Let it be clear from the onset, you will NOT necessarily see a dream/vision/sign/etc. Your istikhara du’a, if accepted, should result in Allah ﷻ placing a bit of inclination in your heart towards going through with the action or not.
Adam was in talks with a great woman from his masjid about potentially getting married. They had been communicating for about four months now and there hadn’t been any major setbacks. Adam was impressed with how smooth the process had been so far, but he had one problem that kept him from fully committing to this relationship. He had performed the istikhara prayer when they had first started contact, but he still hadn’t seen a sign or a dream. Was this a sign in it of itself that they are not meant to be?
The imagined scenario above is based on common preconceived notions regarding istikhara prayer and its outcomes. While it’s virtuous that so many in the Muslim community turn to Allah ﷻ and ask Him for help in decision-making processes, is this willingness to turn to Him based on a quiet belief that calling on Him in this way will lead to some miraculous intervention? As Muslims, we need to be more aware of the purpose of istikhara prayer and how to properly understand its results.
What many may not know is that istikhara is actually the third step of a three-step decision-making process. The du’a isn’t meant to be recited on its own like a magic spell. If done correctly, it should be preceded by two other crucial steps. The first is to do research into whatever it is you’re seeking a decision on. Find out all you can about the subject from trusted resources. The second step is to then do istishara (with a “sh”), which literally translates to, “to seek advice.” This is when you ask someone of experience and knowledge about the topic you’re seeking guidance on. Draw on their wisdom to narrow down your choices and help hone in on an option. Once you’ve completed these two prerequisites and you are still conflicted about your decision, then you are ready for istikhara!
Istikhara literally means “to seek the good,” so when you recite the istikhara du’a, you should understand that you are asking Allah ﷻ for the best possible outcome to whatever it is you are doing. As the du’a states in the latter half:
“O Allah, if You know that this decision is good for me in terms of my religiosity, my worldly life, and afterlife, then decree it, facilitate it for me with ease, and bless me through it. But if You know that this has bad consequences on my religiosity, my worldly life, and afterlife, then get it away from me and get me away from it, and [instead of that] decree what’s better for me, whatever it may be, and make me content with it.”
Now that we’ve followed the proper procedures, how do we soundly interpret the results of our istikhara prayer? What’s amazing is that while we understand that fortune-telling and horoscopes are haram (forbidden), we still look to istikhara as some sort of metaphysical loophole to these restrictions. Let it be clear from the onset, you will NOT necessarily see a dream/vision/sign/etc. Your istikhara du’a, if accepted, should result in Allah ﷻ placing a bit of inclination in your heart towards going through with the action or not. Istikhara is a natural process. Don’t expect anything otherworldly. Istikhara ensures that you have the blessings of Allah ﷻ backing your choice.
What’s important to note is that what you want at the time may not actually be what is meant for you. Allah knows best the short and long-term consequences of your decisions, so be thankful to Allah for whatever outcome you receive. It may be that you pray istikhara, but you don’t feel that your du’a is being answered. In these times, it’s good to remember the words of our Messenger ﷺ who is reported to have said,
“One of you is granted an answer (to his supplication) provided he does not say: ‘I prayed but I was not granted an answer.'”
More importantly, do not regret your decision afterward; as doing so would be to regret and doubt Allah’s guidance. Even if your decision “doesn’t work out,” how you envisioned it, know that it was better for you and that there are blessings in it even if you can’t see them (yet). As Allah ﷻ reminds us in His book:
“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you, and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you don’t know.”
Whether it’s a decision over marriage, which college to attend, or even something as simple as which shoes to wear in the morning, allow istikhara to guide your life choices without being beholden to answers appearing to you in a dream. Act confidently with the knowledge that your decisions now have the infinite baraka of your Master backing them.
To learn more visit Istikhara.com, a condensed summary of how and why to pray Istikhara.