Having grasped the meaning of an oath used without the muqsam bihī, it would not be difficult for us to appreciate the meaning of an oath which accompanies the muqsam bihī. In such usages, the muqsam bihī is related to the oath the way a witness is directly related to his statement. It is as if the person taking an oath brings the muqsam bihī as a witness to his statement. This is why we see that the particles waw and bā are used in such oaths. Tā is actually a changed (maqlūb) form of waw as in taqwā and tujāt. All these particles are originally used as conjunctions expressive of ma‘iyyah (accompaniment).
This view is evidenced by a study of the history of swearing, and the ways oaths are expressed as discussed earlier. The Arabs would take an oath in the open. The parties would witness the event to affirm what they swore. A little deliberation reveals that it was the best way to secure the objective the oath was supposed to yield. Everybody avoids proving himself wrong in front of all. The Qur’ān itself confirms this fact. While referring to the covenants of the Prophets, the Almighty says:
And remember the time when God took a covenant from the people regarding the Prophets, saying: “Whatever I give you of the Book and Wisdom and then there comes to you a Messenger, in confirmation of that which is with you, you shall believe in him and help him.” And He asked: “Do you agree, and do you accept the responsibility which I lay upon you in this matter?” They said: “We agree.” He said: “Then bear witness (’ashadū) and I am with you among the witnesses (min al-shāhidīn). Now whoever turns away after this, then surely, those are the transgressors.” (Q 3:81-2)
The implication is now that we have established this covenant with you, while both of us witness this event, it is not appropriate for any among the parties to go back on his words. Whoever fails to honor this covenant, he will be committing transgression.
The original purpose of such emphasis can be seen in the following example. When a man says: “I bear witness to it”, he makes it plain that he is sure of the fact. He has witnessed it and has not said that on the basis of second hand report. If he is proven wrong, then he would not find an excuse to exonerate him. That is why the brothers of Yūsuf (sws) said:
And we have testified (shahidnā) only what we know and we have no knowledge of the unseen. (Q 12:81)
This aspect of an oath obtains from the following verse of the Qur’ān:
But God bears witness (yashhadu) to what He has revealed to you, He sent it down knowingly, and the angels also bear witness (yashhadūna) to it; and sufficient is God’s witness (shahīdā). (Q 5:166)
There are other styles of stressing a point by calling a witness to it. When someone says: “I bear witness to this matter,” he actually claims that he is testifying like an eye witness with full responsibility. Bearing false witness is a great sin and earns great punishment. This is why all the divine laws forbid such an abominable act. The Ten Commandments of the Torah include this prohibition. Similarly, the Qur’ān, while approving the characteristics of the righteous, says:
Those who do not bear witness (yashhadūna) to falsehood. (Q 25:72)
The only plausible interpretation of this statement is that they do not bear false witness.
Furthermore, expressions like anā ashhadu (I bear witness), wallāhu yashhadu (God is witness to the fact that) and wallāhu ya‘lamu (God knows) are common Arabic oath expressions. Other languages also contain similar oath formulas. Different civilizations of the world, while following different customs and traditions, employ phrases like “God is witness to this” and other similar oath formulas.
Sībwayh, while discussing the particle lām of oath, says: “Learn that there are verbs that signify oaths when followed by another verb in the following form: aqsamū la’af‘alanna (I swear I will do) and ashhadu la’af‘alanna (I swear that I will do).” Thus, according to Sībwayh, the verb ashhadu implies ’uqsimu (I swear) and both can be used interchangeably.
The Qur’ān has settled the issue by clearly indicating the fact that shahādah (bearing witness) and ishhād (testifying), by nature, connote yamīn (oath). The Almighty says:
When the hypocrites come to you, they say: “We bear witness (naashhadu) that you are the Messenger of God.” And God knows that you are indeed His Messenger, but God bears witness (yashhadu) too that the hypocrites certainly are liars. They have made their oaths (aymānahum) a shield; thus they hinder men from the path of God. (Q 63: 1-2)
God Almighty has clearly termed their act of bearing witness as aymān (oaths). Elsewhere God Almighty used the expression “to bear witness” to imply taking an oath. The Almighty says:
And it shall avert the punishment from her if she swears (tashhada) before God four oaths (shahādātin) [stating that] what he says is indeed false. (Q 24:8)
Still at another place, it is said:
And they call upon God to witness (yushhidullāha) their true intentions, whereas they are but [your] staunch enemies. (Q 2:204)
The above discussion evidently proves that in such oaths, the muqsam bihī is meant to serve as a witness to the truth of what is sworn of (muqsam ‘alayhi). I have provided close and copious arguments which sufficiently prove this thesis. The issue will be further elaborated upon by the help of examples in the tenth section.
In regards to the question of glorification of the muqsam bihī, I hold that it is not a necessary element of an oath. It is only an additional thing that is acquired in some of the cases. We will soon turn to this issue.
After this discussion around the essence of oath and its basic meaning, I turn to explain the additional meanings it has acquired such as glorification, honoring, and argumentation. I will now take up these issues so that the reader can fully understand all relevant matters. This will help the reader properly ponder over the Qur’ānic oaths and reach a correct conclusion in this regard.