When it comes to important decisions, everyone feels a bout of indecisiveness once in a while. Many Muslims believe that the answer to this is ‘Istikhaara’ (A prayer of 2 rak’ah followed by a specific supplication). They think that once they have performed Istikhaara, Allah will guide them to make the right decision.
This may be through changing how they feel about the issue. It may even entail them seeing a dream which guides them or a sign in their everyday lives which sways them one way or the other. These people believe this because it is an idea propagated by the clergy. Based upon these incorrect beliefs, some ask those who are deemed to be pious to perform the Istikhaara for them so Allah can guide them through these human mediums!
There are many misconceptions about Istikhaara out there and they all stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. Due to Muslims following the opinions of the clergy, popular belief is that ‘Istikhaara’ is ‘asking for Allah’s guidance to make a decision’ when in fact it is not.
So, what exactly is ‘Istikhaara’?
As usual, let us look to the actual evidence. The concept of Istikhaara is based upon a hadith from Jabir bin Abdullah in the collection of Sahih Bukhari (There are other collectors with the same hadith also).
حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنُ أَبِي الْمَوَالِي، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْمُنْكَدِرِ، عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ قَالَ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يُعَلِّمُنَا الاِسْتِخَارَةَ فِي الأُمُورِ كَمَا يُعَلِّمُنَا السُّورَةَ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ يَقُولُ ” إِذَا هَمَّ أَحَدُكُمْ بِالأَمْرِ فَلْيَرْكَعْ رَكْعَتَيْنِ مِنْ غَيْرِ الْفَرِيضَةِ ثُمَّ لِيَقُلِ 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 ـ أَوْ قَالَ عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ ـ فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ، وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي ـ أَوْ قَالَ فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ ـ فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ، وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي بِهِ ـ قَالَ ـ وَيُسَمِّي حَاجَتَهُ “.
Narrated Jabir bin `Abdullah:
The Prophet (p.b.u.h) used to teach us the way of doing Istikhara, in all matters as he taught us the Suras of the Qur’an. He said, “If anyone of you wants/endeavours to do any matter, he should offer a two rak`at prayer other than the compulsory ones and say (after the prayer): — ‘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.’ (O Allah! I ask good 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.
The word verb ‘هَمَّ’ is paramount here. It is often translated as ‘thinks’ and the complete phrase as “The Prophet said, ‘if any one of you thinks of a matter/issue, he should offer 2 rak’ah and then say…’. In other words, this is why many Muslims will argue that when one is ‘thinking’ about which decision he/she will make, he/she should ask Allah for guidance so the correct decision is taken. However, if we examine the Quran for the meaning of the word, it is clear that it does not mean ‘thinks’.
For example in Surah Al Ma’idah, verse 11:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَتَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ هَمَّ قَوْمٌ أَن يَبْسُطُواْ إِلَيْكُمْ أَيْدِيَهُمْ فَكَفَّ أَيْدِيَهُمْ عَنكُمْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
‘O you who have attained to faith! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when [hostile] people endeavoured/wanted to lay hands on you and He stayed their hands from you. Remain, then, conscious of God: and in God let the believers place their trust.’
Obviously, the hostile nation were not just thinking about it. They were not in a state of indecision – they had decided to do it but Allah stopped them.
Likewise, in Surah An Nisaa’, verse 113:
وَلَوْلاَ فَضْلُ اللّهِ عَلَيْكَ وَرَحْمَتُهُ لَهَمَّت طَّآئِفَةٌ مُّنْهُمْ أَن يُضِلُّوكَ وَمَا يُضِلُّونَ إِلاُّ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَمَا يَضُرُّونَكَ مِن شَيْءٍ وَأَنزَلَ اللّهُ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَعَلَّمَكَ مَا لَمْ تَكُنْ تَعْلَمُ وَكَانَ فَضْلُ اللّهِ عَلَيْكَ عَظِيمًا
And but for God’s favour upon thee and His grace, a group of them would indeed endeavour to lead thee astray; yet none but themselves do they lead astray. Nor can they harm thee in any way, since God has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ and [given thee] wisdom, and has imparted unto thee the knowledge of what thou didst not know. And God’s favour upon thee is tremendous indeed.
So, when the Prophet introduced ‘Istikhaara’ to the companions, he told them that, ‘if any of you wants something, to perform the Istikhaara’.
In other words, the decision is the individual’s BEFORE he/she performs the Istikhaara.
Now, onto what ‘Istikhaara’ actually means. Some claim it means ‘to ask for guidance on a matter’ yet, if you look at the words of the supplication – it is evident that ‘Istikhaara’ is asking for the good of a matter/decision you have taken.
Lastly, in terms of the after effects. There will be no signs, dreams or messages through mediums. The Istikhaara is testimony to the fact that one has faith and trust in Allah.
So, make your decision, perform Istikhaara and then, get on with the rest of your life knowing that Allah will give you what you want if it is good for you.