One of the things that many Muslims do when they want to make a decision when they are having doubts about it is istikharah (إستِخَارَة), which literally means seeking good from Allah. In this article on Islam4u, we will discuss when, why, and how to do istikharah.
The Circumstances of Istikharah
Istikharah is done when a person is having doubts about whether or not they should do something. In fact, it is leaving one’s affairs to Allah to make the right choice for them. We have been told that one should not do istikharah when one’s intellect dictates something as right or wrong. Moreover, one should first seek the counsel of those who are experts concerning the decision one wants to make. If one still has doubts after consultation and their intellect does not provide them with a convincing answer, they can do istikharah. When it is done, it is important that one follows it. That is, if its outcome is good, one must do what they had intended, and if it is bad, one must forgo it. Nevertheless, it is not obligatory to act according to it.
However, one has to face the negative consequences for not acting upon the istikharah especially if it is bad. If its outcome is good and not doing it will not harm anyone, one can forgo it. On the other hand, if one does the thing they had done the istikharah for even though the istikharah was bad, they themselves will suffer its consequences.
For What Things Can One Do Istikharah?
It is important to note that one cannot do istikharah for things that relate to the obligatory acts that we must or must not do. For example, one cannot do it for performing or not performing prayer (salat). Moreover, one is not allowed to do it concerning things that are haram to do. For example, one cannot do istikharah for whether or not one can commit a sin such as lying or stealing.
Many people will question the credibility of istikharah. Why should one even do it when they can do some research and find out for themselves whether doing something or making certain decisions are good or bad? They are right to some extent. One should try their best not to do istikharah before doing research and consulting with the experts. Istikharah is only doable when everything has been done and one still has doubts about doing or not doing something. Therefore, if one jumps into doing istikharah before taking the necessary measures for solving a problem, they have not made the best decision.
If one does istikharah and the outcome is bad but later they find out that it is a good thing to do based on their intellect and research, that istikharah will be nullified, and they can do what they had intended. The same is true if it is good but later they find out it is a bad thing to do.
How to Do It
Not everyone is qualified for doing istikharah. It must be done by a knowledgeable, righteous, and pious person, especially if it is done by the Quran. Therefore, one should go to religious scholars for istikharah. There are two famous methods for doing istikharah:
1. Tasbih (rosary)
2. The Quran
The person who is doing the istikharah must have wudu and should try to face the qiblah if they know the direction of the qiblah. The person who wants the istikharah to be done for them must make the intention for it. The intention could be anything, including marriage, buying a house, or any other thing. With tasbih, there are various methods for doing istikharah. We will mention only one method for the sake of brevity.
One first holds the tasbih with one’s right hand. Then, one must send salawat three times. Afterward, one must hold a part of the tasbih with one’s left hand, and then count two beads at a time toward one’s other hand. If only one bead remains, it means the istikharah is good and one should do what one had intended. If two beads remain, it means the istikharah is bad and one should not do what one had intended.
With the Quran
Doing istikharah with the Quran is harder than with a tasbih because the person who opens the Quran must be familiar with the meaning and concepts in the Quran, and then infer from the verse whether the content is good or bad. We will mention only one of the methods of doing istikharah with the Quran for the sake of brevity. To do istikharah with the Quran, one must have wudu and face the qiblah. The person doing it must try to establish a spiritual connection with Allah before opening the Quran. Here is what must be done:
1. Reciting Surah Ikhlas three times
2. Sending salawat three times
3. Reading the following supplication:
اللّهُمَّ إنّي تَفأَلْتُ بِكِتابِكَ وَتَوّكَّلْتُ عَلَيْكَ فَأَرِني مِنْ كِتابِكَ ماهُوَ مَكْتُومٌ مِنْ سِرِّكَ المَكْنونِ في غَيْبِكَ
O Allah. Indeed, I am seeking a means from Your Book, and I am putting my trust in You. Therefore, show me from Your Book that which is hidden from the guarded secret of Your unseen knowledge.
Then, one should randomly open the Quran and read the first verse of the first page on the right. Identifying the istikharah as good or bad depends on how the person doing it infers the verse. If they are knowledgeable in religious and Quranic sciences, one must trust them. Usually, verses that are about punishment, hellfire, the disbelievers, and hypocrites render the istikharah bad, and verses that are about paradise, the believers, rewards, and guidance are good, just to name a few.
How Many Times Can We Do It?
Repeatedly doing istikharah with the same intention is not acceptable. In fact, only the first one that is done for one intention is valid. Repeating it is a sign that one is not certain of the outcome of the istikharah and shows that one’s faith is weak. Of course, some jurists have said that repeating an istikharah for important issues such as marriage is permissible, provided that sadaqa is given before repeating it.
These were some explanations about istikharah. It is done when one has doubts about doing something after consultation and reasoning do not yield results. It is done in two ways, the Quran and tasbih. One must try to follow whatever the outcome is, otherwise one must face up to the consequences of not following the istikharah. By doing it, one is leaving one’s affairs to Allah to make the right choice for them.