Decision making is a part of our daily routine. Whether these are small decisions on what to eat and where to go, or life-changing decisions such as getting married, accepting a job offer or moving town, or anything in between. However big or small, these decisions play an important role in our lives.
Having the ability to make good choices is a crucial life-skill. Allah recognises our human need for guidance during decision making, and so offers us a range of tools and tips through the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. These tools include duas such as the powerful istikhara dua and the method of istishara (consultation).
Moreover, decision making is a skill that is important for everyone to master, not just for people in positions of power or authority, and not just for adults! Nurturing good decision making habits in children is important in helping them build these life-skills. An excerpt from the following book has a short section on decision making for children, along with a shorter istikhara dua they can use to help them: ‘Wonderful Women Around the Prophet: The Clever Companions’ reminds us and explains so simply:
“Rumaysaa was not tempted by presents. She knew that believing in Allah was more important than having lots of presents. If you feel tempted by doing something wrong, like eating all those tasty chocolates by yourself, then you can stop and think about how you are being tested. Allah loves to test us to see if we choose to do what is good.
Then he rewards us with something even better. If you are stuck and can’t decide what to do, you can always ask Allah to help you make the right choice.
This Dua asks Allah for His help:
اَللّٰهُمَّ خِرْ لِيْ وَاخْتَرْ لِيْ
Allaahumma khir lee wakhtar lee
Oh Allah help me to decide, and choose for me
Decision making can be overwhelming, for adults too. Sometimes too much choice, or the burden of choice makes us doubt ourselves. This is why, istikhara is about having trust in Allah and believing that Allah wants what is best for us.
Before going forward with istikhara, there are also a few important things to consider.
Is this going to please Allah?
“Allah loves to test us to see if we choose to do what is good.” Source
When faced with a decision, the first question to ask yourself is whether the decision you’re intending to make will be pleasing to Allah. Which choice would be more conducive to your role as a worshipper of Allah? Which choice will help you be a better servant of Allah and thus a better person?
Whenever a Muslim is faced with a decision to carry out an action that is displeasing to Allah, and they make the decision not to go ahead with that action, they are challenging their nafs (desires). They restrain themselves solely because they are conscious of being in Allah’s presence.
For that, they receive rewards from Allah for their struggle, their patience, their restraint, and for stopping themselves from carrying out that sin. And then each reward is multiplied!
Usually the sinful action is the easier or more tempting one, and that is because shaytan is constantly pulling us towards the harmful, sinful decision. Choosing the option that is more pleasing to Allah is not a passive action – it requires us to struggle against ourselves, our own Nafs and to struggle against shaytan and to work hard to please Allah.
The easy way out
Sometimes, we face decision making between two things that are equally rewarding, or neutral in terms of pleasing Allah. A simple example is deciding which route to take when travelling.
Aa’ishah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ says that whenever the Prophet was given a choice between two matters, he would choose the easier option.
He chose what was easy for people and simple to follow. This sets guidelines for us too – to not put ourselves through unnecessary struggles and hardship where we can avoid it. Allah wants ease for us.
Allah gives us beautiful Quranic examples of decision making, from which we can take beneficial tips. One of the most important of these tips is to do ‘Istishara’ which means seeking advice from wise people around us who we trust. The best example of this in the Qur’an is Queen Bilqees (the Queen of Sabaa), who was faced with a difficult political decision when she receives a letter from a foreign king (Prophet Sulayman peace be upon him) about Islam:
Should she go to war with this foreign country that is potentially posing a threat to her kingdom? Or should she accept their message at face value and engage them in conciliatory talks?
Her decision making process is outlined in the Qur’an, and her amazing leadership qualities are demonstrated in the following verses:
The Queen of Sabaa said, ‘Counsellors, a gracious letter has been delivered to me. It is from Sulaymaan, and it says, “In the name of Allah, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, do not put yourselves above me, and come to me in submission to God.”’ She said, ‘Counsellors, give me your counsel in the matter I now face: I only ever decide on matters in your presence.’ (Surah Naml: 29-32)
Queen Bilqees engages in istishara here – she consults people around her and asks them for their professional opinions. The people she consults were ministers, speaking in their capacity as advisors. They were professionals and appointed experts in the field of international politics.
We learn from Queen Bilqees’s istishara, that sometimes, an expert eye can give us the perspective that we might not have had; we also learn that multiple points of view are always better than one. Queen Bilqees demonstrates her wisdom as a leader; a leader who listens to her people is not arrogant or complacent.
They replied, ‘We possess great force and power in war, but you are in command, so consider what orders to give us.’ She said, ‘Whenever kings go into a city, they ruin it and humiliate its leaders– that is what they do– but I am going to send them a gift, then see what answer my envoys bring back.’ (Surah Naml: 33-35)
We then read from the story mentioned in the Qur’an, that after the ministers advised her to go to war with the nation of Sulayman (as), Queen Bilqees does not follow their recommendation! In fact, she does the exact opposite of what they advised her to do. She chooses the solution that is most aligned to peace and wisdom, and the Qur’an praises her for this choice.
We therefore learn that although istishara can be very crucial to decision-making, it is not binding; it does not oblige you to stick to the opinion that was suggested to you. In the end, if the matter is one that you need to decide on, then the decision will always be your responsibility. Choose wisely and reflectively.
There are also many examples from the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ, where he makes istishara. During the pledge of hudaybiyah, where the Prophet and companions had been prevented by the Quraysh from making Hajj, the Prophet ﷺ was commanding the companions to shave the hair on their heads, even though they had not done the Hajj. The companions were very emotional and distraught, and were shocked into inaction. The Prophet takes istishara from his wife, Umm Salamah, who gives very insightful advice: she realises that the companions’ love for the Prophet meant that if he himself went out and shaved his hair, the companions would see this and immediately follow suit. The Prophet ﷺ acted on her istishara, and she was right – the companions did shave their hair, immediately upon seeing the Prophet ﷺ do so himself!
