Time and Place of the Intention of the I’tikaf and the Place of I’tikaf
The intention must be made from the beginning of the time of Fajr on the first day and it is not permissible to delay it until the end of the time of Fajr (just before sunrise), however if just before the rising of the sun of Fajr, one makes his intention, this will still be sufficient. At the time of making intention for I’tikaf, the person must be inside the Masjid in which he/she wishes to perform I’tikaf, however if at the beginning time of Fajr he leaves to redo his Wudhu or for another important task, then he is still able to do his intention (upon returning).
The place of I’tikaf must be the Masjid and therefore, performing I’tikaf in any place other than a Masjid such as a room or hall used for Salat, a Musalla (specific building which is made only for Jam’at Salat and other places like this (which are not proper Masajid) is not correct.
The preferential order of where I’tikaf should be performed is: Masjidul Haram, Masjid an-Nabi (blessings of Allah be upon him and his family), Masjid Kufa and then the Masjid of Basrah – after these, then any other “Central” and “Congregational” Masjid is permissible to perform the I’tikaf in.
By stating this, it clearly means that in places like the traditonal Hussainiyah or Imambargah and other places such as this, it is not correct to perform the I’tikaf– this act is limited to the four mentioned Masajid and then the Central Masjid of a city.
Based on this ruling, although the scholars permit I’tikafin these other buildings (which are not proper Masjid), however the specific rulings of I’tikaf would not hold in other such venues. If one was to perform I’tikaf in any place other than the “Central Masjid” then he would need to do so with the intention that this act would bring him closer to Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him) and that he is hoping for a reward in this act (of being done outside of a proper Masjid as per the Islamic legislations).
Therefore, if there are three or four Masjid in one city, since they are not of the four Masjid which I’tikaf can be performed in (with that special intention), the people may use all of them for the program of I’tikaf.
The meaning of the Central or Congregational Masjid is that which a majority of the people frequent (other than this Masjid would be those referred to with names such as the Masjid of the Bazar, the Masjid of a School, the Masjid inside a factory, etc…) and it is not permissible to perform the I’tikaf in these places.
The courtyards and entrances of the Masjid are not considered as a part of the Masjid except in the case that they are recognized and known (by others) to be an actual part of the Masjid. If a person doubts if the place in which he is, is actually a Masjid or not, then according to the rules, he is not permitted to perform I’tikaf there until he ascertains and has certainty that the place where he is truly is a part of the Masjid.