Strengthening Our Faith with the Istikharah Prayer
By Abu Suleiman Bin Uthman
"Istikhara" literally means to seek another's decision in one's personal matter. When we offer the istikharah prayer, we are seeking for Allah to bring a decision on our behalf for some matter in our life.
It is much more than just asking Allah for guidance. It is asking Him to bring about what is best for us.
We say in the supplication of istikharah:
Oh Allah! If in Your Knowledge this action (I intend) is best for me in my faith, my life and livelihood, in this world, and in the Hereafter, then make it happen for me and make it easy for me and then bless me in it. O Allah! If in Your Knowledge this action is bad for me in my faith, my life and livelihood, in this world, and in the Hereafter, then keep it away from me and keep me away from it and decree for me whatever is better for me, and then make me satisfied with it.
Istikharah is, therefore, a great expression of our faith. It is a confession that we do not know what is best for ourselves and surrendering our on compulsion and desires by deferring to Allah's infinite knowledge and wisdom.
We should not hesitate to pray the istikharah prayer when faced with a decision in our lives, whether that decision be great or small.
It's important to offer this prayer with conviction, resolving in our hearts to accept what Allah decides for us, even if it clashes with our own desires. No matter how much we want something to happen, we should be sincere when we ask: " O Allah! If in Your Knowledge this action is bad for me in my faith, my life and livelihood, in this world, and in the Hereafter, then keep it away from me and keep me away from it and decree for me whatever is better for me, and then make me satisfied with it."
It may be easy to say these words, but it is truly an expression of our trust in Allah when we mean them in our hearts, in spite of how badly we may desire something to take place.
The more often we offer this prayer, the more we reinforce our faith in Allah's knowledge and wisdom. Our love for Allah and our trust in Him will increase. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged his Companions do offer this prayer whenever they wanted to embark upon a course of action. He said: "If any of you determines to embark upon an action, he should offer two units of non-obligatory prayer and then say (the supplication of istikharah)." [Sahih al-Bukhari]
We should keep in mind that we do not offer this prayer as a substitute for action. We do not offer it to exempt ourselves from responsibility for our decisions. We offer the prayer before we act, beseeching Allah to bring about the best outcome for us.
For example, if you want to marry someone you may have your heart set upon, you should offer the istikharah prayer asking Allah to make the marriage happen if it is best for you in your religion and worldly life and to keep it from happening if it is bad for you in your faith and worldly life. We can appreciate how hard it is to make such a prayer with conviction hen our hearts are emotionally focused on someone we want to marry. This supplication requires us to be humble and trusting of our Lord.
After making this prayer, if you pursue the marriage and it happens, you can praise Allah and look forward o His blessings in that marriage. If you pursue the marriage and it does not take place, you should praise Allah and trust that it was not what was best for you.
We should also keep in mind that the folk customs which have developed around the istikharah prayer have no basis in the Sunnah. One of these is that you should offer this prayer before sleeping and then wait for a dream. This is not true. It also contradicts with the world of the supplication, words which inspire us instead to entrust the matter to Allah and act positively, going forward in faith.
First published in islamtoday.net