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The Fiqh of Oaths

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Munawwar Ateeq Rizvi

Children at school usually swear a lot, like ‘wallah’ and ‘wahayat qur’an’. And I was quite confused about the topic. Is it allowed and what’s the ruling?

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The type of vows that is common in everyday colloquial speech and is not intended for oath making is classed vain, thus, ineffective [al-yameen al-laghw]. That is for example when somebody utters the words: ‘wallah’ ‘aiy wallah’ ‘bala wallah’, all which imply the meaning: ‘I swear by Allah!’ One is not legally accountable for such vows.

Allah swt states: ‘and Allah does not account you for the vain in your vows, instead he accounts you for what your hearts have earned’ [Baqarah: 225]

However, The Hanafi Scholars do add that the vow will only be vain if it was said about something of the past or present. Hence, if it was about something of the future, it will be effective even if it was un-intentionally said; thus, given rulings for effective vows will apply.

(Fath’ al-Qadeer, Ibn al-Hummam, v4:p5, Radd al-Muhtar, Ibn Abideen, v3:p707)

This was the ruling for the kind of vain vows made in everyday life of the public.

In any case, children before the age of puberty are not legally liable for vows. It is the parents from whom the children usually hear these words and without knowledge utter them either to prove a point or to make it sound stronger. The parents will be regarded sinful if they utter such vows and not understand their rulings and requisites.

Here are the other types of vow:

1- Honest vow (al-yameen al-sadiqah): that in which one swears upon something of the past or present tense and is truthful in what he utters.

2- False vow, Perjury (al-yameen al-ghamus): that in which one swears upon something untrue in the past or present tense. It is unlawful and sinful since it is a lie.

3- Effective vow (al-yameen al-mun’aqidah): in which one takes an oath that he will do something or obstruct from something, in the present tense or future, whether it be for something lawful or unlawful. For example, if one says: ‘I swear I’ll hit him’.

The conditions for it to be effective are:

1- the oath is uttered in none other than Allah’s name or his attributes. The Prophet (May Allah send abundant peace upon him) said: Verily Allah has prohibited that you swear in your fathers’ names. Therefore, one who makes a vow should swear in Allah’s name or either stays silent’. (Bukhari, Muslim)

oaths in the name of the ka’bah, salah etc are not regarded as vows. For example, one says: ‘I swear by salah, I’ll do such and such work’ it will be ineffective, thus, one will be not accountable for not doing that work accordingly. However, oaths taken on the Holy Qur’an will be regarded effective.

(Radd al-Muhtar, Ibn Abideen, vol3: p712, Fath’ al-Qadeer, Ibn al-Hummam, vol4: p9-10)

Allamah Ibn Abideen (May Allah have mercy on him) mentions that if one takes an oath on the second person’s life [as the early arabs uttered: ‘la’amruk’] it will not have any weight and the person will not be sinful.

(Radd al-Muhtar, vol3: p 705)

It is impermissible to take an oath on somebody or somebody’s body parts and will not be effective and neither sinful unless done for veneration of somebody with high regard. For Example, somebody who says: ‘I swear by my sheikh’s beard’ he will be sinful and the vow will be ineffective.

2- the one taking an oath is mature and sane [aqil wa baligh]. Vows made by children, as I mentioned previously, are vain.

3- the vow is not on something knowingly impossible. Such as, ‘I swear by Allah I will eat all of the bread in the house’ when, knowingly, there is none at all. Similarly, if one says: ‘I swear I will purchase Yaseen’s house’ and Yaseen doesn’t have a house, the vow will be ineffective.

4-the vow has to be free from exception of Allah’s intention and will. If so, the vow will be vain. For example, the oath of somebody who says: ‘I swear by Allah that I will travel with you tomorrow, if Allah wills [Insha Allah]’ is vain. The Prophet (May Allah be send peace and mercy upon him) said: ‘He who swears and then says: If Allah wills, will not be sinful [by oath braking]’.

(Abu Da’ud, al-Nisa’I, al-Tirmidhi)

Moreover, if somebody takes an oath and then after thinking about the event, adds insha Allah, it will not be counted and the vow will remain effective. If, however, said after a short natural breath which one requires, the vow will become vain.

