What is the istikhara prayer and how does one perform it?
The istikhara prayer is a very simple prayer of seeking guidance.
- One prays two rakats at any time that is not disliked, after which one recites the supplication of istikhara.
- It is best to recite it before sleeping, though in no way necessary.
- Like other duas, it is recommended that one face the qibla.
- It is recommended to open the dua of istikhara, with praise of Allah and sending blessings on the Prophet ﷺ and to close it in this manner, too.
- It is disliked to ‘hasten’ in seeking the answer to one’s istikhara, like other duas, because the Prophet ﷺ said, “Your prayers are answered, unless you hasten, saying, ‘I prayed, but no answer came.’”
The Prayer in Arabic
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلَا أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاقْدُرْهُ لِي وَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي
Allâhumma inni astakhiruka bi ilmika wa astaqdiruka biqudratika wa as’aluka min fadlikal-azimi, fa innaka taqdiru walâ aqdiru wa ta’lamu walâ a’lamu wa anta allamul ghuyubi. Allâhumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra khayrun li fi dini wa ma-ashi wa aqibati amri faqdir-hu li wa yassir-hu li thumma barik li fihi wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra sharrun li fi dini wa maâshi wa aqibati amri fasrifhu anni wasrifni anhu waqdir liyal-khayra haythu kâna thumma ardini.
“O Allah, verily I seek the better [of either choice] from You, by Your knowledge, and I seek ability from You, by Your power, and I ask You from Your immense bounty. For indeed You have power, and I am powerless; You have knowledge and I know not; You are the Knower of the unseen realms. O Allah, if You know that this matter is good for me with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then decree it for me, facilitate it for me, and grant me blessing in it. And if You know that this matter is bad for me with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then turn it away from me and me from it; and decree for me better than it, wherever it may be, and make me content with it.”
Looking for signs
One should suspend one’s own judgement or inclination about the particular matter, and wait for Allah to show one a sign or to make things happen in a way that indicates what to do. When one is not clear about the result of the istikhara, the fuqaha mention that it is recommend to repeat it, up to 7 times if necessary (usually done on separate occasions). [cf: Radd al-Muhtar].
Shaykh Nuh Keller mentions that the more one prays the istikhara prayer, the clearer its answers become to one. He prays it for all matters, even things one would not imagine doing istikhara for.
It is not necessary that you get a dream or even a “feeling.” Rather, the istikhara is a prayer that Allah guide you towards that which is best (khayr) for you. If you do the prayer of guidance (istikhara) with the proper manners, the most important of which is to truly consign the matter to Allah and suspend your own inclinations, then Allah will make events unfold in the direction that is the best for your worldly and next-worldly affairs.
When unable to offer salah
In general, when it is not possible to perform the istikhara prayer itself (such as when one is out on the road, or in one’s menstrual period), it is recommended to simply read the dua itself. [Radd al-Muhtar]
For even the smallest things
The great Hanafi scholar and hadith expert from Aleppo, Shaykh Abdullah Sirajal-Din mentions in his book on the virtues of prayer that it is the way of many Sufis, including Shaykh al-Akbar Muhiyyuddin Ibn al-Arabi (Allah sanctify his secret), to pray the istikhara prayer at the beginning of their day, after sunrise, asking Allah to guide them in general to all good and to keep away all evil from them.
Istikhara gives the best answer, for one’s worldly and religious life (not worldly life alone), when coupled with another essential sunna: istishara (seeking sound counsel) of those worthy of being consulted and taking the sound means of assessing the situation at hand.
Imam al-Nawawi mentioned that before the istikhara prayer, one should seek advice from those whose knowledge, wisdom, and concern one is confident. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and others mentioned that one of the benefits of this is to further distance oneself from the desires of one’s own egotistic inclinations.
The istikhara prayer may be made for a specific matter or be made for a general seeking of all that is best. Some scholars, including Imam Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha`rani and Ibn `Arafah before him saw this kind of istikhara prayer as being superior. Others, including Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi, recommended performing a general istikhara prayer for all that is good every day, ideally at the time of the Duha prayer (after sunrise).
One should be pleased with what Allah chooses for one, and not seek to follow one’s whims after the answer to one’s supplication becomes clear. We ask Allah to give us beneficial knowledge, and the success to act upon it in the way most beloved to Him, on the footsteps of His beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Listen to Shaykh Faraz debunk common misconceptions about istikhara in this SeekersGuidance podcast, including
- Misconception 1: Istikhara is a prayer in matters of marriage
- Misconception 2: The signs come in the form of dreams
- Misconception 3: A sinful person must ask a pious person to perform the prayer on his behalf
- Misconception 4: Istikhara is only for the big decisions, not small matters