Lecture by Abdul Nasir Jangda | Transcribed by Sameera
[The following is the video and transcript of Shaykh Abdul Nasir’s lecture “Istikharah: How to and Why?.” The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]
The word istikhārah comes from the root word of khayr. Khayr in the Arabic language in its origins is representative of all that which is good. Khayr is an umbrella word that represents all that which is good. Istikhārah means to seek the good and seek that which is good. This is the meaning of the word istikhārah itself.
Just like the meaning, the prayer ṣalāt’-l-istikhārah, which is from the Sunnah of the Prophet , is an authentically narrated Sunnah of the Prophet and an extremely emphasized practice of the Messenger . Just like the meaning of the word istikhārah, the purpose of the ṣalāh is similarly to seek that which is good from Allāh . I want to inshā’Allāh have this session to explain the procedure and the purpose of istikhārah.
I am going to split today’s presentation into two parts. The first part will focus on the ritual itself, meaning the technicalities, procedure, concept and outcome of istikhārah. The second part of the lecture will focus on the purpose of the istikhārah, which is explaining the meaning and beauty of the supplication of istikhārah itself because that unlocks the purpose and the reason why we even do istikhārah.
To begin with the technicalities, I would like to begin with a few basic points. The first is the concept of istikhārah to understand istikhārah conceptually and what it is. I can explain best to you what istikhārah is by explaining to you what istikhārah is not. As they say in Arabic, sometimes the best way to get to know something is to know the opposite of it. The best way I can help you understand what istikhārah is conceptually and the role and purpose of istikhārah is by explaining to you what it most definitely is not.
Istikhārah is not a Magic 8 ball. Did you ever buy that? You get it at the mall as a gag gift. You ask the Magic 8 ball, “Should I go to the mall today?” [Shake it]. “Maybe.” This is the Magic 8 ball. What I am trying to say by giving you this silly example is what people play around with when playing with the Magic 8 ball is throw out a random question, shake the Magic 8 ball and get a magical answer and go with it. It is kind of like rolling the dice. Istikhārah is not that.
Decision Making Process: 3 Steps
Istikhārah is the third of a three-step decision making process. The first step of a decision making process is to use the God-given intellect, ability, and critical thinking that Allāh has blessed each and every single human being with in different capacities. Allāh has granted every human being the ability to take factors into consideration and weigh different options and think about, ponder, contemplate, and process. That is the first step of the decision making process in the life of the believer. He first uses his ‘aql, intelligence and ability to think that Allāh has given him.
There is a reason that Allāh emphasizes the ‘aql, uli’l-albāb, and these types of things in the Qur’an because these are from the greatest of Allāh’s blessings. That is the first step of the decision making process: Take your circumstances into consideration, look at the options available to you, and then sit down and think and try to figure out and do some research and try to come to somewhat of a conclusion. At least try to narrow your options and come to somewhat of a conclusion. This is number one.
The second step of a decision making process is istishārah. It is the Arabic word for seeking counsel and seeking advice. The next step of the process is to then seek some counsel and advice, and it really depends on what type of a decision you are trying to make. If you want to buy a car, you first do some research online and do some car shopping and test drove and narrow down to about three or four different cars that you are thinking about. Then what you could do, for instance, is go to a brother from the masjid who is a car mechanic. Sit down with that brother and say, “Brother, I want to take advice from you because you are experienced and knowledgeable about cars. What do you recommend? These are the three or four cars I am looking at.” He says, “I wouldn’t buy that because it has transmission problems. This car wears out really quickly, etc.”
Now you are seeking counsel and advice. If it is a more personal issue, something that is a life type decision, then you seek the counsel and advice from somebody who sincerely and honestly cares about you, somebody who is experienced and mature and maybe even spiritually focused so that they have a well-rounded perspective they can provide to you.
That is istishārah and seeking counsel. This is the second step of the decision-making process.
The third and final step of the decision making process is now istikhārah. What has occurred up to this point is that you started with no idea of what to do. You narrowed it down to maybe half a dozen different options and sought some counsel and got some advice from someone and are down to your last couple of options. At this point in time, you are struggling with this or that and are starting to lean a little more towards one direction. You are thinking about two cars and are leaning towards buying a convertible, for instance – random example. You are thinking about buying the Camaro over the mini-van. No brainer, but nevertheless for some strange reason you are conflicted. Maybe you have two kids, but it doesn’t matter, they can sit in the backseat.
