responds that this is nothing but an invalid qiyās and that the difference between the two scenarios is like the distance between the West and the East.6 In fact, Shaykh Luṭfullah argues that constructing something inside a mosque after a mosque has been built is not problematic if there is a general benefit for it, such as the construction of a pulpit. In this context, the setting up of shade and tent during the iʿtikāf is also for the general benefit of the worshipers and most importantly it does not cause any obstacle for the worshipers in performing their Ṣālāt.

4) Why is there iḥyā’ being done during the iʿtikāf? In this context, iḥyā’ is the act of remaining awake through the night.

Once again, it is not immediately clear why exactly the critic has a problem with doing iḥyā’ in the mosque. Shaykh Luṭfullah addresses this question in the very beginning of this treatise, by citing this tradition:

لا اعتكاف إلا بصوم في مسجد الجامع و كان رسول الله صلى‌الله‌عليه‌وآله إذا كان العشر الأواخر اعتكف في المسجد وضربت له قبة و شمر المئزر وطوى فراشه ، وقال بعضهم : واعتزل النساء فقال أبو عبد الله عليه‌السلام : أما اعتزال النساء فلا

Imam Ṣādiq (a) has said: There is no iʿtikāf except by fasting in the Masjid al-Jāmiʿ.

And he (a) said: When it would be the last 10-days (of Ramaḍān) the Messenger of Allah (p) would do the iʿtikāf in the mosque, a shade would be set up for him, he would tighten his waistcloth (mi’zar) and fold his bed (firāsh).

Some said: And did he distance himself away from women? Abū ʿAbdillah responded: As for distancing away from women, no (he did not).7

When we read this report initially, we do not find anything regarding staying awake the night during the iʿtikāf, although in another report he cites a few lines later it does mention it. Shaykh Luṭfullah argues that the folding of the bed in the aforementioned tradition alludes to staying up the night, and the tightening of the waistcloth refers to abandoning sexual relationships with his (p) wives.

However, Shaykh Luṭfullah also gives the possibility that the ‘folding of the bed’ could actually be a reference to abandoning sexual relationships and that ‘tightening the waistcloth’ is a reference to staying up the night, since the word mi’zar literally means middle and tightening of the middle is a metaphor for staying awake.

In any case, as far as Shaykh Luṭfullah is concerned, all four criticisms against him have been addressed in this single tradition.

In his final remarks, the Shaykh criticizes the critic himself by saying that he has heard through multiple sources that the critic does not accept solitary reports. To this the Shaykh says, if this is truly what the critic believes in, then he has no basis to even restrict the iʿtikāf to four mosques since all you have is a handful of solitary reports. Instead, he should be saying the iʿtikāf is valid in any mosque, in any shape or form since all he has to clutch on to is the absolute nature of the Qurānic verse that speaks about this act of worship.

Through this response, we can safely assume that the critic was most definitely not an Akhbārī scholar, but the nature of the critiques themselves also lead us to believe that the figure could not have been a very strong scholar since some concerns seem to be utterly baseless. Nevertheless, the critic and his attacks on Shaykh Luṭfullah were significant enough for it to warrant this treatise.


  1. رسالة ماء الحياة و صافى الفرات في رفع التوهمات و دفع واهي الشبهات – the treatise is published in volume 1 of Mīrāth Islāmī Īrān, pg. 316.
  2. See for example Sayyid ʿAlī Khāmenaī who restricts the legitimacy of iʿtikāf to these 4 mosques and only allows it in other mosques with the intention of rajā’ (source).
  3. Pgs. 317-318
  4. Pg. 327.
  5. Refer to Kitāb al-Ṣalāt of Sharḥ al-Lumʿah by Shahīd Thānī, vol. 1, pg. 63.
  6. Pg. 321
  7. Some commentators, including Shaykh Luṭfullah himself on pg. 321, have said the questioner was asking whether one needs to completely distance themselves away from their wives such that besides sexual intercourse, even simple communication with them was not allowed, and it was to this question that the Imam (a) responds no.