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Last Updated: 2009/10/22
Summary of question
Can one do Istikharah for marriage?
I wanted to find out if it's possible to do Istikharah for marriage? It’s been a few years that I've wanted to marry a girl but every time her family comes up with an excuse, the last one was that they contacted the office of Grand Ayatollah Bahjat and asked them to do Istikharah for the marriage and it did not turn out good. Could you please let me know whether or not it is right to do Istikharah regarding marriage? Isn't it said that there is no need for Istikharah when it comes to good acts?
Concise answer

Marriage has been one of the most important issues and foundations of human societiy since the beginning of human life on earth. Obviously such a critical issue should be dealt with wisely and with knowledge because it is the starting point of a new family. Marriage entails a set of other issues such as reproduction, raising the next generation of human beings and educating them, therefore it should be decided about with the help of precise knowledge and research and should not be left to be determined by fate or Istikharah.

But like all other issues if one does not come to a certain conclusion after observing the situation and the different factors and after consulting others and making use of their expereinces, he may do Istikharah and seek help and guidance from Allah (swt) and it is permissible from the religious point of view, of course remembering that Istikharah only finalizes one of the two options and nothing more.

What Istikharah really means primarily (which is referred to as “absolute istikharah”), is for one not to be stubborn about his viewpoints and ask Allah (swt) for wellbeing and aid and to rely on Him in all acts and let Him take over in all affairs. Our advice to you dear brother is to take what was said into consideration and keeping in mind the principle of choosing one who matches you and all the other circumstances marriage brings about, to submit this issue to Allah (swt).

Detailed Answer

1- The history of marriage and family starts when the human being was created and since the time of Adam (pbuh) and Eve it has remained one of the most important issues and elements of human society. Marriage is a turning point in people’s lives and one of the subjects many deal with, therefore every religion has approached it in it's own ways and has introduced people to the rules and laws pertaining to it. Islam which is the last divine religion has observed this matter and the human needs thoroughly and practically and has expressed it's viewpoints in regards to it. When the Islamic teachings and guidelines are observed as a whole one can conclude that from Islam's perspective, marriage and establishing a family is one of the best acts that pleases Allah (swt).[1]

2- According to Islam, when choosing a spouse, the most important thing to look for is faith and good akhlaq (behavior). Concerning this matter, the holy prophet of Islam (pbuh) says: "If a person whom you are pleased with the behavior and religiosity of proposes to you, accept the marriage, otherwise there will be great trouble and corruption in the world".[2]

3- The mind is a great blessing that man has been gifted with. It is with the lantern of the mind that one can cover dark paths in life with ease and make it through life’s hardships and dangers. The Quran has advised us to make use of this gift and according to it, the worst creatures are the ones who do not make their decisions with the help of this holy gift.[3] Moreover, one of the main reasons behind sending the prophets was to help the mind of the people blossom.[4] Relying on one’s intellect and logic and using its guidance is so critical to the extent that it is one of the sources that is used in deriving Islamic law.[5]

4- Likewise, the importance of things that assist the mind and intellect to conclude correctly and help it seek the truth has also been underlined in Islam, the most important one being “consultation”. Consulting, which is actually another form of collective thinking, can easily solve many of the sophisticated problems that one cannot solve on his own.  It is through consulting that the weak points of one’s thoughts are made up for and a great amount of valuable information and different experiences that others have accumulated over many years become easily at one’s disposal.

5- There is a fairly great chance that even after consulting one can still be stuck in a dilemma, not knowing what to do. In such a situation the intellect and the divine laws of Islam suggest that we ask someone else for advice; the great intelligence that is aware of everything and possesses utter and unlimited knowledge, the one that knows what is good and bad for His servants and wants the best for all creatures.  This type of consulting is called "Istikharah" in Islamic terminology. The word Istikharah literally means to want the better out of two or more things, wanting the best, seeking goodness, seeking benefits[6]. Therefore the more spiritual and pious the person that does the Istikharah is, the more reliable the results are.

