The Istikharah Notepad is a practical tool developed by The Productive Muslim Company to help you think through decisions with Barakah.
It is inspired by the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He taught his companions to seek istikharah (goodness) from Allah SWT and istisharah (counsel) from people whenever they have a decision to make.
The Barakah of making decisions with istikharah & istisharah is the knowledge that despite all the unknowns and potential outcomes of your decision, you can proceed without feeling regret because you did all you could at the time of making a decision following Prophetic guidance.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘From (the signs of) the son of Adam’s prosperity, is his satisfaction with what Allah decreed for him, and from the son of Adam’s misery is his avoiding to request guidance from Allah, and from the son of Adam’s misery is his anger with what Allah decreed for him.”A-Tirmidhi
In this article, we’ll explain why making decisions is hard, the process to make decision making easier, and how each question in the Istikharah Notepad is designed to help you follow this process.
Why Making Decisions is Hard
Making decisions is challenging for two reasons:
- We don’t have perfect knowledge of what will happen in the future based on our decisions.
- We are not sure of the opportunity cost of each decision we make and whether there are better decisions we could have made.
Allah SWT says in the Quran:
قُل لَّآ أَمْلِكُ لِنَفْسِى نَفْعًا وَلَا ضَرًّا إِلَّا مَا شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ وَلَوْ كُنتُ أَعْلَمُ ٱلْغَيْبَ لَٱسْتَكْثَرْتُ مِنَ ٱلْخَيْرِ وَمَا مَسَّنِىَ ٱلسُّوٓءُ ۚ إِنْ أَنَا۠ إِلَّا نَذِيرٌ وَبَشِيرٌ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“Say [Prophet], ‘I have no control over benefit or harm, [even] to myself, except as God may please: if I had knowledge of what is hidden, I would have abundant good things, and no harm could touch me. I am no more than a bearer of warning and good news to those who believe.“Quran 7:188
If you need to make a decision on a job offer, a business proposition, or a marriage proposal, you don’t have perfect and complete knowledge of the impact of this decision on your life. Moreover, once you decide, you forgo other opportunities that may or may not be better for you.
The indecision we go through because we’re not sure what’s good for us and the opportunity cost of our decisions can be paralyzing, especially when we have a lot of good choices in front of us.
We think that having more choices in life is better; however, as Dr.Barry Schwartz explained in his TED Talk, the more options you have, the more complex a decision can be, and the more regret you’ll feel after making a decision because you think you could have made better choices:
This abundance of choice and the accompanying indecision is exasperated in the modern era compared to previous generations. In the past, finding a job or spouse was limited to where you lived and whom you knew. Nowadays, with a click of a button, you can search for endless options for jobs and potential spouses globally.
So, how do we make decision making less stressful? How do we not get paralyzed with the abundance of choices and the challenges of analyzing all our options? Below is a four-step process to help in this regard.
The 4-Step Process to Decision Making
- Understand the decision: You need to ask yourself powerful questions that give you clarity and perspective on the decision at hand.
- Seek counsel from people you trust or those who have more knowledge and experience than you and who can give you good, sincere advice.
- Pray istikharah prayer and seek goodness and Barakah in your decision from Allah SWT.
- Take action based on what your spiritual heart is inclined towards and trust Allah (Tawakkal) that He’ll give you what’s best even if things don’t work out your way.
How does the Istikharah Notepad work?
The Istikharah Notepad helps you systematically go through the above process by completing one sheet of paper per decision.
Step 1: Understand the decision
The first few questions in the Istikharah Notepad are designed to help you clearly think through the decisions. Here’s a breakdown of each question and how it can help you:
What decision do I need to make?
It’s incredible how asking a simple question can help resolve a lot of indecision around a topic.
What is it exactly that you’re deciding on? Be specific. For example, let’s say you’re considering starting a business. What decision are you making? Is it whether or not to get into the business? Or what type of business do you need to get into? Or the business model you should explore?
Being clear on the decision you need to make is the first step towards making effective decisions and reducing the uncertainty around a decision.
Use this space in the Istikharah Notepad to write a clear statement on the decision you’re making.
What’s my niyyah (intention) for this decision?
Once you understand what decision you need to make. Take a pause, and ask yourself why are you making this decision? What’s the intention behind it?
