Tuesday 4 April 2023

Expiation (kaffāra "کفارہ") for Breaking the Oaths

A believer is known for keeping his promises and oaths. Whenever one makes a promise or takes an oath, keeping Allah as witness, the pledge becomes a binding on him to fulfill. If he deliberately breaks the oath, he is deemed to have committed a great folly and misdeed that carries a big penalty and an expiation becomes mandatory for him to make. 
Expiation (kaffāra "کفارہ") is an expiatory or propitiatory act performed to make amends for a sin, crime, or other wrong action.
However, if one does break one's oath or is unable to keep his words, he need not worry for Allah knows human weakness and provides an answer to every folly that a man makes. Herein under, we share the 89th verse from Surah 5. Al Maidah, The Table spread, for those who break their oaths:

لَا يُؤَاخِذُكُمُ اللّٰهُ بِاللَّغۡوِ فِىۡۤ اَيۡمَانِكُمۡ وَلٰـكِنۡ يُّؤَاخِذُكُمۡ بِمَا عَقَّدْتُّمُ الۡاَيۡمَانَ​ ۚ فَكَفَّارَتُهٗۤ اِطۡعَامُ عَشَرَةِ مَسٰكِيۡنَ مِنۡ اَوۡسَطِ مَا تُطۡعِمُوۡنَ اَهۡلِيۡكُمۡ اَوۡ كِسۡوَتُهُمۡ اَوۡ تَحۡرِيۡرُ رَقَبَةٍ​ ؕ فَمَنۡ لَّمۡ يَجِدۡ فَصِيَامُ ثَلٰثَةِ اَيَّامٍ​ ؕ ذٰ لِكَ كَفَّارَةُ اَيۡمَانِكُمۡ اِذَا حَلَفۡتُمۡ​ ؕ وَاحۡفَظُوۡۤا اَيۡمَانَكُمۡ​ ؕ كَذٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللّٰهُ لَـكُمۡ اٰيٰتِهٖ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَشۡكُرُوۡنَ‏ 
(5:89) Allah does not take you to task for the oaths you utter vainly, but He will certainly take you to task for the oaths you have sworn in earnest. The expiation (for breaking such oaths) is either to feed ten needy persons with more or less the same food as you are wont to give to your families, or to clothe them, or to set free from bondage the neck of one man; and he who does not find the means shall fast for three days. This shall be the expiation for your oaths whenever you have sworn (and broken them.) But do keep your oaths. Thus does Allah make clear to you, His commandments; maybe you will be grateful.
The Commandment about oaths has been laid down here in connection with instructions about food, because some people had taken oaths to make some lawful things unlawful for themselves. The Commandment is that if one uttered a word of oath without any Intention behind it, one shall not be bound to observe it, for there is no punishment or expiation for this. But if one has deliberately taken such an oath, one must break it and expiate the violation because one must abrogate such a sinful oath.

Earlier in Surah 2. al Baqarah (The Cow), the same theme has also been covered:
وَلَا تَجۡعَلُوا اللّٰهَ عُرۡضَةً لِّاَيۡمَانِکُمۡ اَنۡ تَبَرُّوۡا وَتَتَّقُوۡا وَتُصۡلِحُوۡا بَيۡنَ النَّاسِ​ؕ وَاللّٰهُ سَمِيۡعٌ عَلِيۡمٌ‏ 
(2:224) Do not swear by Allah in your oaths if they are intended to hinder you from virtue, piety and promoting the good of mankind.243 Surely Allah is All-Hearing, All- Knowing.
Authentic Traditions indicate that if a person takes a vow and discovers later that righteousness and common good are best served by breaking that vow then he should do so. Expiation consists in either feeding or providing clothes for ten poor people, or setting free a slave, or fasting for three days 
لَا يُؤَاخِذُكُمُ اللّٰهُ بِاللَّغۡوِ فِىۡٓ اَيۡمَانِكُمۡ وَلٰـكِنۡ يُّؤَاخِذُكُمۡ بِمَا كَسَبَتۡ قُلُوۡبُكُمۡ​ؕ وَاللّٰهُ غَفُوۡرٌ حَلِيۡمٌ‏ 
(2:225) Allah will not take you to task for the oaths you utter in vain,244 but will certainly take you to task for the oaths you utter in earnest. Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Forbearing.
244. This refers to oaths which one utters either through habit or without any intent and purpose. The breach of such vows neither entails expiation nor makes man liable to God's reproach.
 (Please also refer to explanation of verse 92 of Surah of An-Nisa). 