You are starting to lean in one direction, but you are little conflicted and just need a little bit of a push and convincing. You are looking for that confidence to make your decision that you have come to by critical thinking – apply your intellect and do some research – and you sought some counseling. You are leaning in a direction but need some confidence and some clarity of heart. This is where istikhārah comes in.
What I have just explained to you removes many of the issues and questions that people have about istikhārah itself. A lot of people are confused about istikhārah because they try to use it like the Magic 8 ball. “I have got to buy a house. Let me do istikhārah.” What do you think is going to happen? Are you magically going to see a house in your dreams and going to go searching for it and find it and buy it? It doesn’t work that way. You don’t decide that you need to buy a car and then pray istikhārah and a Honda Civic is going to fall on you. It doesn’t work that way.
When people try to utilize istikhārah in that way, then they walk away confused and say, “Shaykh, I made istikhārah and I can’t figure anything out. It’s not working.” You don’t change the batteries in your istikhārah, right? What is basically going on is that you are not utilizing it properly. Anything that is not utilized properly is not going to work right. You have to utilize it properly and appropriately. Make sure you turn it into the third of a three-step decision making process. This is the concept and role of istikhārah.
Prerequisites of Istikhārah
The next thing I would like to explain are the prerequisites of istikhārah. What is required to do istikhārah?
I am going to give you the actual narration, but for now we are just going to roll with it and speak a little more generally. What is required for the istikhārah is what is required for any other prayer, which is you need to make sure that you are pure and clean, clothed appropriately, have wuḍū’. You do not require a bath of purification. You face towards the qiblah. That is what is required for istikhārah.
Basically whatever is required to normally pray is what is required for istikhārah. There are no other extra prerequisites or requirements for istikhārah. You don’t have to pray it immediately before you go to sleep. You don’t have to take a shower and then immediately pray istikhārah. You need wuḍū’ for prayer; you need wuḍū’ for istikhārah. Istikhārah is a prayer just like dhuhr is a prayer and nafl would be a prayer. You don’t need to stop talking to people when you decide to do istikhārah. You don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night and do istikhārah. You don’t have to go stand on top of a mountain on one leg and do istikhārah. You get my drift at this point – anything extra that you may heard, come across, or assumed that is needed for istikhārah aside from what is needed for prayer. Wuḍū’, dressing appropriately, facing the qiblah, Allāhu akbar – that is istikhārah.
The only thing I will add in here is that according to the opinion of the majority of scholars, there are small difference of opinion – I’m going to tell you what the majority of scholars say. In ṣalāt’l-istikhārah, there are not major differences of opinion. There are a few minor opinions here and there that differ from the vast majority. I’m just going to go ahead and share the majority opinion because it is an overwhelming majority opinion.
The overwhelming majority opinion is that the only thing you have to watch out for is what you watch out for in other prayers. Make sure you don’t pray istikhārah at the times when prayer is forbidden. Those are three basic times of the day: 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. Those three times of the day are when we are told not to pray. It is the same requirements of ṣalāh and for istikhārah.
These are the prerequisites of istikhārah.
What is the procedure of istikhārah? There is a sequence of events or procedure. Once you fulfill the prerequisites, you will stand up and pray two rakʿahs, two units, of nafl (voluntary, supererogatory) prayer. Why am I emphasizing and specifying it to be two rakʿahs of a voluntary prayer? When we read the text of the ḥadīth together inshā’Allāh, at that time you will see it. It is mentioned explicitly within the text of the ḥadīth by the Messenger of Allāh . No debate and no question here.
What that means is that you can’t pray ṣalāt’l-‘ishā’ and make the supplication of istikhārah – two for one, all done. You can’t do that.
