ABUJA - Fears of attacks by the militant group Boko Haram on worshippers have prompted some Nigerian states in the Muslims-majority North to cancel I'tikaf (spiritual retreat in mosques) during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"This measure (suspension of I'tikaf) is being adopted to lessen the possibility of violent attacks on innocent citizens," a solider serving on the Joint Task Force (JTF), a security team assembled to curtail the activities of Boko Haram, told OnIslam.net.
Sources told OnIslam.net that I'tikaf was cancelled in at least three northern states over fears of militant attacks during Ramadan.
The soldier said the measures might be adopted in other volatile areas too to ensure a peaceful Ramadan fasting for Muslims.
He asked not to be named because he was not asked to speak to the media on the issue which he calls sensitive.
Lt Col. Sagir Musa, spokesman of the JTF in Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria, neither denied nor confirmed the development to OnIslam.net.
All measures to safeguard the lives and properties of the citizens are being taken," he said.
Adamu Lawal Mijinyawa, spokesman of the Sultan Bello Mosque in Maiduguri, the heart of Nigeria's northeastern region where Boko Haram attacks have been most virulent, said I'tikaf would not be held this year on account of renovation work at the mosque.
But government and security sources told OnIslam.net that the ban on I'tikaf was because of the current security concerns in the region.
Mijinyawa gave a tacit approval to the security concerns that led to the ban on I'tikaf.
The board (of Sultan Bello Mosque) also urges Muslims worshippers at the Sultan Bello Mosque and other places to be security conscious throughout the Ramadan period and beyond, he said.
The decision to suspend the annual I'tikaf worship in Ramadan this year was made at the recent meeting of the mosque's board of management.
He urged Muslims to use the fasting month of Ramadan to pray for peaceful coexistence and the blessing of Allah on the country.
Apart from Borno, authorities in Kaduna in Nigeria's Northwest and North-central region have also ruled out holding I'tikaf this year for fear of violent attacks on worshippers.
Some Muslim scholars have approved a temporary ban on I'tikaf for security concerns.
Yes Islam protects lives and property and so we must value our lives, Sheikh Abdurrazaq Ishola, co-chairman of the South West Nigeria League of Imams and Alfas' Technical Committee on Moon-sighting, told OnIslam.net.
Once it is temporary it is permissible in Islam.
He compared the temporary ban to alternatives used by Muslims in Europe to circumvent a ban on the wearing of hijab.
It is like the issue of wearing cap in Europe instead of hijab temporarily when they are harassing our Muslim sisters, he said.
I think they don't forbid I'tikaf. What they have done is to seek the means to avoid bloodshed. When the security is restored back then they can start I'tikaf.
I`tikaf is a spiritual retreat in the mosque where a Muslim secludes for the purpose of purifying his or her heart.
The ritual aims to get close to Allah by performing extra acts of worship, especially Tahajjud (optional night prayers) and reciting Qur'an.Most Muslims perform I'tikaf during the holy month of Ramadan, spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.