Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra said:
There are two types of istikharah, one is General Istikharah and the other is Specific Istikharah.
The General Istikharah is done first, and the Specific Istikharah is done after. The General Istikharah is that a person prays without thinking of anyone specific that, “O Allah, grant me a spouse with whose soul I have affinity.”
Secondly, the Specific Istikharah should be observed when an opportunity arises. One should pray while taking the name of the person with whom there is a proposal. In this way, the General Istikharah safeguards the Specific Istikharah. Some people observe the first istikharah and do not observe the second istikharah, and some people observe the second istikharah and do not observe the first istikharah. Both should be observed and then the result ends up being correct.
Some people are first fond of a certain woman, and then they observe istikharah. In such an istikharah, generally, the inclination of the person affects the outcome and they start thinking that the result of the istikharah was good. However, if they were not inclined to the proposal, then according to their inclination they think the istikharah went against the proposal. However, the istikharah did not go in favor of or against the proposal. Rather, it was their inclination that went in favor of or against the proposal, from which they come to the wrong conclusion.(Khutbat-e-Mahmud, vol. 3, Khutbat-e-Nikah, p. 435)
We should observe our own istikharah and also ask others to observe it with us. Even the Khalifah asks others to observe istikharah with him. When Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra was deciding on traveling to Europe, among the different people he asked for advice, he asked about forty people to observe istikharah. When they were asked for their advice, about 18 were against the idea and about 24 were in favor of it, and 2–3 people were in between. Hudurra decided with the majority (Anwarul ‘Ulum, vol. 8 p. 379).
This incident also teaches us that when there is a difference of opinion, one should go with the majority. It could be that Allah Almighty showed some people a few reasons against going to Europe, but the reasons in favor of going outweighed them. Also, the integrity of an istikharah is affected by the person observing and interpreting it, so human error should also be taken into account. Thus, going with the majority is advisable. There is no maximum or minimum number of days for which istikharah should be observed. When Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra was deciding on his marriage with Hadrat Sarah Begum, he observed istikharah at least 300 times (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, vol. 3, Khutbat-e- Nikah, p. 206).
This teaches us that when seeking guidance, we should be ready to remain steadfast until we have some certainty from Allah Almighty and our confusion is removed. When Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih III rta was considering his second marriage, he observed istikharah for 40 days and asked three people to observe istikharah for 7 days (Hadrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, p. 75, 78). This practice can be a general guideline for us. In the istikharah prayer, we ask that the matter we are praying about be made easy for us if it is good, and that we be turned away from it if it is harmful. This can also be understood as inshirah-e-sadr, or in other words, a certainty that begins to develop in our hearts. The Promised Messiah as said:
If that matter is better for him, then God Almighty will open his heart for it; otherwise his disposition will feel closed. The heart is a strange thing. A person has control of his hands to move them when he pleases, but the heart is not in his control in this way. It is under the control of Allah Almighty. At one time he desires something, then after some time he no longer desires it. These winds are put into motion from within by Allah Almighty.(Fiqhul-Masih, p. 133)
Our istikharah is answered when we start to feel certainty outside of our control about a decision after we have become impartial towards it and have completely submitted ourselves to Allah. This certainty could come through dreams, revelations, or however else Allah Almighty may choose to guide us.
The istikharah prayer should be observed in Arabic because the original wording carries great significance. Hadrat Jabirra reported that the Messenger of Allah used to teach us the istikharah in all matters as he would teach us a Surah of the Quran (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 80, Hadith 77).
However one can observe this prayer in their language if necessary. The Promised Messiah as said:
Although this prayer is available in its entirety in Arabic, if a person has not memorized it, then it is sufficient to observe it in one’s own language.(Fiqhul-Masih, p. 136).
One can also observe a shorter istikharah as they go to sleep by praying:
“O All-Aware, inform me.”(Fiqhul-Masih, p. 136)