(A version of this article was carried by the Huffington Post)
The other day I was talking to my sister about an important decision I am on the verge of making. I have had to overcome a good deal of hesitation in trying to reach my final decision, although events have unfolded in a manner that is pushing me more and more in the direction of taking this next step.
Sensing my indecision, my sister replied with only one simple line: “Sometimes, we just have to follow the path God paves for us”.
At that, the sequence of thoughts in my head paused for a moment and I found myself at ease. While my mind may wander at times in worry and uncertainty, it always comes back to this very simple lesson: God’s will will prevail. Whether we spend time fretting and worrying or not, we will find ourselves both drawn and pushed in directions we perhaps had not expected, and events will unfold exactly as they should.
It is easy to lose sight of this when we are standing at a crossroads, compelled to make important choices that will fundamentally change our lives. They could be decisions on whether to accept a job offer, move ahead with a marriage proposal, relocate, pursue a new business venture, make an investment or buy a home. Very often, these choices are not clear-cut and are weaved in personal sacrifice, loss and gain. Choosing a certain path may seem less desirable than we had expected good decisions would feel, sometimes precarious and fraught with uncertainty.
While weighing the pros and cons of these decisions, we will often do some soul searching and seek advice from family members, friends and colleagues. Yet I have found that as a Muslim, someone who is striving to live in submission to God, it is important not to underestimate the power of turning to the Almighty for guidance in decision-making, big and small.
While using reason and logic in determining what outcome is better for us, we must also involve God in all decisions through careful prayer and supplications. Muslims will often perform a special prayer for guidance, Salat al-Istikhara, to help us reach important decisions. When offering this prayer, we ask God to guide us to the right choice concerning any affair in life.
The prayer requires that I ask God with sincerity if the action I intend to do “is better for my religion and faith, for my life and end, for here (in this world) and the hereafter then make it destined for me and make it easy for me and then add blessings in it, for me.”
And alternatively, “if this action is bad for me, bad for my religion and faith, for my life and end, for here (in this world) and the hereafter then turn it away from me and turn me away from it and whatever is better for me, ordain that for me and then make me satisfied with it.”
Istikhara prayer is meant to make evident specific choices that resolve our dilemmas and answer our questions in the most-favourable way. In essence, istikhara requests from God the clarity of a situation so that the appropriate choices rise from beneath our distractions and confusion. At the same time, the prayer also requests that wrong decisions be made indisputable through impenetrable obstacles.
Performing istikhara properly means truly leaving the matter to God and withholding our own inclinations and emotions. It is trusting that once we have put forth the proper, earnest effort toward pursuing our goals, then God will make events unfold in the direction that is best for us.
“You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you,” God informs us in the Holy Quran (2:216) “God knows but you do not know.”
To truly embrace this idea is quite challenging in practice, because we can find ourselves persuaded that certain situations, scenarios or relationships are the best for us. When they fail to happen or persist we are often dissatisfied, frustrated and feel a sense of loss or neglect.
There have been numerous times in my life when I have been convinced that one option is right for me. Then, within a matter of weeks or months, an entirely different scenario unfolds, sometimes revealing the inconsistencies of my previous disposition. In the end, we cannot fully grasp why one path we are guided toward is better for us than another.
Striving to live in submission demands that we understand and accept that we lack the foresight to know what is good for us at all times. It involves accepting what life deals us, whether our immediate perception of the consequence is positive or negative. I have tried as much as possible to internalise the idea that every step we take is exactly as it was meant to be, although doing so can be difficult indeed.
The right path is certainly not always the easiest but if we follow His cues, we will be certain about the appropriateness of each choice we find ourselves moving toward. When we involve God in each decision, even in the face of a doubtful outcome, we can say Alhamdulillah (Praise to God), trusting that He will guide us to what is best.