Contrary to what many people sadly believe, istikhāra is not at all related to finding out who performed witchcraft or black-magic upon someone. Nor is it a divine license that permits its practitioner to cause harm to an individual. In fact, the pristine understanding of istikhāra is that it is an act of worship with a pure context. Its reality will, InShāʾAllāh, be looked into shortly.
Before that, let us be clear that a family member suffering from a mental illness does not necessarily mean they have been given ‘the eye’, nor that an evil person from the outside has paid someone else to cast a magic spell on them.
Moving on to the true meaning of istikhāra, Jābir b. ʿAbdillāh ؓ has mentioned it with great clarity in a ḥadīth recorded in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. In it, he says that the Prophet ﷺ used to teach his companions istikhāra just as he would teach a sūra from the Qurʾān. He ﷺ used to say:
«إذا هم أحدكم بالأمر فليركع ركعتين من غير الفريضة، ثم ليقل: 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: في عاجل أمري وآجله – فاصرفه عني واصرفني عنه، واقدر لي الخير حيث كان ثم أرضني به»
“When one of you intends to do something, he should perform two units of non-obligatory prayer and then say: ‘O Allāh, verily I seek the better [of either choice] from You, by Your knowledge; and I seek ability from You, by Your power; and I ask You from Your immense bounty. For indeed You have power, and I am powerless; You have knowledge, and I know not; You are the Knower of the unseen realms. O Allāh, if You know that this matter is good for me, with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair, then decree it for me, facilitate it for me, and grant me blessing in it. And if You know that this matter is bad for me, with regard to my religion, my livelihood and the end of my affair, then turn it away from me and me from it; and decree for me better than it, wherever it may be, and make me content with it.’”
There are many lessons to be learnt from this ḥadīth alone.
Firstly, it is clear what the purpose of istikhāra really is: Essentially, it is a prayer that will help with decision-making. For example, this prayer is to be performed when unsure about whether to buy a certain house, marry a potential spouse, launch a new project, etc.
This much is sufficient to falsify the notion that istikhāra is a method someone performs in order to find out the culprit behind a covert attempt of witchcraft. There is no indication in the above ḥadīth to support this belief – rather, quite the contrary. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to identify the practitioner of the supposed wizardry through istikhāra, since it is not a yes/no situation wherein a decision is to be made. If anything, the concept of istikhāra being related to black-magic, the eye or Jinn possession is nothing more than an unsubstantiated superstition.
Secondly, the wording of the ḥadīth teaches the person who encounters the predicament is to perform the prayer himself. I have heard a teacher of mine, Shaykh Muhammad Saleem Dhorat, explain this in the following way: The ḥadīth reads ‘فليركع ركعتين’, not ‘فليلتمس الشيخ الصالح الذي يركع له ركعتين’ – i.e. ‘he should perform two units of prayer’, not ‘he should seek a pious Shaykh who will perform two units of prayer on his behalf’.
From this, it is evident that the practice of paying a pseudo-sage thousands of pounds to perform the prayer, or even having a superstitious aunt do it, is completely contrary to the above teaching. The wording of the ḥadīth is not all inclusive that it can be extended onto requesting someone else to perform the prayer.
Thirdly, the prayer is to be performed with the intent of seeking divine blessing in the ‘matter’ or refraining from undertaking it. This shows with further clarity that anyone performing a prayer in the name of istikhāra with the intention to track down an individual and physically or mentally harm them is misusing the pure name for an evil agenda.
Other misconceptions with regard to istikhāra include those that are related to its method and result(s). For further reading, see Shaykh Muhammad Saleem Dhorat’s leaflet titled Istikhārah: Its Method and Some Misconceptions.
May Allāh ﷻ enable us to understand the true concept of istikhāra, act upon it, propagate it to others, and eradicate the false superstitions from the umma. Āmīn.
 Al-Bukhārī (1162). Translation taken from al-Shurunbulālī, Abū ’l-Ikhlāṣ, Ascent to Felicity, White Thread Press (2012), London, trans. Faraz A. Khan, p. 193.
 A digital edition in text format is available to read on the Shaykh’s website, At-Tazkiyah. See http://www.at-tazkiyah.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=103:istikhrah-its-method-and-some-misconceptions&catid=6:articles&Itemid=14 (accessed on 25th July 2016).