Though all parts of Ramadan are full of blessings and rewards, its last ten days hold a special status reflected in the recommendations and practices of the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, and his companions. I will focus here on three major practices of the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, and his companions during these days.
1-Praying in the last ten nights of Ramadan
Al-Bukhari and Muslim record from 'Aishah that during the last ten days of Ramadan, the Messenger of Allah would wake his wives up during the night and then remain apart from them (that is, being busy in acts of worship). A narration in Muslim states: "He would strive [to do acts of worship] during the last ten days of Ramadan more than he would at any other time."
Aisha reported that With the start of the last ten days of Ramadan, the Prophet used to tighten his waist belt (i.e. work hard) and used to pray all the night, and used to keep his family awake for the prayers. [Bukhari]
2-Performing I`tikaf in the Masjid (seclusion in the Mosque)
Before going to the essential of this last section, let us stop by one of the great Imam of ahl Assunnah wal jama`ah, one of the greatest revivers of the Da`wah and the methodology of the Salaf, Shaikhul-Islam Shamsuddeen Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah who will give us a brain storming admonition.
He says (rahimahu Allah) in Zaad al Ma`aad fi hadyi khairi al `ibaab :
"Since the hearts' rectitude and firmness upon the path towards Allah the Most High, rests upon directing it solely upon Allaah and causing it to turn and give all its attention to Allaah the Most High. Since the disorder of the heart cannot be rectified except by turning to Allaah the Most High, and its disorder will be increased by eating and drinking too much, mixing with the people excessively, speaking profusely and sleeping too much. These will cause it to wander into every valley, and cut it off from its path to Allah, weaken it, divert it or put a halt to it.
>From the Mercy of the Mighty and Most Merciful is that He has prescribed for them fasting , which will cut off the excesses of eating and drinking, and empties the hear of its desires which divert it on its journey to Allah the Most High. He prescribed it in due proportion as will be appropriate and will benefit the servant, with regard to this world and the Hereafter, and does not harm him, nor damage what is beneficial for him.
He also prescribed i`tikaf for them, by which is intended that the heart is fully occupied with Allah, the Most High, concentrated upon Him alone, and cut off from preoccupation with the creation. Rather it is engrossed with Him alone, the One free of all defects, such that remembering Him, loving Him and turning to Him takes the place of all anxieties of the heart and its suggestions, such that he is able to overcome them. Thus all his concerns are for Him. His thoughts are all of remembrance of Him, and thinking of how to attain His Pleasure and what will cause nearness to Him. This leads him to feel contented with Allah instead of the people, so that prepares him for being at peace with Him alone on the day of loneliness in the grave, when there is no one else to give comfort, nor anyone to grant solace except Him. So this is the greater goal of I'tikaf"
The book Zaad al Ma`aad as well as all other books of Ibn al-Qayyim are just peaces of art that every Muslim should read. Al-hamdu liLLAH there is a great effort among the followers and revivers of the methodology of the Salaf in translating these books into English. Some of them or part of them are already available. You may want to contact the bookstore of al-Qur'an was-Sunnah Society of North America [USA] or al-Hidaya Publishing in UK.
I`tikaf is the seclusion and staying in the mosque with the intention of becoming closer to Allah. This was the practise of the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, during the last ten days of Ramadan especially. He would do it during other months as well.
'Aisha reported that the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, used to practice I`tikaf in the last ten nights of Ramadan and used to say, "Look for the Night of Qadr in the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan" [Bukhari]
Abu Hurairah, radiyallahu 'anhu said: "Allah's Messenger, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, used to perform i`tikaf for ten days every Ramadan, then when it was the year in which he was taken (died), he performed I`tikaf for twenty days. [Bukhari]
'Aisha reported that the Prophet,salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, used to practice I`tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan till he died and then his wives used to practice I`tikaf after him. [Bukhari]
`Aishah radhiya Allahu `anha also reported that the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, "Used to perform i'tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan until Allah the Mighty and Majestic, took him. [Bukhari and Muslim]
Al-Bukhari records from Abu Said that the Prophet (S) said: "Whoever makes I`tikaf with me is to make I'tikaf during the last ten [nights]."
