The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam has said:
"If one of you is concerned about some practical undertaking, or about making plans for a journey, he should perform two Raka'aats (cycles) of voluntary prayer." Then he should say the following Du'aa:
اللَّهمَّ إنِّي أستَخيرك بعلمكَ، و أستقدرك بقُدرتك، و أسْألك مِن فضلك العظيم،
فإنّك تَقْدر و لا أقْدِر، و تعلم و لا أعلم، و أنت علاَّمُ الغُيوب.
اللَّهمَّ إنْ كنتَ تعلم أنَّ هذا الأمْرِ خيرٌ لي في ديْني و معَاشي و عاقِبة أمري
– او قال عاجِل أمري و آجِله –
فاقْدِرْهُ لي و يسِّرْه لي ثمَّ بارِك لي فِيه،
و إن كنتَ تعلم أنَّ هذا الأمرِ شرٌّ لي في دِيني و معآشِي و عاقبةِ أمْرِي
– او قال في عاجِل أمرِي و آجِله –
فاصْرِفْه عَنِّي، و اصْرفْنِي عَنه، و اقْدِر لِيَ الخيْرَ حَيْثُ كان ثُمَّ ارْضِنِي بِه.
Oh 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.
Oh 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.
We all turn to Allah during times when we are in need, and one of the most common methods and reasons for turning to Him is to seek His guidance through the Salaah of Istikhara.
Istikhara, in reality, means “to seek goodness from Allah” according to some Ulamaa and according to some it is “to seek guidance from Allah”. Whichever meaning we take, it is a prayer and supplication which is made by a believer to His Lord to help him in the time of need and confusion.
However, it is also a known fact that many people experience confusion about this particular prayer. The main reason for the occurrence of confusion is because the person who is offering this prayer is expecting divine guidance from Allah Ta'ala and therefore has this belief in this heart that whatever result and path he is shown to take will be the correct path and the most beneficial path for him chosen by Allah Himself.
However, when people offer this prayer, it is witnessed that the confusion of a person is not removed. Furthermore, the path that one appears to have been told to take is sometimes not a smooth and clear path; instead, the person apparently faces more difficulty in taking that path.
It is for this reason that it is vital to clear a few misconceptions and furthermore present a wonderful insight of a great scholar from the followers of Imaam Shafi'ee Rahimahullah.
The first and most common view of Istikhara is that it is a prayer through which one seeks the guidance from Allah Ta'ala. It is a prayer that removes the confusion a person is experiencing in a matter he wishes to undertake; be that matter should you marry this certain person? Should you attend this graduate school? Should you take this job offer or that one?
Therefore, the person who performs this prayer does so in order to seek guidance from Allah Ta'ala and hopes that his heart will be inclined towards one of the two matters thus enlightening him as to what decision to make.
However, as mentioned before, we sometimes see that we do not receive any sort of inclination after the Istikhara, or that once the decision is made we go through difficulties in the option we followed due to the Istikhara.
Primarily, it should be understood that, according to this view, we are seeking Allah's complete knowledge to guide us and therefore we should understand that whatever path we take is the right path for us and no matter what apparent difficulties we go through there is some benefit for us within this path that Allah has inclined our hearts towards.
Furthermore, if we feel that there is no inclination towards a certain matter then the scholars have mentioned that we should perform the prayer several times until we do receive an answer from Allah Ta'ala.
Istikhara rather than being a prayer for guidance it is a supplication (Du'aa) to Allah Ta'ala and a prayer to seek goodness from Him. It is through this prayer that a person asks Allah Ta'ala to put goodness in whatever he decides to do and a supplication to Allah asking Him to guide him towards that in which there is goodness for him and keep him away from that which has no goodness for him.
(The explanation of the Imam that is given is very lengthy and takes a great effort to explain. Alhumdulillah I am in the process of completing the translation of this article which I will post in the near future, Insha Allah.)
In brief, the scholar mentions that if one is to believe that this prayer is that of guidance that it deems necessary to believe that Allah's guidance is always correct as He has complete knowledge. However, we see many a times that the confusion still remains after the prayer and therefore it means that the promise from Allah was not fulfilled and through Istikhara one did not achieve what one was promised; and it is impossible for Allah to command of something and then not have that order achieve its results.
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi recalls one pious saint from the Shafi'ee group (which the author cannot recall) who mentioned an amazing insight about Salaat-ul-Istikhara. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, after mentioning this scholar's amazing explanation, says himself that he is more inclined towards the Shafi'ee explanation of Istikhara and that this is the more correct opinion.
With this view if we take into account the above issues and confusion that often occurs, the confusions still remaining and facing difficulties in the path the one took, we can say that Istikhara is a Du'aa and all Dua'aas are accepted by Allah but it is not necessary that it be in this world or immediately. Therefore, not receiving clarification would mean that Allah has accepted our Dua'aas (as He has promised to do so) but He has not answered it immediately, or that He will give us a greater reward for this supplication in the Hereafter.
Similarly, if we face difficulties in a chosen path it could have the same explanation as above or that Allah will shortly give us goodness in the matter we have chosen.
Benefits of this Second View
If one takes this second view into account then one will be able to make use of worldly means in able to make his decision and remove his confusion regarding the matter. Istikhara will be a supplication from Allah Ta'ala to help him in his decision and to give him goodness it whatever he chooses to do, whilst taking aid from the mediums will help resolve his confusion and assist him in making a decision.
We have been instructed by the Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam to perform the Istikhara prayer whenever we make decisions in our life, especially when we make some major decisions in life. Therefore, we should always make an effort to perform this prayer of Istikhara, whether we see it as a way in receiving guidance or whether we perform it as a supplication.
Furthermore, we should always use the mediums that Allah has placed in this world to aid us with removing our confusions. The world has been referred to as “Darul Asbaab” (the place of mediums) and it is the wisdom of Allah that in order to acquire anything or even receive anything from Him we need to use the means and mediums that Allah has placed within this world.
Finally, we should always trust in the decisions that we take through the guidance of Allah and those that we take after supplicating to Him; His mercy is infinite and though Allah may shower His mercy with delay upon us, through His own wisdom, but He will surely guide us and aid us through those matters that we have taken with hope of His help and guidance. As the Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam advised us in the final words of the Du'aa, "and make me content with it", we should remain content with the decision we took with trust in Allah.
May Allah bless us with divine guidance from Himself and may He give us the understanding to make the correct decisions and may He put goodness in whatever He chooses for us to do. Aameen