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The word Istikhara استخارة comes from root words خ-ي-ر in Arabic language. The 10th feminine verbal noun (إِسْتَفْعَلَ) of that root is إِسْتَخْارَة (The tenth form usually reflects the meaning of “someone seeking something”). Hence in this case – (human beings) seeking KHAIR (goodness, prosperity, guidance, blessings etc.) from Allah. Khayr is an umbrella word that represents all that which is good.
Narrated Jabir bin `Abdullah: “The Prophet (p.b.u.h) used to teach us the way of doing Istikhara (Istikhara means to ask Allah to guide one to the right sort of action concerning any job or a deed), in all matters as he taught us the Suras of the Qur’an…” [Bukhari]
Ideally, You should first do your own research, consult wise/knowledgeable people in that matter and seek advice of related people around (especially if it’s a big decision like marriage, job, investment etc.). Shoora (consultation) is an important part of a community. There’s a whole Surah (42) in the Qur’an named – سورة الشورى
“…and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah . Indeed, Allah loves those who rely .” [3:159]
and when you have narrowed down your options, it’s time for Salat-ul-istikhara! (Although dua is an important part of narrowing down your options as well).
How to Do Istikhara?
The method of performing istikhara is extremely simple:
1) Offer 2 rak`at prayer (nafl/supererogatory):
(continuation of the above hadith)
“…He said, “If anyone of you thinks of doing any job he should offer a two rak`at prayer other than the compulsory ones and say (after the prayer)…” [Bukhari]
2) Make Istikhara Dua (as per Sunnah):
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ 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 فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ، وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ، وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي بِهِ
‘Allahumma inni astakhiruka bi’ilmika, Wa astaqdiruka bi-qudratika, Wa as’alaka min fadlika Al-`azlm Fa-innaka taqdiru Wala aqdiru, Wa ta’lamu Wala a’lamu, Wa anta ‘allamu l-ghuyub. Allahumma, in kunta ta’lam anna hadha-lamra Khairun li fi dini wa ma’ashi wa’aqibati `Amri (or ‘ajili `Amri wa’ajilihi) Faqdirhu wa yas-sirhu li thumma barik li Fihi, Wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hadha-lamra shar-run li fi dini wa ma’ashi wa’aqibati `Amri (or fi’ajili `Amri wa ajilihi) Fasrifhu anni was-rifni anhu. Waqdir li al-khaira haithu kana Thumma ardini bihi.’ [Bukhari]
NOTE: memorize the istikhara dua by downloading this audio file (free) and listening to it on repeat till you learn it by heart in shaa Allah.
(O Allah! I ask guidance from Your knowledge, And Power from Your Might and I ask for Your great blessings. You are capable and I am not. You know and I do not and You know the unseen. O Allah! If You know that this job is good for my religion and my subsistence and in my Hereafter–(or said: If it is better for my present and later needs)–Then You ordain it for me and make it easy for me to get, And then bless me in it, and if You know that this job is harmful to me In my religion and subsistence and in the Hereafter–(or said: If it is worse for my present and later needs)–Then keep it away from me and let me be away from it. And ordain for me whatever is good for me, And make me satisfied with it). The Prophet (ﷺ) added that then the person should name (mention) his need.” [Bukhari]
(Istikhara Dua by Mishari Alafasy with transliteration and translation)
More resources on the topic: Bilal Philips – Understanding Istikhara
3) Mention your Need:
“…The Prophet (ﷺ) added that then the person should name (mention) his need…” [Bukhari]
If you don’t know Arabic, it may be sufficient to think of the matter whilst making this dua – although you can state your matter in your own language too later on – just like any other dua! (in another narration (Bukhari), it is also stated that the person making this dua can mention his need in the middle – as shown in this hadith).
4) Make a Decision/ Act upon It:
- If you feel content and things are naturally unfolding in that direction, say bismillah and go for it! May Allah put barakah in it for you!
- If you don’t feel confident and things are constantly going against the flow, it’s time to change directions. As simple as that!
- If you still feel confused, repeat the prayer whenever you want (except while the sun is rising, when the sun is at its peak (which lasts for a minute or so), and the setting of the sun – when we are told not to pray). You may continue to pray Istikhara until you have found a resolution.