The Prophet explicitly said that you have to invest two more extra rakʿahs of prayer that are voluntary and optional. You pray those two rakʿahs of prayer. There is nothing different about those two units of prayer. You pray them as you should pray any other ṣalāh. There’s obviously room for improvement in my prayer, and I’m pretty sure everybody feels there is room for improvement within their prayers, so aside from that entire discussion, basically you pray istikhārah like you would pray any other prayer, which is two rakʿahs, qiyām, rukū‘, sujūd. You sit at the end, tashahhud, ṣalawāt on the Messenger , supplication, salām, and that’s it. That is the procedure of the istikhārah.
There is no extra special sūrah that should be recited here. There’s nothing that is authentically narrated from the Prophet about reciting this in the first rakʿah and that in the second rakʿah. There is nothing of that sort. Just pray two rakʿahs of prayer.
Once you finish these two rakʿahs of prayer, which means the taslīm, you then at that time recite the exact supplication taught to us by the Prophet in the Arabic language. You read it in Arabic. Again, here, the vast overwhelming majority of scholars are of the opinion that the supplication of istikhārah is to be done after the prayer. There are a couple of opinions here and there to do it before the taslīm; however, the vast majority overwhelming majority, and again, if you analyze the text of the ḥadīth, which I’m going to point out to you when we do read the ḥadīth of the Prophet , you will see that the Prophet mentions a word which makes it very clear that the supplication is meant to be said after the prayer is done.
Now at this point we recite the supplication. Read the supplication in Arabic. Why am I explicitly saying that? Again, the ḥadīth very clearly mentions that fact. A question comes up here: what if I don’t have it memorized? Read it off of a piece of paper. Fuqahā’ have stated that very clearly if somebody needs to read it off of a piece of paper, that is ok. Read it out of a book, read it off of a piece of paper, photocopy it, do what you have to do. Nevertheless, read the actual Arabic of the supplication. Don’t read the summarized English translation. When we read the text of the ḥadīth, we see the Prophet explicitly said, “Read it as I have taught you.”
The other thing I want to state is – just in case anyone is watching the video or listening to the lecture – what if somebody can’t read Arabic? Use a transliteration or something of that nature to the best of your ability. Of course if somebody recently took shahādah or somebody recently came into connection with their dīn, there is always an exception to the rule.
We do not give enough consideration to people who have had a major turning point in their life, whether we are talking about people who may have been born in Muslim families but just not raised with the dīn and come to practice the dīn later on in their lives, or if we are talking about reverts and converts, people who took shahādah later in life. Consideration should always be given to them, and it should be understood that they are doing the best that they can, and they should definitely make an effort to try to learn Arabic as much as possible and as quickly as possible, but until and unless they are able to get to that point, they are completely capable of practicing their dīn to the best of their ability, and it is ok for somebody like that to read it in English or to read the translation of it. That is a very, very specific situation and consideration should be given to those types of cases.
Nevertheless, going back to the procedure. We talked about praying two rakʿahs, completing the prayer, reading the supplication in Arabic to the best of your ability. That is the procedure of istikhārah. Read the supplication in Arabic, and it is done. You don’t have to make any extra du‘ā’ after that. The supplication that you read in Arabic is the supplication and du‘ā’ itself. There is no other extra procedure after. Once you are done reading the supplication, you are done.
Outcome of Istikhārah
The next issue I would like to address is what is the outcome of the istikhārah? Again, I can start by telling you what is not the outcome of the istikhārah. You will not wake up in the middle of the night and have a 3D vision of what you should. I can tell you that is not going to happen. It is istikhārah and not Avatar. That is one thing we need to be clear on. While it might seem like a joke or silly to some people, sometimes people just don’t know. The outcome of the istikhārah is nothing out of this world.
The primary outcome of the istikhārah is the clarity of mind and confidence to make the decision that you need to make that I alluded to earlier. You feel confident and good about making your decision. You were already leaning towards one option – option A – and there is another option on the table, but you are a lot more confident about option A or maybe you have come to a decision about option A but you just need that extra little confidence.
You do your istikhārah and naturally start to feel more confident and feel clearer and feel ready to make that decision. That is the outcome of your istikhārah. The outcome of the istikhārah is to reflect internally and be a bit introspective and look inside and see if you feel good and confident about making your decision.
