How to make Istikharah
What is Istikharah?
The istikharah du’a is a supplication asking Allah for guidance on what is the best decision.
It is a beautiful du’a which the Prophet (peace be on him) taught us to seek goodness from Allah when you have a specific decision to make.
In the past, people used chance and superstitions to aid their decisions, such as casting lots or diving arrows, equivalent in our time to tossing a coin or rolling a dice. Allah Almighty forbid such forms of decision making.
O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone altars [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful. (5:90)
Often we have to make decisions which will impact our future and we want to make sure we choose the best option.
The Prophet (peace be on him) used to teach his companions how to do istikharah as he taught them the Quran, which shows its importance.
Jaabir (may Allah be pleased with him) said the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) used to teach his companions to make istikharah in all matters, just as he used to teach them surahs from the Quran. (Bukhari)
Method of praying istikhara
If you are seeking guidance for an important matter, pray two rakahs nafil (preferably before going to bed) with the intention of istikhara, and then recite the istikharah du’a.
Some scholars say that one should recite Surat al Kafirun in the first rakah and Surat al Ikhlas in the second rakah, but scholars of hadith state there are some weak narrations on this, but no strong authentic narrations on this, therefore, one may recite any short surah during these rakahs, as one would do with any other salah.
Can you recite the du’a after two rakahs of sunnah?
You can recite the du’a after two rakahs of sunnah salah which you did not dedicate specifically for the du’a, but it is better to dedicate the two rakahs as both the sunnah and istikhara at the same time, (with dual intention).
The istikharah du’a
The Prophet (peace be on him) said: ‘If any one of you is deliberating about a decision he has to make, then let him pray two rakahs of non-obligatory prayer, then say:
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 به.
Allâhumma inni astakhiruka bi ilmika wa astaqdiruka biqudratika wa as’aluka min fadlikal-azimi, fa innaka taqdiru walâ aqdiru wa ta’lamu walâ a’lamu wa anta allamul ghuyubi. Allâhumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra khayrun li fi dini wa ma-ashi wa aqibati amri faqdir-hu li wa yassir-hu li thumma barik li fihi wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra sharrun li fi dini wa maâshi wa aqibati amri fasrifhu anni wasrifni anhu waqdir liyal-khayra haythu kâna thumma ardini bih.
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 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 with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then decree it for me, facilitate it for me, and grant me blessing in it. And if You know that this matter is not good for me with regard to 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. (Bukhari)
Linguistic meaning of istikharah
Istikharah means seeking goodness and guidance, which is talabul khiyara. Isti means ‘seeking’ (talab), and khayr, which means goodness. Similarly, we have words like istaghfirah means ‘seeking forgiveness’, istatafa seeking kindness.
When istikharah can and cannot be used
When you are unsure which permissible option to choose, you can use istikharah.
Istikharah cannot be used to decide whether to fulfil an obligation or not. Nor can it be used to make a decision that is haram. For instance, you cannot make the istikharah du’a to ask if you should be good to your parents or not, as it is compulsory to be good to them. Or to ask if you should pray the sunnah, as this is something you should do. Or to go to the nightclub, as you are not permitted to go there.
However, you can do the istikharah to decide the best timing for something you have to do, such as whether you should you go for Hajj this year?
You can also use istikharah when you are not clear, within the permissible arena, which option to take, such as which marriage proposal to accept, or which job to apply for or accept, or whether to start a project, or make an investment, which is halal.
Can you make istikharah for multiple decisions?
Yes, you can do one du’a and list all the matters you would like guidance for.
This du’a asks Allah Almighty to choose the best option for us, and facilitate what is best. For He has comprehensive knowledge, and power and immense bounty, whereas we do not. Once you insert the matter that you are seeking the outcome for, you ask Allah to decree the best outcome for you, make it easy and bless it for you. You also ask Allah Almighty to turn away the matter if it is not good for you, your dunya and akhirah. Finally you ask for contentment for the decision.
Try to be neutral
Having contentment is not easy, especially when you have made up your mind. Many of us have been told to do to istikharah with neutral intention. The reality, however, is that more than 90% of the time we are not neutral about the choices. More often than not, we are inclined towards something, but ticking the box. Is this the right way to do istikharah? No. Of course it is difficult to remove your feelings from the options and to erect a barrier between you and your feelings. Nevertheless, train yourself to put aside your emotions and ask Allah Almighty to choose what is best for you. This is the sunnah way.
How many times should you repeat istikharah?