This beautiful verse in the Qur’an was revealed with guidance to the Prophet ﷺ on decision making, which we all can take from:
By an act of mercy from Allah, you [Prophet] were made gentle in your dealings with them (the companions)– had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you– so pardon them and ask forgiveness for them. Consult with them about matters, then, when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in Allah: Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. If Allah helps you [believers], no one can overcome you; if He forsakes you, who else can help you? Believers should put their trust in Allah. (Aal Imraan: 159-160)
Allah instructs the Prophet ﷺ to make istishara with his companions. This shows that istishara is not only something that we take with older, more experienced, or more knowledgeable people. We can make istishara with our families and friends, with anyone who we know will have our best interests at heart. The purpose of istishara is to be able to weigh out other options and perspectives.
The verse also has a directive to trust in Allah once we have made our decision, and not to let shaytan plague our minds with anxiety and indecisiveness. Knowing that we have done everything we can, and then relying upon Allah is a calming thought, that gives us confidence and helps us to remember that Allah always wants what is best for us. As the verses also remind us, that once Allah is on our side, no force in the world can crush us.
The Prophet ﷺ outlined a beautiful Dua that we can say when we are stuck between two choices. This Dua reminds us that asking other people, or being reflective on our own, always has its limits. We always need help and guidance from our Creator. No matter what decision, small or big, it is important to always be in conversation with Allah, to ask Him, to consult Him – to make istishara with Allah too!
Jabir ibn Abdullah said that the Prophet ﷺ used to teach us the way of doing istikhara (istikhara means to ask Allah to guide us to the right decision) in all matters, just as he taught us the Surahs of the Quran. He said, “If anyone of you intends to do something, you should offer a two Rakat non-compulsory prayer, then he should say:
Istikhara Dua in English
Oh Allah, I ask for goodness from Your knowledge, I seek strength from your power.
And I ask You for your greatest blessings; You are able to do anything, and I am not. You know everything and I do not, and You know the unseen.
Oh Allah, if in Your knowledge, this decision is better for my faith, for my life in this world, and for the hereafter then destine it for me, make it easy for me and then add blessings in it, for me.
Oh Allah, if in Your knowledge this decision is bad for my faith, for my life in this world, and for the hereafter, then turn it away from me and turn me away from it.
Destine whatever is better for me, and then make me content with it.”
The Prophet ﷺ added that the person should then mention his need.
How do I make Istikhara?
I am on my period, so I can’t pray 2 rak’ah, can I still make Istikhara?
Yes, simply follow step 3 without the 2 rak’ah. Allah will still reward you as if you had prayed the 2 rak’ah, because that is what you would have done, should you have been able to!
Do I have to sleep after Istikhara?
No, you don’t have to sleep. The reason why it is good to make Istikharah before you sleep, is that sleeping acts as a way to reinforce memory formation and helps your brain to organise your thoughts and process them. Waking up in the morning with a fresh mind may help you to think about your options from a different perspective. Secondly, some people may see a dream that will help them to feel inclined one way or another!
I didn’t see a dream. Why didn’t I see a dream?
Not everyone sees a dream and that is fine! In fact, most people don’t see a dream after istikhara. What is more important, is what your heart tells you and what you feel inclined towards after the Istikhara.
I had a dream after istikhara, but I didn’t understand it.
Perhaps your local imam can help you to understand or interpret your dream? However, if you don’t have a local imam, still don’t worry too much about the dream. To reiterate – the main concern is related to what decision your heart is inclined towards.
I don’t know the Istikhara Dua by heart. What should I do?
Try your best to learn it, but if you can’t, choose option 3 where you can recite it after the prayer, during a Dua with your hands raised. You can use a piece of paper or a mobile device to read the Dua.
Can I say the Dua in English?
Yes, you can say the translation so long as it is outside of the prayer. However, note that a translation is never an exact rendition of the Arabic words. The Arabic words are the ones used by the Prophet ﷺ, so apart from the wise choice of words the Prophet used with his amazing eloquence, there is also a barakah (blessing) attached to saying the Dua in Arabic. Maybe you can say it both in Arabic and in English!
The wording of the Dua is very touching. I always recommend that people who are going through a decision making process can put this Dua as their lock screen display on their phones, so that they see it often and remember to recite it whenever they see it. The Dua doesn’t have to be recited strictly after prayer, or on a prayer mat – Allah can hear you wherever you are – so take out your phones and say a small Dua to Allah to ask Him for help during decision making!
If I have a decision to make on the spot, and don’t have time to recite the whole Dua, is there a shorter version of the Dua I can make?
Yes! This Dua can be recited as a shorter version of the Istikhara Dua that just asks Allah to help us choose.
اَللّٰهُمَّ خِرْ لِيْ وَاخْتَرْ لِيْ
Allaahumma khir lee wakhtar lee
Oh Allah help me to decide, and choose for me
Our religion has given us guidance in the form of istishara and istikhara. The shorter Dua can be easily memorised and recited, and can also be a great way to encourage children to remember to turn to Allah whenever they have a difficult decision to make.
Rumaysa is a qualified teacher with ijazaat in hadith. With experience teaching Islamic Sciences for over 10 years, she completed her Masters in Islamic education and subsequently worked on developing curriculums for Islamic institutions. She also has a degree in Biochemistry and a PGCE, having taught science for a number of years. She is a book lover and writer, contributing articles on a range of topics, and is particularly passionate about female scholarship. She is a member of a Shariah panel, and works with Muslim women in the community on a range of different issues. You can sign up to her latest course on Women in the Qur’ān on Eventbrite: