Rizwan Khan, Missionary, Texas, USA
Searching for a rishta (suitable match in marriage) seems exciting until you actually start the process.
During my fifth year in Jamia, I was considering a rishta with a classmate’s sister. Since she lived in Germany and I lived in America, I didn’t know when we would be able to meet. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her on the phone because I had been “girl shy” for as long as I can remember. Even if I did, I didn’t know if it was possible to know someone over the phone.
I knew her brother well, but I didn’t have a clear idea of what considerations were supposed to go into making a decision like this.
I requested for a mulaqat with Huzooraa to ask for guidance. My underlying intent was to take the path of least effort. I would just ask Huzooraa what I should do and then I would do what Huzooraa said. That way, I could avoid figuring out what I needed to know about her, avoid putting any special effort into the istikhara (a prayer for bettering any situation) and avoid making any difficult decisions.
In the mulaqat, the guidance I received from Huzooraa was the opposite of the easy way out I wanted. Huzooraa advised that I should visit her family, observe the environment of their home and then decide.
I had a naive understanding of what istikhara was. I thought that if I prayed hard enough, then Allah the Almighty would have to tell me what the right decision was. Based on this, I decided I would pray, visit their home and then do what Allah the Almighty revealed to me.
This reminds me of the naive spiritual ambitions I had in my first year of Jamia. When Ramadan started, for the first 10 days, I observed Tahajud for two hours every morning.
Keep in mind, I did not have the habit of Tahajud before this. During those ten days, I really thought I had changed overnight, that this was my new habit for life. I still wonder how it was possible to be that naive.
The next 10 days, reality started setting back in and Tahajud came down to half an hour. By the last 10 days, I was barely waking up for Sahur and Fajr. Spiritual progress is gradual.
Before this rishta, I had never done istikhara seriously. I didn’t have much experience with true dreams and revelation. I really thought I could go from having no experience in istikhara to expecting revelation as if I had received an answer to a thousand istikharas before.
I spoke with her family and my mother and I booked tickets to visit Germany and stay with them for six days during winter break. This was an uncomfortable prospect for a couple reasons.
Firstly, for some reason, we Jamia students didn’t usually talk about our sisters with each other. I didn’t even know my classmate had a younger sister until the question of a rishta came up.
Obviously when considering marriage, I knew I would eventually meet his family, but with this context of our friendship in mind, to now actually visit his family and sit together with the women of his family was a step into his personal space that would otherwise be unwelcome.
Secondly, I was already shy around women. That would be compounded by being around a woman who was considering marrying me and who I was considering marrying. Also, we had exams that year right after the winter break, so we had to find time to study for those during this trip.
The entire time I was there, I was nervous so continuously that I didn’t have an appetite. When I first met her, I felt an inclination to the rishta. It’s funny how small things can leave a first impression.
When we met, she was wearing blue socks that you would expect a teenager to wear. I could see what she was going for because they did kind of match her clothes, but not exactly. You would expect a woman to wear a different type of socks if she wanted to look good for a man, but I was a man she still observed veiling from.
Even though she was meeting a man who had travelled across an ocean to meet her, she didn’t make a special effort to embellish herself. The first impression this left on me was of her simplicity and self-respect.
Also, I had heard plenty about her and had asked her brother and mother all about her, but there was still a distance. When I met her, I realised something so obvious that it felt strange to realise it. This was a person, not a character in a book; this was a person with her own hopes and fears, who was more worried about her future than I was about mine.
The thought that so much of her future happiness and sadness depended on me was a burden heavier than I was willing to bear. I knew myself and how I was a generally miserable person. I could bear ruining my own life, but I couldn’t bear ruining her life as a bad husband.
This feeling made me sure that I couldn’t commit to making her happy on my own assurance and I had to have assurance from Allah the Almighty.
However, when I arrived at their home, I also soon realised that something in my understanding of istikhara was flawed. I would have to make a decision by the end of this trip; after all, that was the whole purpose of the trip. But I was in no position to put Allah the Almighty on a time limit for answering my istikhara. I had comforted myself with the assumption that if I prayed hard enough, then I would eventually accumulate enough “prayer points” with Allah the Almighty for my istikhara to be accepted.
I thought that my prayers were accomplishing something in and of themselves. I imagined that each time I said, “O Allah, guide me,” I got a little bit closer to receiving guidance from Allah, as if prayer is a system of action and reaction.
I realised during that trip that this assumption was wrong because prayers don’t do anything in and of themselves; they are nothing more than a plea. Allah the Almighty accepts or rejects as He wills.
This assumption was stifling my relationship with Allah because my prayers were not as much an interaction as they were inputting formulas into a machine. For me to imagine any automatic reaction to my prayers assumed that they were an independent means to an end, not the desperate plea that they were. Realising this didn’t change the reality I was in.
