Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: I made intention (intending a promise or oath, since I thought an intention is a promise/oath) to eat and drink only certain things for a certain period of time, because I’m struggling with overeating. One day I drank something that I thought was included in my intention, but now I’m not sure anymore. The same day I drank something that was most certainly not included in my intention, but I had forgotten about it.
My questions are: (1) Do I have to pay expiation for (a) the instance where I’m not sure anymore (b) the instance where I forgot? (2) Could you clarify the difference between niyat, promise and oath?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
Merely intending something, promising something, and swearing an oath are three distinct things.
Intention is resolving to do something, regardless of whether it was uttered or not and regardless of whether it was actually performed or not.
A promise is a verbal statement to do or refrain from something in the future.
An oath, like a promise, is also a verbal statement. However, it is coupled with the phrase “By Allah!” or a similar phrase of swearing.
Expiation for Other Than an Oath
Expiation only relates to breaking an oath. It does not relate to breaking a promise nor to going against what one intended. Since all you did was intend the performance of a specific action without any verbal utterance coupled with a phrase of swearing, you did not actually perform an oath.
As such, you would not have to fulfill any expiation for going against something you merely intended.
A Word on Promises
Lastly, though breaking a promise does not require expiation, it is highly recommended to fulfill it. Making a promise, however, with the intention of not fulfilling it is sinful.
[Main source: Nahlawi, Durar al-Mubaha]
For further answers, please see:
Is There a Difference Between Breaking an Oath and Breaking a Promise
What is the Difference Between a Promise, an Oath, and a Vow?
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani