The Guidance Prayer ~ A Crash Course

Perhaps one the best known Islamic tool for choosing is the Guidance Prayer (ṣalāt al-istikhārah), a prayer named for the supplication for guidance that occurs at its end.

The Arabic word “istikhārah” comes from the root “khā-yā-rā.” In his Muʿjam Maqāyīs al-Lughah, Ibn Fāris, the core linguistic sense is to feel favorable or to incline towards something, and then carry it out, and “istikhārah” means you asking which of two matters is better for you.1 He refines this definition in Mujmal al-Lughat, saying that “istikhārah” is you asking Allah Mighty and Majestic which is of two matters is best.2 Ibn al-Manẓūr in Lisān al-ʿArab and Ibn Athīr in Al-Nihāyat fī Gharīb al-Athar give similar definitions: seeking the best choice regarding something.3 Al-Fayūmī in Al-Miṣbāḥ al-Munīr defines it as asking another (e.g., Allah) to choose the best.4 And Ibn ʿAllān gives a basic definition in Dalīl al-Fāliḥīn: seeking the best choice; a more refined one in Al-Futūḥāt al-Rabbāniyyah: asking for the best choice between two matters — whether it be performance or abstention.5

Based on the above, the linguistic meaning of the Arabic word “istikhārah” is to seek the best of all affairs. Technically, it means seeking whatever Allah has chosen and is best, using the prayer or supplication transmitted for seeking guidance.

The Guidance Prayer is a recommended Prophetic norm. Its textual foundation comes from the hadith that Jābir bin ʿAbd Allāh (may Allah be pleased with them both) related: “The Prophet ﷺ would teach us to make the Guidance Prayer (istikhārah) for all affairs, as he would teach a chapter of the Quran, saying: ‘When an affair concerns one of you, pray two nonobligatory prayer-cycles and say, “O Allah, I ask You to show me what is best through Your knowledge and bring it to pass through Your power, and I ask You of Your immense favor; for You are all-powerful and I am not. You know and I do not, and You are the Knower of the Unseen. O Allah, if You know this matter to be better for me in my religion, livelihood, and final outcome [or perhaps he said, “the short and long term of my case”], then bring it about and facilitate it for me, and bless me with abundance therein. And if You know this matter to be worse for me in my religion, livelihood, and final outcome [or perhaps he said, “the short and long term of my case”], then keep it from me, and keep me from it, and bring about the good for me whatever it may be, and make me pleased with it,”‘ and then one should mention the matter at hand.'”6 [Bukhari (63287)]

The wisdom behind its performance is surrendering to Allah’s decree and obtaining the best of both this life and the Afterlife.8

The Guidance Prayer is performed for affairs where the individual does not know what is best. It is not performed for affairs that are already known to be good or evil (such as acts of worship or disobedience) since there is no need to seek guidance on them. This is unless one is seeking, for example, when to perform them. So the Guidance Prayer is not applicable to affairs that are obligatory, unlawful, or offensive. Rather, it is applicable to affairs that are recommended and permissible. With respect to recommended affairs: it is not in its default ruling itself that is sought since it is something to be sought. Rather, the Guidance Prayer is applicable to cases where two recommended matters are in conflict. In such cases, one uses the Guidance Prayer to choose which matter to start with or to limit oneself to. And for permissible matters, one can use the Guidance Prayer to decide whether or not to perform them.9

There is disagreement over whether one seeks guidance for a specific affair or categorically. Some scholars prefer the first due to the apparent meaning of the hadith mentioned above. Ibn ʿArafah preferred the second; Imām al-Shaʿrānī said, “It is more excellent. We tried it and found it to be sound.”10

Imam al-Nawawī mentioned that before performing the Guidance Prayer, one should consult individuals known for their sound advice and expertise, whom one trusts regarding their piety and gnosis (marʿrifah). Allah Most High said, “and consult them in affairs” (Q3:159). If one consults and the best course becomes obvious, he then performs the Guidance Prayer.11 Ibn Hajar al-Haytamī indicated that counsel is sought when one is conflicted or confused. But if one is resolute and considers his desires to be true and unbiased, he performs the Guidance Prayer without first consulting.12

