Supplication of Istikharah
Now, let’s go ahead and discuss the supplication of istikharah itself. I’ll go ahead and read the hadith to you. This is a hadith from Sahih Bukhari.
Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him), a very knowledgeable companion of the Prophet of Allah , says, “The Messenger of Allah would regularly teach us to do istikharah 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 istikharah 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 istikharah. 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 istikharah 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 rak’ahs of optional, voluntary prayer aside from the fard obligatory prayer.'” This is where I was explicitly saying it has to be voluntary optional prayer because the Prophet explicitly in the hadith 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 istikharah is to be read after the prayer has been completed, after the taslim.
The Prophet reads the supplication for us and teaches us the supplication. I’m going to explain the meaning of the supplication.
‘O Allah, I seek most definitely that which is good from You by means of Your Knowledge’ because O Allah, You know what is good for me, and I don’t know what is good. The ayah 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, Allah is the only One who knows what is good for me, so that is why I am saying, “O Allah, 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.
‘And I ask You, to grant me from Your great, majestic benevolence and great blessing to bless me.’ I ask You to bless me from Your Blessings and to grant me some from Your Blessings.
This is personally my favorite part of the supplication. This states the mentality behind istikharah.
‘…because most definitely You are fully capable, and I am completely incapable.’
‘And You know everything and I don’t know anything.’
‘And O Allah, You are ‘Alam. ‘Alam 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 Allah, 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 akhirah. ‘If You know, O Allah, that this decision that I’d like to make and have been struggling with is good for me in my din and my religion, in my worldly matters and issues, and if this is good for me in the akhirah …’
Another narration of this same supplication, the Prophet said,
‘In my short term and in the long term…’
What do you think short term refers to? Dunya, this life. ‘ajilihi, the long term, makes reference to akhirah, the life of the hereafter.
‘O Allah, You know if this is good for me in the short term and the long term, dunya and akhirah.’
‘Make it possible for me. Make it happen for me.’
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 Allah. I want it to be easy, simple, accessible, and facilitated for me, O Allah. Then after I have it, I want barakah and blessing in it, O Allah.
What a comprehensive supplication. What a beautifully comprehensive supplication. It then goes on:
‘O Allah, You know if this issue, decision, matter is bad for me in my din, in my worldly matters and in the end of my affairs in the akhirah.
Another narration again says:
‘in my short term and in the long term’ meaning my dunya and my akhirah.
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 sar means to turn something. There are two entities here: you and what you are making istikharah for. The supplication says, “If this is bad for me in my dunya and akhirah, 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 istikharah for.
O Allah, if this is bad for me in my dunya and my akhirah, 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 istikharah for – your need, your necessity, your situation, your decision is still not complete. You made istikharah 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 Allah, “Turn it away from me and turn me away from it. I want nothing to do with it. O Allah, 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? Haythuka – 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 Allah. I will still do my due diligence and stay at work trying to find the right option, but O Allah, 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 Allah for khayr, and Allah will make khayr possible for you.
The yaqin, the conviction, needs to be there when you make supplication. Allah will make that which is good possible, you just have to keep sticking to what you are doing and keep your hopes high in Allah .
‘So make that which is good possible for me wherever and however it may be. Then make me pleased and satisfied with it.
In another narration, the Prophet says the words, “Then make me satisfied with it.” Make me content, satisfied, fulfilled with it. Make me pleased with it.
Again, it sounds like the same thing. Even somebody who doesn’t have any background in formal Arabic studies can hear the difference. Thumma ardini bihi and thumma raddini bihi. Ardini and raddini 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 ardini means ‘make something happen all at once.’ Make me all at once completely satisfied and fulfilled with it. Raddini has the implication for something to happen continuously, little by little, step by step.
SubhanAllah, 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 khalas 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 insha’Allah.” Then they say, “Ok, I’m good.” You wake up to pray salat’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.
SubhanAllah look at the Messenger of Allah and how well he knows his people and understands people. He accommodated both types of people. “Thumma ardini bihi” for the type of guy who might take his time to make a decision but once he makes it, he is done. “Thumma raddini bihi” for the person who “O Allah don’t just make me pleased with it, but keep me pleased with it.” Constantly reassure me about my decision, O Allah.
At the end of the supplication in the narration of Bukhari, 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 Allah, 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 istikharah about, and that would suffice. If somebody just visualizes or conceptualizes or thinks of what they are making istikharah 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. Allahumma 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 Allah, 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 istikharah and it gives you an insight as to why we do istikharah and what the purpose is and the spirit of istikharah.
One thing I would like to explain here about the supplication of istikharah 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 istikharah and why we do istikharah.
Ibn Abi Jamra (rahimahullah), a great scholar, said, “The wisdom behind putting the salah before the istikharah is the istikharah 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 salah precedes the supplication is like knocking at the door of the King and presenting yourself before Allah and making sujūd and humbling yourself and putting your face on the ground before Allah and then spreading your hands and presenting your need before Allah .” 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 istikharah, when a person is wholeheartedly inclined and feels good about a decision, then the person should say bismillah and go ahead with the course of action and the conclusion and decision.”
Istikharah is like a training in adab with Allah. “O Allah, I will not make a decision without praying to You. Even though I’m fully confident, I will still do istikharah.” It shows adab with Allah, and part of the adab with Allah is that when you do come to a conclusion and decision and did make istikharah 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 Allah and this practice of istikharah.
The last and final note I want to mention here is one other requirement for istikharah. I didn’t mention this in the prerequisites because I was talking about more in terms of fiqh. The primary ingredient of the istikharah is conviction. Know who you are praying to. You are praying to Allah, rabb’l-‘alamin. 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 istikharah. I am not just consulting with anyone. I am talking to Allah, and Allah will help me in my situation. Allah will give me clarity of mind, and Allah will bless me with confidence. When you do make istikharah 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 Allah for khayr, and if you have the level of conviction in Allah, you will have the conviction that Allah will provide to you that which is best for you.
Have that conviction. Have that level of iman and yaqin in Allah and His Ability to take care of you and Allah will insha’Allah take care of us. As it says in the hadith 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 Allah?
May Allah give us the ability to practice everything that we said and heard.
I will end with this one last hadith mentioned in the Musnad of Imam Ahmed and narrated by Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas who said that the Messenger of Allah said, “From the blessing of the son of adam is the ability to seek good from Allah, doing istikharah with Allah. Also from the blessing of the son of adam is that they are pleased with whatever Allah has decreed for them. From the wretchedness of the children of adam is when he leaves doing istikharah with Allah. Also from the wretchedness of the human being is that the human being is displeased with what Allah has decreed for him.”
May Allah bless us all to do istikharah and to be pleased with Allah’s Decree and decision in our affairs and issues. Jazakum Allah khayran. Al-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatulla