Oaths and Atonements
Pledging oaths carries a great significance in Islam. Keeping one’s word is a fundamental part of Islamic ethics. Oaths emphasize an assertion to the ultimate extent. When a Muslim swears by the Almighty on an intention or a plan that he wishes to carry out, it is as if he has called the Creator of the heavens and the earth to be a witness over his word. In spite of this importance that oaths and covenants occupy, many a time it becomes impossible for a person to honour his word or he may feel that fulfilling a certain oath might be instrumental in infringing the rights of the Almighty or of his own self or even of others. In such cases, one can break one’s oath. In fact, in some cases, breaking an oath becomes a moral and religious necessity. In the Islamic sharī‘ah, an atonement (kaffārah) has been prescribed for a broken oath. Following are directives given in this regard:
1. At times, an oath is totally absurd, nonsensical and meaningless. No doubt, a believer should refrain from pledging such oaths; however, it is a great favour and blessing of the Almighty that He will not hold people accountable for the fulfillment of such oaths, neither in this world nor in the Hereafter.
2. On the other hand, if an oath is pledged with a solemn will and intention or if some contract has been made on its basis or it has an effect on the rights and obligations of the parties involved or it infringes upon the injunctions of the sharī‘ah, the Almighty would definitely hold a person responsible for it. So a person must not be careless and indiscreet in this matter. On the contrary, he should act in a very responsible manner in this regard.
3. If, owing to some reason, a person is forced to break such an oath, then he must atone for it. For this, he is required to feed ten poor people with the standard of food he normally feeds his own family or to give them clothes to wear or to liberate a slave. If he is unable to do either of these, he must fast for three days.
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