For example, you might realize that the reason you’re considering a job offer even though you already have a good job is that you’re bored and are looking for new exciting job opportunities. Or the reason for choosing a specific college degree is because it’ll look good on your CV even though you’re not interested in studying that topic.
Intentions are subtle, and they start from the heart. Our challenge is to purify the intentions behind every decision and make them for Allah SWT (we cover this topic extensively in our How to Use Barakah Journal webinar and in the introductory section of the Barakah Journal).
Understanding our intentions and trying to purify them so that they are for the sake of Allah SWT is a powerful step to get clarity on decisions and ensure that you make spiritually-intelligent decisions. Therefore, in this section of the Istikharah Notepad, write down what your niyyah (intention) is and assess your intention:
- Is it for Allah SWT?
- Can you upgrade your intention from a Dunya (worldly) focus to an Akhira focus?
- What is your why telling you about this decision?
These reflective questions are essential as they’ll help remove some of the layers of indecision surrounding the decision. You might get clarity on what your decision should be simply by thinking about your intentions.
When do I need to make this decision?
The most stressful part about making a decision isn’t the decision-making process; it’s being stuck in the period before making the decision. We call this The Stress of Indecision. That’s why adding a deadline is vital to help you decide by a specific date and not give yourself the option to procrastinate on the decision-making process.
Some decisions have clear deadlines – e.g., you need to accept a job offer within 2 weeks, for example. Other decisions don’t have a clear deadline, and this is where we recommend that you put a deadline and stick to it.
As part of our #GoHijri campaign – we recommend that you put a Hijri date first before a Gregorian date. Perhaps there’s a subtle spiritual significance to a specific date that would inspire you to make a decision on that day, e.g., you might decide on an important project on the Day of Arafat.
Which areas of my life will this decision affect the most?
Every decision you make will impact multiple areas of your life. The question is: which area will be affected the most?
For example, if you want to start a business, you might realize that the most affected area is your finances since it’ll take time for the startup to get off the ground, and you won’t have the security of a monthly paycheck. Knowing this, you’d need to make financial arrangements to ensure that you have a 6-12 months runway to cover your expenses while you work on your business and a backup plan in case your business fails.
Or you might realize that accepting that next promotion will affect your health and family life since it requires constant traveling and lots of late-night meetings.
Understanding which areas of your life will be affected by a decision helps you think through ways to mitigate the impact of a decision and/or have relevant conversations with those who’ll be affected so you can better agree on how best to manage the impact of a decision.
Which part of this decision is my nafs (self) attached to and why?
This is perhaps the most challenging question to ask yourself in the notepad because it requires deep introspection and self-accountability.
Before I share how to answer this question, a quick preview of what we mean by nafs (self) here from an Islamic psycho-spiritual perspective so you can understand how to answer this question.
Your nafs is a subtle substance that comes into existence when our souls and bodies meet in this world. It is the part of us that has desires, likes and dislikes, and particular inclinations based on pleasure and pain. As Dr. Abdallah Rothman outlines in this article, while the nafs is not bad in and of itself, it has the tendency to lead us away from Allah SWT because it tends to be attached to this world. Our challenge – as spiritual beings – is to train and discipline the nafs to turn towards Allah and not be connected to this temporal world so that it can be successful in the hereafter.
Disciplining our nafs can be difficult, especially since our nafs is like a child. If it wants something, it wants it now (instant gratification) regardless of the consequences, and if it doesn’t want something, it’ll resist and throw ‘tantrums’ if you try to force it to do something that it doesn’t like.
Therefore, when it comes to decision-making, we need to be careful. Sometimes we make decisions that our nafs is inclined towards even though it might harm us spiritually and lead us away from Allah SWT. For example, let’s say you’re a hiring manager at a company and you have to decide between two candidates. Objectively, candidate A is better than candidate B, and your team thinks that candidate A is the best overall choice. However, your nafs is attached to candidate B because they come from the same background as you, or they are more attractive (this is sometimes referred to as implicit bias).
We need to be wary of making decisions that appeal to our nafs instead of what’s best for us (or the organization) in the long run.
So think deeply and introspectively about what part of a decision is your nafs attached to and why. Perhaps, for example, you’re attached to an idea/project because it was your idea, and even though objectively the idea may not work, your nafs doesn’t want to let go because it was your idea. Hence, you pursue the idea anyway at high costs.