Similarly, if one adds words like: ‘…If I plan’, ‘…If I don’t change my mind’ it will fall under the same ruling. The vow will become vain if said directly after, and if said after a while, the vow will remain effective.

(al-Mufassal fi al-Fiqh al-Hanafi, M. Majid Itr, p349)

Legal ‘Fiqhi’ ruling on the nature of vows

The nature of a vow, in the Legal sense, may change due to the change of situations and places. According to the jurists, it is categorized in five rulings:

1- Imperative vow: it becomes necessary ‘wajib’ to take an oath to establish truth, eliminate injustice, express innocence or rebut scandalous doubt raised against someone. It will also be necessary to take an oath where somebody has a right over property, even if he/her does not want to and intends to forgive his or her right. This was what Sayyiduna Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) done in the case with Ubayy ibn Ka’b over a date tree. He swore that it was his and then when they left the Jurist Zaid Bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him), he gave it to Ubayy as a gift. Umar was asked why he didn’t give the tree before the oath to which he replied: ‘I feared if I didn’t take an oath, people after me would not take oaths for their rights’.

2- Recommended vow: it becomes recommended ‘mandub’ to take an oath for the accomplishment of an interest ‘tahqiq al-maslihah’. For example, taking an oath to recon ciliate between two parties or to propagate assurance to those in doubt.

3- Permissible vow: permissible when taken for a permissible ‘mubah’ purpose.

4- Disliked vow: disliked when taken for a disliked ‘makruh’ issue that opposes the sunnah. For example, one takes an oath that he will not return salam to so and so, or he won’t help so and so in need. Vows made in the markets during purchase and selling, even on the right, are makruh. Such vows decrease barakah as mentioned in a hadith of Bukhari and Muslim. It also is makruh when one develops a habit of taking a permissible ‘mubah’ oath.

5- Impermissible vow: unlawful when taken for an unlawful ‘haram’ purpose. For example, when one takes an oath that he or she will not pray salah or will commit a sinful act.

Effect of time and oaths

Oaths can be divided according to the time limit one gives to take out that certain act. This may apply different rules on the general rulings of the vows thus they may differ due to set time limits.

Here are the 3 types of timed vows:

1- Unconditional oath [al-yameen al-Mutlaqah]: when an oath is taken on something unconditioned with time. For example, someone takes an oath that he will buy or sell such and such product but doesn’t mention the time. He will be free from his oath at the time he purchases or sells that product.

2- Conditional oath [al-yameen al-muwaqqatah]: when an oath is taken on something within the limitation of time. For example, somebody takes an oath that he will eat today or will work this month. Once he has accomplished what he made vow of within the capacity of that time, he will be free from the burden of oath. If he opposes the oath or exceeds its time, he will violate his oath thus give atonement [kaffarah]. If one makes oath that he will visit his mother next week or pay off his debt tomorrow, and visits his mother the next day and pays off the debt that day, he will be free from his oath thus does not break it.

3-Immediate oath [al-yameen al-fawriyyah]: When an oath is taken on something that is not conditioned verbally, but the present circumstances require the limitation of time. It’s legal ‘fiqhi’ ruling is that it will be confined in a time limit. Hence, this type of oath will be a branch of the previous.

For example, if somebody takes an oath that his visitor should not leave the house and sit longer, if the visitor turns back from the door and sits longer then exits after a few minutes, he will not have violated his oath. The reason is because the oath though verbally was not marked with a time but denoted that specific time where the visitor was about to leave.

Another example is when one takes an oath that his visitor eats the present food. If the visitor eats, even after an hour, he will be free from his oath. If the visitor comes back and eats the next day, he will have to give the atonement [kaffarah].

Making someone take an oath

If someone administrates an oath on someone else, and he takes an oath, it will be effective, thus, all rulings will apply even if the person was at that time inattentive ‘sahi’ or forced ‘mukrah’.

If, however, somebody says: ‘say: I swear on Allah that you will definitely come!’ and the second person says: ‘I will come’, his intention will be taken to account. If he intended the consent of the oath, the vow will be effective. Hence, if this person simply intended compliance with the first person’s request (and not an oath), he will not be accountable for the vow thus it will be vain.

