Amongst the many gifts our Creator has bestowed upon us, the Salatul-Istikhara (The Istikhara Prayer) stands among them. The word Istikhara originates from the Arabic root word of Khair, which is an umbrella word connotating all that is good. Istikhara stems from a verb pattern that means ‘to seek that which is good’ The term Istikhara means ‘to look for Allah’s Guidance, Wisdom, Support, Supervision, Consultation, Goodness, and Blessings.’
When a Muslim is confused about how to resolve a matter, he can ask for Allah, the Glorious, to Aid him by reciting the Istikhara prayer. Salat al-Istikhara is a powerful tool that God the Most-Merciful, the Compassionate, has given his slaves so that they can seek His Guidance and Wisdom in all matters of life–whether big or small. For instance, one can pray the Istikhara prayer to seek God’s advice about whether they should relocate for school or work, if they should accept a marriage proposal, or if they should buy a particular car or house. The Istikhara Prayer is a Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that he recommended and performed. Several myths and misconceptions surround the Istikhara Prayer (Salatul-Istikhara in Arabic) and many do not have a full understanding of the prayer.
The prayer is performed simply. Whenever one faces a decision, he or she first would need to do their part by researching possible solutions to their quandary. They should put their intellect and rationale to work, assessing the circumstances to their best of ability. One then should seek sound counsel from others that are knowledgeable, wise, trustworthy, and genuine, and who are worthy of consultation on the very issue. One should use his or her God-given intellect to weigh all available options, reflecting and pondering all gathered research and advice to determine the best possible outcome.
Once one determines how to move forward on the issue, he would then pray 2-units (Rakat) of voluntary prayer, which should not be counted as part of the five obligatory prayers of the day. It’s important to note, one should not pray Istikhara until he has chosen the course of action he plans to take regarding the matter. The prayer he performs would be similar to any other traditional prayer. One must make wudu (ablution) in a clean, pure state, dressed appropriately and facing the Qibla (in the direction of Kabah, God’s House here on Earth, in modern-day Saudi Arabia). It is always recommended to seek God’s Forgiveness and Mercy at the beginning of the prayer, especially if you consistently commit sins.
After completing 2-units of prayer, one would recite a supplication taught to us by our final prophet, Muhammad, peace, and blessings be upon him. If one has not memorized the dua (supplication prayer), he can read it from a piece of paper. It is to be recited in the Arabic language, just as our Prophet taught us; yet if one is new to Islam or cannot read Arabic, then one can read the transliteration.
During the supplication, a moment arrives where the one praying would name the question or decision he faces–and in any language of his liking. While it’s best to state the matter verbally, one also can think or visualize their need in their mind.
When one is praying or supplicating the Istikhara, he is asking God the Almighty as to whether or not he should move forward with a particular matter. If the Divine answer is yes, that the person should move forward with a certain option because it would benefit him in his religion, this world, and in the next world, then one is asking God in his supplication to carve an easy path that will allow him to facilitate this decision.
If the Divine answer is not to go with the asker’s proposed solution to the matter, then the one praying is asking God to create a barrier between him and the matter at hand; to remove him from the situation. Additionally, the one praying is asking God to remove the love of his choice from his heart, thus preventing him from pursuing that option.
Many harbor the misconception that the answer they seek will come in a dream or a vision, or that the answer will appear magically to them. While that is possible, the Divine response will not necessarily arrive in the form of a dream. Furthermore, one does not need to make the prayer at bedtime. The prayer can be given at any time of the day, besides the 3 basic times of the day when people are encouraged not to pray.
The Istkhara Prayer is not mean to change or play with one’s emotions necessarily; yet in answering the prayer, God might place an inclination in one’s heart that will guide him to go through with the action He chose for them, enabling them to feel a sense of peace and contentment with their decision. On the contrary, the one that gets a negative response may feel doubtful, apprehensive, and averse to moving forward with their matter. The main way that God answers the prayer is by clearing the right path while closing all other avenues. If the Divine answer was no, then one might oversleep that day, suffer a flat tire on their vehicle, experience the rejection of their marriage proposal, or encounter another circumstance that blocks the path they initially chose. One should lookout for signs that lead them in the right direction.