There are three ways to perform the Guidance Prayer. The best way is to pray two non-obligatory prayer-cycles with the intention of seeking guidance and, after finishing the prayer, make the specific supplication.13

The next best way is to make the supplication after any prayer — whether obligatory or voluntary. It is best that the intention for the prayer includes seeking guidance. However, it is not necessary — similar to greeting the mosque.14

The least best way is to perform the supplication without the performing prayer. This is in the event that they cannot perform prayer.15

One can seek guidance using just the supplication at any time of day since supplication itself is never forbidden at any particular time. But when one seeks guidance using the combined prayer and supplication, its performance is forbidden during the times when prayer itself is forbidden — except in the Sacred Precinct.16

The prayer is performed as two prayer-cycles, though it can be more.17 After reads Al-Fātiḥah, it is recommended to read Al-Kāfirūn in the first prayer-cycle, and al-Ikhlāṣ in the second.18

The supplicant should face the direction of prayer, hands raised. The supplication is the one mentioned in the hadith. It is recommended to begin and end the supplication with praising Allah, and with blessing and salutations upon the Prophet ﷺ.19 He should also observe the other etiquette related to supplication.20

The supplication should be made after the prayer.21 According to Ibn Ḥajar, it can be made…

Before and during seeking guidance, one must do their utmost to remove any preference for the performance of abstention so he can seek guidance from Allah while in a state of submission.

When seeking guidance, it is offensive to hasten an answer. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Allah answers [supplication] so long as one does not hasten by saying ‘I supplicated and You did not answer me.'” Likewise, he should be content with whatever Allah chooses for him.22

The Guidance Prayer should be repeated until an answer becomes clear. An answer usually appears within seven times, though it may require more. One can repeat beyond seven times.23 The indication that the supplication was accepted is one’s heart inclining towards a particular affair.

However, another opinion is that one performs the guidance prayer and then does whatever one sees fit — even if he does not incline towards either since [whatever he does] will be good.24 Al-Subkī attributed this opinion to al-Zamlakānī. Plus, the hadith does not mention inclining towards a particular affair.25

An indicator of rejection is being the heart being diverted from the affair such that there is no longer any concern for it in his heart.26

It is permissible to perform the Guidance Prayer on someone’s behalf.27

And Allah knows best.

  1. Aḥmed bin Fāris, Muʿjam Maqāyīs al-Lughah, 2:232. 
  2. Aḥmed bin Fāris,Mujmal al-Lughah, 308. 
  3. Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿArab, 4:255; Ibn Athīr, Al-Nihāyat fī Gharīb al-Athar,* 2:91. 
  4. Al-Fayūmī, Al-Miṣbāḥ al-Munīr fī Gharīb Al-Sharḥ al-Kabīr, 1:185. 
  5. Ibn ʿAllān, Dalīl al-Fāliḥīn, 5:205; Ibn ʿAllān, Al-Futūḥāt al-Rabbāniyyah, 3:344. 
  6. Nuh Keller, Reliance of the Traveller, p151 §f10.11. Al-Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar [Dar Ibn Hazm], pp229 #658; Riyadh al-Salihin [Mu’assisah al-Risalah], p241 #718. 
  7. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:242. Al-Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar [Dar Ibn Hazm], pp230 #659. 
  8. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:242. 
  9. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:242. 
  10. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:242–243. 
  11. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:243–243. 
  12. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:243. 
  13. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:243. 
  14. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:243. Al-Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar [Dar Ibn Hazm], pp230 #659. 
  15. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:243. Al-Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar [Dar Ibn Hazm], pp230 #659. 
  16. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:244. 
  17. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:244. 
  18. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:245. Al-Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar [Dar Ibn Hazm], pp230 #659. 
  19. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:245. Al-Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar [Dar Ibn Hazm], pp231 #660. 
  20. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:245. 
  21. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:246. 
  22. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:246. 
  23. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:245–6. 
  24. Al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyyah, 3:356. 
  25. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:246–247. 
  26. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:247. 
  27. Al-Mawsūʿah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, 3:246. 

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