#240: The Meaning and Methodology of Istikharah Prayer

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. Can you explain the meaning and methodology of Istikharah prayer?

Answer:

Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,

Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.

Istikharah is a way to seek guidance and counsel to find the best route or solution for anything one is facing. It is a sunnah taught by the Prophet PBUH to his ummah. Allah SWT encourages His slaves to ask and seek guidance from Him in determining choices that they have to make. Allah SWT states:

وَاستَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبرِ وَالصَّلَوةِ

“And seek help through patience and prayer,” [1]

The origin of the word istikharah comes from the word ‘خير’ which means lead to good. The addition of the letters Alif, Sin and Ta’, gives it an additional meaning. The word ‘استخار’ gives the meaning of asking for a choice. This is stated by Ibn Manzur. [2]

The terminology istikharah according to the fiqh terminology means asking Allah SWT for guidance in choosing the best matter. This is as stated by al-Dimyati: “Asking for good from what he wants to do.” [3] This is as stated by Imam Badruddin al-‘Aini, where the meaning of istikharah is asking for good. [4]

Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said istikharah is:

طَلَبُ خَيْرِ الْأَمْرَيْنِ لِمَنَ احْتَاجَ إِلَى أَحَدِهِمَا

“Asking for the best guidance in two matters for those who want one of it.” [5]

A clearer meaning presented by Syeikh Syams al-Haq ‘Azim Abadi stated that istikharah itself is asking for ease and goodness given on the two good matters. Whether doing it immediately or leaving it. [6]

This means that istikharah prayer is performed for permissible matters and not prohibited matters. How could there be any good in a matter that Allah SWT prohibited? This can clearly be seen through the parts of the istikharah supplication taught by the Prophet PBUH:

اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعِيشَتِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي ، أَوْ قَالَ : فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ ، فَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ، ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ

“O Allah! If you know that this matter is good for me in my religion or my livelihood, and for my life in the Hereafter – or he said: for my present and future – then make it easy for me, then bless me in it.”

Syeikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mubarakfuri when commenting on this hadith said istikharah prayer and its supplication is sunnah in matters when one is unsure as to which is the truth. As for a matter which is known to be good such as worship and good deeds or prohibited matters, then it isn’t necessary to perform istikharah for it. [7]

Regarding istikharah prayer, it is among the sunnah taught by the Prophet PBUH. This is based on a narration from Jabir bin Abdillah RA:

كَانَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُعَلِّمُنَا الاِسْتِخَارَةَ فِي الأُمُورِ كُلِّهَا كَمَا يُعَلِّمُنَا السُّورَةَ مِنَ القُرْآنِ ، يَقُولُ : إِذَا هَمَّ أَحَدُكُمْ بِالأَمْرِ فَلْيَرْكَعْ رَكْعَتَيْنِ مِنْ غَيْرِ الفَرِيضَةِ ، ثُمَّ لِيَقُلْ : اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ ، وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ ، وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ العَظِيمِ ، فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلاَ أَقْدِرُ ، وَتَعْلَمُ وَلاَ أَعْلَمُ ، وَأَنْتَ عَلاَّمُ الغُيُوبِ ، اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعِيشَتِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي ، أَوْ قَالَ : فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ ، فَيَسِّرْهُ لِي ، ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيهِ ، وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعِيشَتِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي ، أَوْ قَالَ : فِي عَاجِلِ أَمْرِي وَآجِلِهِ ، فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي ، وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ ، وَاقْدُرْ لِي الخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ، ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي بِهِ ، قَالَ : وَيُسَمِّي حَاجَتَهُ.

“Allah’s Messenger would teach us Al-Isthikhara for all of our affairs just as he would teach us a Surah of the Qur’an, saying: ‘When one of you is worried about a matter, then let him perform two Rak’ah other than the obligatory (prayer), then let him say: (Allahumma inni astakhiruka bi’ilmika, wa astaqdiruka biqudratika, wa as’aluka min falikal-azim, fa innaka taqdiru wa la qadiru, wa ta’lami wa la a’lamu, wa anta allamul-ghayub. Allahumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hadhal-amra khairun li fi dini wa ma’ishati wa aqibati amri, or said: Fi ajili amri wa ajilihi fayassirhu li,thumma barik li fihi, wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hadhal-amra sharrun li fi dini wa ma’ishati wa aqibati amri, or said: Fi ajili amri wa ajilihi fasrifhu anni wasrifni anhu waqdur Lil-khaira haithu kana, thumma ardini bih.)” ‘O Allah! I consult Your knowledge, and seek ability from Your power, and I ask You from Your magnificent bounty, for indeed You have power and I do not have power, and You know while I do not know, and You know the unseen. O Allah! If you know that this matter is good for me in my religion or my livelihood, and for my life in the Hereafter – or he said: for my present and future – then make it easy for me, then bless me in it. If You know that this matter is bad for me in my religion and my livelihood and my life in the Hereafter – or he said: for my present and future – then divert it from me and divert me from it, enable me to find the good wherever it is, then make me pleased with it.” He said: “And he mentions his need.” [8]

Syeikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mubarakfuri stated that the istikharah meant in this hadith is the istikharah prayer. He further said that this hadith is evidence that it is impermissible for a person to belittle anything even if he thinks it is insignificant. Then, he neglects istikharah. There is a possibility that the matter that he thought was insignificant, will harm him in the future. (See Tuhfah al-Ahwazi, 2/482)

This means that istikharah prayer is one of the methodologies to seek guidance and the best way in anything that one might face. It is a sunnah that is taught by the Prophet PBUH to his ummah.

The ruling of istikharah prayer is sunnah. For those who have a request or wanted to ask for guidance regarding a certain matter that he wishes to do, then it is sunnah for him to pray two rakaat and supplicate with the supplication taught by the Prophet PBUH as narrated in the hadith narrated by Jabir. al-Aini in Umdah al-Qari stated that even if one wishes to choose the shoelaces he wanted to buy he should ask for guidance from Allah through istikharah prayer.

Imam al-Nawawi stated that the methodology for this prayer is as the following:

  • For the first rakaat, after the al-Fatihah one should recite surah al-Kafirun.
  • In the second rakaaat, after the recitation of al-Fatihah then one should recite surah al-Ikhlas.
  • Supplicate with the supplication taught by the Prophet PBUH or other appropriate supplications.

Wallahu a’lam.

 

[1] Surah al-Baqarah: 45

[2] See Lisan al-Arab, 4/264

[3] See I’anah al-Talibin, 1/297

[4] See ‘Umdah al-Qari, 23/11

[5] See Fath al-Bari, 11/183

[6] See ‘Aun al-Ma’bud, 25/448

[7] See Tuhfah al-Ahwazi, 2/591

[8] Narrated by al-Tirmizi (480) and Ibn Majah (1383). Imam al-Tirmizi stated this hadith is hasan sahih gharib.

[9] See al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 4/54

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