The Prayer of Guidance – Duʿāʾ al-Istikhārah
by Jamaal Diwan
Many people have questions about al-istikhārah, in the following article we will cover some of the things that the scholars have said about it and how to know what to choose after making it.
It was narrated by al-Bukhārī and Muslim on the authority of Jābir ibn ʿAbdillah, may Allah be pleased with them both:
The Prophet used to teach us to make the prayer of al-istikhārah in all affairs, the same way that he would teach us chapters from the Quran. He would say, “If one of you feels inclined to do something then let them pray two units of optional prayer, then say: ‘O Allah! I seek Your guidance 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*) is good for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, immediate and in the future, then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge, (this matter*) is bad for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, immediate and in the future, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it. And ordain for me the good wherever it may be, and make me content with it.’”
As a result of this hadith there is a consensus between the scholars that al-istikhārah is recommended and part of the Sunnah. They said that the purpose of it is to depend entirely upon Allah in one’s affairs, as He is the One who sees and knows all. Therefore, the person who makes al-istikhārah should not go into it with their mind already made up, but rather have an open heart and mind and ask Allah to guide them to what is best.
What Kinds of Things to Make It For
They also noted that it is not to be prayed for things that are prohibited, disliked, or required, but rather only for things that are permissible or recommended (if a choice must be made between various recommended actions). This is because in the first group of rulings there is really no decision to be made, but rather action to be taken. In the second group there can be decisions that need to be made and al-istikhārah is prescribed for such decisions.
Consultation and al-Istikhārah
Imam al-Nawawi says about this: “It is recommended for the person to consult others before making al-istikhārah. He/she should consult those whom they trust to care and give sincere advice and are reliable in their piety and experience.” Many times we consult others during or after praying al-istikhārah, but Imam al-Nawawi is specifically stating here that such consultations should actually take place before the supplication is made.
When to Do It
If one is making al-istikhārah without praying two units of prayer with it then they can make it at any time because duʿāʾ is not restricted by any times. However, if one is praying two units with it then, according to the four schools, they should not pray it during the times wherein prayer is disliked. The Shafiʿis stated an exception for this in the case of the person who is praying in the Sacred area of Mecca by making analogy on the two units which are performed after al-Ṭawāf, because they are not restricted by any times.
How to Do It
The scholars stated that there are three different ways to make al-istikhārah.
1) The best way, which is agreed upon by the four schools, is to pray two units of optional prayer then make the supplication afterwards, as mentioned in the hadith.
2) The three schools except the Hanbalis said that one can also make the supplication without performing two units of prayer before it if need be.
3) The Malikis and Shafiʿis also allowed one to make the supplication after any prayer, even if it is an obligatory prayer.
Regardless of which of these the person chooses they should follow the manners of supplication such as beginning by praising Allah and praying for His Messenger and ending by praying again for the Prophet, peace be upon him.
The person should also not rush when awaiting a response to their prayers because the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “A person’s prayers will be answered as long as he or she does not become impatient and say, ‘I prayer and my prayer was not answered.’”
The scholars differed as to how many times the prayer can be repeated, with many of them mentioning seven times. However, if one does experience the results of the supplication after seven times then they may continue in their al-istikhārah, or they make as few times as is needed.
Another issue that some of the scholars discussed regarding al-istikhārah is whether or not one can make it on behalf of someone else. The Shafiʿis and Malikis held that it is permissible to do so because the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Whosoever amongst you is able to benefit his brother, then he should do so.” The Maliki scholar al-Ḥaṭṭāb said that he did not find any evidence indicating that this should or should not be done but that he did find some of the shuyūkh doing it. The Hanafis and Hanbalis did not discuss this issue.
The Results of al-Istikhārah
Contrary to popular opinion, one does not wait for a dream after al-istikhārah. Rather, one should look to what their heart opens up to or what is made easy for them. However, one should try as hard as possible to make sure that they are not mixing their istikhārah with their own desires and leanings and try to make sure that it is as pure and sincere as possible. A person can also look to the negative effects of al-istikhārah to know how it was answered. For example, if they were turned away from a particular decision and then did not find anything in their heart for it thereafter they can know that it was turned away from them, as mentioned in the supplication itself.
And God knows best.
*Extracted from al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah
 The Malikis, Hanafis, Shafiʿis, and Hanbalis.
 Narrated by al-Bukhārī.
 Narrated by Muslim.