How do you know that the outcome of the istikhārah is maybe this isn’t the best decision for you? You will naturally feel down. You will feel conflicted, doubtful, very scared or anxious or hesitant about making your decision. Then at that point, this is your response of istikhārah that maybe this isn’t the best decision for you. That is how simple and easy istikhārah is.
The reason why istikhārah has become complicated for us a lot of times is because we are looking for something out of this world and something supernatural and really far out. We look for something crazy like that, and when we don’t find it, we feel unfulfilled.
If we learn to just think of it internally and learn to be a little more reflective and introspective, naturally you will find the response to your istikhārah to be a lot more facilitated for you. You are thinking internally and feel naturally confident in your decision. That is the outcome and result of the istikhārah.
What about Dreams?
The question always comes up: what about dreams? The issue of dreams is one thing that needs to be understood. We don’t completely dismiss dreams altogether. Authentic narrations of the Prophet tell us that dreams are something that a believer derives inspiration from. Even the greatest of scholars like Ibn Sirīn of the tabi‘ūn and great scholars of interpretation of dreams, one of the first things they would say or one of the first things they taught their students was that dreams are not a basis of making decisions. Decisions should not be based on dreams. These were the first and foremost to tell their students that even though these were the scholars of the interpretation of dreams. They said at the most it is inspiration, motivation, encouragement. That is all it is. It is not something you base a decision on.
I would like to clarify that right here. If you have a dream and it kind of inspires you or motivates you, alḥamdulillāh. Don’t read too much into it because you are not supposed to.
Two Miscellaneous Issues
That is the outcome of the istikhārah. There are two miscellaneous issues I would like to explain. The first issue is related to the outcome.
What if I make istikhārah and I just still don’t feel comfortable or confident in my decision? I still don’t feel confident or clear and am still not comfortable making a decision, and I made istikhārah and followed the procedure properly. What do I do at that time? The course of action at that time is: do it again. If it doesn’t work again, then do it again. If you are still not comfortable, then do it again. Keep doing it until you feel confident and comfortable in making your decision.
There is even a narration from ‘Abdullāh b. Zubayr , one of the companions of the Prophet and probably ‘Ā’ishah’s best and brightest student. He says, “I made istikhārah with Allāh three times. Then I was comfortable and confident in making my decision.” He explicitly mentions while explaining to his students that if you have to make istikhārah multiple times, then you have to make istikhārah multiple times and that’s ok. He said, “I had to pray istikhārah three times one time to make a decision.” Don’t be afraid of repeating the istikhārah multiple times.
A lot of times, it is just a matter of – and this is a tragedy of our times – becoming spiritually numb and we are not very introspective and not very reflective. Sometimes the superficial nature of the culture we live in or activities make us a little spiritually dull or numb. We might have to do istikhārah a few times to break through the surface or crack the shell, and that’s ok.
The last issue I want to mention here that is associated with istikhārah is that there is one very commonly asked question and issue that comes up quite often. That is: can I have somebody else do istikhārah for me? There is no precedent. There is no religious verification for having someone else do istikhārah for you. There is nothing mentioned in the aḥadīth of the Prophet . There is no precedent from the generation of the ṣaḥābah. The classical fuqahā’ have explicitly stated that istikhārah is meant to be done by the individual himself or herself. That is a rule. That’s it. A person has to do the istikhārah himself or herself.
There is a very honest and sincere question and concern that is in the mind’s of people who ask this question. The question or that concern is often: I am not a very good person, I don’t pray five times a day, I have a lot of sins and issues in my life, I feel distant from Allāh, I don’t know if I make istikhārah if it will be clear or won’t be clear, so I want to ask someone to make istikhārah who is a lot more righteous and pious, and someone who is a lot better person than I am. That is a concern a lot of people have.
I would like to answer that concern by first saying that maybe part of the reason that you feel that way about your relationship with Allāh is because of the mentality and approach that you have where you don’t feel like you are good enough to talk to Allāh. You feel like you don’t have access to Allāh.
The first thing that you have to get over is the simple fact that Allāh is just as available and just as accessible to the sinful person as He is to the most righteous and pious person. Allāh is available and accessible to everyone. We can all pray to Allāh. We can all ask Allāh for whatever we need. We can all do istikhārah with Allāh.
