Istikharah linguistically comes from the Arabic root word ‘khayr’ which can be defined as all that is good. Therefore, the word ‘Istikharah’ means seeking the good. In making the best decisions, Muslims should seek Allah’s guidance in all matters because He, the All-Knowing, knows exactly what is good and best for His servants.
وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ.
“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.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:216)
We seek guidance in making the right decisions for all matters including marriage and work. Whether they are big or small, our Prophet s.a.w. encouraged us to pray Istikharah.
Therefore, in the religious legal term, Istikharah is defined as a two rakaat sunnah prayer that is performed to seek guidance from Allah s.w.t. whether to choose something or to leave it.
Istikharah is a two rakaat sunnah (voluntary) prayer that can be performed at any time of the day. The premise of the allowed time to pray, however, does not include the following exceptions:
No. 1, 3 and 4 constitute the point of prohibition to the phases of time itself while no. 2 and 5 constitute it upon the act of praying (Subuh and Asar respectively). The sunnah prayer of Istikharah and likewise other sunnah prayers are not allowed to be prayed in the mentioned point of time above.
After performing the Istikharah prayer, one is encouraged to pray the Dua of Istikharah. Like other duas, it is recommended to face the qiblah and read the Dua of Istikharah by praising Allah and sending blessings (selawat) upon the Prophet s.a.w. Afterwards, it is also best to close the Dua in the same manner as well.
As Muslims, we believe in Allah’s wisdom and power and that He s.w.t. alone knows what is best for us in this world and the Hereafter. We are taught to ask for guidance and blessings from Allah s.w.t. who has power over all things and encompasses all things in His knowledge.
On top of that, we must also put in the right efforts, such as making the right decisions by looking into the prospect of things and by consulting and seeking advice from others.
Also part of the process is to pray Istikharah which is widely encouraged by the Prophet s.a.w. as narrated in Sahih Al-Bukhari:
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"
The Prophet s.a.w. used to teach us the way of doing Istikharah in all matters as he taught us the chapters of the Quran. 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” (pray the following):
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ
Allāhumma innī astakhīruka bi-'ilmika, Wa astaqdiruka bi-qudratik
وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ
Wa as-aluka min fadlikal-’azīm
فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلاَ أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلاَ أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلاَّمُ الْغُيُوبِ
Fa-innaka taqdiru Wala aqdiru, Wa ta'lamu Wala a'lamu, Wa anta 'allāmul-ghuyūb
اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي
Allāhumma in kunta ta'lamu anna hāz-al-amra khairun lī fi dīnī wa ma'āshī wa'āqibati amrī
فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ
Fī 'ājili ‘amrī wa-ājilih
فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ
Faqdurhu-lī wa yassirhu-lī thumma bārik-lī fīhi
وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي
Wa in kunta ta'lamu anna hā-zal-amra sharrun lī fī dīnī wa ma'āshī wa'āqibati amrī
فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ
Fī 'ajili amrī wa-ājilih
فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ
Fas-rifhu ‘annī wasrif-nī ‘anhu
وَاقْدُرْ لِيَ الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي بِهِ
Waqdur lī al-khaira haithu kāna, thumma ardinī bihi.
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 are all-knowing of the unseen (hidden),
O Allah! If You know that this matter is good for me in my religion, my livelihood and my affairs in the Hereafter,
If it is better for my present and later,
Then ordain it for me and make it easy for me, and then bless it for me,
And if You know that this matter is harmful (bad) for me in my religion, my livelihood and my affairs in the Hereafter,
Or if it bad for my present and later,
Then ward it off from me and keep me away from it.
Then ordain for me whatever is good for me wherever it may be found, and help me be content with it.
After performing the Istikharah, we put our trust that Allah s.w.t will help us by strengthening our hearts to make the best decision. However, it is not necessary that we will be given a dream or vision. We may be instilled with more confidence to either choose one or the other in choosing what’s best.
If there is still no inclination felt in the heart, other signs also include looking at the circumstances; if it is better to delay it, or if the situation seems to be eased or on the contrary, against it.
For some, the result from their Istikharah is not as clear as what others might experience. It is important to consult others and the people we trust. However, we do not rely upon all these efforts per se. They are indeed necessary and are part of the process of seeking guidance. Instead, we rely upon Allah s.w.t. This can be seen in the following verse:
وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِى ٱلْأَمْرِ ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ
“Consult with them in (conducting) matters. Once you make a decision, put your trust in Allah. Surely Allah loves those who trust in Him.”
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:159)
May Allah s.w.t. provide us with courage and wisdom to make the best decisions and guide us throughout our journey in this world.