This Sunnah of the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, has been abandoned by many Muslims and it is worth reviving it in this era.
Sayyid Sabiq says in Fiqhus-Sunnah :
The sunnah or preferred i`tikaf has no specific time limit. It can be fulfilled by staying in the mosque with the intention of making i`tikaf for a long or short time. The reward will be according to how long one stays in the mosque. If one leaves the mosque and then returns, he should renew his intention to perform itikaf.
Ya'la ibn Umayyah said: "I secluded myself in the mosque for some time for I`tikaf." 'Ata told him: "That is I`tikaf, as long as you secluded yourself there."
One who is performing Sunnah (like in Ramadan) i'tikaf (i.e. not the obligatory one that is made after a vow) may end his i`tikaf at any time, even if it is before the period he intended to stay.
'Aishah related that if the Prophet intended to make itikaf, he would pray the morning prayer and begin it. One time he wanted to make i`tikaf during the last ten nights of Ramadan, and he ordered his tent to be set up. Aishah reported: "When I saw that, I ordered my tent to be set up, and some of the Prophet's wives followed suit. When he [the Prophet] prayed the morning prayer, he saw all of the tents, and said: "What is this?" They said: "We are seeking obedience [to Allah and His Messenger]." Then he ordered his tent and those of his wives to be taken down, and he delayed his i`tikaf to the first ten days [of Shawwal]."[Bukhari]
The fact that the Messenger of Allah ordered [his and] his wives' tents to be struck down and [he himself left and] asked them to leave the i`tikaf after they have made the intention for it shows that they discarded the i`tikaf after they had begun it. ( in this small paragraph are some additional comments to clarify things).
It is preferred for the one who is making I`tikaf to perform many supererogatory acts of worship and to occupy himself with prayers, reciting the Qur'an, glorifying and praising Allah, extolling His oneness and His greatness, asking His forgiveness, sending salutations on the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and supplicating Allah - that is, all actions that bring one closer to Allah. Included among these actions is studying and reading books of tafsir and hadith, books on the lives of the Prophets, upon whom be peace, books of fiqh, and so on. It is also preferred to set up a small tent in the courtyard of the mosque as the Prophet did.
Permissible Acts for the Mu`takif (the person performing I`tikaf)
The following acts are permissible for one who is making I'tikaf
(1) The Person may leave his place of I`tikaf to bid farewell to his wife and a Woman can visit her husband who is in I`tikaf}
Safiyyah, radhiya Allahu `anha said : The prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, was making i`tikaf [in the last ten nights of Ramadan], so I came to visit him at night [and his wives were with him and then departed]. I talked with him for a while, then I stood up to leave, [so he said:"Do not hurry for I will accompany you",. He stood along with me to accompany me back -and her dwelling was in the house of Usaamah Ibn Zayd [until when he came to the door of the mosque near the door of Umm Salamah], two men of the Ansaar were passing by, when they saw the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, they hastened by, so the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, said : "Be at your ease for she is Safiyyah bintu Huyayy." So they said:" 'SubhanAllah, O Messenger of Allah! [we did not have any doubt about you].' He said: "Indeed Shaytan circulates in the son of Adam just as blood circulates, and I feared that he would insert an evil thought" -or he said : "something - into your hearts" [Bukhari and Muslim, in  are additional narrations from Abu Dawud]
(2) Combing and cutting one's hair, clipping one's nails, cleaning one's body, wearing nice clothes or wearing perfume are all permissible. 'Aishah reported: "The Prophet was Performing itikaf and he would put his head out through the opening to my room and I would clean [or comb in one narration] his hair. I was menstruating at the time." [al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Dawud].
(3) The person may go out for some need that he must perform. 'Aishah reported: "When the Prophet Performed I`tikaf, he brought his head close to me so I could comb his hair, and he would not enter the house except to fulfill the needs a person has." [al-Bukhari, and Muslim].