I attended an Islamic course on marriage “Home Sweet Home” by Al-Kawthar Institute and Sh.Alaa Elsayed said that I wouldn’t recommend depending on the condition of your heart alone because it’s not a tangible result really. So look for roadblocks in your way. If things go towards difficulty, it may be a sign that this isn’t the best option for you. If things start becoming easier, then it may be a sign that this can bring more khair for you in the future too if Allah willed.
How to NOT Do Istikhara?
Now the question is – how to NOT do istikhara (Because how to do it is pretty clear from the hadith):
1) Asking someone else to do istikhara for you:
You do NOT have to ask a scholar or any righteous person to do istikhara for you! The wordings of istikhara surrounds the word “I” – If someone else would be doing it, they’ll be asking for their khair in that matter (And if that person is not a part of that decision, it makes them irrelevant in the matter). If your family or anyone else is involved in the matter (situations where one decision affects multiple people), they can do it too! But it’s YOU who needs to do it basically!
There is no religious verification for having someone else do istikharah for you. You are good enough to talk to Allah. Allah is just as available and just as accessible to the sinful person as He is to the most righteous and pious person. All of us have access to Allah alhamdulillah. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“…indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me…[2:186]
2) Waiting for a dream or something supernatural as a sign:
You do NOT have to wait for a dream! Dreams do have interpretations indeed – but if you’re not qualified to interpret them (and VERY few people ACTUALLY are), no need to dig deep then! You can’t say if the dream is just a part of your subconscious or glad tiding from Allah or just something from Shaitaan! The dua says – “…make it easy for me to get…” – so if it’s causing more difficulties than ease, perhaps that’s a sign instead!
Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Dreams are of three types: (1) Glad tidings from Allah, (2) what is on a person’s mind, and (3) frightening dreams from Satan. If any of you sees a dream that he likes, let him tell others of it if he wishes, but if he sees something that he dislikes, he should not tell anyone about it, and he should get up and perform prayer.” [Ibn Majah]
Istikharah is not a means of discovering the ‘ghaib’ (unseen), but rather a humble supplication unto the Knower of the unseen, the Most Powerful, to bestow the best. Our responsibility is to make du’a, and then proceed in the direction of His choice, as that will be best for us in shaa Allah.
3) Doing istikhara for the matters that have no doubt in them:
You can NOT do istikhara for the known matters – matters that are waajib (obligatory) or mustahabb (liked or encouraged), there is no need for istikhaarah to decide whether to do them, and with regard to matters that are haraam (forbidden) or makrooh (disliked), there is no need for istikhaarah to decide whether to avoid them. The issue of istikhaarah is confined to matters that are mubaah (allowed), or in mustahabb matters when there is a decision to be made as to which one should be given priority.
It refers to both great and small matters – you don’t only have to do istikhara for marriage purposes! Istikhara can be performed for life’s small decisions, big decisions, and even for general guidance in your life – probably an insignificant issue could form the groundwork for a big issue. (I mean I personally learned the istikhara dua and sometimes even end up making this dua while standing in the shop indecisive as to buy so and so or no (the dua can be made without the nawafil too if the situation doesn’t allow praying at that moment but making the dua after nawafil is the most preferred option and the actual sunnah).
4) Doing extra things that are not mentioned in the sunnah:
- There is no extra special sūrah that should be recited in the first or second rak’ah.
- There are no specific amount of days for istikhara. You can keep making dua of istikhara till you see apparent signs from Allah in the form of difficulty or ease.
- You do not have to be quiet after istikhara and sleep right away. Although remembrance of Allah can help you declutter your mind for better clarity!
- You do not have to add more words in an already-complete dua.
Istikharah is a very powerful tool that should be performed with utmost belief and sincerity that Allah will guide towards the best only. The purpose of Istikharah is not to plead Allah for a certain wish but to ask him for guidance. So, when you take a particular decision after Istikharah and it doesn’t turn out well in the long run, never blame Allah. It may be a blessing in disguise. He is the one with infinite wisdom and when He tests us with a situation and takes something that we thought was good for us, have faith in Him. As Allah says in the Quran:
“…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.” [2:216]
(A page from our Productivity Journal for Muslims)