Again, the purpose of this question is not to ‘judge’ what your nafs likes or dislikes, but simply to reflect and understand what your nafs is attached to so you can make better spiritually-intelligent decisions.
How do I currently feel about this decision?
This is a quick ‘gut’ reaction check about a decision. How do you feel about the decision? Don’t overthink this section and choose from the available options. You can select as many feelings as you like.
Labeling the emotions surrounding a decision is a way to understand what your intuition is telling you about a decision.
You might think that you ‘fear’ a decision, but realize that it’s an excitement coupled with a sense of vulnerability. This is helpful information as you think through the decision and how best to proceed.
What are the Dunya (worldly) or Akhirah (hereafter) opportunities/challenges of this decision?
The purpose of this question is to prompt you to think of potential opportunities and challenges you’ll face as a result of following through with a decision in this world and the next.
For example, you might consider a marriage proposal from someone wealthy but is not religious. From a Dunya perspective, the decision opens up the opportunity for you to move up the socio-economic ladder, afford more things, and generally be well-off. Moreover, from an Akhirah perspective, you now have access to wealth that you can use to give to charity, support your family, and fund community projects.
However, the challenges of this decision from a Dunya perspective could be social pressure to keep up with people from a higher class, being worried that family and friends may try to take advantage of you, being invited to lots of parties that waste your time etc. And from an Akhirah perspective, having to deal with family members who may be averse to any form of religiosity because they feel Islam is backward and not compatible with the modern world. Also, all this new material wealth may impact your spiritual and character development; you may start being arrogant and treating people with contempt, etc.
Every decision opens up opportunities and challenges for us in this world and the next. This section of the Istikharah Notepad helps you think through these opportunities and challenges and perform a cost-benefit analysis that is not just worldly but also considers the hereafter impact.
Step 2: Seek counsel from people
The Istisharah (Advice) Log
In Islam, we are encouraged to seek counsel or ‘shura’ from people concerning decisions we need to make.
Even if we think we’re smart and have good judgment, seeking counsel is encouraged. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sought advice and counsel from his companions, including before the battles of Badr and Uhud. Sometimes the advice was successful as in the battle of Badr, and sometimes it wasn’t as successful like in the battle of Uhud, but that did not deter the Prophet to seek counsel from the companions, as Allah SWT asked him to do:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ ٱلْقَلْبِ لَٱنفَضُّوا۟ مِنْ حَوْلِكَ ۖ فَٱعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَٱسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِى ٱلْأَمْرِ ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ
“By an act of mercy from God, you [Prophet] were gentle in your dealings with them- 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 God: God loves those who put their trust in Him.”Quran 3:159
Allah says in the Quran – describing the believers:
وَٱلَّذِينَ ٱسْتَجَابُوا۟ لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَـٰهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
“And those who respond to their Lord; keep up the prayer; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation; give to others out of what We have provided for them”Quran 42:38
The Barakah of istisharah is that you’re often led to the correct and most beneficial decision (not always, but often).
When Umar Bin Al-Khattab was considering entering a town with a plague, he sought advice from the companions who told him that it was best not to enter. Later he learned that there was a hadith by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) explicitly discouraging people from entering a town with a plague (a concept we now know as quarantine).
When seeking istisharah from people, you need to seek istisharah from people who have knowledge/experience and can give you practical advice to act on. The person should be known for their honesty and trustworthiness and set their personal feelings aside to provide you with objective and straightforward advice.
This section of the Istikharah Notepad ensures that you a) seek shura from at least three people in your circle (feel free to seek istisharah from more people if you want) and b) capture their shura, so you have a log of what advice they gave you.
Step 3: Seek istikharah (goodness) from Allah SWT
The Istikharah Prayer Log
The istikharah prayer is a special prayer taught by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) when we have a decision to make. It’s a powerful way to seek goodness and Barakah from Allah SWT on any decision you’re making.
