Since oaths are sworn in order either to present oneself or the Almighty as witness to some facts, in both cases, the oath-taker puts his honor or religion on stake. It is not something to play with. This entails that an oath may not be taken unless in grave matters and that too with solemn resolution. This is why it has been forbidden in certain cases:
i. from the perspective of muqsam ‘alayhi
ii. from the perspective of muqsam bihī
iii. from the perspective of the both.
i. Whoever takes an oath in every petty matter proves to be an unserious person. Such a man does not succeed in upholding his personal honor. That is why the Almighty has forbidden this act in the Qur’ān. The relevant Qur’ānic verse uses very emphatic language. The Almighty says:
Heed not every despicable (mahīn) swearer (ḥallāf). (Q 68:10)
Whoever takes to swearing an oath on every petty matter puts himself down no matter he swears by God or anything else. He is an unreasonable person who gets enraged or laughs out without provocation. This renders swearing undesirable considering the muqsam ‘alayhi.
ii. Swearing a religious oath in the name of other than God is tantamount to taking that entity as partner besides God. The prohibition to take an oath by an entity other than God generally shuts the door for polytheism. This is identical to the prohibition to prostrate oneself before other than God or carving idols as stated in the tenth commandments. Thus swearing by other than God is prohibited. It has been said in the Old Testament:
You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. (Deuteronomy 6:13)
Similarly the Prophet (sws) too prohibited taking oaths by anything other than God.
3. Sometimes a man swears by God upon every petty matter. Such an act combines two things, lack of personal honor and absence of God-consciousness (taqwā). The following saying of God Almighty refers to this aspect of oaths.
And do not use God’s name as an excuse in your oaths. (Q 2:224)
Under these considerations, oaths are to be avoided. Other than this, it is allowable to swear especially under social necessities discussed in the seventh and tenth section of this work.
The Islamic sharī‘ah has been revealed for the entire humanity. It is applicable till the Day of Judgment. It takes into account the social and cultural needs of human beings. It does not impose strict detailed laws in matters pertaining to cultural aspect of life. It also considers the inherent weakness of human nature as has been alluded to in the following verse of the Qur’ān:
God desires to lighten your burden, for man has been created weak. (Q 4: 28)
Therefore, it was not appropriate to promulgate absolute prohibition to swear an oath, an unavoidable proceeding in the conducting of important religious and social issues. Similarly the sharī‘ah has not held unintentional conversational oaths as punishable. In this regard, the Almighty says:
God shall not call you to account for your inadvertent oaths. However, He shall hold you accountable for the ones that you take with intention in your hearts. Indeed God is the Forgiving, the Tolerant. (Q 2:225)
Actions are judged by intentions. Inadvertent oaths, though reflect incivility, are not punishable. The Lord of men forgives His servants. He showers mercy on them considering their weakness. He does not hold them accountable for small and insignificant errors.
The above discussion specifically pertains to the general oaths. As for the Qur’ānic oaths they are clearly oaths of evidence, and there is no danger of losing religion and honor in taking such an oath. No disgrace attaches them.
The Qur’ānic oaths mostly support assertions concerning unicity of God, the Last Judgment and the Prophecy. All these issues are evidently glorious in nature and most worthy to be emphasized by way of an oath. If one swears that these facts are true he does not stake his self respect and honor. One should not prohibit swearing of these facts fearing that affirming these facts is to admit things liable to be untrue. Admitting such fears and doubting the veracity of these manifest religious truths would put his faith in danger. This is because these facts do not admit of any doubt. Such oaths reflect witnessing religious facts which the Prophets of God have always been openly promoting. A Prophet, in his preaching in general, claims that God has sent him knowingly. He claims that God witnesses his veracity. He asserts that he depends upon God and relies on Him. He states that he holds God a guarantor of his claims. These are the themes which are stressed by swearing by God as has been explained in the tenth section. Then why should not He adopt oaths to emphasize these claims? It is evident that when God takes an oath by any of His creations, or by His words, there is no possibility of polytheism in this proceeding. It is also clear that such oaths are only taken in order to present proof for certain facts. These do not involve any kind of glorification of muqsam bihī.
To conclude, we hold that the objections on the Qur’ānic oaths or on the oaths of the Prophets or the pious individuals as well as absolute prohibition of swearing are rooted in a lack of analysis and a failure to differentiate between different aspects of divine directives. By swearing by God, the Prophets and the pious people express that they rely on God, turn to Him and seek His help. This is the real picture of the question on legality of swearing an oath. However, it has been attributed to Jesus Christ (sws) that he rendered taking an oath in general as prohibited. We believe that this prohibition is specific and not general. To this point now we turn.