There is no authentic narration. There is a weak narration that you should do it 7 times, but you should keep repeating it until you take your decision.
You can pray the du’a as often as you want. The more you make it, the clearer the answer will be.
For more complex issues, you can pray it daily til the matter becomes clear.
The choice is based on what is good for you in your deen primarily, that is why you asked for khayrun li fi deeni first, then wa ma-ashi and wa aqibati amri – your akhirah. What you like might be not best for you and your akhirah.
We can be inclined towards the wrong thing, but our nafs and desire pull us in that direction. On the surface something can seem appealing, but often our knowledge is as shallow as the surface. That is why we go back to Allah, who knows best. It might appear good but we do not know what is beyond the surface; if you have a proposal, is it the sweet face you have seen or the mask? Beg Allah to facilitate the best.
Are dreams necessary?
How do you know the answer to the du’a? How do you know if it worked? In popular culture you have to see a dream and the answer comes in a dream. I can assure you the dream is not a requirement. In general men keep their ‘videos’ off and women are keen on finding meanings to their dreams!
If you saw no dream, does it mean the istikharah did not work? No. No. No. The dream is not the validity or approval of the istikharah. If you saw a dream or vision don’t jump to conclusions or guess.
Dream interpretation is specialised science which Allah Almighty granted the Prophet ﷺ . After Fajr from time to time, he would face his audience and ask them their dreams, and he would allow Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him to interpret them) and he trained him in this.
Don’t try and interpret your dreams unless the meaning is very clear.
Be cautious about judging based on feelings
Imam Nawawi wrote about how to understand the result of an istikharah. He said that you should not assume that if you feel contented with an option that it is the right option, because the chances are you were already inclined towards that result before the istikharah. Then you prayed the istikharah and felt content with it, so you wrongly presumed it was a sign. Instead, beg Allah Almighty to choose for you. The whole exercise is that you are putting the mater in Allah’s hands.
Being blinded by emotion
When we pray and ask Allah Almighty for something, He might show us the way, but we are too involved in our emotions to see the reality, and we can miss what He showed us.
Abu Darda’ narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said:
Your love for a thing causes blindness and deafness. (Abu Dawoud)
If you do not take a step back from your emotions, you will fall into this trap.
Sometimes we want something so much, we ignore the warning signs about it. It does happen that something which seemed brilliant at the time turned out to be a disaster. You cannot see into the future, and something that was round the corner and not evident when you were making your decision, could turn what seemed like the best option into the worst option.
Can you make istikharah after you have taken a decision?
You can. But it is better to have a neutral intention before. You might feel that an option is good, but your knowledge is less than His and your power is less than His. We refer to Him to choose what is best for us.
If you are undecided after your research and you have a deadline what should you do?
Sometimes you have done everything and things are going smoothly, so you should proceed until your path becomes blocked.
Sometimes you keep trying to do something and your path doesn’t unblock, then that’s your sign.
If you can’t decide between the two, and both options are good and halal with good potential outcomes, choose the one which is more sensible. Allah Almighty will block it or facilitate it depending on what is best for you.
‘Istikharah didn’t work!’
Many people say they did istikharah and it didn’t work. What went wrong? Did they do their checks and market research or did they only do istikharah?
Or it may be that they did everything possible, felt at ease and then the result was a complete failure. Was the istikharah at fault? No. It worked, but not in the way you expected. Wait and see. Through this experience Allah Almighty makes you a stronger person, without this experience you wouldn’t be able to build a stronger company or better relations or have a better approach. Without the experience you had, you would not be the person that you are.
The result of istikharah may not be to your liking – but it is best for you
Istikharah asks Allah Almighty to choose what is good for us, and that can be the bitter medicine we did not want. Yet the bitter medicine was what we needed for our own good. It was better for us than the sweet that we wanted.
The best example is the Treaty of Hudabiya which the Prophet ﷺ signed with the Quraysh when he and his companions were on their way to perform umrah. Their emotions were highly charged. They were psyched up for it, so the bitter disappointment of not being able to complete it and returning back to Madinah was a very bitter experience. Moreover they had to return back their brothers who had become Muslim to Makkah, where they were being persecuted. It was a painful experience, but the Prophet ﷺ kept saying ‘Trust Allah.’ In fact, it turned out that this treaty was the turning point in their history. 99% of them hated the treaty and no one was prepared to listen to the Prophet ﷺ, they even refused initially to slaughter their animals. Yet it was the best thing for them in the long run.
Life is not about being wrapped in cotton wool, and never experiencing difficulties or unpleasantness.