Ibn al-Mundhir says: "The scholars agree that the one who performs itikaf may leave the mosque in order to answer the call of nature, for this is something that he personally must perform, and he cannot do it in the mosque. Also, if he needs to eat or drink and there is no one to bring him his food, he may leave to get it. If one needs to vomit, he may leave the mosque to do so. For anything that he must do but cannot do in the mosque, he can leave it, and such acts will not void his itikaf, even if they take a long time. Examples of these types of acts would include washing one's self from sexual defilement and cleaning his body or clothes from impurities."
(4) The person may eat, drink, and sleep in the mosque, and he should also keep it clean.
Actions that Nullify the I`tikaf
If a person performs one of the following acts, his I`tikaf will be nullified:
(1) Intentionally leaving the mosque without any need to do so, even if it is for just a short time. In such a case, one would not be staying in the mosque, which is one of the principles of I`tikaf.
(2) Abandoning belief in Islam, as this would nullify all acts of worship. If you ascribe a partner to Allah, your work will fail and you will be among the losers.
(3) Losing one's reason due to insanity or drunkenness, or the onset of menstruation or post-childbirth bleeding, all of which disqualifies a person for itikaf.
(4) Sexual intercourse. Allah says [in meaning]: "But do not associate with your wives while you are in seclusion (I`tikaf) in the mosques. Those are Limits (set by) Allah. Approach not nigh thereto. Thus does Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint. [al-Baqara; 2:187]
I`tikaf is not restricted to men only, women also can do it :
'Aisha (the wife of the Prophet) reported that the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, used to practice I`tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan till he died and then his wives used to practice I`tikaf after him.[Bukhari]
Dear Sister! when reading this do not forget the modesty and the Hijab of the wife of the Prophet (S) that you should observe if you intend to perform I`tikaf.
3-Seeking Laylatul-Qadr (the Night of Decree)
It is the greatest night of the year like the Day of `Arafah is the greatest day of the year. It is a night about which Allah reveled a full Surah, Suratul-Qadr [97:1-5] and the 3rd to the 6th verses of Surat ad-Dukhan [44:3-6]
It is the night when the Qur'an was reveled.
It is the night when the Message (the Final and seal of all messages) sent to Mohammad, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, started
It is the night when the light, that would illuminate mankind to the end of life, started
It is the night when every matter of ordainment is decreed
Allah says in what can be translated as :
"Verily! We have sent it (this Qur'aan) down in the Night of Decree (Lailatul-Qadr). And what will make you know what the Night of Decree is? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. Therein descend the angels and the Rooh (ie. Jibreel [Gabriel]) by Allaah's Permission with all Decrees, Peace! until the appearance of dawn." [97:1-5]
and in Surat ad-Dukhan :
"We sent it (this Qur'aan) down on a blessed Night. Verily, We are ever warning (mankind of Our Torment). Therein (that Night) is decreed every matter of ordainment. Amran (i.e. a command or this Qur'aan or His Decree of every matter) from Us. Verily, We are ever sending (the Messenger). (As) a Mercy from your Lord. Verily! He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. [44:3-6]
A person who misses Laylatul-Qadr is really a deprived person!
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, said " The blessed month has come to you. Allah has made fasting during it obligatory upon you. During it the gates to Paradise are opened and the gates of Hellfire are locked, and the devils are chained. There is a night [during this month] which is better than a thousand months. Whoever is deprived of its good is really deprived [of something great]. [Ahmad, an-Nisa'i and al-Bayhaqi]
One who misses this blessed night then he has missed much good for no one misses it except one from whom it is withheld. Therefore it is recommended that the Muslim who is eager to be obedient to Allaah should stand in Prayer during this night out of Eemaan and hoping for the great reward, since if he does this, Allaah will forgive his previous sins (1).
What happens to the person who witnesses Laylatul-Qadr? and what should one do?
