Is Bibliomancy or Istikhara mentioned in religious texts as a guide to making decisions?
Bibliomancy, or Istikharah, is the process of determining answers through God’s divine guidance. It can be done in various ways, which have been mentioned by messengers and the Ahlulbayt of Prophet Muhammad (pbut).
What do we see from the words in scripture about the concept of Bibliomancy?
We can find in the bible, in the book of Acts that the prayer for a divine consultation was used by the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus’ body when they chose someone to replace Judas Iscariot.
“When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us,
beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen
to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”
Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.”
– Holy Bible: Acts 1:13-26
Here, we understand that the prayer for a divine consultation can be used to recognise a man chosen by God, like an apostle, who, remember, are messengers of Jesus.
In Islam we find the same practices. The Messenger of Allah (pbahahf) taught the Istikharah (seeking guidance from Allah) in all matters as he would teach the Quran.
He (pbuhahf) said:
“O Allah, I consult You through Your Knowledge, and I seek strength through Your Power, and ask of Your Great Bounty; for You are Capable whereas I am not and, You know and I do not, and You are the Knower of hidden things. O Allah, if You know that this matter (and name it) is good for me in respect of my religion, my livelihood and the consequences of my affairs, (or he said), the sooner or the later of my affairs then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. But if You know this matter (and name it) to be bad for my religion, my livelihood or the consequences of my affairs, (or he said) the sooner or the later of my affairs then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it, and grant me power to do good whatever it may be, and cause me to be contented with it).”
– Riyad As-Salihin, Kitab Al-Adab, p.231, hadith 717
Another Islamic scripture states:
“When you want to seek a portent (tafa’ul) in the Book of Allah the Almighty, recite Surat Al-Ikhlas three times, then invoke Allah’s blessings upon the Prophet (pbuhahf) and his Household three times, and say:
Allahuma inee tafa’altu bikitabika wa tawakaltu A’layka fa arini min kitabika ma huwa al-maktoom min sirika al-maknoon fee ghaybika.
Then open the Holy Quran and take the omen from the first line on the first side without counting the papers or lines.”
– Mafatih Al-Jinan, Al-Baqiyat Al-Salihat, Mustadrak Al-Wasa’il, Al-Mirza Al-Nouri, v.4, p.304, hadith 4
We see that the prayer for a divine consultation or salât Istikhara is found in the Bible, as well as in the practices of Sunni or Shia Muslims. In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasise that this prayer can be used to recognise the message sent by God or his representative on earth just as in the Bible with the example of the Apostles of Jesus mentioned above.
From Ali ibn Mo’ath, he said:
“I said to Safwan bin Yahya: By what thing have you determined that Ali (meaning Imam Ali Al Reda) is the Imam? He said: I prayed and supplicated to Allah and I made Istikhara and became certain that he was him.”
– Al-Ghayba, Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan ‘Al-Toosi’, p.85, hadith 61