"Being mindful of an oath' implies three things. First, one should make the right use of an oath and should not take it for useless and sinful things. Secondly, when one takes an oath for anything, one should remember it, lest one should forget' it and violate it. Thirdly, if one takes a deliberate oath to do aright thing, one must fulfill it, and if one violates it, one should expiate the sin. 

Tafsir Ibn-Kathir: (Expiation for Breaking the Oaths)
Allah said, (وَلَـكِن يُؤَاخِذُكُم بِمَا عَقَّدتُّمُ الاٌّيْمَـنَ but He will punish you for your deliberate oaths.) in reference to the oaths that you intend in your hearts,

(فَكَفَّارَتُهُ إِطْعَامُ عَشَرَةِ مَسَـكِينَ for its expiation (a deliberate oath) feed ten poor,), who are needy, not able to find necessities of the life. Allah's statement,

(مِنْ أَوْسَطِ مَا تُطْعِمُونَ أَهْلِيكُمْ on a scale of the Awsat of that with which you feed your own families;) means, "On the average scale of what you feed your families,'' according to Ibn `Abbas, Sa`id bin Jubayr and `Ikrimah. `Ata' Al-Khurasani commented on the Ayah, "From the best of what you feed your families'. 

Allah's statement, (أَوْ كِسْوَتُهُمْ or clothe them,) refers to clothing each of the ten persons with what is suitable to pray in, whether the poor person was male or female. Allah knows best. Al-`Awfi said that Ibn `Abbas said that the Ayah means a robe or garment for each poor person (of the ten). Mujahid also said that the least of clothing, referred to in the Ayah, is a garment, and the most is whatever you wish. Al-Hasan, Abu Ja`far Al-Baqir, `Ata', Tawus, Ibrahim An-Nakha`i, Hammad bin Abi Sulayman and Abu Malik said that it means (giving each of the ten poor persons) a garment each. Allah's statement,

(أَوْ تَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ or free a slave) refers to freeing a believing slave. In the Muwatta' of Malik, the Musnad of Ash-Shafi`i and the Sahih of Muslim, a lengthy Hadith was recorded that `Umar bin Al-Hakam As-Sulami said that he once had to free a slave (as atonement) and he brought a black slave girl before the Messenger of Allah, who asked her; (أَيْنَ اللهُ؟ Where is Allah) She said, "Above the heavens.' He said, (مَنْ أَنَا؟ Who am I) She said, "The Messenger of Allah.' He said,

(أَعْتِقْهَا فَإِنَّهَا مُؤْمِنَة Free her, for she is a believer.) There are three types of expiation for breaking deliberate oaths, and whichever one chooses, it will suffice, according to the consensus (of the scholars). Allah mentioned the easiest, then the more difficult options, since feeding is easier than giving away clothes, and giving away clothes is easier than freeing a slave. 

If one is unable to fulfill any of these options, then he fasts for three days for expiation, just as Allah said, (فَمَن لَّمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ ثَلَـثَةِ أَيَّامٍ But whosoever cannot afford (that), then he should fast for three days.) Ubayy bin Ka`b and Ibn Mas`ud and his students read this Ayah as follows, "Then he should fast three consecutive days.'' Even if this statement was not narrated to us as a part of the Qur'an through Mutawatir narration, it would still be an explanation of the Qur'an by the Companions that has the ruling of being related from the Prophet. 