It may be that you make istikharah and do everything that you were supposed to, but the outcome is bitter.
Life is not always rosy. Therefore, it may be that someone does istikharah, and their marriage still ends in divorce. It does not mean the istikharah was wrong. This could be because there was a lesson in your experiences and a growth that you would not have achieved otherwise.
Ask for satisfaction
This is why we ask Allah Almighty to facilitate the good for us and also give us contentment. If you are not satisfied inside, you are filled with remorse and fighting internal battles, whipping yourself and replaying bad memories. Ask Allah to give you rida (contentment). Then you have tranquility and peace. This du’a is so important to understand.
Ask Allah Almighty from the bottom of your heart to choose the best for you. Whatever it is. And give you contentment with this. If you do not have this rida it will be very painful.
Sa’d narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
From (the signs of) the son of Adam’s prosperity, is his satisfaction with what Allah decreed for him, and from the son of Adam’s misery is his avoiding to request guidance from Allah, and from the son of Adam’s misery is his anger with what Allah decreed for him. (Tirmidhi)
Can you recite the istikharah if you don’t have a particular matter to decide as a daily du’a?
The istikharah du’a is for specific guidance on a matter, not a general du’a.
How to interpret the answer
Imam Nawawi wrote about how to understand the result. He said assume that if you feel contented with an option it is the right option, because it may be that you were already inclined towards that result before the istikharah and then you prayed the istikharah and felt content with it, so you wrongly presume that is a sign. Instead, beg Allah Almighty to choose for you. The whole exercise is that you are putting the mater in Allah’s hands.
The choice is based on what is good for you in your deen primarily, that is why you asked for khayrun li fi dini first, then wa ma-ashi and wa aqibati amri – your akhirah. What you like might be not best for you and your akhirah. We can be inclined towards the wrong thing, but our nafs and desire pull us in that direction. On the surface something can seem appealing, but often our knowledge is as shallow as the surface. That is why we go back to Allah, who knows best. It might appear good but we do not know what is beyond the surface, if you have a proposal is it the sweet face you have seen or the mask? Beg Allah to facilitate the best.
What are the signs?
The main sign is that you feel ease in your chest towards one of the options. You find things go smoothly. There are no obstacles. Or you might see a vision which shows you the way.
When you do istikharah, then you have to rely on Allah Almighty and not on your feeling.
Remember that you have to do your homework. If it is a business or investment, check it out thoroughly – is it a reliable company? Is it registered with the FCA? Does it have a good reputation? Do whatever it takes to ensure you are making the right decision. If it is concerning marriage do the background work as much as possible.
You have to do your bit in the ‘seen’ side. No one can go beyond the unseen, but the istikharah completes the unseen part for you. You can’t leave the seen part and then ask Allah Almighty to choose for you. This is wrong.
They go together. You don’t separate them.
Can you use istikharah for divorce?
You may use the istikharah for divorce. After taking the details from husband and wife and hearing both sides, I usually advise them not to rush into any decision but to do istikharah and ask Allah to guide them to do what is good.
Ask for satisfaction
We ask Allah Almighty to facilitate the good for us and give us contentment. If you are not satisfied inside, you are filled with remorse and internal battles and whipping yourself and replaying bad memories. Ask Allah to give you rida (contentment). Then you have tranquility and peace. This du’a is so important to understand.
Dodgy cultural Istikharah practices
There are some cultural practices which people do. They do not pray 2 rakahs, but they open the mushaf (copy of the Quran) and use chance to make the decision depending what page and line they find at random.
There is even an app which does this as well. You download it and it is called istikharah ghaybiyya. You open the mushaf and count 7 lines and then 7 words and you get the meaning and accordingly you decide whether to do it or not. This is completely unacceptable innovation (biddah). This is not the sunnah. This is Jahiliya. Even if it was done using the Quran. It is sinful. We do not invent ways in the deen, otherwise our deen will become a mish mash of culture and myth.
Some people do istikharah by counting on a tasbih – ‘yes go ahead’ or ‘no don’t’. I saw this on an Urdu TV satellite channel where the pir does this for people who call in. and they charge money for the call. Anything against the Quran and Sunnah, is not right. Do not do anything against the shariah.
Ask Allah Almighty from the bottom of your heart to choose the best for you.
Can I recite the du’a in English?
Yes, though it is a good idea to memorise this du’a as it is
If you want to know the way forward but you don’t have two things to choose can you still make the du’a?
If you are confused about something, or need direction or clarity on any matter that is causing you confusion, istikharah is the best means to ask Allah for His guidance. Accordingly, Allah Almighty will facilitate the right way for you.