The second answer to that concern is if you are feeling a bit guilty and self-conscious about the fact that you are distant from Allāh and not praying and maybe that is why you should not be doing istikhārah, then why not fix the problem? Why not say, “I have a situation. I need to do istikhārah. I don’t pray five times a day and that’s why I don’t feel comfortable doing istikhārah. Well, it’s time for ṣalāt’l-maghrib right now or time for ṣalāt’l-‘ishā’ right now, why don’t I go ahead and take that first step? Why don’t I go make wuḍū’, stand up and pray ṣalāt’l-‘ishā’ and then pray two rakaʿāt to do my istikhārah.” Get it out of the way and get it done. That is the answer to the question.
There is no validity to having somebody halfway across the world in some village do istikhārah on your behalf and that person doesn’t even know who you are and what’s going on with you. By the way, as a side note and a word of advice, if that person is charging you, it’s probably a scam. Just a little note of caution. If a person is charging you, you need to stay away from that entire situation.
Nevertheless, I did want to address that in a serious issue and serious manner. There is no validity, there is no precedent, and there is absolutely no authenticity to having somebody do istikhārah on your behalf. The person him or herself needs to be doing their own istikhārah whatever situation they are dealing with.
Their might be situations where a decision affects multiple people. Then everybody involved in the situation makes their own istikhārah. If I will be implicated by this decision, then we all make our own istikhārah. Nevertheless, it is not like doing a business deal. If I’m getting into a business deal with a couple of people and we need to come to the decision whether it is good or not, we decide we’ve looked at the facts, crunched the numbers, and spoken to a couple of people and gotten some consultation, we need to do istikhārah. Let everybody go and do their own istikhārah. Even when it is a joint decision, everybody should be doing istikhārah. Definitely when it is your own personal decision, make your own istikhārah. Don’t put it off on somebody else. Nobody can do your istikhārah – you do your own.
The concern that is there that “I’m not good enough, I’m not pious enough, I’m not righteous enough,” it doesn’t make any sense. Allāh is Allāh. He is accessible to you. All you have to do is go get clean, make wuḍū’, face the qiblah, Allāhu akbar, and you are talking to Allāh. Done deal.
Secondly, if you do feel that you are distant from Allāh, then fix the problem. Don’t create another problem. Repair the relationship and fix the issue.
It obviously goes without saying that we don’t make istikhārah for anything that is impermissible. There is no istikhārah for: “Should I drink alcohol (na‘ūdhu billāh)” – of course that is very bad. “Should I gamble, what should I put my money on.” It goes without saying and it is common sense that you don’t make istikhārah about the things that are impermissible.
Also, we do not make istikhārah about things that are obligatory. There is no making istikhārah about “should I pray ṣalāt’l-‘ishā’ or not.” That goes without saying that things that are obligatory and things that are a part of the dīn and things that we are supposed to do like fasting Ramaḍān, there is no making istikhārah “should I fast in Ramaḍān or not.” Similarly, we do not make istikhārah for things that are impermissible. Of course that is common sense, but I just wanted to mention that.
Supplication of Istikhārah
Now, let’s go ahead and discuss the supplication of istikhārah itself. I’ll go ahead and read the ḥadīth to you. This is a ḥadīth from Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri.
Jābir (may Allāh be pleased with him), a very knowledgeable companion of the Prophet of Allāh (peace and blessings be upon him), says, “The Messenger of Allāh would regularly teach us to do istikhārah in all of our affairs and issues just like he would teach us a sūrah from the Qur’an.” What does that mean? He is drawing a parallel. This is the same type of verbage used to talk about the tashahhud in the prayer. “He would teach us the tashahhud like he would teach us a sūrah from the Quran.” It is also said about the istikhārah supplication.
That means two things and has two implications. Implication #1: he emphasized the importance of memorizing it. Just like we memorize a sūrah of the Qur’an, similarly he emphasized the importance of memorizing the supplication of istikhārah. Implication #2: read it in the Arabic language like we read a sūrah in the Arabic language. When we read a sūrah from the Qur’an in our prayers, we read it in Arabic. Again, there is that rare exception that I talked about, nevertheless the general rule is that we read the supplication in Arabic. The Prophet taught us to read the supplication of istikhārah in Arabic like we read a sūrah in Arabic.
