Islam is a complete way of life, so much so that even the manner of making day-to-day decisions is covered by the religion. This guidance applies to any decision that is made with a good intention, whether something as major as deciding on a job offer, or as simple as which pair of pants to purchase.
Whether the situation requires making a choice between multiple options or a simple “yes or no”, the first advisable step is to seek the counsel of those qualified. Qualified people are those who have experience and/or knowledge about what you are attempting.
For instance in deciding what car to buy, in addition to considering the opinion of family and friends and salespeople, involving an auto-mechanic in the decision will enable you to understand what you can get out of the car in the long term, potential pitfalls and maintenance problems, and how well it will suit your budget and needs.
After taking into consideration the advice received, one would weigh the pros and cons and arrive at a decision. In other words, seeking guidance on decisions is not seeking a magic spell. One is actually required to do all the leg work beforehand, tie the camel, then trust in Allah (Tawakkul).
Once we have sought the counsel of people and made our choice, we seek the counsel of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). We ultimately need His guidance and blessing in all matters. How is this done?
Salatul istikhara is a prayer consisting of two raka’at followed by a supplication taught to us by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). This is not as complicated as it sounds when we start applying it. Soon enough, we will see the blessings of istikhara so much that we will not be able to resist performing it before any decision.
The supplication of istikhara:
اللَّهُمَّ 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 لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدُرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي بِه
Allâhumma inni astakhiruka bi ilmika wa astaqdiruka biqudratika wa as’aluka min fadlikal-azimi, fa innaka taqdiru walâ aqdiru wa ta’lamu walâ a’lamu wa anta allamul ghuyubi. Allâhumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra khayrun li fi dini wa ma-ashi wa aqibati amri faqdir-hu li wa yassir-hu li thumma barik li fihi wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hâdhal amra sharrun li fi dini wa maâshi wa aqibati amri fasrifhu anni wasrifni anhu waqdir liyal-khayra haythu kâna thumma ardini bih.
“O Allah, verily I seek the better [of either choice] from You, by Your knowledge, and I seek ability from You, by Your power, and I ask You from Your immense bounty. For indeed You have power, and I am powerless; You have knowledge and I know not; You are the Knower of the unseen realms. O Allah, if You know that this matter is good for me with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then decree it for me, facilitate it for me, and grant me blessing in it. And if You know that this matter is not good for me with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair then turn it away from me and me from it; and decree for me better than it, wherever it may be, and make me content with it.”
The Difference is Palpable
What’s the point of applying istikhara to every little decision in life? The difference is barakah.
Barakah is the Divine attachment to a thing that brings about enhancement and increase. So for instance, when you buy your laptop with istikhara, it can be expected to serve you longer and with fewer problems and, when there are problems, those will not be a source of hassle. Those awkward coffee tables or bed posts you tend to stub your toes on too often? They probably will not happen when you do istikhara before your purchase of furniture. Your job will serve you better, your income will go a longer way, your work will have a wider reach–all because of barakah.
These are simple examples to explain the concept of barakah and why we strive to seek it. It is a way of working smart to increase success.
The above was regarding believers seeking guidance in their affairs. When speaking of guidance at a higher level, however, we use the term hidayah. The word hadiyyah (gift) shares the same root letters as hidayah. Religious guidance is the greatest gift that a person may be bestowed with. It is a mercy from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and is not something we can control.
إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِي مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ ﴿٥٦﴾
“Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an; 28:56]
Regardless, we should not stop striving in seeking the pleasure of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and receiving His guidance. It is incumbent upon us to make an effort to seek the truth and apply it and also to share it with others, regardless of whether the benefit of this effort becomes immediately apparent or not.
وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ ﴿٣٩﴾
“And that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives.” [Qur’an; 53:39]