Is the istikharah du’a only for big decisions or can we use it for small matters as well?
You can make this du’a continuously for any matter where you are seeking goodness and clarity. Sometimes we are hesitant and a bit obsessive about making decisions, that is not good. However we can use the istikharah du’a for all matters that concern us.
Can I make istikharah for a matter that I need to make an urgent decision about?
You can make istikharah for help in making quick decisions, as well as longer more complicated matters.
Does repeating the istikharah du’a expedite the matter?
Praying the istikharah du’a repeatedly does not necessarily means the answer to your du’a will come faster, as the timing of the answer will be in accordance with what is best for you in Allah Almighty’s wisdom.
Though the answer will not always come when you would like it, remember that no du’a is ever wasted or futile. And we must never lose hope that Allah Almighty will respond.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
The du’a of any one of you will be answered so long as he is not impatient and says ‘I made du’a but it was not answered’. (Bukhari and Muslim)
If I am an indecisive person should I just pray istikharah and go with my instinct?
Istikharah doesn’t mean you have no responsibility and the answer comes down to you by parachute. You have to do your research into the matter and keep making the du’a in the background until you have a clear answer. It is not about following a hunch. It is about asking questions and make an informed decision using your intellect (aql) along with the du’a.
If I feel uncertain something is right, is that the answer to an istikharah that it is the wrong thing to do?
Sometimes we fear the unknown and we feel doubt, but this is not a genuine feeling. We may be feeling a bit anxious because we are entering new territory and we have a hesitation in us. This is psychological not spiritual, doubt.
Even if you want to buy something new, you might be unsure whether to buy it in case something better comes along after it.
If it is related to marriage, and you feel someone is a nice person, until you discover more things about them, don’t go with a gut feeling alone. You need to have substance to back up the feeling. You might see that the person is not practicing in their deen or temperamental or you might see that they are generous or accommodating. Use your aql as well istikharah.
If you are doing istikharah for marriage, should you do it before you are introduced to someone to decide whether to meet them after you have got to know someone and you are making the decision to marry someone, when it becomes serious?
If you are trying to find someone to marry, sitting at home and making istikharah will not bring your spouse to your Don’t sit back and wait for a sign what to do. You should contact the person you are introduced to, and take it from there. You need to meet people and do your research.
If you are considering someone, keep meeting them until you feel satisfied or dissatisfied. Then you will be clear whether they are the right person or wrong person.
Keep trying until you hit a brick wall. Try, discover and explore, until you have a clear answer. That is the answer to your istikharah.
Can you make istikharah on behalf of someone else? Or can you ask someone to make istikharah for you?
It’s a disagreed upon matter; the majority opinion that you can only do istikharah for yourself, because there is no evidence that allows delegating istikharah to anyone.
The other opinion says you do it for yourself and for others and their evidence is the following hadith:
Jaabir ibn ‘Abdullah reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:
He who amongst you is able to benefit his brother should do that. (Muslim)
Accordingly you can make istikharah for others or ask a pious person to make the du’a for you. This does not mean that you or they will see a dream or a vision with the right answer. It means that certain options may open or close for you which lead to the best outcome. And you might see a dream but it’s not a condition for the validity of Istikharah.
Should I consult others?
Remember that istisharah is a good combination with istikharah. Istisharah is asking for advice from people who have good wisdom, experience and understanding of the topic you are making a decision about.
Can I only make istikharah if I am not already inclined to an option?
People often say that you should only make the istikharah du’a if you are impartial and not inclined to either choice that you are seeking the guidance on. However, you can make du’a even if you have a preference.
Is it wrong to go against the istikharah?
If you do your istikharah, for instance in deciding if someone is suitable for you in marriage, and you see that he/she is not the right person, but you like them and you decide to go ahead regardless, then it is your choice and you bear the consequences of it.
Can a woman make the istikharah if she is on her period?
Yes, she can make the du’a even though she cannot pray.
Du’a for guidance
Another good du’a for asking Allah’s guidance is:
اللَّهُمَّ رَحْمَتَكَ أَرْجُو فَلا تَكِلْنِي إِلَى نَفْسِي طَرْفَةَ عَيْن، ٍ وَأَصْلِحْ لِي شَأْنِي كُلَّهُ لا إِلَهََ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ.
O Allah, it is Your mercy that I hope for, so do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of an eye and rectify for me all of my affairs. None has the right to be worshipped except You. (Abu Dawood)
January 15, 2021
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