Why Do We Pray Istikhara Prayer (صلاة الاستخارة)?
This prayer is prescribed because a believer comes across numerous choices in his/her life that leaves him/her puzzled and uncertain about which choice to make. This may lead him/her to be unable to make a decision due to fear of making the wrong choice. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised the believers to use this prayer as a form of seeking guidance from Allah on the matter. The specific supplication (du’a) prescribed by the Prophet (pbuh) asks Allah to guide the decision of the person to whatever is good for him/her in this life and the afterlife.
In brief, it is done by first doing the research and consulting with the people of experience and expertise on the subject. Then the person makes a decision on the matter that he/she feels is most suitable for him/her, and it gives comfort to his/her heart that it is the right decision. It is at this time that the person will pray the Istikhara prayer, before embarking on it, requesting Allah to either bless him/her in the decision if it is good for him/her or keep him/her away from the decision if it is the opposite.
Meaning of the Word Istikhara
Linguistically, it comes from the root word khaara (خار) which means to choose from good and the best. Thus, istikhara means seeking good and the best in something. It was also said that it comes from the root istakhara (استخار) which means to seek guidance or ask. Thus, istikhara means to seek guidance from Allah to choose that which is best for us.
A few other meanings that were given include:
- A way for a person to ask Allah to help him/her choose that in which there is benefit for him/her and to facilitate it for him/her.
- Asking Allah to help one choose the best of two things where one needs to choose one of them
It can be done for practically anything related to this life, such as, marriage, business, work, travel, etc.
How Do We Pray Salat al-Istikhara?
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to teach his companions to make istikhara in all things, just as he used to teach them chapters from the Quran. He (pbuh) said:
If any one of you is concerned about a decision he has to make, then let him pray two units of non-obligatory prayer, then say:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ ، فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلا أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلا أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلامُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ فَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ هَذَا الأَمْرَ خَيْرًا لِي فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ قَالَ أَوْ فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ اللَّهُمَّ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي أَوْ قَالَ فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ فَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ [ واصرفه عني ] وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ رَضِّنِي بِهِ
Allaahumma inni astakheeruka bi ilmika wa astaqdiruka bi qudratika wa asaluka min fadlika, fa innaka taqdiru wa laa aqdir, wa talamu wa laa alam, wa anta allaam al-ghuyoob. Allaahumma fa in kunta talamu haadhal-amra (then the matter should be mentioned by name) khayran li fi aajil amri wa aajilihi (or: fi deeni wa maaashi wa aaqibati amri) faqdurhu li wa yassirhu li thumma baarik li fihi. Allaahumma wa in kunta talamu annahu sharrun li fi deeni wa maaashi wa aaqibati amri (or: fi aajili amri wa aajilihi) fasrifni anhu [wasrafhu anni] waqdur li al-khayr haythu kaana thumma radini bihi
(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 (it should be mentioned by name) is good for me both in this world and in the Hereafter (or: 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 for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs (or: for me both in this world and the next), then turn me away from it, [and turn it away from me], and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased with it.)
(Reported by al-Bukhaari, 6841; similar reports are also recorded by al-Tirmidhi, al-Nisaai, Abu Dawood, Ibn Maajah and Ahmad).
We learn the following things from this hadith:
- It is two units (rak’ahs)
- It requires an intention
- It can only be done after a optional (nafl) prayer and not an obligatory (fardh) one. Thus, it can be done after any type of optional prayer, such as, the sunnah prayers, tahajjud, qiyaam, etc.
- The specific du’a mentioned by the Prophet (pbuh) must be recited after it. The scholars differed if it is better to recite the du’a right before ending the prayer or after it. Both are permissible
Based on the above, this is how you perform it:
- Make a decision on a matter after research and consultation with people you trust on the matter
- Make the intention to do istikhara prayer and make wudu
- Pray two units of optional prayer
- Recite the specific du’a of istikhara mentioned above by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) either right before ending the prayer or after it
- The person should state the matter at the designated point of the du’a in red above. Some scholars were also ok with just having an intention only without saying it
After praying the istikhara prayer, the person should go seek what he/she made istikhara about completely trusting in Allah, certain that either Allah will make the matter easy for him/her if it is in his/her benefit or turn him/her away from it if it is the opposite. If he/she finds success and ease in the matter, then this may be a sign that it is in his/her benefit. As for visions, then these are not necessary. Is it possible that Allah may show the person something in a dream? Yes, but is it a must or likely? The answer is no. Therefore, the person should not wait for dreams, as some fallaciously believe, rather, the person should move forward with the matter and hope for the best because he/she has made istikhara on it and trusts in Allah.