“He would say, ‘When any one of you is concerned with an issue or a matter, then he should pray two rakʿahs of optional, voluntary prayer aside from the farḍ obligatory prayer.’” This is where I was explicitly saying it has to be voluntary optional prayer because the Prophet explicitly in the ḥadīth in the narration says it must be voluntary optional prayer.
Then the Prophet says, “Thumma…” Thumma in the Arabic language in classical Arabic, the Quranic and prophetic language, is to say “afterwards, after that, then afterwards.” It states that this occurs after the previous thing has been completed or concluded. Based on this, the vast overwhelming majority of scholars are of the opinion the supplication of istikhārah is to be read after the prayer has been completed, after the taslīm.
The Prophet reads the supplication for us and teaches us the supplication. I’m going to explain the meaning of the supplication.
‘O Allāh, I seek most definitely that which is good from You by means of Your Knowledge’ because O Allāh, You know what is good for me, and I don’t know what is good. The āyah of the Qur’an says, “You may like something initially and it turns out to be bad for you. You might dislike something initially and it turns out to be something good for you.” Based on that, Allāh is the only One who knows what is good for me, so that is why I am saying, “O Allāh, I seek that which is good from You by means of Your Knowledge.”
‘And I seek the ability to do what I have to do by means of Your Power and Your Ability.’ Meaning: I am weak and I am incapable, but I seek the ability to make my decision and to do what I need to do by means of Your Ability and Power.
This is personally my favorite part of the supplication. This states the mentality behind istikhārah.
‘And O Allāh, You are ‘Alām. ‘Alām is the exaggerated, hyperbolized noun which basically means the Complete Knower of al-ghuyūb. Ghuyūb is the plural of the word ghayb – all those things that are unseen, all those things that are hidden, all those things that are unknown. You are the Complete Knower, inside out, of all those things that are unseen, unknown, and hidden.
Now here comes the crux of the supplication:
‘O Allāh, You know that this issue, decision, matter – if this is good for me in my religious affairs and my worldly affairs and in the end of my affairs…’ What do you think ‘the end of my affairs’ is referring to? The ākhirah. ‘If You know, O Allāh, that this decision that I’d like to make and have been struggling with is good for me in my dīn and my religion, in my worldly matters and issues, and if this is good for me in the ākhirah …’
Another narration of this same supplication, the Prophet said,
‘O Allāh, You know if this is good for me in the short term and the long term, dunya and ākhirah.’
But that’s not it. Now we get to see the real beauty and magnificence of the supplication.
‘Don’t just make it possible and available to me, make it easy and facilitate it for me. Make it simple, easy, and accessible for me.’
Thumma means after the fact. After what fact? After I have achieved it. Put blessing in it for me. We are going for the premium package. I want the works, all the options. I want it to be possible for me, O Allāh. I want it to be easy, simple, accessible, and facilitated for me, O Allāh. Then after I have it, I want barakah and blessing in it, O Allāh.
What a comprehensive supplication. What a beautifully comprehensive supplication. It then goes on:
‘O Allāh, You know if this issue, decision, matter is bad for me in my dīn, in my worldly matters and in the end of my affairs in the ākhirah.
Another narration again says:
Here we get to again see the beauty and eloquence of the supplication, the prophetic eloquence on full display. Let me explain the words to you here. The word ṣar means to turn something. There are two entities here: you and what you are making istikhārah for. The supplication says, “If this is bad for me in my dunya and ākhirah, then turn it away from me and turn me away from it.” Do you see the eloquence in the supplication and the visual that it provides? Imagine you and what you are making istikhārah for.
O Allāh, if this is bad for me in my dunya and my ākhirah, then I want nothing to do with it. Don’t just turn it away from me but turn me away from it. I want nothing to do with it. I got no business with it. If there is no khayr, then what would I want with it? This is what the supplication teaches us to say.