Abu Hurairah Radhiya Allahu `anhu reported that the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, said : "Whoever stands (in prayer) in Lailatul-Qadr out of Eemaan (faith and sincerity) and seeking reward then his previous sins are forgiven". [Bukhari]
It is recommended to supplicate a lot during this night, it is reported from our mother 'Aishah radhiya Allahu `anha, that she said: "O Messenger of Allah! What if I knew which night Lailatul-Qadr was, then what should I say in it?" He said.- "Say.- (Allahumma innaka 'affuwwun tuhibbul 'afwa fa'fu 'annee.)
"O Allaah You are The One Who pardons greatly, and loves to pardon, so pardon me.". [at-Tirmithi and Ibn Majah with a Sahih Isnad]
When is Laylatul-Qadr ?
It is preferred to seek this night during the last ten odd nights of Ramadan, as the Prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam,, strove his best in seeking it during that time. We have already mentioned that the Prophet would stay up during the last ten nights, would wake his wives, and then would remain apart from them to worship.
Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet,salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, said, "Look for the Night of Qadr in the last ten nights of Ramadan ,' on the night when nine or seven or five nights remain out of the last ten nights of Ramadan (i.e. 21, 23, 25, respectively)." [Bukhari]
`Aishah radhiya Allahu `anha said: "Allah's Messenger used to practice I`itikaf in the last ten nights and say: 'Seek out Lailatul-Qadr in the (odd nights) of the last ten of Ramadan." [Bukhari and Muslim]
However if the servant is too weak or unable, then he should at least not let the last seven pass him by, due to what is reported from Ibn 'Umar, who said: Allah's Messenger said: "Seek it in the last ten, and if one of you is too weak or unable then let him not allow that to make him miss the final seven.' [Bukhari and Muslim]
This explains his saying: "I see that your dreams are in agreement (that it is in the last seven) so he who wishes to seek it out then let him seek it in the last seven.' [Bukhari and Muslim]
It is known from the Sunnah, that knowledge of the exact night upon which Lailatul-Qadr falls was taken up because the people argued, 'Ubaadah ibn as- Saamit, radiyalloahu 'anhu, said: The Prophet came out intending to tell us about Lailatul-Qadr, however two men were arguing and he said: "I come out to inform you about Lailatul-Qadr but so and so, and, so and so were arguing, so it was raised up, and perhaps that is better for you, so seek it on the (twenty) ninth and the (twenty) seventh and the (twenty) fifth.'[Bukhari]
Some of the ahadeeth indicate that Lailatul-Qadr is in the last ten nights, while others indicate that it is in the odd nights of the last ten, so the first are general and the second more particular, and the particular has to be given priority over the general. Other ahadeeth state that it is in the last seven - and these are restricted by mention of one who is too weak or unable. So there is no confusion, all the ahadeeth agree and are not contradictory.
In conclusion: The Muslim should seek out Lailatui-Qadr in the odd nights of the last ten: the night of the twenty-first, the twenty-third, the twenty-fifth, the twenty-seventh and the twenty-ninth. If he is too weak or unable to seek it out in all the odd nights, then let him seek it out in the odd nights of the of seven: the night of the twenty-fifth, the twenty-seventh and the twenty-ninth And Allah knows best. (1)
What are the signs of laylatul-Qadr?
Allaah's Messenger , salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, described the morning after Lailatul-Qadr, so that the Muslim may know which day it is. From Ubayy, radhiya Allahu 'anhu, who said: that he, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, said: "On the morning following Lailatui-Qadr the sun rises not having any rays, as if it were a brass dish, until it rises up."[Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmithi and Ibn Majah]
Abu Hurairah, radhiya Allahu 'anhu, said : "We were discussing Lailatul-Qadr in the presence of Allah's Messenger so he said : 'Which of you remembers [the night] when the moon arose and was like half a plate?... [Muslim]
Ibn 'Abbaas, radhiya Allahu 'anhuma, said: Allaah's Messenger, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, said: "Lailatul-Qadr is calm and pleasant, neither hot nor cold, the sun arises on its morning being feeble and red." [at-Tayaalisee, Ibn Khuzaimah and al-Bazzaar with a Hasan Isnad]
We pray to Allah All Mighty Most Merciful to bless us this Ramadan by witnessing Laylatul-Qadr