The reality was that I had to give an answer as there were people I respected who were in a sensitive situation waiting for my answer. The reality was that I still couldn’t bring myself to move forward without an answer to my istikhara.
I had no choice but to let go of the idea that my prayers would save me in and of themselves. I had to give up on everything except the grace of Allah. I wasn’t in control like I thought I was, I had to submit to Allah and desperately beg Him to catch me as I fell.
When I came to terms with this, I felt like something in me broke. I didn’t want to want anything anymore. I just wanted to submit to Allah the Almighty. I felt empty and couldn’t even pray for an answer to my prayers. I couldn’t ask for anything. Anytime I prayed, all I could do was submit to Allah and nothing else.
This is all I did whenever I prayed for the rest of the trip. Each act of hospitality and every kindness her family showed me stung as I thought of how I might end up leaving them hanging.
The trip came to an end and I hadn’t got an answer from Allah on what I should do. I told her family that I didn’t have an answer because I didn’t get an answer to my istikhara. I left not just feeling like I didn’t know what to do, but also feeling like I didn’t know anything that I knew anymore.
The only thing I felt I knew was that all that mattered was Allah and that whatever happened in life and no matter how much I suffered because of my own stupidity, I would hold on to Him.
My classmate and I flew back to Jamia. It could have been awkward, but he was mature about it and understanding of my situation. Out of respect for their family and to not leave them waiting indefinitely, I told them that if I didn’t have an answer in two weeks, they should move on.
When I got back, although I felt lost in everything else, I had found an attachment to Allah that I felt I could live the rest of my life in. I had only lost myself; I hadn’t lost my Allah.
During that time of prayer, I just continued to submit to Allah and I found every comfort in that. I was too empty and broken to do anything else. About a week after we came back, while I was praying, I felt a certainty come into my heart. I had seen a few dreams, but they hadn’t given me peace of heart. When I knew that Allah had answered my istikhara and I was filled with certainty, I stood up to offer two nawafil (voluntary prayers) of gratitude.
But then I felt such a sense of urgency to act on this guidance from Allah that I broke that prayer, called my mother and asked that she tell their family that my answer was “yes”.
I then went across the hall and told my classmate that I had got an answer to my istikhara.
The certainty and urgency was so clear that to disobey or delay was impossible.
My wife’s impression of me during that trip was that I seemed pretty serious and I may or may not end up being a wife beater. Her main reason for saying “yes” was because of her love for Islam Ahmadiyyat and her wish to be a waqif-e-zindagi (life devotee) and the wife of a waqif-e-zindagi.
As for compatibility, her brother knew both of us well and he had given his recommendation and our principles aligned, but ultimately, no one knows how compatible they will be years into a marriage except Allah.
At that time, my impression of us was that our principles aligned, but our dispositions seemed very different.
After eight years of marriage, I have seen that there are points of compatibility I needed that I didn’t know, but turned out to be necessary for happiness. The blessings of that one experience has been a source of happiness in spiritual and marital life ever since.
Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Quran, “Who answers the distressed person when he calls upon Him, and removes the evil”. (Surah al-Naml, Ch.27: V.63)
Allah responds, but not on our terms. If Allah had responded the way I wanted, it would not have been good for me. If Huzooraa had advised me with what I wanted to hear, it would not have been good for me. Huzooraa has said:
“The fact of the matter is that those who do not believe in God are not ready to listen to any argument … There are some who are pure by nature, open-minded and willing to listen. You must keep ties with them and bring them towards God.”
Huzooraa continued: “To soften the hearts of people, we should pray. You should present your good character and share your personal experiences in regard to the acceptance of prayer because for an individual, the most important thing is one’s personal relationship with God. When you tell people about God’s treatment towards you, it is this first-hand experience which impresses people.”
The following words aptly summarise the essence of istikhara:
“Istikhara means to ask God for khair [good], meaning that may Allah grant khair in the matter being prayed for … It is not necessary for Allah to show you a dream relating to the matter or for Allah to inform you or reveal to you a certain thing …
“Thus, we are to simply pray to Allah that if a certain matter is good for us, then may He make things easier for us. If, after praying, one’s heart feels comfort in the matter, then one may go ahead with the rishta [marriage proposal]. Then, the proposed girl should also pray in regard to the future relation … If the proposed girl’s heart is not satisfied in this rishta, then one may ask elsewhere. It is possible that God has planned something else.
“Thus, do not just focus merely on dreams. It is not necessary for you to see a dream. What is required is that the heart feels comfort in a matter … Thus, istikhara is a prayer to seek God’s help and guidance, not to receive a revelation from God.” (Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, Al Hakam, 11 December 2020, pp. 4-5)