It’s imperative for the one seeking an answer to say this prayer with the utmost sincerity and belief, knowing in his or her heart that God, and Only God, the Knower of all things, the Knower of the seen and the unseen, can aid him and provide him the answer he seeks.
It is also important to note that the one seeking an answer needs to await the answer patiently, as our Prophet peace be upon him stated that the supplication of everyone is granted providing that they do not show haste and do not assume that the supplication made was not accepted. The Istikhara prayer must be made by the individual seeking the answer and cannot be made by someone else on their behalf.
One cannot pray Salat al-Istikharah for that which is forbidden, for instance asking if one may eat pork, drink alcohol, etc. No one can pray Salat al-Istikharah to ask if they should perform obligatory action; for instance, to ask if they should pray their dawn prayer tomorrow.
Furthermore, those who feel that they have lapsed in their faith, thus denying them an answer to their prayer and supplication, need to realize that Allah, the Most-Merciful, the Compassionate, is accessible and near to all. Even the greatest of sinners can return to God and ask for His help, and He will respond. God states:
“Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful” (Quran 39:53)
And God the Almighty states:
“And said your Lord, ‘Call upon Me; I will respond to you. Indeed, those who (are) proud to worship Me will enter Hell (in) humiliation’” (Quran 40:60)
According to a narration from our Prophet peace be upon him, he stated: ‘Verily your Lord is Generous and Shy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty” (Abu Dawood)
If you do not feel that your prayer has been answered, this could mean that God the Glorious might want you to continue asking for His Divine Guidance and Assistance; so, continue in your supplication and never give up hope. You can pray the Istikhara prayer repeatedly until you feel confident and comfortable.
Regarding the Hadith narration from Prophet Muhmmad peace be upon him in which we draw our knowledge about Salatul-Istikhara, it was narrated by Jabir bin Abdullah may God be pleased with him:
“The Messenger of Allah used to teach his Companions to perform Istikharah in all matters, just as he used to teach them Surahs from the Qur’an. He said: ‘If anyone of you is deliberating about a decision he has to make, then let him pray two Rak’ahs of non-obligatory prayer, then say:
‘O Allah, I seek Your guidance (in making a choice) by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power, I have none. And You know, I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things. O Allah, if in Your knowledge, this matter (then it should be mentioned by name) is good for me in my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge it is bad for me and my religion, my livelihood, and my affairs, then turn it away from me and turn me away from it and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased with it.’”
“ إِذَا هَمَّ أَحَدُكُمْ بِالأَمْرِ فَلْيَرْكَعْ رَكْعَتَيْنِ مِنْ غَيْرِ الْفَرِيضَةِ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ ‘اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَعِينُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلاَ أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلاَ أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلاَّمُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي – أَوْ قَالَ فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ – فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي – أَوْ قَالَ فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ – فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي بِهِ – قَالَ – وَيُسَمِّي حَاجَتَهُ ”
Regardless of the outcome of your prayer inquiry, realize that it was the will of God, the All-Wise. Do not regret your decision afterward, as doing so would be to doubt God’s Wisdom and Guidance. One should simply say Bismillah (in the name of Allah) and go forth with the decision. One should not seek to follow one’s whims, desires, and one’s own egotistic inclinations after the answer to one’s supplication become clear. And realize, my dear brother or sister, God knows what is best for you. You might find something good in what you initially perceive as bad, and bad in what you perceive as good.
“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you, and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not” (Quran 2:216)
Perhaps a matter can be beneficial for someone in this world, but detrimental for one in the next world. This is why we leave the decisions to the Almighty, as He Knows Best and we do not.