Istikhara in Islam

The Arabic wordIstikhara is of the root “khayr = خير = goodness” and it means “asking for that which is good”. Istikhara means, “Consulting Allah for one’s matter.” Allah comprehends what is best for humans by decreeing upon hurdles to test the dexterous and best pawn in faith and devotion. Anytime a Muslim is making a decision, he or she should seek Allah’s guidance and wisdom. Allah alone knows what is best for us, and there may be good in what we perceive as bad, and bad in what we perceive as good. Allah the Almighty teaches us how to ask for His help:

 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

 

“O you who believe[d]! Seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah (is) with the patient ones.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:153)

 

If you are ambivalent or unsure about a decision you have to make, there is a specific prayer for guidance (Salat-l-Istikhara) that you can do to ask for Allah’s help in making your decision. Should you marry this certain person? Should you attend this graduate school? Should you take this job offer or that one? Allah knows what is best for you, and if you are not sure about a choice that you have, seek His guidance.

 

وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

 

“And those who respond to their Lord and establish prayer and their affairs (are conducted by) consultation among them, and from what We have provided them they spend” (Surah Ash-Shura 42:38)

 

Like wisely, Allah the sole possessor encompasses solutions for all ordeals and tribulations. Man is born weak whom Satan can easily avert from his track through his lullabies that he continuously instils in the heart of believers. Salat al-Istikhara is a powerful tool that Allah has given us to ask His guidance in all matters. We should not hesitate to pray Istikhara before making any choice in our lives, big or small.

 

The istikhara prayer is a very simple prayer of seeking guidance:
  • One prays two rakats at any time that is not disliked, after which one recites the supplication of istikhara.
  • It is best to recite it before sleeping, though in no way necessary.
  • Like other duas, it is recommended that one face the qibla.
  • It is recommended to open the dua of istikhara, with praise of Allah and sending blessings on the Prophet ﷺ and to close it in this manner, too.
  • It is disliked to ‘hasten’ in seeking the answer to one’s istikhara, like other duas, because the Prophet ﷺ said, “Your prayers are answered, unless you hasten, saying, ‘I prayed, but no answer came.’”
The Prayer in Arabic

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلَا أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي

 
Translation

“O Allah, verily I seek the better [of either choice] from You, by Your knowledge, and I seek ability from You, by Your power, and I ask You from Your immense bounty. For indeed You have power, and I am powerless; You have the knowledge and I know not; You are the Knower of the unseen realms. O Allah, if You know that this matter is good for me about my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then decree it for me, facilitate it for me, and grant me the blessing in it. And if You know that this matter is not good for me about my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then turn it away from me and me from it; and decree for me better than it, wherever it may be, and make me content with it.”

 

Looking for signs

One should suspend one’s judgment or inclination about the particular matter, and wait for Allah to show one a sign or to make things happen in a way that indicates what to do. When one is not clear about the result of the istikhara, the fuqaha mention that it is recommended to repeat it, up to 7 times if necessary (usually done on separate occasions). Shaykh Nuh Keller mentions that the more one prays the istikhara prayer, the clearer its answers become to one. He prays it for all matters, even things one would not imagine doing istikhara for.

 

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

 

“Is prescribed upon you [the] fighting while it (is) hateful to you. But perhaps [that] you dislike a thing and it (is) good for you; and perhaps [that] you love a thing and it (is) bad for you. And Allah knows while you (do) not know.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:216)

 

You don’t need to get a dream or even a “feeling.” Rather, the istikhara is a prayer that Allah guide you towards that which is best (khayr) for you. If you do the prayer of guidance (istikhara) with the proper manners, the most important of which is to truly consign the matter to Allah and suspend your inclinations, then Allah will make events unfold in the direction that is the best for your worldly and next-worldly affairs.

 

When unable to offer salah

In general, when it is not possible to perform the istikhara prayer itself (such as when one is out on the road, or in one’s menstrual period), it is recommended to simply read the dua itself.

 

For even the smallest things

The great Hanafi scholar and hadith expert from Aleppo, Shaykh Abdullah Sirajal-Din mentions in his book on the virtues of prayer that it is the way of many Sufis, including Shaykh al-Akbar Muhiyyuddin Ibn al-Arabi (Allah sanctify his secret), to pray the istikhara prayer at the beginning of their day, after sunrise, asking Allah to guide them in general to all good and to keep away all evil from them.

 

Istikhara gives the best answer, for one’s worldly and religious life (not worldly life alone), when coupled with another essential Sunna: istishara (seeking sound counsel) of those worthy of being consulted and taking the sound means of assessing the situation at hand.

