The istikhara prayer, or prayer of guidance (alternative spellings include: estekhara, estikhara, istekhara, estekharah, estikharah, istekharah), is a regular two-rakat prayer followed by the dua of istikhara, that is prayed seeking guidance (istikhara) and empowerment (istiqdar) from Allah.
Types of Istikhara Prayer
Sheikh Nuh Keller mentions that there are two types of istikhara prayer when seeking guidance on specific matters:
- The more commonly known usage as the prayer of guidance (istikhara), where one is unsure about a decision or a choice between matters, and asks for Allah’s guidance on the matter
- The less commonly known usage as the prayer of empowerment (istiqdar), where one has made up one’s mind and firmly resolved to undertake a matter, and uses the two-rakats and the dua of istikhara afterwards to ask Allah to empower one in it and facilitate it for one, if it is best for one’s religion, this worldly life, and the life to come
Seeking general guidance in life:
3. Additionally, a third form of general everyday istikhara prayer (not for a specific matter) can be made seeking all that is generally best in one’s life, and seeking Allah’s protection from all that is evil. This is the frequent everyday practice of many spiritual muslims.
Matters of Istikhara: Small or Large?
From the third general type of istikhara prayer above, it is clear that praying istikhara is not restricted to large decisions in one’s life. Rather, one may pray it for even the smallest everyday decisions—a momentous means of drawing closer to Allah.
General Etiquette of Istikhara
From a broad perspective the istikhara process should be accompanied by certain etiquette:
Seeking Counsel: Istishara
Before praying istikhara on specific matters, it is recommended that one seek the counsel of those worthy of being consulted in the matter—whose knowledge, wisdom, and concern one is confident in. This process of seeking sound counsel helps one objectively assess the matter, and further distances oneself from remaining prey to one’s own preferences.
Consigning the Matter to Allah: Suspending One’s Preferences
The sincerity and success of istikhara lies in suspending one’s own preferences regarding the matter, and sincerely turning to Allah’s choice in the matter—really not caring which way the outcome goes and consigning oneself to what Allah knows is best for one’s religion, this life, and the next. This is the most important condition of istikhara through which one can be certain that Allah will make matters unfold in the best direction for one’s worldly and next-worldly affairs.
More specific points pertaining to the etiquette of the two-rakat prayer and the dua of istikhara following the prayer are mentioned below.
The Two-Rakat Prayer
The dua of istikhara can be made after any non-fard two-rakat prayer: such as the two-rakat sunna prayer following the fard maghrib prayer; or two extra nafila rakats that one prays specifically for the istikhara.
The Etiquette of the Prayer
In the latter case, when one prays two extra rakats specifically for the istikhara prayer, one should ensure that one is not praying at a time of the day when it is disliked to pray.
Sheikh Nuh Keller mentions that many of the ‘ulama recommend praying istikhara after the ‘isha prayer. This is generally mentioned because the prayer should be prayed at a time of the day when one’s nafs is quiescent, and not “hot and ready to go”—so one has greater purity in suspending one’s own inclinations and preference regarding the matter, and in sincerely seeking Allah’s choice in the matter.
However one need not limit oneself to praying istikhara before sleeping. Many spiritual muslims have made it a practice of praying istikhara at the beginning of the day, in the earlier reaches of the time for duha prayer, seeking Allah’s guidance to all that is of benefit and protection from all that is of evil, for the day.
Sheikh Nuh Keller mentions that It is a sunna that the istikhara be prayed in the masjid, and to recite Sura Kafirun in the first raka and Sura Ikhlas in the second. It is also preferable to pray it in a far masjid, for example one across town, that one does not normally pray in—so that one is in unfamiliar surroundings, which strengthens the purity and clarity in turning towards Allah in the prayer.
When One is Unable to Pray
The ‘ulama have mentioned that when it is not possible for one to offer prayer, such as when one is travelling or on one’s menses, one is simply recommended to make the dua of istikhara without having performed the two-rakat salat preceding it.
The Dua of Istikhara
The supplication of istikhara to be made following the two-rakats is as follows:
The Supplication 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 ياَ أَرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِينَ
Allahumma inni astakhiruka bi ‘ilmika, wa astaqdiruka biqudratika, wa as aluka min fadlikal azim
Fa innaka taqdiru wa la aqdiru, wa ta’lamu wala a’lamu, wa anta allamul ghuyub
Allahumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hadhal amra khayrun li fi dini wa ma’ashi wa aqibati amri, faqdirhu li wa yassirhu li thumma barik li fihi
Wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hadhal amra sharrun li fi dini wa ma’ashi wa aqibati amri, fasrifhu ‘anni, wasrifni ‘anhu, waqdir lil khayra haythu kana thumma ardini, ya arham ar rahimin.
O Allah, verily I seek Your guidance through Your knowledge, and I seek Your empowerment through Your power, and I ask You from Your tremendous bounty.
For indeed You have power, while I am powerless; and You have knowledge, while I know not; and You are the Knower of the Unseen.
O Allah, if You know that this matter is good for me in my religion, my livelihood, and my final outcome, then decree it for me, and facilitate it for me, and bless me in it.
And if You know that this matter is not good for me in my religion, my livelihood, and my final outcome, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it, and decree for me the good wherever it may be, and make me content with it, O Most Merciful of the Merciful!
The Etiquette of the Dua
As with any dua, the general recommended etiquette of supplicating to Allah applies to the dua of istikhara:
That one face the qibla, preferably in a state of ritual purity (which would be the case anyways if one is making the dua immediately following the two-rakat salat).
That one precede the dua by praising Allah and sending blessings upon the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and similarly close the dua in a like manner.
Determining the Answer
Sheikh Nuh Keller mentions that the istikhara is seeking that Allah opens your disposition to the better of two matters. The istikhara can be answered in a variety of ways.
The answer to one’s istikhara could, but does not have to, come in the form of a dream, or other evident sign. Rather, after one prays istikhara sincerely turning to Allah and seeking His help, the unfolding of events concerning the matter on which istikhara was prayed shall itself constitute Allah’s facilitation towards, or turning one away from, the matter.
Sheikh Nuh Keller mentions that the more frequently one prays istikhara, the clearer the answer becomes to one through evident signs they can perceive right after the dua. Other people may see something in a dream; while others may feel an inclination in their heart towards one direction over another; while others may feel nothing at all, but they just go ahead and do what they want to anyway, and through the baraka of their superior adab of having performed istikhara, Allah facilitates the best course for them—and all of these are answers to the istikhara.
Scholars have mentioned that is is recommended to repeat the istikhara prayer up to seven times, if necessary, when one is not clear about the answer.