Answered by Shaykh Bassem Itani
How can I correctly understand the results of Istikhara (seeking guidance through prayer)?
Inclinations of the Heart
You may understand the results of Istikhara from the first time you perform the prayer when seeking guidance on matters like marriage, purchasing a house, traveling to a place, or establishing a business – situations in which you may be unsure about which path to take – if your heart finds tranquility, and your chest expands with what you desire. This is an indication of facilitation, encouraging you to proceed. However, if you find no tranquility and your chest doesn’t expand, causing you to hesitate about your intentions, then refrain from proceeding.
That is why, when you pray the Istikhara prayer for something that is good, you say: “O Allah, if You know that this matter is good for me in my religion, livelihood, and the outcome of my affair, or he said, ‘in my present and later life,’ then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me.” [Bukhari]
And when it is regarding something that may be bad, you invoke: “O Allah, if You know that this matter is bad for me in my religion, livelihood, and the outcome of my affair, or he said, ‘in my present and later life,’ then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it, and decree what is good wherever it may be, and make me pleased with it.” [Bukhari]
Repeating the Istikhara Prayer
If none of that occurs for you, Islam permits repeating the Istikhara prayer. This is because the objective of Istikhara is supplication, and supplication is permissible to repeat by consensus. You may repeat Istikhara up to seven times until what is good becomes clear to you. [See: At-Tahtawi, Hashiyah on Maraqi al-Falah]
If nothing becomes evident (which is rare after repeating Istikhara), surrender your matter to Allah, for He, in His infinite wisdom, will manage your affairs in ways beyond your understanding and calculations. He may grant you ease, or He may divert it from you without granting you the feeling of expansion or constriction in your chest.
Response to Istikhara in Dreams
Sometimes, the one seeking guidance may receive a dream after Istikhara. If they see something good, it signifies goodness and causes a sense of relief. If the dream is negative, it signifies adverse results and is a reason for the constriction of the chest, so one should avoid it [See: Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]. In this case, the one who sees the dream must realize that any dream may be from their own conscience, or from Satan, or a “righteous dream.” The righteous dream may be clear and self-evident, and it may also be symbolic and require some interpretation, so the one who has the dream must relay it to a trustworthy scholar with expertise in interpreting dreams to help him make the right decision.
The Component of Consultation
I encourage anyone who is making Istikhara to consult people experienced in the matter you are concerned with alongside praying Istikhara. Seeking consultation is encouraged in the Islamic tradition, as Allah says: “… and consult with them in ˹conducting˺ matters..” [Quran, 3:159] Combining Istikhara with consultation is a more robust approach, and it has been said for centuries: “The one who seeks guidance through Istikhara will not be disappointed, and the one who seeks advice will never regret it.”