(Fath’ al-Qadir, Ibn al-Hummam, vol4: p17)

Enforced and Mistaken oaths

The oath of somebody joking, enforced to take an oath, and mistaken will be effective according to the Hanafi madhhab. Though, Shafiis and Hanblis mention that it is ineffective, thus, no atonement [kaffarah) is due.

(al-Fiqh al-Islami, Wahbah Zuhaiyli, Vol3: p467)

These also fall under the rules of vows:

1- Somebody makes a simple vow like ‘I pledge’, ‘I swear’, and ‘I promise’ i.e without mentioning Allah’s name or his attributes.

2- Somebody says: ‘ I make Allah witness…’

3- If somebody says ‘if I succeed in such and such, I will make a vow [nazhar] for Allah swt’ but does not mention what he will give, the atonement [kaffarah] of violating an oath will be given.

4- If somebody makes unlawful on himself or herself that which is permissible such as prohibit on themselves the consumption of lawful foods (bread, water etc) that thing will not become impermissible, and once that food is consumed, the atonement [kaffarah] of violating a vow will be necessary. (al-Mufassal, p344)

Repeating a vow

If the words of oath are repeated before mentioning the ‘vowed for’, such as:

‘I swear! I swear! I swear! I won’t go’ [in which ‘I won’t go’ is the ‘vowed for’], it will be considered as one vow. However, if one intended three separate vows [which is rare], they will all be effective.

Words like: ‘I swear by Allah! I swear by the greatest of all! I swear by the most merciful! I will start today!’ This kind of oath falls under the previous ruling.

If one mentions the ‘vowed for’ specifically at every time, for example: I swear by Allah he won’t go! I swear by Allah he won’t go! I swear by Allah he won’t go! [3 times], three different vows will occur, thus, in case of breach of oath three separate atonements [kaffarah] will be obligatory. Similarly, if one repeats the oath [before the ‘vowed for’] but separates each one with ‘and’, the vows will differ and will all be effective, individually. For example, ‘ I swear and I swear and I swear! I won’t go!’ three different vows will occur.

(Bada’I al-Sana’I, Malik al-Ulama al-Kasani, vol 3: p9, Radd al-Muhtar, Ibn Abideen, vol 3: p714)

Atonement [kaffarah] of vows

In Surah al-Ma’idah [v: 89], Allah swt gives the ruling for vows that are violated which are three things:

1- Feeding 10 of the needy, from the moderate class food that he eats and 0feeds his family. Hanafi scholars have allowed giving the equal amount of money to the 10 in need. Giving it all to one will not recompense for the violation, thus, each and every one has a right of an equal provision. Those in need cannot be from his roots ‘usul’ [parents, grandparents and above] and neither branches ‘furu’ [daughters and sons, grand daughters and grandsons and below]. If one gives them the food, it has to be given on the same day: 2 kgs of wheat or flour, or 4 kgs of barley or dates [1 saa’=4kg].

2- Or one can provide clothing for them. The clothing has to be of what is commonly dressed. It doesn’t have to be new but should last at least 3 months. However, if it is new, it is better and more reward able.

3- Or freeing a slave. This is, in any case, not possible nowadays.

If one cannot do any of the above, due to poverty, he is obliged to fast for 3 continuous days. If he doesn’t fast the second or third day [due to travel or illness] he will have to restart the atonement, though he will not loose reward for the first day.

Two Important rules regarding atonements

1- Intention, at the time of giving the atonement, is imperative. The intention is not vocal; its place is the heart. Even if one separates money for the atonement, it is sufficient to denote one’s intention.

2-According to the Hanafi School, the atonement cannot precede the violation. Hence, if the atonement is given before the violation, it will be obligatory to give it again once after violation has occurred. The first will be regarded as charity [sadaqah].

[Main Sources: Radd al-Muhtar, Ibn Abideen, vol 3: p702, Fath’ al-Qadir, Ibn al-Hummam, vol 4: p3, Bada’I al-Sana’I, Malik al-Ulama al-Kasani,

vol 3: p2, al-Mabsut, al-Sarkhasi, vol 8: p126, Mughni al-Muhtaj, vol 4: p320, al-Hadiqah al-nadiyah, al-Nabulsi vol2]

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