Allah's statement, (ذلِكَ كَفَّارَةُ أَيْمَـنِكُمْ إِذَا حَلَفْتُمْ That is the expiation for the oaths when you have sworn.) means, this is the legal way to atone for deliberate oaths, (وَاحْفَظُواْ أَيْمَـنَكُمْ And protect your oaths.) Do not leave your broken oaths without paying the expiation for them, according to the meaning given by Ibn Jarir. (كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَـتِهِ Thus Allah makes clear to you His Ayat) and explains them to you, (لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ that you may be grateful.)

Muhammad Asad Explanation:
(GOD will not take you to task for oaths which you may have uttered without thought) Lit., "for a thoughtless word ( لَّغۡوِ laghw) in your oaths". This refers primarily to oaths aiming at denying to oneself something which the Law of Islam does not prohibit (i.e., "the good things of life"); and, generally, to all oaths uttered without premeditation, e.g., under the influence of anger (cf. {2:224-225}; also 38:44 and the corresponding note).

(But He will take you to task for oaths which you have sworn in earnest. Thus, the breaking of an oath must be atoned for by) Lit., "its atonement shall be" - the pronoun referring to the (implied) sin of breaking an oath. It is obvious from the context that this possibility of atonement relates only to "oaths uttered without thought", and not to deliberate undertakings affecting other persons, which - as has been explicitly stated in the opening sentence of this surah - a believer is bound to observe faithfully to the best of his ability. 

Regarding exceptions from this general rule, please refer to verse 224 of Surah 3. Al Baqarah (appended as below):
AND DO NOT allow your oaths in the name of God to become an obstacle to virtue and God-consciousness and the promotion of peace between men: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
Lit., "do not make God, because of your oaths...", etc. This injunction refers primarily to oaths relating to divorce but is, nevertheless, general in its import. Thus, there are several authentic Traditions to the effect that the Prophet Muhammad said: "If anyone takes a solemn oath [that he would do or refrain from doing such-and such a thing], and thereupon realizes that something else would be a more righteous course, then let him do that which is more righteous, and let him break his oath and then atone for it" (Bukhari and Muslim; and other variants of the same Tradition in other compilations). As regards the method of atonement, see 5:89.
(Feeding ten needy people with more or less the same food as you are wont to give to your own families,) Lit., "the average of what you feed your families with".

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Vows of penance or abstention may sometimes be futile, or even stand in the way of really good or virtuous acts. See ii. 224-226, and notes. The general principles established are: (1) take no futile oaths; (2) use not Allah's name, literally or in intention, to fetter yourself against doing a lawful or good act: (3) keep to your solemn oaths to the utmost of your ability; (4) where you are unable to do so, expiate your failure by feeding or clothing the poor, or obtaining some one's freedom, or if you have not the means, by fasting. This is from a spiritual aspect.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
 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 fulfilment of such oaths, neither in this world nor in the Hereafter.

Pledging oaths carries a great significance in Islam. Keeping one’s word is a fundamental part of Islamic ethics. Oaths emphasize 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 to his word. In society, oaths have always remained the real means of stability regarding various contracts as well as various social, political and cultural affairs. Thus, it is said that 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 will definitely hold a person responsible for it.

In spite of this importance of oaths and covenants mentioned earlier, 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 on 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 necessity. In the Islamic sharī‘ah, this atonement (kaffārah) has been prescribed for a broken oath for this very purpose.

It is evident from this that these are explanatory verses which were revealed in response to some questions that arose about some issues discussed in this sūrah. After this, from the next verse begins the answer to the second question.

Tafsir Qur'an Wiki:
This verse that follows, which refers to oaths and their atonement, appears to have been revealed in order to deal with such cases when people make an oath in order to solemnise their abstention from something permissible, as was done by those Companions of the Prophet. The Qur’ān also makes it clear that it is not up to human beings to declare things forbidden or permissible. That authority belongs to God, in whom those Companions of the Prophet believed. This Qur’ānic verse also deals with all vows of abstention from doing something good or vows to undertake something evil. Whenever it is clear to a person who has made an oath that breaking it is better and more conducive to earning God’s pleasure, he should break it and atone for it in one of the methods defined by this Qur’ānic verse.