That doesn’t solve the problem. There is still an issue left. What is the problem? Whatever it is you are making istikhārah for – your need, your necessity, your situation, your decision is still not complete. You made istikhārah and realize that this is not good for you and felt uncomfortable, hesitant, or apprehensive about the decision and backed away, but your need still remains.
The Prophet doesn’t leave us hanging. He completes the supplication.
‘And then make possible for me that which is good.’ This particular situation wasn’t good for me, so I asked Allāh, “Turn it away from me and turn me away from it. I want nothing to do with it. O Allāh, make that which is good possible for me.” The problem is I don’t know where, how, when, or anything about it. Where do I start? Ḥaythuka – wherever and however that good may be. Make that which is good possible for me whenever, wherever, and however it may be. I leave it to you, O Allāh. I will still do my due diligence and stay at work trying to find the right option, but O Allāh, lead me to that khayr. I was saved from sharr, but make something good for me down the road.
This is consolation at the end of the supplication. This situation didn’t work out, which is actually good because it wasn’t khayr. You are asking Allāh for khayr, and Allāh will make khayr possible for you.
The yaqīn, the conviction, needs to be there when you make supplication. Allāh will make that which is good possible, you just have to keep sticking to what you are doing and keep your hopes high in Allāh .
Again, it sounds like the same thing. Even somebody who doesn’t have any background in formal Arabic studies can hear the difference. Thumma arḍini bihi and thumma raḍḍini bihi. Arḍini and raḍḍini sound a lot alike, but are they completely the same word? There is a little bit of a difference, which is a difference in verb pattern. The thing about these verb groups and verb patterns is that they all have their own special implication. In the classical form of the language, they have their own special implications.
When you have the same root word coming in two verb patterns, the subtle difference between the two is that arḍini means ‘make something happen all at once.’ Make me all at once completely satisfied and fulfilled with it. Raḍḍini has the implication for something to happen continuously, little by little, step by step.
SubḥānAllāh, the Prophet said it with the two different verb forms, and this shows us not only the eloquence of the Prophet but how well he understood people. There are two types of people when it comes to making a decision. Some people might take their time and do their due diligence and research and take time to come to a decision. When they finally come to a conclusion, they are done. The decision is made, and khalās they are confident and going forward now.
Some people are a little different. They come to a conclusion and decision and feel good and everything is ok and they are going for it. Then later at midnight you get a text message from that friend saying, “I’m freaking out. I don’t know what to do. I’m nervous.” You say, “Don’t worry about it. It’s all ok. It’s midnight, go to sleep. Everything will be alright inshā’Allāh.” Then they say, “Ok, I’m good.” You wake up to pray ṣalāt’l-fajr, and he calls you. You answer the phone and he says, “Bro, I need to talk to you right now. I’m not sure about this.” That’s ok – some people are like that and need that constant reassurance.
SubḥānAllāh look at the Messenger of Allāh and how well he knows his people and understands people. He accommodated both types of people. “Thumma arḍini bihi” for the type of guy who might take his time to make a decision but once he makes it, he is done. “Thumma raḍḍini bihi” for the person who “O Allāh don’t just make me pleased with it, but keep me pleased with it.” Constantly reassure me about my decision, O Allāh.
At the end of the supplication in the narration of Bukhāri, the Prophet says, “And then he mentions his need.” When you go back into the supplication, remember the part that I said was the crux of the supplication?
“O Allāh, You know that this decision, if this is good for me…” that is the moment where the Prophet says the person should mention his or her need. The scholars explain that there are two options. Somebody could just simply think of whatever it is that they are making istikhārah about, and that would suffice. If somebody just visualizes or conceptualizes or thinks of what they are making istikhārah about, that is sufficient. Otherwise, a person can feel free and should feel free to go ahead and verbalize it. They don’t need to verbalize it in Arabic if that is not their language. They can say it in their own language. Allāhumma in kunta ta‘lamu anna hatha’l-amra… and then at that time the person says, “Buying this particular car, purchasing this house, marrying so-and-so” that this is good for me. Then the supplication goes on and continues.
Similarly, there is a second moment when you mention it as well when you mention the other part of it. “O Allāh, you know that if this decision and issue is bad for me,” then again you can think about it, conceptualize it, or verbalize it. The Prophet taught us to do that. It becomes very practical and real. It is a real experience and you are literally stating your need, and this is something the Prophet taught us to do.
