On one occasion, Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) was in i’tikaaf in Masjidun Nabawi when a person came to him and sat down after greeting him with salaam. When Sayyiduna Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) looked at the person, he observed that he was worried and anxious. He thus asked him, “O so-and-so! I see that you are overcome by grief and worry! (What is the matter?)”
The man replied, “Yes, O cousin of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam)! I owe so-and-so an outstanding debt, and I am unable to settle it (and that is the reason for my worry and anxiety)!” Sayyiduna Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) offered, “Shall I speak to him on your behalf (requesting him to grant you some form of respite)?” The man replied, “(Yes,) if you wish.” Sayyiduna Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) thus stood and left the masjid.
As he left the masjid, the man reminded him, “Have you forgotten that you are in i’tikaaf? (i.e. by leaving the masjid, your i’tikaaf has broken.)” Sayyiduna Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) replied, “No, (I have not forgotten).”
Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) then looked towards the blessed grave of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam), and with eyes filled with tears (out of the pain of being separated from his beloved [sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam]), he said, “(The reason why I have broken my i’tikaaf is that) I heard the blessed person in this grave (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) mention, ‘The one who goes out to attend to the need of his Muslim brother, and he succeeds in fulfilling the need, then this is better (and more rewarding) for him than remaining in i’tikaaf for ten years, and (the reward of) the one who sits in i’tikaaf for a single day, seeking the pleasure of Allah Ta‘ala, is that Allah Ta‘ala will place three trenches between him and Jahannam – each trench as vast as the distance between the east and the west.’”