That the muqsam bihī is not essential to oath will be established through an analysis of oath formulas. Taking an oath by God or by His sha‘ā’ir[1]is not a plain human activity indispensible for man. Therefore, it is not expected to have had proper expressions in all the languages from the beginning. It has, on the contrary, evolved out of a combination of social needs and religious concepts. Thus, it is not valid to hold that if an oath-taker does not mention the muqsam bihī and leaves it unexpressed, then he must be taken to have sworn by God. Oaths of glorification, which evolved from a combination of a variety of social needs and religious beliefs, will be discussed in detail in the tenth section. In the present section, I will clarify the meaning of the words which are commonly used to express an oath. This will help us understand the origin of these words. We will see that these words were originally not devised to swear an oath by God, His sha‘ā’ir, and some other things. These words include: al-yamīn, al-nadhar, ’aliyyah, qasam, ḥalaf.

We have already discussed the word yamīn, its essence, and its common use as an expression of oath. The meaning of guarantee, protection and pledge that it has acquired has also been dealt with in detail. Therefore, I omit repeating these discussions.

Nadharmeans to distance something and to avoid it. When one separates and something devoting it exclusively to God, he is said to have pledged a nadhar. In this case nadhar acquires the meaning of prohibition. It is in this meaning that the term has been used in Hebrew. Then this word started to be used to prohibit cherished things to oneself. It is from this usage that it acquired the extended meaning of holding fast to something by way of an oath.

’Aliyyahmeans to fail to do something. Al-’ālī is someone who lacks ability to accomplish something. Then this term started to be used for abstaining from something. Abstaining from sexual intercourse with wives, by way of an oath, is an example. From here it acquired the extended meaning of sticking to a decision regarding doing or avoiding something. However, most often it is used for abstaining from things which are supposed to be harmful. This makes it identical to nadhar. Ibn Ziyābah al-Taymī says:

I have sworn (’ālaytu) not to bury bodies of those among you who have been killed. So fumigate the victim and his armor.[2]

The word (’aliyyah) was later on used interchangeably with qasam (Arabic for oath), as has been discussed in the previous section.

Qasamoriginally meant breaking off and cutting something apart (qaṭ). We say qasamtu al-shay’a and qassamtuhū (I cut it apart/split it). Qaṭ‘ is used to remove doubt and uncertainty. Qaṭand its cognate terms ṣarīmah, jazam, qawl al-fayṣal, ibānah, ṣad‘, all bear the meaning of cutting and removing doubt and uncertainty. This is, therefore, the essence of the term qasam.

From among these terms, qasam was specifically picked as the best expression for a decisive verdict for it is expressed using forth causative verbal form aqsama (if‘āl). This verbal form lends additional force to the action expressed through it. Qasam, therefore, acquires additional stress because it is expressed using this particular formation of the verb. Asfara al-ṣubḥ (the morning is very bright) is a similar construction. It too adds stress to the original meaning of verb.

An oath expressed through this form of the verb qasam, does not necessarily require a muqsam bihī no matter whether the oath is taken to ratify a statement of fact or to express determination. Ṭarafah says:

Its builder swore (’aqsama) to enclose it (latuktanafan) so that it is encased in plaster [to be erected up strong].[3]

Arabic literature contains numerous such examples. In her famous elegiac verse, Junūb says:

I swear O ‘Amr (fa’aqsamtu), had they (the cheetahs) awoken you, they would have stirred an irremediable wrath in you.[4]

Rīṭah al-Salamiyyah says:

I swore (fa’aqsamtu) that I would never stop shedding tears; they must continually stream my eyes.[5]

Kharnaq, sister of Ṭarafah, says:

Behold! I have sworn (’aqsamtu) not to mourn the death of anyone including my friends after Bishr.[6]

It has been said in the Qur’ān:

Are they the ones about whom you swore (’aqsamtum) that they would not have a share in God’s mercy? (Q 7:49)

He swore (qāsamahumā) to both of them, committing to them that he was their well wisher. Thus he misled them treacherously. (Q 7:21-2)

If someone claims that muqsam bihī is to be taken for granted where omitted and that in such cases the referent is always God Almighty, I would explain to him that:

If you maintain that it is possible in some cases that the omitted muqsam bihī is to be identified as God, then I have no objection. However, I believe that it cannot be taken for granted in all cases. The muqsam bihī is not necessarily taken to be suppressed if left unstated. Detailed arguments for this view have already been presented. We know that an oath is taken by God as well as other entities. Sometimes oaths even come without a muqsam bihī. In that case, however, it implies only stress and mere determination.

Ḥalafmeans to cut apart and to be sharp. It is, therefore, similar to the word qasam. A sharp knife is referred to as sinān ḥalīf. A fluent tongue is lisān ḥalīf. According to Azharī, this word has been derived from ḥalf (esparto), a plant with sharp thorny leaves. There statement, “ḥalafa ‘alā ’amrin” (He has sworn to do something) is synonymous to “qaṭa‘a bihī” (He resolved to do that). This is the root of the term ḥalaf, expressive of oath. Just like qasam, this word came to be used to express resoluteness and decisiveness in a stance. That is why it does not require a muqsam bihī. When two Arabs formalize clientage between them, they are instantly considered as such irrespective of the method adopted in the contract. I have mentioned different customary procedures of such a contract where the parties do not swear by anything.

The above discussions in this section along with the earlier ones evidently prove that basically the muqsam bihī is not necessary part of oath in the first place. Thus there remains no question of any excellence or glorification of the muqsam bihī. In order to prove this thesis, I have, so far, discussed common oath-words. Customary use of these words in the oath formulas has obscured their original meanings. This called for a relatively detailed analysis. There are, however, other words which denote an oath and whose original meanings are still apparent. A critical analysis of such oaths will clearly prove that an oath does not involve glorification of the muqsam bihī. This takes us to the next section.