Question # 454: Assalam alaikum. Can you explain how to pray salat al istikharah? Can it be perform on behalf of another person? How many times should it be prayed?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: If anyone is concerned about a decision he has to make, then he should pray two rakahs of non-obligatory (naafil) prayer, then say the dua’a of istikharah (see the long version of the answer) after finishing the prayer and before saying the salaam. An-Nawawi holds that “after performing the istikharah, a person must do what he is wholeheartedly inclined to do and feels good about doing and should not insist on doing what he had desired to do before making the istikharah. And if his feelings change, he should leave what he had intended to do, otherwise, he is not completely leaving the choice to Allah…”
Next, the issue of istikharah is confined to matters that are mubaah (allowed) and does not include obligatory (fard) or forbidden/disliked (haraam/makrooh) matters. Also, istikharah is a form of worship – individual duty, and therefore, no one should do it on behalf of another person. Next, according to major Schools of Thought, repeating Istikharah is likeable, and there is no limit on the number of its repetition. Furthermore, there is no known authentic hadith stating that one should sleep after offering Salatul Istikharah. Lastly, it can be offered at any time of the day provided one avoids the forbidden times; however, if the matter is urgent and cannot be delayed until the time when prayer is permitted, then it may be offered even during forbidden times.
Long Answer: The description of Salat al-Istikharah was reported by Jaabir ibn Abd-Allah al-Salami (رضي الله عنه), who said: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to teach his companions to make istikharah in all things, just as he used to teach them soorahs from the Qur’an. He said: If any one of you is concerned about a decision he has to make, then let him pray two rakahs of non-obligatory prayer, then say: Allahumma inni astakheeruka bi ilmika wa astaqdiruka bi qudratika wa asaluka min fadlika, fa innaka taqdiru wa laa aqdir, wa talamu wa laa alam, wa anta allaam al-ghuyoob. Allahumma fa in kunta talamu haadhal-amra (then the matter should be mentioned by name) khayran li fi aajil amri wa aajilihi (or: fi deeni wa maaashi wa aaqibati amri) faqdurhu li wa yassirhu li thumma baarik li fihi. Allahumma wa in kunta talamu annahu sharrun li fi deeni wa maaashi wa aaqibati amri (or: fi aajili amri wa aajilihi) fasrifni anhu [wasrafhu anni] waqdur li al-khayr haythu kaana thumma radini bihi (O Allah, I seek Your guidance [in making a choice] 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. O Allah, if in Your knowledge, this matter (then it should be mentioned by name) is good for me both in this world and in the Hereafter (or: in my religion, my livelihood, and my affairs), then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge it is bad for me and for my religion, my livelihood, and my affairs (or: for me both in this world and the next), then turn me away from it, [and turn it away from me], and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased with it.) (Reported by al-Bukhari; similar reports are also recorded by al-Tirmidhi, al-Nisai, Abu Dawood, Ibn Maajah, and Ahmad).
Ibn Hijr (may Allah have mercy on him) said, commenting on this hadith: “Istikharah is a word which means asking Allah to help one make a choice, meaning choosing the best of two things where one needs to choose one of them.”
Concerning the phrase: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to teach us to make istikharah in all things”, Ibn Abi Jamrah said: It is a general phrase which refers to something specific. With regard to matters that are waajib (obligatory) or mustahabb (liked or encouraged), there is no need for istikharah to decide whether to do them and with regard to matters that are haraam (forbidden) or makrooh (disliked), there is no need for istikharah to decide whether to avoid them. The issue of istikharah is confined to matters that are mubaah (allowed) or in mustahabb matters when there is a decision to be made as to which one should be given priority. I say: it refers to both great and small matters, and probably an insignificant issue could form the groundwork for a big issue.
The phrase: “If any one of you is concerned” appears in the version narrated by Ibn Masood as: “if any one of you wants to do something. Let him pray two rakahs of non-obligatory prayer.” This is mentioned to make it clear that it does not mean fajr prayer, for example. Al-Nawawi said in al-Adhkar: “He can pray istikharah after two rakahs of regular sunnah prayer done at dhuhr, for example, or after two rakahs of any naafil prayers whether they are regularly performed or not. It seems to be the case that if he made the intention to pray istikharah at the same time as intending to pray that particular prayer, this is fine, but not if he did not have this intention.”
Ibn Abi Jamrah said: “The wisdom behind putting the salah before the dua’a is that istikharah is intended to combine the goodness of this world with the goodness of the next. A person needs to knock at the door of the King (Allah), and there is nothing more effective for this than prayer because it contains glorification and praise of Allah and expresses one’s need for Him at all times.”
The phrase then let him say would seem to imply that the dua’a should be said after finishing the prayer, and the word thumma (then) probably means after reciting all the words of the salaat and before saying salaam.
The secret is that one’s heart should not be attached to the matter in question because that will result in a person becoming restless. Being pleased with something means that one’s heart is content with the decree of Allah.
(Summarized from the commentary of al-Haafiz Ibn Hijr (may Allah have mercy on him) on the hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Dawat, and Kitab al-Tawheed)
An-Nawawi holds that “after performing the Istikharah, a person must do what he is wholeheartedly inclined to do and feels good about doing and should not insist on doing what he had desired to do before making the Istikharah. And if his feelings change, he should leave what he had intended to do; otherwise, he is not completely leaving the choice to Allah and would not be honest in seeking aid from Allah’s power and knowledge. Sincerity in seeking Allah’s choice means that one should completely leave what he himself had desired or determined.”
[Next,] Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen was asked if Istikharah is only for worldly affairs or also for matters of worship, he said: “The hadith that came from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) regarding Istikharah is comprehensive and general for all kinds of issues that concern a person who is uncertain of what is best for him: to do it or to leave it. Such should seek Istikharah with Allah. However, this does not include obligatory matters since anything that is obligatory is already known to be best for the person without further consideration.”
[Next,] istikharah is a form of worship. Initially, worshipping is an individual duty. So, no one should do it on behalf of another person unless there is evidence supporting it. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that denies approval for praying on behalf of someone else. al-Nasa’i reported from Ibn Abbas that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “No person should pray on behalf of another person or fast on behalf of him.”
So, if someone wants to make Istikharah, he should do it for himself. But one could ask Allah to guide him/her to do what is best.
As for repeating Istikharah, the majority of Hanafi and Malik scholars consider repeating Istikharah seven times likeable. In fact, this is asking Allah more emphatically, which is a good thing that pleases Allah – repeating Istikharah. The Shafi’i also consider repeating Istikharah likeable but did not limit the number of repetitions, and this is the most correct opinion. So, the person making Istikharah can repeat it as many times as he wishes.
Among the myths that are widespread among people is that after praying istikharah you should sleep, and whatever good you see in your dream that makes you happy means that what you want to do is good and will be made easy for you; otherwise, it is not good. There is no saheeh daleel (evidence) for this as far as we know.
As for its timing, Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymin said: “If istikharah has to do with an immediate matter that cannot be delayed until the time when prayer is not allowed is over, then it may be done. If it is for something that may be delayed, then it must be delayed.” (Majmu’ Fatawa Ibn ‘Uthaymin)
(The above reply is based on the following resources:
- Islamweb.net, a website belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in the State of Qatar
- Answer provided by Islamqa.info on similar topics)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.