An alternative is to free a person from slavery, but it is not specified here whether that slave should be a believer. Hence, scholars have different views concerning this point, but we will not discuss the details of these views. “He who cannot afford any of these shall fast three days instead.” It is only when a person is unable to meet the requirements of any of the above types of atonement that he may atone for his broken oath by fasting. Again, scholars have varying views with regard to whether these three days must be consecutive or not. Our own approach in this commentary is not to discuss such varying views or to evaluate them. Anyone who wishes to study them may do so by referring to books of fiqh which discuss them in detail. All views of scholars are in agreement on the essential purpose of the atonement, namely, attaching proper value to the breached contract and giving proper respect to oaths which are pledges or forms of contracts which God has ordered to be honoured. Hence, if anyone of us makes an oath and finds out subsequently that it is better, from the Islamic point of view, to do otherwise, he both breaks his oath and atones for it. The same applies if he makes an oath which he has no authority to make, such as an oath of prohibition or permissibility of a particular thing. In this case, he breaks the oath and atones for it.
God makes it plain that what He has made lawful is wholesome and what He has forbidden is foul. Hence, it is not for people to choose something different from what God has chosen for them, for two basic reasons: firstly, the authority to forbid or make lawful belongs to God alone. Any violation of that is a transgression which displeases God and contradicts faith. Secondly, God makes lawful only what is good and wholesome. Therefore, people may not forbid themselves such wholesome things that are beneficial to them and to life in general. A human being’s knowledge of life and of himself cannot be matched with God’s knowledge who combines perfect wisdom with absolute knowledge. Since God has made these things lawful, then they must be good and wholesome. God’s knowledge is perfect, based on absolute certainty. Hence, we say: had God known that these matters were foul or evil, He would have spared His servants their consequences. Had He known that abstention from them would be better, He would not have made them lawful.

This religion has been revealed so that it brings about goodness in human life and achieves perfect balance and complete harmony between all aspects of human life. It does not overlook any natural human need, nor does it suppress any constructive human activity within appropriate limits. Hence, Islam denounces monastic aestheticism because it amounts to a suppression of nature and an impediment to the development of life. Similarly, Islam speaks out against the forbidding of wholesome lawful things, because these help the development of life. It must be remembered that God has created this life so that it may flourish and develop in accordance with the constitution He has laid down for it. Monastic aestheticism and the forbidding of wholesome things come into direct conflict with God’s method for human life because they bring life to a stop at a certain point under the pretext of seeking something more sublime. It should be stated here that attaining the sublime is feasible within the system God has laid down and made easy through its compatibility with human nature.

You may like to listen to eminent Muslim scholar Nouman Ali Khan explaining the aforesaid verse:
May Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى‎) help us understand Qur'ān and follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, which is embodiment of commandments of Allah contained in the Qur'ān. May Allah help us to be like the ones He loves and let our lives be lived helping others and not making others' lives miserable or unlivable. May all our wrong doings, whether intentional or unintentional, be forgiven before the angel of death knocks on our door. 
وَمَا عَلَيۡنَاۤ اِلَّا الۡبَلٰغُ الۡمُبِيۡنُ‏ 
(36:17) and our duty is no more than to clearly convey the Message.”
That is Our duty is only to convey to you the message that Allah has entrusted us with. Then it is for you to accept it or reject it. We have not been made responsible for making you accept it forcibly, and if you do not accept it, we shall not be seized in consequence of your disbelief, you will yourselves be answerable for your actions on Day of Resurrection.

Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully. It will also help the Muslims to have grasp over social issues and their answers discussed in the Qur'an and other matter related to inter faith so that they are able to discuss issues with non-Muslims with authority based on refences from Qur'an.

May Allah forgive me if my posts ever imply a piety far greater than I possess. I am most in need of guidance.

Note: When we mention God in our posts, we mean One True God, we call Allah in Islam, with no associates. Allah is the Sole Creator of all things, and that Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing. Allah has no offspring, no race, no gender, no body, and is unaffected by the characteristics of human life.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Selected Invocations / Dua " دُعا " from the Qur'anYou may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
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Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that the exegesis of the chapters of the Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  

In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided, additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Al-Quran, Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
In addition, references of other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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