Time and time again we face having to make decisions in life. Some seem particularly important such as matters regarding marriage, moving house, going to university or deciding between a chocolate soufflé and pavlova for tonight’s dessert. And it is only at these times that we really feel the pressure of decision-making (perhaps not as much with the dessert dilemma). We try and shift this burden of having to make a decision from our shoulders by asking others of their opinions and seeking their counsel and advice. However the reality is that we must alone make the decision and no one else can make it for us. And seeking guidance from the correct avenue will make the stresses of decision-making much easier; seeking from Al-‘Alim, The All-Knowing, Allah (swt).
As Muslims, we perform the Istikhara prayer when seeking Allah’s Help in making a decision:
للَّهُمَّ 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 فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِيَ الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ ارْضِنِي بِهِ
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 all that is hidden.
O Allah! If in Your Knowledge, (this matter) is good for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs; immediate and in the distant, then ordain for me, make it easy for me and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge (this matter) is bad for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs; immediate and in the distant, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it. And ordain for the good wherever it be and make me pleased with it.
Subhanallah. When I was little I used to think that this was a magic prayer where you would say these words to your Creator and then He would tell you exactly what to do in a dream that very night. Though not denying this possibility, as I learnt more, I realised it was much much more than just a ‘magic prayer’. I know that one may feel more inclined to a certain decision after performing the Istikhara (which is a prayer to be repeatedly performed as opposed to single occasion) but it was something else I realised that resulted in some sort of paradigm shift within me. Such a simple grasp of the mind but it left me amazed. Sometimes decisions even made after Istikhara can momentarily leave one drowning in regret, wondering why there is no bed of roses as they had expected. If we end up feeling this way during whatever hardship we may be facing as a direct consequence of the decision, then we have failed to understand the essence of Istikhara. Performing the Istikhara is the key to the confidence in your knowledge that whatever is happening is only for your good – that only something good will come out of this. After all, you had asked for what is good for your religion, your livelihood and your affairs; immediate and in the distant. And who did you ask? – The supreme Possessor of knowledge, power and bounty. You asked Him, and He will take care of it. We are then required to exercise patience and pure trust in Allah (swt). So even if things don’t turn out the way one expects, we will still be happy in the knowledge that Allah is doing what is best for us.
This concept is beautifully described in the Hikam of Ibn Ata ‘Illah:
“If you make intense supplication
and the timing of the answer is delayed,
do not despair of it.
His reply to you is guaranteed;
but in the way He chooses,
not the way you choose,
and at the moment He desires,
not the moment you desire.
If something that is promised does not happen
even though the time for it is set,
do not doubt the promise!”
And this is the reason you will see a Muslim smile even in the eye of a storm.