Here’s how to pray istikharah prayer:
Step 1: Perform two rak’ah of optional prayer
Step 2: After the prayer, make the following supplication:
اللهم إني أستخيرك بعلمك، وأستقدرك بقدرتك، وأسألك من فضلك العظيم؛ فإنك تقدر ولا أقدر وتعلم ولا أعلم، وأنت علام الغيوب. اللهم إن كنت تعلم أن هذا الأمر خير لي في ديني ومعاشي وعاقبة أمري” أو قال: ”عاجل أمري وآجله ، فاقدره لي ويسره لي، ثم بارك لي فيه، وإن كنت تعلم أن هذا الأمر شر لي في ديني ومعاشي وعاقبة أمري” أو قال: ”عاجل أمري وآجله، فاصرفه عني ، واصرفني عنه، واقدر لي الخير حيث كان، ثم ارضني به” قال: ويسمي حاجته. (البخاري)
Transliteration: “Allahumma inni astakhiruka bi ‘ilmika, wa astaqdiruka bi qudratika, wa as-‘aluka min fadlikal-‘azim. Fainnaka taqdiru wa la aqdiru, wa ta’lamu wa la a’lamu, wa Anta ‘allamul- ghuyub. Allahumma in kunta ta’lamu anna hadhal-‘amra (and name what you want to do) khairun li fi dini wa ma’ashi wa ‘aqibati amri, (or he said) ‘ajili amri ajilihi, faqdurhu li wa yassirhu li, thumma barik li fihi. Wa in kunta ta’lamu anna hadhal ‘amra (and name what you want to do) sharrun li fi dini wa ma’ashi wa ‘aqibati amri, (or he said) wa ‘ajili amri wa ajilihi, fasrifhu ‘anni, wasrifni ‘anhu, waqdur liyal- khaira haithu kana, thumma ardini bihi.”
Translation: “O Allah, I consult You through Your Knowledge, and I seek strength through Your Power, and ask of Your Great Bounty; for You are Capable whereas I am not and, You know, and I do not, and You are the Knower of hidden things. O Allah, if You know that this matter (and name it) is good for me in respect of my Deen, my livelihood and the consequences of my affairs, (or he said), the sooner or, the later of my affairs then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. But if You know this matter (and name it) to be bad for my Deen, my livelihood or the consequences of my affairs, (or he said) the sooner or the later of my affairs then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it, and grant me power to do good whatever it may be, and cause me to be contented with it). And let the supplicant specify the object.” [Al-Bukhari]
After you pray your istikharah prayer, see what your heart is inclined towards and write it down in the Istikharah notepad.
Although you can pray istikharah only once, there’s no harm in repeating your istikharah prayer 2-3 times, especially if new information/insight comes to you.
How do I know what my heart is inclined towards?
There are a few signs:
- You feel very comfortable regarding a decision and have no hesitation or concern.
- You see a dream that supports a decision.
- A person of knowledge and experience gives you a clear direction of what path to follow.
- You feel optimistic about a particular decision.
- Allah opens insights in your heart of the actual cost/benefit of a decision, so you make the most beneficial route.
Step 4: Take action based on what your spiritual heart is inclined towards
Many people are confused about istikharah prayer and not sure how “it works.”
The purpose of the istikharah prayer is that we are seeking Allah’s guidance and giving over our affair to Allah (tafweedh). Therefore, after taking all the above steps and praying istikharah, the next step is to take action in the direction our heart is inclined towards and have complete trust that Allah SWT will take care of the rest (even if things don’t go our way).
In his book A Journey to God, Dr. Jasser Auda captures this understanding in the following example: “If you are running a business trying to make a profit, there is a possibility that you may lose your investment. But if you pray istikharah and lose, think deeply about it. You might find that you lost some of your investment now, but that larger profits will follow in a different business in the future after you learned from the lessons of your loss. It is also possible that God made you lose so that you will reconsider many things, people, and plans in your life, which you examine in an effort to find out why you lost. You may continue to lose, but win a close friend who helped you during the time of your troubles. Therefore, your real success in the end may be from making a profit in another deal, reconsidering your plans, or even winning a friend. God knows whereas you do not know (Quran 2:216).” 3
Once you write down the next steps, say bismillah and take action!
Congratulations, you’ve made a decision in line with prophetic guidance, and insha’Allah you’ll have no regrets regardless of the outcome.
Questions about the Istikharah Notepad?
I hope this article gave you a clear step-by-step guide to filling the Istikharah Notepad and how to make the most out of it. If you have further questions, please send us an email or ask us on Twitter and we’ll be happy to respond.