Istikhara- It’s not what you think it is

From the salty lake of Utah to the silver towers of Manhattan, I have visited ten cities in the last three months for residency interviews. It is a time of great excitement mixed with apprehension. Every residency program offers its unique set of opportunities and challenges. In this time of anxiety, I have been reciting Imam Zainul Abideen’s dua of istikhara as narrated in Sahifa Sajjadiah. Traditionally, we understand istikhara to be a method such as using verses of the Quran, drawing lots, or using prayer beads to come to a decision. These are valid methods based on traditions of the Ahlulbayt but should be the last resort. When our reasoning fails and our well-wishers are left dumbfounded in their advice, we may turn to these methods to help decide our path. But, as Sheikh Rizwan explains in his lecture “Tools for Making Sound Decisions- Istakhara,” the most fundamental application of istikhara is to supplicate to Allah SWT for the best outcomes. Such a supplication should occur at the beginning and throughout our journey towards our goals. Imam Zainul Abideen, in his dua of istikhara, elaborates on why we make such a supplication, what our role should be in decision-making, and how such a prayer helps us overcome anxiety.

Dua of Istikhara opens by reminding us of Allah SWT’s all-encompassing knowledge which is directly tied to Him being the Creator and Sustainer. The cosmos, from creation till extinction, is in His knowledge. My outer world of opportunities and my inner world of apprehensions are in His knowledge. He is closer to me than my jugular vein and knows where my spiritual and worldly joys lie. The dua encourages us to depend on Allah SWT’s knowledge of the future in directing our path. As I waited for residency interview calls and traveled from one city to the next, I continually asked Allah SWT to match me at a program that is in my best interest. Cleveland Clinic’s innovative culture tremendously impressed me but only Allah SWT can foresee my three years there. I will let Him decide whether to facilitate The Clinic for me.

But we must not give up our decision-making to trust Allah SWT’s decree. That is, in fact, the greatest drawback when traditional forms of istikhara are abused. Instead of letting them be the last resort, many people search for their fate within the verses of the Quran even before applying for a job or meeting a potential suitor. The Quran become like a crystal ball that can predict what lies ahead. Istkihara becomes an escape from the challenge of decision-making. On the contrary, Allah SWT wants us to engage in that challenge. He wants us to examine every circumstance, receive advice and make an informed decision. Therefore, Imam Zainul Abideen seeks Allah SWT’s guidance in making informed decisions, asking Him to “inspire us with the knowledge to choose the best.” Multiple times in these three months, I have bisected the lines on my notepad to make a list of pros and cons for residency programs. Some programs provide a rich medical training with research opportunities while others are in cities with thriving Muslim communities that I have longed to join. I have sought the advice of my mentors, gained insight from current residents, and received first-hand accounts of living in Chicago and New York City from family friends. Utilizing these resources that Allah SWT has facilitated for me, I am choosing which program I like best. I can only control my decision. The outcome is purely in Allah SWT’s hands.

Arguably, investing ourselves in decision-making is more challenging than deciding purely from Quran’s verses. It requires greater humility because, after we make an informed decision, we need to acknowledge our limitations and submit Allah SWT’s will. But as we recognize Allah SWT’s mercy in our life, submitting to His good will becomes easier. Therefore, Imam Zainul Abideen asks Allah SWT to remove from our hearts any doubt of misgiving, because our Merciful Sustainer only sends for us that which is good. Furthermore, as we realize Allah SWT’s all-encompassing knowledge, trusting His wisdom becomes effortless. Consequently, Imam Zainul Abideen asks Allah SWT to increase us in the certainty of His knowledge so we come to love his decree, submit to his will, and cruise through the circumstances that otherwise may be difficult. We make peace with the outcomes even before they arrive and eliminate all anxiety from our hearts. I constantly remind myself of Allah SWT’s knowledge and mercy as I wait for my result day. Whatever the result may be, I will not be disappointed knowing that the outcome is in my best interest. His good-will will become my sanctuary and I will find solace in His infinite knowledge. I will prostrate in gratitude.

Imam Zainul Abideen’s Dua of Istikhara-


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