There are two meanings for Istikharah in Islamic terms, the first is the true Istikharah that has been mentioned more in hadiths and traditions, which is simply asking Allah (swt) for good things. This kind of Istikharah is actually a form of praying to Allah (swt). This type of Istikharah that is called Istikharah Motlaq is not just for times when one has doubt, rather it has to do with all aspects of life. In reality, it is a way of trusting in Allah (swt) in all acts and asking him to take all matters in to his hands.  This is why Imam Sadiq (as) has said: “Allah (swt) says: "من شقاء عبدی ان یعمل الاعمال و لا یستخیرنی" (It is of the misery of my servant for him to do something without doing Istikharah (asking Allah (swt) for goodness and blessing). Therefore according to many hadiths, this kind of Istikharah has nothing to do with making one’s mind, rather, it is something good one can do that helps in all aspects of life.

The second meaning of Istikharah, seeking goodness from Allah (swt), is a way to make up one’s mind when having doubt and being stuck in a dilemma.

It is better to do Istikharah after performing prayers and supplicating to Allah (swt) after which one is in a state of spirituality, because this is what the Imams have advised us to do in hadiths.[7]

6- Generally, there are three viewpoints among Muslims towards the issue of Istikharah that are as follows:

- The viewpoint that ignores the intellect and the mind and when observing an issue relies completely on Istikharah and lets it take care of everything.

- Others totally deny Istikharah and always rely on the intellect and logic to solve their problems.

- And then there is a third view that along with accepting the importance of the intellect and consulting, explains Istikharah in a way that is in complete consistence with the mind and intellect. According to this viewpoint there is nothing wrong in doing Istikharah, because the only thing that it does is that it determines one of the two ways one isn’t sure about. In other words, it does not make a haram act halal or turn a non-wajib act to a wajib one nor changes any of Allah's commands. It only tells us which way will be to the benefit of the person who needs the Istikharah and removes his doubt. What the Istikharah doesn’t do is show us what will happen in the future regarding the options one has.

7- As for what the Khajeh of Shiraz has said (there is no need for Istikharah when it comes to good acts) is completely true and correct. Generally Istikharah does not apply to whether one should get married or not, because it is a good deed and a mustahab act that has been emphasized on very much.  But regarding your situation maybe the girl’s family for some reason are having doubts about choosing you as their groom and not agreeing on this marriage is to the benefit of their girl, and maybe the results of the Istikharah are not the real reason behind not agreeing with the marriage and it is only being used as an excuse to reject you. One of the most important things Islam has mentioned about marriage is that the boy and girl must be matches (Kufw), in other words when a man proposes to a woman he must pay attention to who her family is, their mindsets, and their cultural and economical situations and see if they are close to each other or not. It is good for them to be in the same range so that they do not confront problems in the future.

You need to find out what the real reason is that is causing them to resist this marriage, and also think that maybe your’e not the type of groom that bears all of their ideals. If you really believe that the girl you have chosen can fulfill your measures as a spouse, in order to reach your goal try to acquire the practical and sensible qualifications that her family is looking for, so that inshallah this marriage does actually take place.

Our advice is to be very careful and cautious about marriage in this time and era, and to choose someone that appreciates your religiosity and good akhlaq and is capable of living at your side during hardship and will truly love doing so.

[1]ما بنی فی الاسلام بناء احب الی الله عزوجل و اعز من التزویجMustadrakul-Wasa’il, vol. 2, pg. 531.

[2]اذا جائکم من ترضون خلقه و دینه فزوجوه و ان لاتفعلوه تکن فتنة فی الارض و فساد کبیرWasa’ilul-Shia, vol. 14, pg. 51.

[3] Anfal:22.

[4] Nahjul-Balaghah, Khutbah 1.

[5]کل ماحکم به العقل حکم به الشرع و کل ما حکم به الشرع حکم به العقل” (Anything the mind says, religion says, and anything religion says, the mind says).

[6] Farhange Mo’in and Muntahal-Arb, under the term “استخاره

[7] Biharul-Anwar, vol. 91, pg. 222; Wasa’ilul-Shia, the chapter on Istikharah.

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