 

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

 

“So because (of) Mercy from Allah you dealt gently with them. And if you had been rude (and) harsh (at) [the] heart, surely they (would have) dispe from around you. Then pardon [from] them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. Then when you have decided, put trust on Allah. Indeed, Allah loves the ones who put trust (in Him.” (Surah Al-Imran 3:159)

 

Imam al-Nawawi mentioned that before the istikhara prayer, one should seek advice from those whose knowledge, wisdom, and concern one is confident. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and others mentioned that one of the benefits of this is to further distance oneself from the desires of one’s egotistic inclinations.

 

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

 

“So because (of) Mercy from Allah you dealt gently with them. And if you had been rude (and) harsh (at) [the] heart, surely they (would have) dispe from around you. Then pardon [from] them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. Then when you have decided, put trust on Allah. Indeed, Allah loves the ones who put trust (in Him.”  (Surah Al-Imran 3:159)

 

The istikhara prayer may be made for a specific matter or be made for a general seeking of all that is best. Some scholars, including Imam Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha`rani and Ibn `Arafah before him, saw this kind of istikhara prayer as being superior. Others, including Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi, recommended performing a general istikhara prayer for all that is good every day, ideally at the time of the Duha prayer (after sunrise).

 

وَمَا يَسْتَوِي الْأَعْمَىٰ وَالْبَصِيرُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَلَا الْمُسِيءُ قَلِيلًا مَّا تَتَذَكَّرُونَ

 

“And not (are) equal the blind and the seeing and those who believe and do righteous deeds and not the evildoer. Little (is) what you take heed.” (Surah Ghafir 40:58)

 

One should be pleased with what Allah chooses for one, and not seek to follow one’s whims after the answer to one’s supplication becomes clear. We ask Allah to give us beneficial knowledge, and the success to act upon it in the way most beloved to Him, on the footsteps of His beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).

 

Etiquettes of Istekhara Salah

From the sacred narration and revelations, the custom of offering Salah comprises two Raka’ah along with supplications in the end. The format and rituals include:

  1. Do Wudu before performing Salah to ward off Satan and to cleanse one’s self from worldly impurity.
  2. Choose a clean place and clothes entailing the elimination of worldly troubles from head reaffirming that Allah is the superior, omnipotent, and the sole solver of problems.
  3. Offer two Raka’ah with the intention of the particular matter for which you are going to offer the Nafal.
  4. Once done offering, supplicate and ask Allah’s guidance for the betterment of choices.

Common misconceptions about istikhara

  • Misconception 1: Istikhara is a prayer in matters of marriage
  • Misconception 2: The signs come in the form of dreams
  • Misconception 3: Istikhara is only for big decisions, not small matters
  • Misconception 4: A sinful person must ask a pious person to perform the prayer on his behalf

Delusions Regarding Istekhara

Humans are in a whim that Istekhara is for any matter be legal or illegal but this is the apparition intertwined to it or self-innovated concept. Istekhara is for Mubaah (legally permissible) acts rather for insignificant and Haraam purposes. Istekhara does not mean that a magic wand will fill hearts with the desires or fill hands with what you have yearned for. Istekhara allocates signs by either averting you from that task or unveiling folds of contentment upon the supplicant.

 

إِن يَنصُرْكُمُ اللَّهُ فَلَا غَالِبَ لَكُمْ وَإِن يَخْذُلْكُمْ فَمَن ذَا الَّذِي يَنصُرُكُم مِّن بَعْدِهِ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ

 

“If Allah helps you, then not (can) overcome [for] you, and if He forsakes you, then who (is) the one who can help you after Him? And on Allah – let the believers put (their).” (Surah Al-Imran 3:160)

 

It’s important to do this prayer with sincerity, knowing in our hearts that only Allah can give us the guidance we seek and resolved to follow the guidance He gives us, even if it clashes with our desires. We should also say the dua with firm conviction, not begging or pleading, but asking Allah clearly for guidance.

 

وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَسْتَكْبِرُونَ عَنْ عِبَادَتِي سَيَدْخُلُونَ جَهَنَّمَ دَاخِرِينَ

 

“And your Lord says, “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” Indeed, those who disdain My worship will enter Hell [rendered] contemptible.” (Surah Ghafir 40:60)

 

And we should not be impatient after our dua. We do not put Allah on a timetable. And we should not expect some sort of miracle, or a dream full of signs and symbols. These things are not necessary. We simply say our prayers and trust that Allah has heard us and will answer us in the best way.

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