That concludes the discussion on the meaning of the supplication of istikhārah and it gives you an insight as to why we do istikhārah and what the purpose is and the spirit of istikhārah.
One thing I would like to explain here about the supplication of istikhārah is that it is the perfect example of prophetic eloquence of the Prophet and how beautiful the supplications are that he taught us. There is a lot of good and khayr in learning the prophetic supplications, and we should invest some time and energy in learning these beautiful supplications.
Quotes from Scholars
The last little note I wanted to mention here is a few little basic quotes from some scholars about the blessing of istikhārah and why we do istikhārah.
Ibn Abi Jamra (raḥimahullāh), a great scholar, said, “The wisdom behind putting the ṣalāh before the istikhārah is the istikhārah combines both the good of this world and the next. Just like in this dunya a person needs to go the one he needs something from and win their favor and then put their need before them, the ṣalāh precedes the supplication is like knocking at the door of the King and presenting yourself before Allāh and making sujūd and humbling yourself and putting your face on the ground before Allāh and then spreading your hands and presenting your need before Allāh .” This is the beauty of the sequence of events.
Ibn Taymiyyah says, “He who seeks guidance from the Creator and then consults with the creation (people) and then once he comes to a decision that he is confident in and goes forward with, such a person will never regret and have no remorse about the decision that he makes.”
Imam Al-Nawawi says, “After performing the istikhārah, when a person is wholeheartedly inclined and feels good about a decision, then the person should say bismillāh and go ahead with the course of action and the conclusion and decision.”
Istikhārah is like a training in adab with Allāh. “O Allāh, I will not make a decision without praying to You. Even though I’m fully confident, I will still do istikhārah.” It shows adab with Allāh, and part of the adab with Allāh is that when you do come to a conclusion and decision and did make istikhārah and feel confident about your decision, then you go with it. You remove doubt at that time and don’t second guess and don’t doubt because that would show disrespect to Allāh and this practice of istikhārah.
The last and final note I want to mention here is one other requirement for istikhārah. I didn’t mention this in the prerequisites because I was talking about more in terms of fiqh. The primary ingredient of the istikhārah is conviction. Know who you are praying to. You are praying to Allāh, rabb’l-‘alamīn. You are praying to the One who created each and every single thing. He watches and controls every single thing. He sustains and maintains each and every single thing. He is capable of doing whatever He wills.
Have that level of confidence when you do istikhārah. I am not just consulting with anyone. I am talking to Allāh, and Allāh will help me in my situation. Allāh will give me clarity of mind, and Allāh will bless me with confidence. When you do make istikhārah and you do feel hesitant, remember what the end of the supplication said. Don’t feel disheartened at that time because at the end of the supplication, you do ask Allāh for khayr, and if you have the level of conviction in Allāh, you will have the conviction that Allāh will provide to you that which is best for you.
Have that conviction. Have that level of īmān and yaqīn in Allāh and His Ability to take care of you and Allāh will inshā’Allāh take care of us. As it says in the ḥadīth qudsi, “I deal with My slave according to how he perceives Me. If he perceives that I can take care of him, I take care of him.” When he is doubtful, maybe he won’t be taken care of. The onus is on us. How do we perceive our relationship with Allāh?
May Allāh give us the ability to practice everything that we said and heard.
I will end with this one last ḥadīth mentioned in the Musnad of Imam Aḥmed and narrated by Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqās who said that the Messenger of Allāh said, “From the blessing of the son of Ādam is the ability to seek good from Allāh, doing istikhārah with Allāh. Also from the blessing of the son of Ādam is that they are pleased with whatever Allāh has decreed for them. From the wretchedness of the children of Ādam is when he leaves doing istikhārah with Allāh. Also from the wretchedness of the human being is that the human being is displeased with what Allāh has decreed for him.”
May Allāh bless us all to do istikhārah and to be pleased with Allāh’s Decree and decision in our affairs and issues. Jazākum Allāh khayran. Al-salāmu ‘alaykum wa raḥmatullāh.